KID CARNEY (working title)
By Jeff Carney
Adapted and produced by Simon Reade & Guy de Beaujeu
Directed by Saul Dibb
Before Bradley Manning, before Edward Snowden, there was Jeff Carney.
A TRUE SPY STORY
CARNEY is a true Cold War spy thriller set in 1980s Berlin, echoing the anti-hero ambiguity of Homeland and the historical backdrop of films like The Lives of Others and Argo.
Jeff Carney’s recent autobiography Against All Enemies has been optioned by Fluidity Films,
CARNEY was a naïve, gay, disillusioned young US Air Force Officer posted to West Berlin who, bizarrely, tried to defect from West to East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie in the dead of night.
He was sent back by the incredulous STASI with the challenge to prove himself by spying on his fellow Americans. He did so assiduously, and was finally rewarded with asylum in East Berlin shortly before the Berlin Wall tumbled – when he was exposed to the Americans by the very people for whom he was spying.
He was kidnapped and rendered back to the US to face a court martial and the electric chair.
West Berlin. April 1983. Midnight.
As JEFF CARNEY, a young US Air Force intelligence linguist, approached Checkpoint Charlie, his steps grew shaky and he began to sweat. A Mid-Western American, he was surely heading in the wrong direction? He was making a bee-line for the hard-line Communist East German border. As he crossed the white line separating West from East, he thought he was safe. He couldn't have been more wrong.
Depressed by his job, his family life, coming to terms with his homosexuality, CARNEY wanted out. Spurred on by ideological differences and an admiration for all things GDR, he just wanted to live quietly in the East. Even as a kid he had always had a fondness for the German attributes of orderliness and efficiency. How wrong could he be?
After a severe interrogation, the incredulous STASI sent him back. If he wanted to defect first he needed to start spying. If he didn’t, they’d denounce him to the US authorities as a traitor. He was just 19.
CARNEY was a fish out of water, operating in a cocktail of fear, excitement, sexual tension, radical protest and home-grown terrorism. Furtive meetings took place in the depths of the Eiskeller Forest. CARNEY would scale the Berlin Wall to meet RALF, his clever & manipulative STASI handler and a man CARNEY quickly came to regard as the father figure he had never had.
Like a Boy’s Own story, he’d conceal a miniature camera in a Lipton Ice Tea can to snap classified documents. For the first time in his life CARNEY began to feel valued and part of a team. Under RALF’s tutelage he began to believe that the balance of power between East & West needed re-calibrating and he was happy to help.
Eventually CARNEY was posted back to an intelligence training facility in Texas, from where he continued to supply RALF with even more information, travelling to Rio and Mexico to pass over his secrets. But the huge psychological pressure on him was beginning to tell. He felt time was running out and secretly prepared to leave the US and his family forever for a life behind the Iron Curtain.
To RALF’s horror, out of the blue CARNEY arrived in Mexico City and defected to the GDR embassy. It was a move that RALF could never forgive. After a cloak-and-dagger dash from Mexico, via Cuba and Czechoslovakia, and back to East Berlin, CARNEY was finally rewarded by the STASI with asylum in the East.
He fell in love with WOLFGANG and set up a modest home and got a modest job, listening in on the US embassy in West Berlin, in a neat reversal of his previous role for the Americans. All seemed content and happily ever after.
But then, disaster: the Cold War suddenly ended and the Berlin Wall was torn down.
Unbeknown to CARNEY, RALF was joining a growing list of key STASI operatives happy to betray his fellow countrymen. And RALF had the details of the biggest fish the US authorities wanted to catch.
So CARNEY found himself betrayed, by the man he saw as a father figure. And one day, he just disappeared. WOLFGANG never saw him again.
CARNEY was bundled into the back of a van, shoved onto a military aircraft and flown back to the States, a victim of top secret rendition. In Fort Leavenworth, he faced his accusers in a trial of Kafkaesque proportions, threatened with the death penalty for spying against his nation.
US Air Force lawyers were appointed to notionally defend him – they were the only thing that stood between Carney’s principled stand against American provocations during the Cold War, and the electric chair.
But was Jeff Carney really the traitor? Or simply an unhappy young soldier cleverly turned by the STASI to protect itself against the increasingly belligerent West, in the face of the Iron Curtain’s almost certain demise?
This is one of the most spectacular Cold War spy thrillers never told. Until now. Carney’s story is played out against a backdrop of Reagan’s Star Wars and Thatcher’s rhetoric, of the West Berlin music scene – David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream – of underground gay bars and illicit nightclubs.
And as the balance of power seemed to swing dangerously against the Iron Curtain, nuclear war edged ever closer.
© Fluidity Films Ltd 2019
Extended treatment available.