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Chapter I. Situation

Mission: Impossible


When we talk about “Mission: Impossible,” we mean the following:

  1. There is a Situation that includes a human Activity

  2. The purpose of this Activity is to accomplish some Mission

  3. There is something in this Situation that obstructs successful accomplishment of this Mission

  4. People involved in accomplishment of this Mission consider this obstruction insurmountable; as a result, they perceive this Mission impossible

  5. However, for some reasons, this Mission must be accomplished.


If we need to accomplish the Mission, the only way to do it would be changing the Situation.


The Appendix 1 contains the synopsis of “Mission: Impossible” movie (1996). Actually, this movie demonstrates several different Missions that seem impossible to accomplish. For instance, the major one:


Ethan Hunt is an agent and “point man” for an Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team, an unofficial branch of the CIA, led by Jim Phelps…


While in flight, Jim Phelps is given a tape containing a covert mission for his team. The team assembles in Prague to prevent an Eastern European diplomat, Golitsyn, from stealing a Non-official cover (NOC) list - a comprehensive list of all covert agents in Eastern Europe.


The mission runs smoothly, everyone achieves their mission goals and the team obtains video evidence of Golitsyn stealing the NOC list and exiting the building. Unfortunately, that’s when everything goes inextricably wrong. Over their radio frequency, Ethan hears his teammate Jack being killed by a spike after losing control of the elevator Golitsyn used to escape. Hannah Williams and Claire are killed near the Charles Bridge when their car is blown up with them inside. Jim himself is killed by an unseen assassin that he had reported was following him on the Charles Bridge. Sarah follows Ethan’s order to pursue Golitsyn but finds him being stabbed to death; the assassin grabs her and kills her as well. Ethan finds them both and realizes the disc Golitsyn had used is gone.

Fleeing the scene, Hunt stops at a pay phone to call his agency and alert them of the tragic outcome of their mission. Eugene Kittridge, the CIA-based director of the IMF, tells Ethan to meet him at a café. Ethan is surprised to find that Kittridge is in Prague too. Ethan, very much in shock, meets with Kittridge but soon realizes that they’re not alone; another IMF team is surrounding them, people Hunt recalls seeing at the embassy. When he questions Kittridge, Hunt is disturbed to learn that a mole has infiltrated the IMF with a cover name known only as “Job 3:14” and that the Prague operation was meant to ferret out the mole by allowing him to acquire the NOC list and attempt to sell it to Max, an illegal arms dealer known for corrupting IMF agents. The NOC list seen in Prague was a fake, the real list is being held at the CIA headquarters in Virginia. With Hunt being the sole survivor, Kittridge believes he is the mole they were looking for. Hunt realizes he’ll be taken into custody before he can clear his name.


Another example of “Mission: Impossible” situation in this movie is an attempt to get the real NOC list from CIA facility:

Disguised as a team of firefighters, they infiltrate the heavily fortified headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia, under the pretense of a fire alarm. After neutralizing a security guard, Ethan is lowered into a highly secured chamber housing the only computer terminal holding the NOC list. Though he’s nearly dropped to the floor and detected by the room’s sophisticated security system, he’s still able to copy the list and escape with Krieger’s help.

“Highly secured chamber”! This wording does not describe a tiny fraction of reality! A complex code to enter the “pre-chamber” where the guard is sitting continuously. This guard personally recognizes the person who wants to enter the chamber and allows him to approach the next authentication system: the eye iris image. Only then this person can enter the chamber.

The system of security sensors guards the chamber itself. The only opening on the top of very high chamber, the air-conditioning vent, is guarded by tight system of laser beams. Temperature within the chamber is controlled depending on presence or absence of security guard inside the chamber. Sensors on the floor, when the security guard is not inside the chamber, can feel even a single water drop.

Hence, it is really impossible to get into this chamber, let alone get unauthorized access to the computer. This is exactly what we call the “Mission: Impossible”-type of situation.

Events and Links


Every Situation includes multiple organized, interrelated Events. We see the Events, but we usually cannot see the Links between them. It does not mean that Links are not important. They organize, relate the otherwise independent Events into the Situation. Without knowing the Links between Events, we hardly could understand the Situation.

There are many types of Links between Events:

  • Temporal (Events happen simultaneously; Event A happens after Event B, etc.)

    • Before getting the unauthorized access to the CIA computer, Ethan was lowered into a highly secured chamber.

