My head is swimming, labeling TracPhones (burners), one per contact, one per day, destroy, burn, buy, balancing levels of encryption, mirroring through Blackphones, anonymous e-mail addresses, unsent messages accessed in draft form.
–“Fast Times At Ridgemont High” star Sean Penn
At the beginning of his Rolling Stone interview with notorious fugitive drug kingpin “El Chapo,” Sean Penn positioned himself as somebody sounding a lot less like a “journalist” and a lot more like an espionage agent. This only added more gasoline to the conspiracy theory that he was actually a secret agent for the CIA.
Now the Netflix documentary The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate del Castillo Story has been released, and Penn is apparently crapping his pants. The actor tried to block the release of the film, with his lawyer literally saying that Netflix is “hereby on notice that blood will be on their hands if this film causes bodily harm.”
The bodily harm being, of course, to Penn—for his vigorously denied collusion with the authorities for the capture of El Chapo, supposedly luring the drug lord out of hiding with a prestigious Rolling Stone interview.
While Penn played a CIA informant in The Falcon and the Snowman, you know the old expression: “I’m not a doctor, I only play one on TV.” And yet, there are claims that the CIA has been working with various elements of Hollywood for decades.
For example, in the memoir Company Man: Thirty Years of Crisis and Controversy in the CIA, former acting CIA general counsel John Rizzo pointed out that while the public would assume that conservative Hollywood stars would be approached for such theoretical espionage work, “People one would normally associate with liberal causes have assisted the CIA.” Certainly, Penn—with his public declarations of admiration for Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro—would fall into that category.
Rizzo, quoting an unnamed colleague, then goes into the mentality of the celebrity who enthusiastically collaborates with the Central Intelligence Agency:
These are people who have made a lot of money basically making stuff up…A lot of them, at least the smarter and more self-aware ones, realize that what they do makes them ridiculously rich but is also ephemeral and meaningless in the larger scheme of things. So they’re receptive to helping the CIA in any way they can, probably in equal parts because they are sincerely patriotic and because it gives them a taste of real life intrigue.
It is clear, reading this Rolling Stone story, that all this “cloak and dagger” stuff gave Penn a massive ego-fueled erection. In fact, the piece was as much about him as it is about El Chapo—a fact alone that should piss the kingpin the fuck off.
None of this is “proof” that Penn had any deliberate intention to rat out El Chapo. But when you think about it, if Penn was assigned this high-profile story for Rolling Stone—no matter how “secret” he tried to make it—it was bound to attract enough attention (albeit internally, among the circle of people around the actor and the magazine) to get the fuzz on El Chapo’s trail anyhow.
Most likely, Sean Penn simply got way over his head.