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In Mission Impossible 1, Ethan is being suspected of being a mole because his dad's farm has $127,000 in their bank account.

A high-end programmer, among other jobs, make close to that much in a year and they do not have such great skills as Ethan.

One would think that someone as good as him wouldn't become a mole over $127k.

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1  
Ok, I'm not that acquainted with US salaries, but 10,000 a month net income? Nice programming job! –  Napoleon Wilson May 20 '12 at 15:12
    
@ChristianRau - you are correct, whilst there is a big range of course, many programming jobs in 2012 are under $100k a year. Go back 16 years of fairly generous growth, I am guessing a programming job might earn $40k in 1996. –  iandotkelly May 20 '12 at 15:32
    
well not if you work for instagram :D THat's million of dollars. –  Jim Thio May 21 '12 at 1:19
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

From the script online:

                     KITTRIDGE (CONT'D) 
           I want to show you something, Ethan. 

He now shoves the papers across the table.  They're xeroxed 
copies of a Wisconsin bank account in the name of DONALD and 
MARGARET ETHAN HUNT.  It shows a balance of $127, 000. 

                     KITTRIDGE (CONT'D) 
           Since your father's death, your family's 
           farm has been in sub-chapter S and now, 
           suddenly, they're flush with over a 
           hundred and twenty grand in the bank. 
           Dad's illness was supposed to have wiped 
           out the bank account -- dying slowly in 
           America after all, can be a very 
           expensive proposition Ethan.  So, why 
           don't we go quietly out of here onto the 
           plane... 

So what appears to have raised the suspicion of IMF is that Ethan's father had died after a long illness and that his mother should have only had very little money in her bank account and the farm she owned with his father is bankrupt.

At no point is it implied that IMF think that this is the sole money that Ethan as the suspected mole in IMF has received. The NOC list that is at the center of the plot in the movie is worth millions.

The fact that Ethan's mother, a poor widow, suddenly has a large amount of money in her checking account is just a piece of evidence they are using along with the fact that Ethan was apparently the only agent to survive a botched mission. Yes, perhaps Ethan does earn enough money to be able to support his Mother - but enough to gift her over $120k? As far as IMF are concerned this piece evidence is suspicious and enough to want to detain Ethan for more questioning.

Later in the script:

      PHELPS
           ..when you think about it, Ethan, it was
           inevitable..no more Cold War.  No more
           secrets you keep from everyone but
           yourself, operations you answer to no one
           but yourself.  Then one morning you wake
           up and find out the President of the
           United States is running the country -
           without your permission.  The son-of-a-
           bitch!  How dare he?  You realize itís
           over, youíre an obsolete piece of
           hardware not worth upgrading, youíve got
           a lousy marriage and sixty-two grand a 
           year.  Kittridge, weíll go after that no
           good son-of-a-bitch, big time!

So Phelps, Ethan's team-leader in IMF earns $62,000 a year, so it is likely that Ethan earns less than this. This is probably in line with a 'high end programmer' in 1996 - but one imagines that agents like Ethan (or James Bond or ... name any fictional spy) are probably not in this for the money, but they are somehow attracted to the danger, challenge and jet-setting lifestyle.

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I see. Latter Jim Phelp says that he's on $62k salary per year though. –  Jim Thio May 20 '12 at 14:21
    
@JimThio - good find. This was in 1996 and these are government employees. So Ethen was probably on less than that, which makes his mother suddenly getting 127k very suspicious. I've edited the answer to include this. –  iandotkelly May 20 '12 at 15:29
    
Hah, just saw this scene and this question sprang into my mind. But you already answered it well, although it was actually Kittridge who Jim was talking about in that moment and who earns 62,000 a year, and who is even higher in the hierarchy. –  Napoleon Wilson Jun 8 '12 at 20:06
    
@ChristianRau - good point. –  iandotkelly Jun 8 '12 at 20:18
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