If you had to count some of the best-know spy characters on your fingertips, Jason Bourne’s name would definitely be one of them. Played by Matt Damon, the story of the superspy suffering from amnesia raked in a lot of money for its makers. The story itself had such a grand scope that what was intended to be a trilogy spawned into two more films. Now, it has received a spin-off in the form of the television series, ‘Treadstone’.
While it is thrilling to watch a story of highly-trained superspies who parkour around, kicking ass, fluently speaking multiple languages just because, and are capable of single-handedly taking down a bunch of people, it also makes us question, could there really be a government program that turns people into such badass assassins? Could ‘Treadstone’ be a real thing? Here’s the answer.
What is ‘Treadstone’ About?
‘Treadstone’ follows the story of various sleeper agents who are activated, under different circumstances, to carry out their deadly missions. They all fall under Project Treadstone, which was supposed to be closed after Jason Bourne went rogue. Turns out, the project was bigger than the CIA had imagined and now they had some cleaning up to do.
On bringing together diverse characters from all over the world under the same umbrella, executive producer Ben Smith said, “We don’t really have good guys or bad guys. People do bad things, but according to them, their actions are completely justified. But we also play out the consequences of a lot of these decisions. We follow our characters’ personal journeys and as they try to make sense of these events, eventual crossover between the stories becomes more and more likely as the season continues.”
Even though we don’t get to see Jason Bourne in the show, Smith confirmed that the television series is actively connected to the films and could have ties with future films as well.
Is ‘Treadstone’ Based on a True Story?
No, ‘Treadstone’ is not based on a true story. The show serves as a prequel as well as a continuation of the Bourne universe. It takes place in two parallel storylines, where one is set in the Cold War era during the early days of the program, while the other takes place in the present day, in the aftermath of the mess left behind by Bourne.
Treadstone is an operation mentioned in the Bourne film series, which, in turn, is based on the book series of the same name by Robert Ludlum. The original three books on which the original trilogy is based are written by Ludlum. After his death, the story was carried over in several other novels by Eric Van Lustbader.
While the story itself might not be based on a true event, the incident that inspired Ludlum to write it was a very personal experience that he slipped into Bourne’s life. While he had read up on the tales of real-life spies, it was after he suffered from a temporary bout of amnesia himself that he wondered if his lead character could have the same problem. The writer could not account for 12 whole hours of his life, and that got him thinking.
The use of “Bourne” as the protagonist’s name has been traced back to a man named Ansel Bourne, who suffered from dissociative fugue, something similar to Bourne’s amnesiac state.
What is ‘Treadstone’ Inspired By?
Remember how spy movies have taught us not to trust government agencies with three-lettered acronyms? Well, after this, you are going to be even more distrustful of them. In writing the novels, Ludlum majorly depended on his overactive imagination and perhaps even wild conspiracy theories to write spy fiction. However, there were some cases floating around during the same time that could easily be swapped for Treadstone and might have inspired Ludlum’s stories.
In the early 70s, Americans were shocked to find out that the CIA had been working on a program that used them as the guinea pigs, and it was all about mind control, no less. Project MKUltra, which had been in operation since the early 50s, was brought to light and it was revealed that the secret service was working on something that would not only allow them to break down enemy agents but also help them exercise control over their own. And it looks likes CIA was not the only one to have tried such a thing. Soviets, Chinese, and even North Koreans had been meddling in this science for quite some time.
There was a branch of MKUltra, called Project Midnight Climax, in which CIA had prostitutes on its payroll to bring in people who would then be dosed with LSD, given electroshocks and put through sensory deprivation, among other things. After some time, the agency started dosing people in restaurants, bars and beaches! Not just Americans, but Canadians also fell victim to this. Before all of this, they even had detention camps in Europe and East Asian countries, where they tried out these methods on captured agents.
In 1973, the projects were scrapped, and many documents related to them were destroyed before they could be properly investigated. Whatever remained have been slowly declassified, over time. In December 2018, a new document came to light. It was a letter to a doctor and the topic of discussion were six dogs who had been administered brain implants and were manipulated through remote control! But hey, they have stopped now, right? At least that’s what they want us to believe.
A CIA agent, who had held various posts in the agency and resigned from it later, revealed in 1992 that the agency used disinformation and cover-up stories to lead the public astray. The work was still very much in progress. Another investigative journalist for Canada claims that the projects are just placed under a different name, but the work is still the same.
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