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Homeland Security guides the stars
by Mimi Hall    USA Today
Entered into the database on Wednesday, March 09th, 2005 @ 16:39:26 MST


Untitled Document WASHINGTON — Homeland security is going Hollywood.

Following the Pentagon, CIA, FBI and other government agencies, the Department of Homeland Security has hired a Hollywood liaison to work with moviemakers and scriptwriters.

Bobbie Faye Ferguson, a onetime actress who worked with Hollywood at NASA for seven years, is now reviewing 14 movie, TV and documentary projects. If she approves of a script or idea, the department will offer advice and technical help to the directors, producers and actors about portraying the nation's homeland defenders. (Related story: Hollywood, Pentagon share rich past)

Demand for her services is high. Although Homeland Security's Border Patrol agents and airport baggage screeners may not seem as daring as CIA spies or as brave as Pentagon warriors, fighting terrorism is a hot topic in the entertainment industry these days.

"I've had dozens and dozens of inquiries," says Ferguson, who was touring the California-Mexico border Monday with two screenwriters. "It's always been a topic they've been interested in, but more so now."

Already, the department has given guidance to last year's The Terminal, in which Tom Hanks played an immigrant stranded at JFK airport in New York, and to the TV shows CSI: Miami and NCIS.

At least a half-dozen other government agencies have long had employees charged with promoting their image and providing technical help on documentaries, movies and TV shows and in novels. The Pentagon, which has had an entertainment office since it was created in 1947, often allows moviemakers to film its planes, ships and other equipment.

Some critics say the government shouldn't spend money trying to burnish the image of its agencies.

In Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, author David Robb last year portrayed the Pentagon's office as a propaganda machine that cajoles Hollywood into showing the military only in a positive light. In addition to the main office, each branch of the military has a Hollywood office in Los Angeles.

Phil Strub, who runs the Pentagon's office, says he hopes the movies he works on will "make the American public a little more aware of its military and possibly be of benefit to its recruiting." He disputes the notion that the military interferes with the creative process: "If this was so coercive and onerous, why would people keep coming back?"

Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says Ferguson will help "give the public a better understanding of how the department ... protects the country."

She was hired in October at a top government salary and makes more than $100,000. For now, she is a one-woman show. As a result, Homeland Security is spending less than other agencies on its entertainment office.

Still, Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense complains about the expense. He says the department should focus all its attention on securing the nation's vulnerable sites — not its reputation. "Agencies pay for public relations and spin to make the public like them more, but it doesn't mean it's a good expenditure," he says.