Political power play
in the Jason Bourne Films

Internal Power Plays in the Special Operations Section

The Assassination of Nykwana Wombosi

A meeting in the senior staff in Central Intelligence Agency, Langley, Virginia. Director of Operations Ward Abbott is among the participants. The chairman shows a video with an angry man speaking in incomprehensible English.

Chairman: That's Nykwana Wombosi speaking in Paris the day before yesterday. He was an irritation before he took power, a problem when he was in power, and he's been a disaster for us in exile. ... He wants us to put him back in power in six months, or else. ... This interview, and I'll make the tape available to whoever wants it, he goes on to claim that he's just survived an assassination attempt. He says it's us. He says he's got proof. The Director wants to know if there's any truth in this accusation. I'v already assured him there's nobody that reckless on my senior staff.[note]

Later, Special Operations Director Conklin's superior, Director of Operations Ward Abbott, complains about Conklin's lack of progress. He is responsible to the oversight committee. Conklin responds angrily by telling that both of them are in trouble, not only Conklin:

Abbott: You said 24 hours, and he's not back.

Conklin: No, but we've got a good idea where he is.

Abbott: You've got a black ops agent who's off the reservation. He trashed an American consulate. He's on the run somewhere in Europe. You don't know why. I got to stand before an oversight committee. What will I say about Treadstone?

Conklin, angrily: You're worried about a budget meeting? We don't take care of this, we don't make it to the men's room. Now, is that clear enough for you? We will burn for this. We will both of us burn.[note]

Conklin is in problems. He wants to gain time against questions about Bourne from Abbott and everybody else in the CIA. He orders Assassin no. 2, the Professor, to kill Nykwana Wombosi. Originally, it was Bourne's task to do so. Abbott hears about Wombosi's death and shows up at Conklin's office. Conklin lies to Abbott:

Abbott: Wombosi was assassinated in his house in the middle of Paris.

Conklin: Yeah, we just heard. It's him. It's Bourne. We're almost positive. He had an assignment. He failed.  He obviously felt compelled to finish the task. [Lie]

Abbott: Jesus.

Conklin: We think he'll come back in now. I mean, it's routine. It's like behavioural software. He's following a protocol. Now that he's completed the mission, we think he'll come back in. They always do. [Lie][note]

Conklin lies to Abbott

Conklin lies to Abbott

Ward Abbott turns to Danny Zorn, who is forced to lie – or must tell Abbott that Conklin lies:

Abbott: When? How long till he checks in?

Zorn: 24 hours ... Yeah, it's usually something like that. [Lie]

Zorn forced to lie to Abbott

Zorn forced to lie to Abbott

Analysis of the Power Play

It is obvious that the former African president is a problem for the United States. He wants to make a deal with the US government so that he can take the power in his country again. If not, he will reveal the US government's former deeds. Wombozi has chosen a dangerous, blackmailing position. If he is lucky and the US government helps him into power, then how can the Americans be sure that he will not later:

  1. Use the same secret in yet another deal with the US government
  2. Use the same secret in a deal with somebody else
  3. Publish the secret

In general, CIA would like Wombosi to be dead, but without being connected with his death. Regarded from the inside of CIA, Wombosi's death is not part of the power play – it is not any CIA employee's special interest. But Conklin's reason to let Assassin no. 2 kill Nykwana Wombosi is his special interest: He wants to show progress in the case of the disappeared Bourne. To gain advantage of the killing, Conklin must lie to Abbott. Ward Abbott turns to Danny Zorn, who is forced to lie – or must tell Abbott that Conklin lies.

Conklin uses three kinds of organizational power:

The Assassination of Special Operations Director Alexander Conklin

In the end of the first film Director of Operations Ward Abbott makes a decision without consulting Conklin: To let the assassin no. 3 kill Abbott's subordinate Conklin.

