How Michael Bay's 'The Rock' Was Used to Justify War in Iraq

Michael Bay

The newly published report on the Iraq War claims British intelligence may have ripped off the plot of the action thriller to help justify military intervention.

Want someone to blame for the Iraq War? Blame Michael Bay. 

According to the Chilcot Inquiry, the exhaustive investigation into Britain's role in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, British intelligence used the plot of Bay's film The Rock to help make its case for war.

The report, published on Wednesday after seven years of work, asserted that elements of the 1996 action thriller became part of the "valuable intelligence" the British secret service MI6 presented arguing for military intervention to topple Iraq leader Saddam Hussein.

In the film, Ed Harris plays a rogue Marine who seizes a stockpile of rockets armed with deadly nerve gas, takes control of Alcatraz and threatens to launch his new arsenal against San Francisco. Out to stop him are the unlikely duo of Nicolas Cage, a chemical weapons specialist with the FBI, and Sean Connery, a former inmate and the only man to ever escape from the prison island.

The element of the story that made it into the Chilcot Inquiry concerned Harris' nerve gas, which was famously stored in spherical glass containers (perfect for an edge-of-the-seat scene in which they roll precariously around the floor).

In an MI6 report from September 2002, a "new source" with "phenomenal access" to Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capabilities claimed that nerve agents VX, sarin and soman had been produced at a facility in Al-Yarmuk, and stored in containers including "linked hollow glass spheres."

Eyebrows were soon raised inside MI6 after the report was circulated, with "one recipient" pointing out the similarities to the film.

According to the Inquiry, it was suggested that "glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions; and that a popular move (The Rock) had inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres."

But despite these doubts, the same source was again cited in a report claiming that Iraq was accelerating its chemical and biological weapons programs and had built more facilities.

The report, claimed the Chilcot Inquiry, played a significant role in the arguments put forward by the then British prime minister Tony Blair in his justification for war, helping him make "key judgments about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capabilities."

By 2003, however, MI6's doubts had been confirmed and the "source had been revealed to have been lying," according to the inquiry, and after a meeting in June was concluded to be "a fabricator who had lied from the outset."

But by then, of course, the Iraq War was already in full swing with Hussein — nerve gas in glass spheres or not — already toppled.