The Impossible Mission Force (IMF) is an elite secret branch of the Central Intelligence Agency that handles dangerous and highly sensitive international assignments deemed "impossible." Employed only when all other routes have failed, the highly covert missions of the specialist agents are subject to official denial in the event of failure, death or capture.
Situations that are too hot politically, too dangerous for politicians to be trusted to confront, or too absurd for conventional elements of the CIA are all pursued by this top-secret organization. The IMF is a specialized group of expert agents that remain hidden from the public and most government eyes. If the IMF were revealed to exist, the U.S. would be forced out of the United Nations and banned as a "pariah state."
It is for this reason that the IMF trains its operatives so rigorously in the ways of stealth, deception, persuasion and the art of "invisibility." Agents are well educated, multi-talented and trained in a variety of areas including long distance surveillance, computers, demolition tactics and even assassination. One of the best-funded spy organizations in the world, the IMF also possesses millions of dollars worth of specialized gadgetry and weapons.
Not all of the IMF's operatives are top of line, and some have been disciplined or forced out of the agency for their unacceptable behavior during missions. The spies forced out of the IMF are the most dangerous individuals to the agency, as they could easily detail secrets about the organization to any number of foreign and rogue governments.
The IMF bears the brunt of today's international attacks, now focused on concealed entry and espionage. The missions keep getting harder and harder - but so do the agents.
The Impossible Mission Force is constructed along the cell structure. The ordinary members of the cell (four or more) will know the other members by name, and little or nothing more. This is for their own safety.
The team leader, who may or may not be a field agent, will receive instructions from a drop-point designated via a telephone call. Except in the rarest of circumstances, this will be the only contact any of the team will have with higher command. Again, the only IM agents known to an operative will be those within his or her own cell. For all they know, theirs may be the only cell in the IMF.
The IMF is different to most intelligence organizations in that, once their orders have been given, there are no required procedures for the fulfillment of the mission. They can use whatever means they deem necessary. Success is all that matters.
IMF agents are very unusual people, even when compared with "ordinary" special operators or "ordinary" spies without official cover. They may disregard any law, agreement, or framework of ethical behavior in order to accomplish the mission. For example, the operative may kill in combat or by assassination, may torture or kidnap people, may deploy on U. S. soil, may spy on other U. S. government agencies, etc. The downside is, of course, obvious. If an operative is captured or killed, the Secretary of State will disavow any knowledge of their actions and claim that person has gone rogue.
The missions in which the IMF is typically engaged are of an extremely sensitive nature. Therefore, success will almost never come from the barrel of a gun. Subtlety is the IMF's watchword. If the mission could be solved as easily as pulling a trigger, it would have been one of the ordinary government agencies which would have performed it.
Due to the constraints placed on IMF missions, and the pressure to avoid an international incident in many cases, planning is of the utmost importance. The agents always make back-up plans for when things do not go as expected.
The Impossible Mission Force had its genesis in a Special Forces team founded in the 1950s and headed by Lt. Col. Daniel David Briggs. During the period ranging from the final months of the Korean War to shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, this special team undertook a variety of hazardous classified missions; due to the nature of those missions, the official military policy was to disavow any knowledge of the team's activities.
Shortly after the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Briggs left the military and went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency; it was here that he made the acquaintance of fellow CIA officer named Jim Phelps, who had learned of the existence of Briggs' Special Forces squadron and soon enlisted Briggs' assistance in launching a similar unit within the Agency. In the beginning Phelps oversaw IMF operations from the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where his duties included the recruitment of IMF field agents and determining what possible missions might best be suited to the IMF's special abilities, and was answerable to only the CIA director, the Secretary of Defense and the President himself. As the unit's field supervisor, Briggs was granted the authority to accept or reject any missions offered to the IMF for consideration; he was also given the responsibility of overseeing the planning of those missions, and selecting which agents would be best suited to a particular assignment.
Among the first agents to be recruited to the new team of operatives were two men who had served under Briggs in his Special Forces unit: Barney Collier, an engineer, electrician and ballistics expert; and Willy Armitage, a former Olympic weightlifter who, upon leaving the military, had found work as a circus strongman. They were joined by master of disguise Rollin Hand and actress/model Cinnamon Carter, whose individual talents proved invaluable to the IMF on countless occasions. This group, along with Briggs, was the original core group - the "A Team," if you will - of the IMF; they were aided and abetted by a number of additional special agents over the years, and as time went on and the IMF went through a number of alterations they were eventually succeeded by other agents, including Collier's own son Grant and a young CIA agent named Ethan Hunt.
The senior CIA officials who entrusted all manner of special assignments to this unit considered the IMF little more than a sort of "suicide squad" - a team of ingenious daredevils, con artists and saboteurs who specialized in solving apparently unsolvable problems that other government agencies would not (or could not) dare to tackle. The unit was aptly named, and while the CIA brass came to view the IMF's successes with a certain degree of pride, there was never any doubt that they had for all practical purposes written off the lives of the team's agents as soon as they were recruited. It was the mission that mattered, not the individuals; nobody ever tried to hide this, and more than one agent captured or killed over the years found themselves disavowed by the government they had served as a consequence.
