The "Sneakers" research eventually led to renowned mathematician Len Adelman, called the father of public-key encryption. When governments, corporations or private users want to ensure the security of information in their computers, they turn to high-priced data scrambling or encryption devices. Data that is protected by encryption techniques is guarded by complex mathematical puzzles--the numerical equivalent of a combination lock.
Using computer encryption as a plot device, the screenwriters were able to concoct an intricate "what if" story which explored the possibility of a "black box" that could potentially decode any computer data in the world. A dangerous tool in the hands of any individual or organization.
Producer Larry Lasker said, "It has been rumored for several years that there is a trapdoor, a short cut hidden in the data encryption system provided by the National Security Agency (also known as No Such Agency). We just carried that notion a step further in our movie script."
Drawing from additional research materials, the script also reflects such real life inventions as a voice stress analyzer, a Braille computer keyboard and an access control system called The Man Trap.
Finally after 10 years of preparation, the timing was right for all three filmmakers who had been actively involved in such Oscar-nominated projects as "Field of Dreams" and "Awakenings."
Thoughts turned to casting. There was a handful of actors discussed for the pivotal role of Martin Bishop, and when preliminary interest was expressed by Robert Redford, Robinson sat down and re-read the script picturing Redford in every scene.
"It was the best version of the movie I'd ever imagined," recalls Robinson. "In my lifetime of movie-going, Redford is the best at playing the cool, smart, American hero who gets in over his head. Nobody does that combination better than he does. And that's Martin Bishop in 'Sneakers.'"
"I was intrigued by the topic in 'Sneakers' but part of what interested me about the project was the cast that was shaping up," said Redford. "It was sort of counter-casting and that was fun and exciting."
The character of by-the-book CIA agent Donald Crease was soon offered to Sidney Poitier. "Sidney's an American icon--to get him in an ensemble film was incredible," says Robinson.
River Phoenix was a unanimous first choice for a young hacker named Carl. Robinson recalls, "He was in the scenes on the first day we shot, and I thought it was OK, but once I saw him on film in the dailies, he was wonderful. He makes very quirky choices that really come alive on film."
The "Sneaker" team soon expanded with the casting of real-life techie Dan Aykroyd, whose favorite store is an electronic surveillance shop called CCS in New York and several other key cities. Among the items Aykroyd has purchased there are a set of Israeli army goggles, miniature cameras, a shotgun microphone, black max spotlights and an infrared set-up for night surveillance on his property in Canada.
"Like any North American red-blooded boy, I like toys," says Aykroyd. "And this movie is full of toys."