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CIA training is harder than it looks in American Made


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Suddenly a moment of doubt seeps in. Why? I'm certain that I'm telling the truth, but the machine says that I'm not. All I said was my date and place of birth, could I be lying without realising?

What if somehow the machine is right?

This isn't a usual polygraph test. I'm at Feref Soho taking part in Can You Keep Your Cool? - an event to see how journalists react under pressure. Marking the launch of American Made tomorrow, the event is designed to test your skills as a CIA agent in various capacities.

As for the film itself, it stars Tom Cruise as a pilot who is recruited by the CIA due to the Communist takeovers in Central America, where he meets Pablo Escobar on his travels - that's where it starts getting a bit heavy. 

In Feref's HQ, I sit on a small sofa as I wait to be taken in next door. I'm introduced to a man wearing a black baseball cap, black vest, black trousers, black shades, and a black belt. His khaki shirt is the only thing that isn't black. His belt has silver handcuffs attached. He speaks in a deep American accent, I'm to refer to him as "Sir" as he takes me around the exercise. I'm slightly bemused, but I daren't show it, this guy has a commanding voice. 

The polygraph test starts off nice and easy, my name and such the like. But then the aforementioned question comes up and the machine doesn't like it. But I'm certain about this, or maybe it's all part of the test. It certainly does work, for it gives me a bit of trepidation. 

"Sir" as I have to call him, then asks if I'm currently keeping a secret. The answer is "Yes, sir" because well, I'm a man of mystery. Then I'm asked "Anything you'd like to share or are you keeping secrets from me?", I say "No, sir" attempting to sound as cool as possible, it appears to work. "Sir" nods in agreement and jots something down.

He then asks me "What is the biggest risk you've ever taken?" I think long and hard of this, my risks might have something to do with my secrets, some I pulled off and nobody ever had to know. Once I've eliminated the ones I do not want to mention, there's nothing that stands out. After a pause that appears to be longer than the dictionary, I say: "I'm not much of a risk taker".

Next up is the reaction test, I'm up against the instructor here.

He scolds me for sitting on the wrong chair. We both hold controllers, he explains, there's a light in the middle, whilst it is red, we wait, when it is green we must press the button. Whoever presses quickest wins. We have three goes, and my reactions can be really extreme. But today, I've got this, I have to have this, I'll receive an electric shock if I don't (mild, yes, but there's pride at stake).

My body tenses, every inch of me edging forward to my thumb, waiting in anticipation, like a child the night before Christmas. Green, I think, Green. Bang, it's there, I press, I win. Sir wins the second. The shock goes up my body, it's harmless but it's kind of weird. Like a sudden vibration that you feel and then can't explain. But I repeat the trick for the third, winning the contest.

Next is dexterity, a version of the old buzzer game. I have to get the coil from A-B and hit the wire less than ten times. Anyone who knows me knows that coordination and I get on as well as Batman and The Joker. I took a deep breath and went slowly, but I was nervous and this made me shake. I got one of my hits off the record, but I still was out before I'd reached a quarter of the way through. I was given a look that said: "I'm not angry, I'm disappointed". 

The next challenge was flying. I had a toy helicopter, and I had to move it and fly it upwards to drop the cargo at the end of the runway. In American Made, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) has a small runway to deal with as well, when we both really could use the runway in Fast and Furious 6 in this one. 

I must've been 12 last time I had used one of these. Thankfully, my runway was also small, meaning it would seem to work in my favour. It doesn't. I want to show off and impress everyone watching, so as soon as I work what the power switch is, a full 20 seconds after the time starts, I over do it. Smash the helicopter into the ceiling and it crashes on the floor. 


After establishing the helicopter still works, I try again. Once I have it up good and steady, I think perhaps it's time to shift into gear. I smash it into the plant in the corner of the room, and it hangs from a leaf. My third go was over just as quick as it started. Sir (I never did find out his name) shakes my hand: "I like you Hans, but that was terrible!"

I wish the experience was longer, I enjoyed it and it was cool, something I had never done before. 

It got me really pumped to see the film and watching it, whilst I didn't at first realise the significance of the activities apart from the helicopter, it made sense. Barry Seal had to lie, be quick and good with his hands, it makes you appreciate the skill required to pull off his real life feats (don't look him up until after you've seen the film because spoilers), regardless of your ethical standing.

Doing a role play of CIA training was great and I enjoyed the excitement, but I certainly need to work on my flying and dexterity. The event reminded me of why I love CIA films so much, sometimes they're not the most realistic but you can see past that because the high octane need for speed, drama, and tension is just so satisfying. 

American Made will be in cinemas 25th August 2017.

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