What If the Men in Black, SHIELD, and Star Trek Were Real?

Credit: Marvel Studios

Well, America, it’s that time again. Today is the day that many of us will see substantial chunks of our hard-earned money slip from our pockets via the nimble fingers of Uncle Sam. Mof us understand the societal benefits of our paying taxes, but somehow civic duty is paltry consolation for the reduction of personal savings. All that said, one of the conduits through which the government funnels our tax money is the funding of state and federal agencies. We’re well aware of those agencies that exist today, but we’re perhaps more familiar with those that don’t.

For years, we have been following various fictional government installations in popular films. In an effort to reduce the sting of Tax Day, we thought we’d take a more logistical look at these entities, and see how the current political climate might affect their real-world inception.

The Men in Black, The Men in Black Series

They walk in the shadows, they move in silence, and they guard against extraterrestrial violence. Let’s take out of the equation for a moment the fact that alien life has never been substantiated in the cosmos let alone walking among us. After all, isn’t the entire point of the MIB to prevent us from knowing that in the first place? Instead, let us consider the real hindrance to the implementation of an actual MIB: lack of government oversight.

The basic tenets of checks and balances in the Constitution would, ideally, derail the creation of a non-regulated agency that reported to no branch of government whatsoever. That’s something that would never fly with, say, The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who, according to their own mission statement, are tasked with “oversight of virtually everything government does — from national security to homeland security grants, from federal workforce policies to regulatory reform and reorganization authority, from information technology procurements at individual agencies to government-wide data security standards.”

The one thing that would actually work in MIB’s favor is the fact that their independence from any government branch is a two-way street. True they don’t report to anyone, but they also require no funding from taxpayers. As agent K points out, the MIB holds the patents on a number of technologies they have confiscated from alien visitors. They are a self-sustaining agency. Given the fact that, according to former Illinois Congresswoman Melissa Bean, “for the last 4 years, our Federal Government has produced the four biggest deficits in history,” one can image how this fiscal autonomy would be pleasing to those watching the bottom line.

S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers

Earth’s mightiest heroes, or a time bomb ready to explode? Once again playing the hypothetical game, let’s assume we lived in a world in which superheroes were a reality. Sure, it would be nice to have them around in times of Chitauri invasion, but how would the real-world version of S.H.I.E.L.D. assemble its Avengers? Nick Fury, as the head of a government law enforcement agency, would not be able to simply collect an uneasy Dr. Banner in India or pluck Thor out of the sky. As federal employees, there would questionnaires, background checks, and other OPM regulations to consider.

The Office of Personnel Management is responsible for recruiting the workforce in government agencies. According to their mission statement, “the interests of national security require that all persons privileged to be employed in the departments and agencies of the government shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States.” How does that apply to a citizen of Asgard or a guy whose emotions can turn him into a monster at the drop of a hat?

Even with the reforms made by former OPM Director John Berry in, as he stated, “making it quicker and easier to connect the best candidates with Federal jobs,” one still wonders if Thor or Hulk would hold up to intense pre-hire investigations and background checks. These two are particularly suspect, as Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow are essentially already government employees and Tony Stark’s weapon contracts give him an elevated security clearance; though he at one point failed to qualify for The Avenger Initiative by his own admission.

IMF, Mission: Impossible

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) may have to contend with a steady stream of madmen, power-hungry syndicates, and general evildoers, but the real impossible mission is making it to retirement at IMF. The Impossible Mission Force has a standard policy on the books that if any member of one of their teams is caught or killed, the secretary disavows all knowledge of their actions. As a federal entity, would they really be able to pretend their operatives never existed? Actually, it looks like that could very well be the case.

A report filed by Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo, former high-ranking CIA official, revealed details of the agency’s ultra-secret Special Activities Division (SAD). He stated that not only do SAD agents “not wear uniforms or carry items that connect them to the U.S. government” while on assignment abroad, but also “If they are caught, the government may disavow any connection to them.” Furthermore, according to Melissa Goodman of the ACLU, “Most national security whistleblowers are not protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act.” That means that even though Ethan’s own boss was to blame for the crisis in the first film, he could have potentially had no recourse, and he could have been disavowed as retribution.

Treadstone, The Bourne Series

As if being an international spy weren’t a difficult enough occupation, Jason Bourne had the misfortune of working for what are, arguably, the shadiest arms of the CIA: Treadstone and its successor Blackbriar. The overseers of these arms made illegal moves left and right and ended leaving a memory-deprived Bourne to take the fall. All throughout the film series, people sympathetic to Bourne would be slowly filled in on “need to know” details of his background. Would these wrongdoers be able to withhold such vital details from those within their own government?

Let’s take a look at an incident from recent headlines. When President Obama was criticized for using drones to kill suspected terrorists in February, he insisted that his office had been transparent with Congress about their efforts. “My administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts,” he added. This is an especially relevant example, because in The Bourne Legacy, the CIA tried to use a drone to take out another operative, Aaron Cross. It’s not so much whether Obama was truthful when he claimed transparency, but the fact that his actions were so scrutinized would suggest that even the dirtiest of CIA administrators would not be able to so simply cover their tracks. Some committee would have raked them across the coals long before they suffered the wrath of double-crossed agents as tenacious as Bourne and Cross.

Starfleet, Star Trek

So now the big question, or at least the big question as we see it: how far are we from the inception of Starfleet? Sure, it’s a pipe dream, but are we even seeing any steps being taken that might eventually lead to the formation of an international (or indeed interplanetary) exploration and paramilitary organization? Let’s look at the status of NASA as a barometer for the realization of our dreams.

Recently, NASA’s budget for 2014 was revealed, and at first glance it seemed really positive. They were only facing a 1% drop from 2013’s budget overall. However, the bad news here is that the Planetary Exploration program looked to suffer a $200 million cut. This would derail, among other things, a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons that scientists think might support life. CEO of the Planetary Society, and well-known television personality Bill Nye remarked “NASA did not get the message from Congress and the public about their wishes for missions to distant worlds.”

It would seem that until something is done to stabilize the economy, allowing for the more equitable distribution of funds throughout the various facets of NASA, we won’t be boldly going anywhere for a long, long time.

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