Abbott explained his reason in the middle of the film:

Abbott: You've got a black ops agent who's off the reservation. He trashed an American consulate. He's on the run somewhere in Europe. You don't know why. I got to stand before an oversight committee. What will I say about Treadstone?[note]

Abbott starts his action immediately after Conklin has messed up the operation by losing the contact to Bourne at the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris:

Conklin shot by Assassin no. 3

Conklin shot by Assassin no. 3

Right after Conklin's death Ward Abbott and Danny Zorn terminates the whole Treadstone project:

Zorn: It's done.

Abbott: Shut it down.[note]

Zorn and Abbott terminates Treadstone after Conklin's death

Zorn and Abbott terminates the Treadstone project after Conklin's death

In the second film Deputy Director Pamela Landy tries to find out what happened to the $20 million that disappeared in Berlin several years earlier. Some evidence is suggesting a connection to the closed and very unpopular Operation Treadstone. In one of the top secret files it is described that Conklin was killed in action.

Conklin "killed in action"

Conklin "killed in action"

Deputy Director Pamela Landy interviews Director of Operations Ward Abbott about Conklin's death. Abbott is reluctant, because "Nobody wants to know about Treadstone". Abbott describes the problem very precisely: "Conklin couldn't fix it, couldn't find Bourne, couldn't ajust." Pamela Landy proposes that Abbott arranged the death of Conklin. Abbott neither confirms nor denies the killing, but justifies it by saying "It had to be done":

Pam: Operation Treadstone.

Abbott: Never heard of it.

Pam: That won't fly.

Abbott: With all due respect, Ma'am, I think you've wandered past your pay grade.

Pam [showing a letter]: This is a warrant from the marshal[note] granting me unrestricted access to all personnel materials associated with Treadstone.

Abbott: So, what are we looking at?

Pam: I wanna know about it.

Abbott: Know about it? It was a kill squad. Black on black. We closed it down two years ago. Nobody wants to know about Treadstone. Not around here. So I think you'd better take this back to Marty and let him know exactly what you're doing.

Pam: He does. I've been down to the archives. I have the files, Ward. ... Let's talk about Conklin.

Abbott: What are you after, Pam? Do you wanna fry me? You want my desk, is that it?

Pam: I wanna know what happened.

Abbott: What happened? Jason Bourne happened. You got the files. Then let's cut the crap. Conklin had these guys wound so tight they were bound to snap. Bourne was his number one. The guy went for a job, screwed the op, never came back. Conklin couldn't fix it, couldn't find Bourne, couldn't adjust. It all went sideways.

Pam: So you had Conklin killed? I mean, if we're cutting the crap.

Abbott: I've given 30 years and two marriages to this agency. I'm due to retire next year but if you think I'm gonna sit here and let you dangle me with this, you can go to hell. And Marshall too. It had to be done.[note]

Abbott: "Never heard of it."

Abbott: "Never heard of it."

Analysis of the Power Play

I. The assassination: Director of Operations Ward Abbott uses three kinds of organizational power:

II. The interview: Pamela Landy interviews Abbott about Treadstone. Abbott is perfectly right in his description "Conklin couldn't fix it, couldn't find Bourne, couldn't ajust". But the rest of the interview is a complicated power play:

  1. Abbott denies knowledge of Operation Treadstone
  2. Abbott proposes condescending that Landy has wandered past her pay grade and proposes her to go back to the CIA Director
  3. Abbott tells that Treadstone is a very unpopular topic: Nobody wants to know about Treadstone. Not around here.
  4. Abbott accuses Landy of desiring his desk
  5. Abbott encourages Landy to cut the crap

In the interview Abbott uses three kinds of organizational power:

2. Control of knowledge and information: Denying knowledge of Treadstone.

3. Formal authority – but not used as a superior. Abbott several times tells Landy that she should go to the CIA Director for support – meaning that Landy cannot force him by her formal authority herself.

7. Control of decision processes: (1) Abbott is cleverly using a cultural control by informing her about the company's culture: Nobody wants to know about Treadstone. Not around here. (2) Abbott accuses Landy of talking nonsense: Then let's cut the crap.


