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The CIA and the Media
Publisher/Date: September 1999
Title: A Report on CIA Infiltration and Manipulation of the Mass Media
Original location: Submitted
Should CIA agents be allowed to pose as journalists to further the aims of their clandestine activities?
Members of a Council on Foreign Relations task force on the future of U.S. intelligence in the post-Cold War world say yes, and a CIA official recently came forward to admit that the Agency already occasionally does so despite regulations barring the practice. But is this a breaking story or just the latest chapter in a spy story that traces its roots back to the 1950's? While they may act like strangers in public, the press and the CIA have a sordid past that spans more than four decades.
Connection in the 1950s and 60s
That's not to say that reporters acted as spies in the James Bond sense. Media outlets offered services that fell into the broad categories of providing "cover" for CIA operatives (i.e. jobs and credentials) or sharing information gathered by reporters on staff.
While the Agency ran a formal training program in the 50's that attempted to teach rank-and-file agents to be reporters, this was among the least common of the more than 400 relationships with the press described in CIA files. Most involved were journalists before their involvement with the CIA began.
Reporters, especially foreign correspondents, typically served as "eyes and ears" for the CIA. Often they were briefed by agents before a trip and debriefed when they returned; they shared their notebooks, relayed things that they had seen or overheard and offered their impressions. More complex arrangements found reporters planting misinformation for the Agency or serving as liaisons between agents and foreign contacts, often in return for information or access.
"In return for our giving them information, we'd ask them to do things that fit their roles as journalists but that they wouldn't have thought of unless we put it in their minds," one agent told Bernstein. "For instance, a reporter in Vienna would say to our man, 'I met an interesting second secretary at the Czech Embassy.' We'd say, 'Can you get to know him? And after you get to know him, can you assess him? And then, could you put him in touch with us -- would you mind us using your apartment?'"
Another senior CIA official offered the following description of "reporting" by cooperating journalists: "We would ask them, 'Will you do us a favor? We understand that you're going to be in Yugoslavia. Have they paved the streets? Where did you see planes? Were there any signs of military presence? How many Soviets did you see? If you happen to meet a Soviet, get his name and spell it right."
It was a symbiotic relationship: reporters got the scoop and the spooks got the dirt. Correspondents with Agency ties were highly valued by their bosses for the stories they brought home. And agents saw in the press a perfect vehicle for information gathering: who else besides a reporter enjoyed such free access in a foreign country, could cultivate so many sources among foreign governments and elites and ask lots of probing questions without arousing suspicion?
CIA-press operations in the 50's and 60's relied heavily on journalists working in Latin America and Western Europe. Members of the press were used as go-betweens to deliver messages and money to European Christian Democrats and also helped the Agency track the movements of people coming from Eastern Europe. Additionally, the CIA owned 40 percent of the Rome Daily American, a now-defunct English-language newspaper in Italy.
Reporters funneled CIA dollars to opponents of Salvador Allende in Chile and wrote anti-Allende propaganda stories for CIA proprietary publications in that country. By Bernstein's account, two of the Agency's most valuable relationships in the 60's were with reporters who covered Latin America: Hal Hendrix, a Pulitzer Prize winner from the Miami News, and Jerry O'Leary of the Washington Star. CIA files on Hendrix (who went on to become a high-ranking official at ITT) detail information that he provided agents about Cuban exiles in Miami. O'Leary's file lists him as a valued asset in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, although he denies having a formal relationship with the Agency. "I might call them up and say something like, "Papa Doc has the clap, did you know that? and they'd put it in the file," O'Leary told Bernstein. "I don't consider that reporting for them. It's useful to be friendly to them, and generally I felt friendly to them. But I think that they were more helpful to me than I was to them."