One of those agents, apparently, was none other than Dan Briggs himself, who died under circumstances which to this day have never been revealed. Rather than recruit a new field supervisor or promote from within, Phelps opted to assume Briggs' former duties personally. It was a position he would hold throughout the remainder of the 1960s and into the 1970s - when events played out on the public stage would have a deep and profound impact upon this most secretive of intelligence units.
On June 17, 1972, five burglars were arrested for breaking into Democratic Party Headquarters located in the Watergate apartment and office complex in Washington D.C. The fallout from that break-in - the culmination of a sequence of political dirty tricks that had commenced in the fall of 1972 - mushroomed into a major political scandal which the media came to call the "Watergate Scandal."
The scandal would have far-reaching consequences. It ended the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, who on Aug. 9, 1974, became the first U.S. President to resign. It resulted in prison sentences for a number of high-ranking members of Nixon's administration, who were convicted for their various roles in using unconstitutional, illegal, and illegitimate means to achieve the administration's ends.
Caught up in the backlash created by the scandal were Jim Phelps and the Impossible Mission Force - a government-sanctioned group of saboteurs authorized to lie, cheat, steal, falsify media, hold persons illegally, falsely incriminate, destroy the property of innocent people, kidnap, plot (though never personally execute) assassinations, and otherwise break any civil or criminal law that stood in the way of completing any given mission. The IMF's existence - a well-guarded secret to this point - soon became known to a few high-ranking politicians and the unit was disbanded as it was made a scapegoat by those that had grown weary of government deception.
In 1980, Jim Phelps reluctantly agreed to aid the CIA in apprehending a rogue agent by the name of John Victor. Phelps managed to persuade Collier, Hand, and Carter in assisting him and a team of younger CIA officers; together they defeated the plans of Victor, who had masterminded the theft of an historical artifact from the Smithsonian Institute as part of a larger plot which endangered Sino-American relations.
In gratitude for their services, the CIA created an all-new IMF and enlisted the services of Phelps and his former agents to act as consultants. Hand and Carter apparently rejected the offer, but Collier agreed to stay on and help his old friend. Both men quickly became disillusioned, however, as they found this new IMF's activities hampered by exactly the kind of bureaucratic red tape the original team had been created to sidestep. In an angry exchange with some of his superiors within the CIA, Phelps is said to have referred to the recreated IMF as "a ponderous think tank" loaded with "accountants and attorneys and PhD candidates."
Apparently some of those superiors agreed with Phelps' assessment of the situation. Phelps and Collier were given quiet approval to train a new team of covert operatives which would operate very much as the original IMF had. This new team was first pressed into service after the CIA learned of a terrorist plot involving the threatened detonation of a neutron bomb.
Collier and Phelps both retired a few years after this, following a mission to rescue a kidnapped nuclear scientist and his family from a group of Middle Eastern terrorists. A Phelps protégé, Tom Copperfield, was named as the IMF's new field supervisor, and Barney Collier's son Grant was recruited to take his father's place as the team's resident engineer and electronics expert. Several operational changes were instituted during Copperfield's short-lived tenure - one of the most important being the creation of multiple IMF teams, which allowed for the handling of multiple assignments at once. It was a change that Phelps had always fought against during the early years of the IMF.
Phelps' retirement was destined to be a short one - he was pressed back into service to assist the IMF in capturing the assassin who had murdered Copperfield, and at the conclusion of that mission agreed to make his return a permanent one. Not long after this mission, Phelps enlisted his new team of agents to assist in rescuing Barney Collier from a prison in Istanbul after Collier was framed for murder while visiting that country.
Quite unbeknownst to all but a very few even within the U.S. government, the IMF had regained its status as the most effective team of clandestine operatives of the post-World War II period. But once again events beyond Phelps' control conspired to undo whatever good he had accomplished.
The FBI's apprehension of Aldrich Ames in 1994 led to perhaps the most damaging scandal in the CIA's turbulent history. Ames, a career CIA official, was arrested in February 1994 after spying for the Soviets - and later the post-USSR Russian government - for nine years from inside the CIA. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
Public and Congressional reaction - which focused primarily upon the failure of the CIA itself to detect Ames' duplicity for almost a decade - was harshly critical of the Agency. If the spy agency couldn't even detect such activities among its own staff, critics asked, how could it be effective in the rest of the world?
In the CIA's final damage assessment of the Ames scandal, formally presented to Congress in late 1995, the agency determined that Ames' betrayal was far more devastating to American intelligence than had previously been reported. More than 100 agents or potential agents - Russians recruited by the CIA to spy for the United States - were betrayed by Ames; many of them were turned into double agents by the KGB, feeding disinformation back to the CIA. What was worse, some midlevel CIA officials knew that their agents inside Russia had been doubled - and still passed on their information to the president and other policymakers. Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees agreed that this was by far the most explosive allegation to emerge from the damage assessment.
Coupled with the radically altered international environment of the post-Cold War era, the Ames scandal prompted the most thorough review of U.S. intelligence needs since the CIA's founding. That review led to changes throughout the Agency, including the IMF; though not disbanded as it had been in the wake of the Watergate scandal, each IMF cell was stripped of its relative autonomy and placed under the direct supervision of a CIA official. The IMF's field supervisors were still allowed to retain the right to turn down any assignment he or she felt uncomfortable with, but the CIA officials assumed operational oversight of all unit operations.