Pamela Landy in turn uses two kinds of organizational power in a straightforward way:

Newspeak for the Oversight Committee

Director of Operations Ward Abbott's ability to define the decision premises is brilliantly shown in the end of the first film where Treadstone disappears and is re-born under the new name Blackbriar:

Zorn and Abbott before the oversight committee

Zorn and Abbott before the oversight committee

Abbott: The Treadstone project has already been terminated. It was designed primarily as a sort of advanced game program. We'd hoped it might build into a good training platform. But quite honestly, for a strictly theoretical exercise the cost benefit ratio was just too high. It's all but decommissioned at this point.

The Marshall: All right, what's next?

Abbott and the oversight committee

Abbott and the oversight committee

Abbott: Okay, this is ... Blackbriar. Blackbriar is a joint DOD communications program that we really feel has good traction to it. It's got legs. It'll run and run. It combines elements of proactive and reactive fields of security ...[note]

Analysis of the Power Play

Abbott uses three kinds of organizational power

The oversight committee is not informed that this is a killing squad. Maybe the committee does not want to know, if asked.

The Assassination of Station Chief Neal Daniels

In film three the Madrid CIA station chief, Neal Daniels, commits treason by talking to the reporter Simon Ross. Daniels empties his safe and escapes when he learns that Ross is killed. Noah Vosen explains to Pamela Landy:

Vosen: He ran all of our operations in southern Europe and North Africa, so he has everything. Names, dates, ghost sites, who's cooperating with us abroad. Every operation. You want that stuff in Bourne's hands, out on the market to the highest bidder? I don't think so.[note]

The Blackbriar Operation tracks Daniels' passports and finds him in Tangier, Morocco, i.e. he has fled from Spain by ferry.[note]. Pamela Landy's assistant Tom Cronin tells her the next morning that Noah Vosen probably has CIA Director Ezra Kramer's accept to kill Daniels:

Cronin: They've just tracked Daniel's passport to a hotel in Tangier. They're holding up a bank transfer he made to keep him in place while they bring an asset up from Casablanca.

Pam: They're gonna take him out?[note]

Pamela Landy calls the Director to stop this assassination, but the Director does not want to know:

Kramer: Yeah

Woman: It's Pam Landy. She says it's urgent.

Kramer: Tell her I'm unavailable.

The woman: Yes, sir.

Noah Vosen has a surveillor on the street outside Daniels' hotel in Tangier, he is listening on Daniel's room telephone, and Assassin no. 7, Desh Bouksan, is on his way to the bank.

CIA's computer screen with a real-time monitoring of the assassin and his target in Tangier

CIA's computer screen with a real-time monitoring of the assassin and his target in Tangier.

Everything is ready to let the bank release the funds and let the assassin kill Daniels, but suddenly Mike Wills finds out:

Wills: Sir, we have an unauthorised breach. Someone with active system knowledge penetrated our protocol. Instructions were sent to the asset at 1411 local time. Trace is confirmed and valid. It came from a computer belonging to Nicky Parsons.

Vosen: ... When we're finished with Daniels, send the asset after her.

Man: Yes, sir.

Vosen: We find Parsons, we find Bourne.[note]

Pamela Landy protests against this sudden death sentence:

Pam: Noah, what are you doing?

Vosen: Not now.

Pam: I wanna know what's going on.

Vosen: I said not now.

Pam [sharply]: What basis are you continuing this operation on?

Vosen: On the basis that Nicky Parsons has compromised a covert operation. She's up to her neck in this!

Pam: This is about Daniels, not Nicky!

Vosen: She has betrayed us.

Pam: You don't know the circumstances, Noah.

Vosen: She's in league with Jason Bourne, for Christ's sake!

Pam: You do not have the authority to kill her!

Vosen: Oh, yes, I do. And you had better get on board.

Pam: Noah, she's one of us. You start down this path, where does it end?

Vosen: It ends when we've won.

Vosen: "It ends when we've won". Behind him is the photo of his newest target, Nicky Parsons.