Doing the "Right
This was true of syndicated columnist Joseph Alsop, who is open and unapologetic about his extensive CIA ties. Alsop's tasks in the 50's included a trip to Laos to investigate whether American reporters there were using anti-American sources and a visit to the Philippines at the behest of the CIA, who believed that his presence there might influence the outcome of an election. "I'm proud they asked me and proud to have done it," Alsop said of his involvement. "The notion that a newspaperman doesn't have a duty to his country is perfect balls."
According to one high-ranking official, Alsop's brother Stewart, also a columnist, was a CIA agent. He was rumored to have been particularly useful in obtaining information from foreign governments, planting misinformation and tipping off the Agency about potential foreign recruits, although his brother denies this. "I was closer to the Agency than Stew was, though Stew was very close," Joseph Alsop once said. "I dare say he did perform some tasks -- he just did the correct thing as an American."
Also notable is New York Times columnist C.L. Sulzberger (CFR), who the CIA lists as a valuable source of information throughout the 50's. Sulzberger claims that he "would never get near the spook business," but admits to sharing information with agents, many of whom were close personal friends: "I'm sure they consider me an asset. They can ask me questions. They find out you're going to Slobovia and they say, 'Can we talk to you when you get back?' Or they'll want to know if the head of the Ruritanian government is suffering from psoriasis. But I never took an assignment from one of those guys." However, Sulzberger does "think" that he signed a secrecy agreement with the CIA (as did his uncle, Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger [CFR]), though.
Many CIA officials long for the days when there were more journalists like Sulzberger and the Alsops. "There was a time when it wasn't considered a crime to serve your government," one official bitterly told Bernstein. "This all has to be considered in the context of the morality of the times, rather than the against latter-day standards -- and hypocritical standards at that."
"(I)n the Fifties and Sixties there was a national consensus about a national threat. The Vietnam War tore everything to pieces -- shredded the consensus and threw it in the air."
But another agent remarked in Bernstein's expose, "there was a point when the ethical issues which most people submerged finally surfaced. Today a lot of these guys vehemently deny that they had any relationship with the Agency."
The Church Committee
By now, the times they had a-changed: In a 1974 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, former reporter Stuart Loory chastised fellow journalists for their history of chumming it up with the CIA and for their lax coverage of the issue once it came to light. "There is little question that if even one American overseas carrying a press card is paid by the CIA, then all Americans with those credentials are suspect," he wrote. "We automatically... consider Soviet and Chinese newsmen as mouthpieces and informants for their governments, while at the same time congratulating ourselves for our independence. Now we know that some of that independence has, with the stealth required of clandestine operations, been taken away from us -- or given away."
In 1975, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence headed by Frank Church (the Church Committee) focused its attention on the Agency's use of American news outlets. The CIA went to great lengths to curtail this part of the committee's investigation, though, and some members of the committee later admitted that the Agency was able to get the upper hand. Colby and his successor, George Bush (CFR, TC), were able to convince the Senate that a full inquiry would cripple their intelligence-gathering capabilities and would unleash a "witch-hunt" on the nation's reporters, editors and publishers.
"The Agency was extremely clever about it and the committee played right into its hands," one congressional source told Carl Bernstein. "Church and some of the other members were much more interested in making headlines than in doing serious, tough investigating. The Agency pretended to be giving up a lot whenever it was asked about the flashy stuff -- assassinations and secret weapons and James Bond operations. Then, when it came to things they didn't want to give away, that were much more important to the Agency, Colby in particular called in his chits. And the committee bought it."
Former intelligence officer William Bader (who returned to the Agency as a deputy to Stansfield Turner) and David Aaron (who later served as deputy to President Carter's national security advisor) supervised the committee's investigation of the CIA-press angle. CIA director Bush balked at all of Bader's requests for specific information about the scope of the Agency's media activities. Under pressure from the entire committee, Bush finally agreed to pull records on journalists and have his deputies condense them into one-paragraph summaries. The Agency would not make the raw files available, and neither the names of journalists nor their affiliations would be included. More than 400 summaries were compiled (a number that officials acknowledge was probably on the low side) in an attempt to give committee members "a broad, representative picture."
