‘Ghosts of Beirut’: The true spy story of CIA’s hunt for deadly terrorist
Showtime’s new limited series Ghosts of Beirut is based on one of the greatest espionage stories of modern times, which has only recently been declassified: the manhunt for Imad Mughniyeh, the elusive Lebanese terrorist who plagued his adversaries in the CIA and Mossad for over two decades.
Mughniyeh was the terrorist responsible for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, which took out the entire CIA station there — and contributed to what director and executive producer Greg Barker (Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden) described as an obsession across the intelligence community with Hezbollah and terrorism within the Middle East for the next twenty years.
From the official synopsis: Based on a true story, Mugniyeh took terrorism to deadly new levels, creating public martyrs out of anonymous suicide bombers. As CIA and Mossad operatives were haunted by Imad’s actions, they unexpectedly join forces in a high-stakes international chase to finally find and take down the man known as “the ghost.”
The four-part spy drama is supported by deep journalistic research and documentary elements while remaining a narrative series. Barker, whose father was in the U.S. Navy, approached the series with respect for the circumstances of the past two decades since 9/11 as well as curiosity towards the human component of both sides of the story.
Without giving away any spoilers, that human element is what led to the intelligence breakthrough that finally allowed for the killing of Mughniyeh. “There was a great, gripping spy story here, but more than that, there was humanity on all sides of this conflict,” Barker told We Are The Mighty. “I think a lot of people were trying to find some redemption from the sins of their past and it’s not always possible because the consequences of the choices we make in our lives are real.”
Barker, no stranger to telling military stories, worked to keep the story as accurate and authentic as possible within the restrictions of a visual medium. For this, he enlisted the help of Nick Donadio, a military advisor who had the challenge of recreating scenarios that were highly classified decades before camera phones made photo memories prevalent. “There were no pictures of Marines in uniform at these locations in 1985 so we had to make educated guesses when making wardrobe choices,” Barker shared. There were also strict regulations regarding weapons on set. That being said, “authenticity permeated the whole production.”
Ultimately, the Showtime series provides a gripping recollection of an incredible true espionage story as well as important insight into the intelligence community, the motivations behind terrorism, and the toll war takes on the human spirit.
“I think trying to understand the world a little bit better and to emphasize with our adversaries helps us see the world in a nuanced and better way,” Barker reflected.
Ghosts of Beirut stars Dina Shihabi, Dermot Mulroney, Garret Dillahunt, Iddo Goldberg, Hisham Suleiman, Amir Khoury and Rafi Gavron.
The series is now available to watch on Showtime.