'The Rock' Screenwriter Can't Believe U.K. Officials Used Film in Iraq Weapons Reports
The film's nerve gas weapons were described in MI6 intelligence and served as part of the justification for military intervention in 2002, according to the Iraq War report.
The Chilcot Inquiry — the 2.6 million-word report into the U.K.'s role in the U.S.-led Iraq War of 2003, finally published last week after seven years of waiting — dredged up some rather uncomfortable truths lurking at the heart of British political history.
Huge intelligence failures, a commitment to go to war when other options hadn't been exhausted, and a total failure to consider the consequences were just some of the conclusions, leveled mostly at former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But even with Blair long labeled a war criminal by critics in the U.K. and many of the findings widely anticipated, those looking for surprises in the report weren't disappointed: Lurking amid the various volumes was the suggestion that an unnamed source with supposedly "phenomenal access" to Iraq's chemical weapons program had, in fact, been taking elements from the plot of Michael Bay's 1996 action-thriller The Rock and feeding them to British intelligence as fact.
Naturally, the news was a surprise to many, not least David Weisberg, who co-wrote the script with the late Douglas S. Cook.
"I had no idea," he tells The Hollywood Reporter after his friend ex-National Geographic exec David Lyle emailed him the story. "It boggles the mind."
Weisberg and Cook did go to a chemical weapons expert in 1994 to research the story for The Rock, in which Ed Harris' rogue Marine seizes a stockpile of rockets armed with a deadly nerve gas (only to be thwarted by Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery). But the information they received about such weapons — in which two "inert, colorless, odorless substances" are kept in separate chambers until detonation — was just "very, very boring."
"Film is a visual medium, and there's nothing visual about a substance that is colorless," says Weisberg.
To liven it up a little for the big screen, both he and Cook put their imagination to work.
"We invented this whole string of glass pearls concept, invented out of whole cloth," he says. "Because it gave us these little round globules with green in them that you could see and be frightened of. And when one of those globules threatened to break, that's when the bad stuff would happen. But it's totally invented."
What Weisberg didn't expect when adding these "totally invented" glass pearls to the story of The Rock in 1994 was that eight years later they would become a central element of MI6 intelligence into Iraq's chemical weapons capabilities, which claimed that nerve agents VX, sarin and soman were being produced in the Al-Yarmuk facility and contained in "linked hollow glass spheres."
According to the Chilcot Inquiry, "one recipient" of the report did put a hand up to highlight similarities to the film (and that "glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions"), but by the time the source had been confirmed as being bogus, it was too late: the Iraq War had started and Saddam Hussein's regime had been toppled.
"What staggers me is whoever was debriefing this source didn't take that information to the nearest chemical weapons expert, who immediately would have debunked it as bullshit," says Weisberg. "Because it's made up!"
But are there any other dubious, totally invented plot lines, from the scriptwriter or elsewhere, likely to find themselves in military intelligence reports?
"I hope not," he adds. "I mean, good lord, if movies were reality, we'd be in trouble."