  • Spatial (Events happen in the same place; Event A happens within 100 m from Event B, etc.)

    • Ethan was lowered into a highly secured chamber from the AC vent above the computer.

  • Parametrical (Event A happens faster than Event B; Event A happens at temperature higher than one of Event B, etc.)

    • When Ethan was inside the chamber, air temperature could not grow for more than 1oF.

  • Structural (Event A is a part of Event B; Event A is subordinate to Event B, etc.)

    • Sensors of air temperature and pressure on the floor constituted a part of complex system that secured the chamber housing the computer.

  • Cause-and-Effect (Event B happens if Event A happens, Event B does not happen if Event A happens, etc.)

    • Ethan was lowered into the chamber from AC vent; thus, he could operate the computer without stepping on the floor.


For purposes of finding the ways to accomplish “Mission: Impossible,” we are mostly interested in the cause-and-effect Links. For simplicity sake, we consider two types of cause-and-effect Links: “accomplish” (occurrence of Event A causes occurrence of Event B) and “hinder” (occurrence of Event A causes non-occurrence of Event B).

When we need to modify a Situation, we can change either Events or Links. What approach would be better?

Modifying the Situation


By the way, what does it mean “better”? It means “more efficiently, with less effort.”


So, what is easier and more efficient to change: Event or Link? Let’s consider an example (movie “Mission: Impossible”. The complete synopsis see in Appendix 1):


After neutralizing a security guard, Ethan is lowered into a highly secured chamber housing the only computer terminal holding the NOC list. Though he’s nearly dropped to the floor and detected by the room’s sophisticated security system, he’s still able to copy the list and escape with Krieger’s help.

Ethan Hunt needs to enter the highly secured chamber housing the computer with needed information. However, a security guard is continuously inside this chamber. What could be done?

This Situation comprises two Events:

  • Security guard is inside the chamber

  • Ethan gets unauthorized access to computer


These Events are related with Link “hinder”. Event “Security guard is inside the chamber” hinders Event “Ethan gets unauthorized access to computer.” We need to modify this Situation, find a way for Ethan to get unauthorized access to computer regardless of presence of security guard inside the chamber.


Fig. 2.Security guard prevents unauthorized access to computer


There are three approaches to accomplish the Task of getting access to computer:

  1. Modify first Event: Render security guard inside the chamber uncapable to counteract to Ethan’s access to computer.

  2. Modify second Event: Get unauthorized access to computer in the way uncontrollable by security guard inside the chamber.

  3. Break the Link between Events: Get unauthorized access to computer so that security guard cannot hinder it.


First approach means incapacitation of security guard: sedate the guard, render him unconscious or kill him. It should be done so that he couldn’t raise the alarm. Quite difficult task, isn’t it?

Second approach assumes remote access to the computer. This task could be performed nowadays, only if this computer is connected to Internet. If not, there is no way to do that. Exactly the case in 1996, when this movie was filmed. Sorry, this task is even more difficult.

In order to consider the third approach, we need to tell one secret: every Link is a chain of Events. If we need to break a Link, we need to disable at least one Event in this chain.

What Events comprise this Link and how we could disable these Events?


  1. Security guard is all the time inside the chamber

    • Render security guard leaving the chamber

  2. Security guard is alert all the time

    • Render security guard not alert

  3. Security guard continuously checks the chamber

    • Interfere with security guard’s check of chamber

  4. Security guard reveals intrusion to the chamber immediately

    • Render security guard unable to reveal intrusion to the chamber

  5. Security guard raises alarm immediately

    • Render security guard unable to raise alarm

  6. Security guard resists to Ethan

    • Render security guard incapable of resisting to Ethan

  7. Security guard stops Ethan from accessing the computer

    • Render security guard unable to stop Ethan from accessing the computer

  8. Security guard does not let Ethan to work with computer

    • Render security guard unable to stop Ethan from working with computer


What do we observe in the movie?


First, Ethan enters the chamber in a way unexpected to the security guard. He expects the intruder to walk in through the door, while Ethan enters through the ceiling. So, the security guard cannot reveal intrusion and raise the alarm timely, immediately.


Second, the security guard has to leave the chamber for substantial time due to poisoning He had to go to bathroom to vomit. This time should be enough for Ethan to lower through ceiling to computer, do the job and get away.


As we could see, this quite cumbersome plan is much more doable than any attempt to modify the Events. But why?

Introduction | "Mission: Impossible": How to Successfully Accomplish ItDomains and Seams

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