Vosen: "It ends when we've won". Behind him is the photo of his newest target, Nicky Parsons.

Pamela leaves the larger office in protest. Vosen repeats his order:

Vosen: When we're finished with Daniels, send the asset after them.

Man: Yes, sir. ... Two minutes, sir

Vosen: Tell the bank to release the funds ...

Desh releases the bomb that kills Daniels. Bourne is hit as well, but is able to escape from the police. Desh pursues Nicky through the narrow streets of the Kasbah quarter. Bourne is in the same area, saves Nicky and kills Desh after a long fight. Bourne finds Desh's phone and hands it to Nicky, saying "Code it in. We need to be dead."  

Brian: Sir? Asset confirms both targets are down.[note]

In the CIA headquarters there is a shameful, unbelieving silence. Maybe the team is thinking about the Nicky that they knew, and whom they killed.

Vosen [to Wills]: I wanna be sure about this. Ask the station chief from Rabat to confirm the deaths and do a sub-rosa collection of the bodies. I want to tie this thing off completely. And keep an eye on Landy.

This means that Noah Vosen is conspiring against Pamela Landy. Vosen calls CIA Director Kramer telling:

Vosen: Bourne and Nicky Parsons are dead.

Kramer: You sure about that?

Vosen: Our station chief in Rabat is confirming.

Kramer: I can't afford to have this come back to me.

Vosen: Don't worry. You're protected.

Kramer: Just remember why we put Landy there. If Blackbriar goes south, we'll roll it up, hang it around her neck and start over.

Not only Noah Vosen, but also Ezra Kramer is conspiring against Pamela Landy. Later, the station chief from Rabat discovers that it is Desh that is dead, not Bourne and Nicky.

Analysis of the Power Play

I. The assassination of Daniels: Daniels is committing treason by talking to the reporter Simon Ross about Treadstone. He is scared and disappears with all of the secrets from his safe. He can claim a trial, but as a high-ranking intelligence officer he cannot expect much of the case to be open to the public. Under certain circumstances he might not be guilty, but could be regarded as a whistleblower by going public with his knowledge about the illegal Treadstone assassinations.

CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen uses two kinds of organizational power for the assassination:

The equally ranking CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy is against this assassination. She uses:

The CIA Director Ezra Kramer uses:

II. The assassination attempt of Nicky: Then there is an unauthorised breach. Nicky Parson's computer is interfering in the operation. Noah Vosen decides immediately that it is Nicky herself that is guilty of compromising the operation, and he is immediately issuing a death sentence: "When we're finished with Daniels, send the asset after her".

Initially, Noah Vosen uses the same two kinds of organizational power again:

Pamela Landy is objecting to Vosen's knowledge of the circumstances, Vosen's authority to order the assassination, and to whether Vosen will ever stop killing his own personnel. In this attack Landy uses a combination of 7. Control of decision processes and 1. Rules and regulations to destroy Vosen's 3. Formal authority.

In the short run Vosen is the winner. Pamela leaves the office in protest. All other employees are watching her – meaning that everybody is aware that it is doubtful:

Actually, Nicky has eloped with Bourne. She broke into the computer network because she has changed side from supporting Operation Blackbriar to support Bourne instead. Her loyalty according to the 3. Formal authority was only effective as long as she accepted it. Instead, she uses two other organizational powers[note]:

III. Aftermath. After the message with the deaths of Daniels, Nicky and Bourne, Vosen and Wills are conspiring against Landy. Kramer is also a part of the conspiracy against Pamela Landy. Vosen, Wills, and Kramer uses 5. Networks and alliances for a 2. Control of knowledge and information instead of following the 1. Rules and regulations.

"A National Security Situation"

In the third film Deputy Director Noah Vosen is feeling the threat of having Jason Bourne around. Two times he declares it a national security emergency:

Simon Ross had already written about Blackbriar and Jason Bourne in The Guardian, so CIA could not just kill Ross and then hope that nothing would be published. Bourne did show up at Waterloo Station, yes, but Wills had activated Assassin no. 6 long time before CIA knew that Jason Bourne was present. And what is the imminent threat for national security by having a hostile agent near the New York office? When you choose an office building with large windows in the middle of New York, you give up the idea of totally clandestine operations. The solution to the national security situation is to move out of the city, for example to Langley.