"We never pretended it was a total description of the range of activities over 25 years, or the number of journalists that have done things for us," one official conceded. Still, even these sketchy details were enough for the committee to conclude that the CIA's relationships with the press were of a far greater magnitude than they had expected -- and that they needed to know more.
But Bush was intransigent. Heated confrontations produced a bizarre agreement: Bader and director of the committee staff William Miller (CFR) could have access to 25 "sanitized" files from among the 400 (still without journalists' identities). Church and committee vice-chairman John Tower would see five unsanitized files to verify that the CIA had included all but the names. No information on current CIA-press relationships would be divulged, and the whole deal was contingent upon Bader, Miller, Church and Tower's promises not to reveal the files' contents to the other committee members.
In the end, with time running out on the committee, the senators decided to drop the matter and leave a more detailed investigation to the CIA oversight committee that would succeed them. The committee interviewed none of the reporters, editors, publishers or broadcast executives detailed in the files. And although members concluded that "from the CIA point of view this was the highest, most sensitive covert program of all," and "a much larger part of the operational system than had been indicated," this was hardly part of the official findings when they were made public. The tcommittee dedicated a scant en pages of its final report to covert relationships with the media. The information included in the report was vague and misleading and, according to committee member Gary Hart, "hardly reflected what we found."
Bernstein offered the following commentary on the Church committee's output: "No mention was made of the 400 summaries or what they showed. Instead the report noted blandly that some fifty recent contacts had been studied by the committee staff -- thus conveying the impression that the Agency's dealings with the press had been limited to those instances. Colby's misleading public statements about the use of journalists were repeated without serious contradiction or elaboration. The role of cooperating news executives was given short shrift. The fact that the Agency had concentrated its relationships in the most prominent sectors of the press went unmentioned. That the CIA continued to regard the press as up for grabs was not even suggested."
CBS: CIA Broadcasting
Paley chose Sig Mickelson (CFR), president of CBS News from 1954 to 1961, as his liaison with the CIA. Mickelson (who went on to become president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty) recalls complaining about having to use a pay phone to contact the CIA, and later installing a private line that bypassed the CBS switchboard for this purpose. A CBS investigation of his files revealed that he was involved in passing on CBS film and outtakes to CIA officials in exchange for payment and that he regularly forwarded copies of CBS' internal newsletter to his CIA handlers. The same investigation revealed that two CBS employees -- stringer Austin Goodrich and Frank Kearns, a network reporter from 1958-1971 -- were undercover CIA operatives.
Mickelson has discussed his CIA activities with Bernstein and others. "When I moved into the job I was told by Paley that there was an ongoing relationship with the CIA," he has recalled. "He introduced me to two agents who he said would keep in touch. We all discussed the Goodrich situation and the film arrangements. I assumed that this was the normal relationship at the time. This was at the height of the Cold War and I assumed the communications media were cooperating -- though the Goodrich matter was compromising."
Mickelson's successor Richard Salant says he continued some of these practices when he took the CBS helm. "I said no on talking to the reporters, and let them see broadcast tapes, but no outtakes," he explains. "This went on for a number of years -- into the Seventies."
Sign of the Times
According to CIA officials, the Agency's ties to the Times were stronger than to any other papers because of its large foreign news operation and because of close ties between publisher Sulzberger and director Dulles (a relationship described by one staff member as "the mighty dealing with the mighty.") The output of this close relationship generally included reporting for CIA agents and "spotting" new prospective foreign operatives. Sulzberger is said to have signed a secrecy agreement with the Agency in the 1950's -- some say he did so as a pledge not to reveal the classified information he was privy to; others claim it was a pact never to reveal the Times' dealings with the CIA.