During the hunt for Bourne through New York, Noah Vosen wants secure perimeters everywhere:

Vosen: Set a four-block perimeter around the building

Vosen: Set a four-block perimeter around the building.

The recurrent declarations of national security emergency are parts of a power play in the sense that Vosen is using his authority to lead and motivate his troops. As Bourne is playing hide-and-seek through Manhattan, Vosen wants secure perimeters everywhere.

There is neither time nor personnel for such extensive security measures. Noah Vosen is loosing his grip, because Bourne is too quick for him. This is not a national security emergency. It is a tired leader of illegal operations who is losing his judgement.

By using his 3. Formal authority, Vosen loses it. Formal authority is only effective if it is legitimized from below, and the employees' loyalty will soon be gone.

Dr. Hirsch Persuading Bourne

In the third film Jason Bourne is finally reaching the CIA training center in New York where he was brainwashed away from being Captain David Webb into the assassin Jason Bourne. In a flashback Bourne remembers how Neal Daniels introduced David Webb to Dr. Hirsch:

Daniels: Captain Webb.

Dr. Hirsch: Good morning, Captain. ... Has everything been explained to you?

Webb/Bourne: Yes, sir. ...

Dr. Hirsch: Your missions will save American lives.

Webb/Bourne: I understand, sir. ...

Dr. Hirsch: When we are finished with you, you will no longer be David Webb.

Webb/Bourne: I'll be whoever you need me to be, sir. ...[note]

In a later flashback, Dr. Hirsch is talking Bourne into killing an anonymous prisoner in the corner of the room. Dr. Hirsch is speaking to Bourne as if Bourne was a little boy. In the corner of the room is a pinioned prisoner ready to be executed by Bourne.

Dr. Hirsch: You came to us. You volunteered. You said you'd do anything it takes to save American lives. You're not a liar, are you? Or too weak to see this through? This is it. Let go of David Webb. Really give yourself to this programme.

[Bourne rises and shoots the prisoner]

Dr. Hirsch: You're no longer David Webb. From now on you'll be known as Jason Bourne. Welcome to the programme.

[Neal Daniels checks the corpse.][note]

In these flashbacks, Dr. Hirsch has two main allegations:

  1. Bourne was assured he would be saving American lives
  2. Bourne chose himself to become Jason Bourne
Dr. Hirsch: You're not a liar, are you?

Dr. Hirsch: You're not a liar, are you?

Now, at the end of the third film, Bourne is confronting Dr. Hirsch:

Bourne: You said I'd be saving American lives.

Dr. Hirsch: You were.

Bourne: I was killing for you. For them.

Dr. Hirsch: You knew exactly what it meant for you if you chose to stay. ... You cannot outrun what you did, Jason. You made yourself into who you are. Eventually you're gonna have to face the fact you chose right here to become Jason Bourne. ... Now, do you remember?

Bourne: I remember. I remember everything. I'm no longer Jason Bourne.[note]


Bourne: Why me? Why did you pick me?

Dr. Hirsch: You really don't remember, do you? We didn't pick you. You picked us. You volunteered. Right here. Even after you were warned.[note]


Dr. Hirsch uses 4. Management of meaning and 7. Control of decision processes (both decision premises and decision-making processes) to manipulate Captain Webb to accept the role as assassin.

Dr. Hirsch maintains his allegations, but that is a questionable defense:

  1. Bourne was told he would be saving American lives. That may be true, but Bourne was talked into the role as assassin, meaning in general he was not saving lives. And American lives have been disposed of in the Treadstone and Blackbriar operations, at least Conklin and Daniels.
  2. Bourne was told that he chose himself to become Jason Bourne. That is a lie. Apparently he volunteered, OK, but he was under heavy pressure from a trained psychologist..