Former Times reporter Wayne Phillips said CIA agents approached and tried to recruit him as an undercover operative in 1952, advising him that the Agency has a "working relationship" with Sulzberger. A Freedom of Information Act request later revealed that agents hoped to put him to work as an "asset" abroad. The Times ran a story about the attempted recruitment in 1976, in which Arthur Ochs Sulzberger (CFR) asserted that he had "never heard of the Times being approached, either in my capacity as publisher or as the son of the late Mr. Sulzberger."
A CIA Post?
Reporter Russell Warren Howe also has a long history of CIA service. In 1958, he once said, his "days as an asset had just begun." He worked for the CIA proprietary "Information Bulletin, Ltd." and its successor, "Forum Service" (later known as Forum World Features), in addition to the CIA-funded "Africa Report and "Survey." Howe was fully aware of his employer's CIA ties, referring once to the FWF as "the principal CIA media in the world." According to the Church Committee, the Post management was aware that one of their reporters worked for a CIA publication, and that on several occasions they knowingly reprinted propaganda from that paper in the Post.
Philip Geyelin (CFR) on the other hand was a CIA agent before taking a job as a Post reporter. Geyelin joined the Agency for 11 months during a leave from the Wall Street Journal. While at the Journal, CIA memos about Geyelin (which number in the hundreds, according to CounterSpy) described him as "a CIA resource" and a "willing collaborator." Geyelin has come to the CIA's defense in the Post: in response to a statement by Post ombudsman Charles Seib that the CIA should stick to dirty work, the press should inform the public, "and never the twain can meet," Geyelin replied that to the contrary, agents and journalists were "all searching for the same nuggets of truth about the outside world." He took this a step further when he protested Congressional efforts to regulate CIA-media ties, invoking journalists' constitutional right to be co-opted by spooks. "(I)n its zeal to restrict the freedom of the agency to subvert the press," he wrote, "Congress could wind up making a law that would in fact abridge -- or threaten to abridge -- some part of the freedom of the press that the First Amendment was intended to protect."
Publisher Katherine Graham is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations with close ties to former CIA directors Dulles and William Casey (CFR). She hired CIA-linked Wackenhut Security Corporation to break up a Post union strike, and invited former Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (CFR) to join the Post's board of directors despite his well-documented past as a CIA apologist. Katzenbach is said to have asked a past Post editorial page editor to tone down an upcoming editorial about the CIA, and he chaired a presidential panel that "investigated" CIA domestic operations (but actually served as a rubber stamp for the Agency's activities). While he asserted that both the FBI and CIA were "the most decent and effective intelligence agencies in the world," Katzenbach had first hand knowledge of the seedier side of intelligence: the Church committee produced several memos documenting his suggestions to J. Edgar Hoover that he might undertake wiretap operations as part of the Bureau's campaign to discredit Martin Luther King, Jr.
Making Time for Spooks
C.D. Jackson, a Life magazine vice president in the early 1960's, co-authored a CIA study on reorganization of the intelligence community during his tenure at Time-Life, and approved specific plans for granting cover to CIA operatives. Former Life managing editors Edward Thompson and George Hunt told Stuart Loory that they regularly allowed military intelligence agents to come to the Life office to look at photos and, since they were public domain, sometimes gave them prints. CIA agents were allowed to interview correspondents returning from overseas assignments too, Hunt said, although he did not consider this to be "working with" intelligence agencies. "We never cooperated with the CIA," Hunt claimed. "We didn't have any of that nonsense going on at Life."
Other News Outlets
With Documented CIA Ties
CIA files show that ABC News provided cover for agents throughout the 1960's. During the Church committee hearings the Agency refused to reveal whether its relationship with the network was ongoing. As with ties to other high profile news outlets, arrangements were made at the highest level, with the full knowledge of network executives. CIA officials claim that Sam Jaffe and one other unnamed correspondent performed clandestine tasks for the Agency. Jaffe admits that he was approached by agents who offered to get him a job with CBS, who would send him on assignment in Moscow if he agreed to cooperate, but claims he never agreed to the deal. Jaffe did go on to do some work for CBS, though, and said he believed that the CIA had a hand in getting him the assignment.
One of the more unusual accounts of the CIA-press connection involves the Louisville Courier-Journal. Undercover operative Robert H. Campbell spent three months at the paper as a reporter in 1964-1965 as part of an arrangement made by the Agency and Courier-Journal executive editor Norman Issacs. The first account of Campbell's tenure at the paper appeared in a front-page story in 1976 -- in the Courier-Journal (one of the few self-investigative pieces written on this topic).
James Herzog reported that Campbell had been hired in spite of the fact that he could not type and knew little about newswriting. "Norman said that when he was in Washington, he had been called to lunch with some friend of his who was with the CIA [who] wanted to send this young fellow down to get him a little knowledge of newspapering," the paper's former managing editor recalled in the article.
CIA sources say that the Courier-Journal arrangements were made so that Johnson could amass a record of journalistic experience (he also worked briefly for the Hornell, New York Evening Tribune). The Agency even sent funds to the Courier-Journal to pay Johnson's salary. These same sources claim that the deal was made with Issacs and approved by the paper's publisher, but neither man recalls being involved. "All I can do is repeat the simple truth," Issacs said in response to Herzog's story, "that never, under any circumstances or at any time, have I ever knowingly hired a government agent." But, he added, "none of this is to say that I couldn't have been 'had.'"
But clues were there. No one looked into Johnson's credentials when he was hired, and his file included the curious notation "Hired for temporary work -- no reference checks completed or needed." Johnson's journalistic prowess (or lack thereof) should have given him away: his editors characterized his work as "unreadable" and it was never published. If that was not clue enough, his penchant for announcing to patrons at a bar a few steps from his office that he was a CIA agent should have done the trick.
Who else? Bernstein compiled the following list of additional organizations known to have provided CIA cover: the New York Herald-Tribune, the Saturday Evening Post, Scripps-Howard Newspapers, Hearst Newspapers, the Associated Press, United Press International, the Mutual Broadcasting System, Reuters and the Miami Herald.
The CFR Report on
"Making Intelligence Smarter"
"Clandestine operations for whatever purpose currently are circumscribed by a number of legal and policy constraints," the report states. "These deserve review to avoid diminishing the potential contribution of this instrument. At a minimum, the Task Force recommended that a fresh look be taken at limits on the use of nonofficial 'covers' for hiding and protecting those involved in clandestine activities."
Though the task force doesn't explicitly address the use of the press as cover, the implication is obvious. If nothing else, the Church committee investigation showed CIA-press relationships to be among the Agency's most secret -- and most valuable -- operations for nearly two decades. And congressional scrutiny, however ineffectual, led the Agency to codify the constraints alluded to in the report.
Former CIA director William Colby claimed in 1973 to have scaled back covert media operations in response to mounting criticism of the practice. His successor, George Bush, issued a statement pledging that the Agency would not enter into "paid or contractual relationships with full- or part-time news correspondents from accredited news organizations" when he took the Agency helm in 1976. (The statement was ambiguous on stringers and other news staffers, and included a statement that the Agency would "welcome" journalists' voluntary, unpaid cooperation. Stansfield Turner, Bush's replacement, put these assurances in writing the following year.
Contrary to the report's implication that all "nonofficial" covers are currently off limits, there is a loophole in the policy Turner drafted in 1977 allowing for exceptions "with the specific approval" of the Director of Central Intelligence. An unnamed source brought the loophole to attention of the Washington Post last month, indicating that such exceptions had been made "in extraordinarily rare circumstances" in the past 19 years. At least one such exception was granted for a CIA agent posing as a reporter during the Iranian hostage crisis.
Spies R Not Us?
Evan Thomas, an assistant editor at Newsweek told the Post that while there were "inherent conflicts" in using the press as cover, "You would not want to rule out forever an opportunity in which a journalist might be the only one who could help in a desperate situation."
But Jim Naureckas, editor of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's journal Extra!, seemed to have a better appreciation of the underlying implications. "Under no circumstance should CIA agents pose as journalists," he said. "Given the CIA's record in setting up fake press organs and manipulating the press, they have really lost the right to get involved with journalists. You can't combine their work with journalism, which is about the free and open exchange of ideas."
Washington Times columnist Ken Adelman charged that the uproar was much ado about nothing. "That such verbal waffling aroused such a ruckus says a great deal," he wrote in his March 6, 1996 column. "Not so much about the Council or the CIA -- but about the narcissism of today's journalists."
Contrary to the policy of his predecessors, Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr. said he was disturbed by the possibility that the CIA had either used journalistic organizations for cover or recruited journalists. Independence from the government, he said, was essential for both credibility and the safety of correspondents.
The CFR, the CIA, the
Media and the New World Order
In the wake of the Cold War, debate has erupted over the future use of intelligence agencies by the U.S. government. Many of America's political and business elite want to see a shift towards economic intelligence, to counter other nations' economic intelligence ops, as well as to further the goals of international capitalism.
It is therefore especially noteworthy that the CFR issued the report on "Making Intelligence Smarter." The roster of the Council on Foreign Relations is a Who's Who directory of the political, military, and economic elite in the United States. President Clinton's administration is staffed by nearly 100 of the CFR's 3,000 members. It has been said by political commentators on both the left and the right that if you want to find out what U.S. foreign policy will be next year, you should read the CFR's periodical Foreign Affairs this year.
Members of the CFR exert influence over a gigantic portion of the media in America. Many of the newspeople who operated with the CIA in the past were or are CFR members. The chief directors and news anchors of CBS, ABC, NBC, Time Inc., Public Broadcast Service, CNN, Newsweek, and many other major media outlets are CFR members. So are many CEOs and board members at Chase Manhattan Corp., Chemical Bank, Citicorp, Shell Oil, AT&T, General Motors, General Electric, and other multinational corporations.
It is also worth noting that three of the Task Force panel members who wrote the "Making Intelligence Smarter" report included past or present journalists. Leslie Gelb, CFR president, is a former foreign affairs columnist and Op-Ed page editor for The New York Times. Henry Grunwald is former Editor-in-Chief of Time magazine, and Jessica Mathews is a Post columnist.
Critics of the CFR on both sides of the political spectrum voice strong opposition to the Council's agenda of expansion of multinational capitalism and world government -- what has become known as the New World Order. A report from the CFR such as "Making Intelligence Smarter" will therefore make plenty of waves. The fact that the report was composed in part by members of the working press who are also CFR members is a brazen conflict of interest, in light of the CFR's history.
Will there be a shift in CIA/media operations towards global economic intelligence and propaganda? Only time will tell as the debate rages on. But if history serves as any sort of lesson, we could be standing on the threshold of a new flap of covert media manipulation.
"The CIA and the Media: How America's Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered it Up," Rolling Stone, October 20, 1977, p.55-67.
"CIA in America," CounterSpy, Spring 1980, p. 42-43.
"Washington Post -- Speaking for Whom?" CounterSpy, May-July 1981, p. 13-19.
Loch K. Johnson, America's Secret Power: the CIA in a Democratic Society, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 182-311.
"'Loophole Revealed in Prohibition on CIA Use of Journalistic Cover," New York Times, February 16, 1996, p. A24.
"Making Intelligence Smarter," report of a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations, 1996.
"Disinformation and Mass Deception: Democracy as a Cover Story," Covert Action Information Bulletin, Spring-Summer 1983, p. 3-12.
"The CIA's use of the press: a 'mighty Wurlitzer,'" Columbia Journalism Review, September/October 1974, p. 9-18.