“About a third of the whole CIA budget went to media propaganda operations… We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars a year just for that…..close to a billion dollars are being spent every year by the United States on secret propaganda.” Testimony of William Schapp to Congress (see video below.)
In 1948, the United States began the Marshall Plan, an initiative to help the devastated Europe recover from the War. The CIA decided to siphon funds to create the Office of Policy Coordination, which would become the covert action branch of the Agency.2 It was under this program that Operation Mockingbird, a domestic propaganda campaign aimed at promoting the views of the CIA within the media, began. From the onset, Operation Mockingbird was one of the most sensitive of the CIA’s operations, with recruitment of journalists and training of intelligence officers for propaganda purposes usually undertaken by Director Allen Dulles himself or his direct peers.3
It is a false belief that the CIA ‘infiltrated’ unwitting media institutions. The recruitment of journalists was frequently done with complicity from top management and ownership. Former CIA Director William Colby claimed during the Church Committee investigative hearings, “Lets go to the managements. They were witting.” Among the organizations that would lend their help to the propaganda efforts was the New York Times, Newsweek, Associated Press, and the Miami Herald. Providing cover to CIA agents was a part of the New York Times policy, set by their late publisher, Arthur Hays Salzberger.
Carl Bernstein, the reporter famous for his excellent investigation into the Watergate scandal, wrote that:
“(Joseph) Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.”
Bernstein lists The New York Times, CBS and Time inc. as the most productive relationships the agency cultivated. They also created front organizations overseas who publicly maintained an appearance of free press but privately were operated by the agency. An example of this is the Rome Daily American, which was 40% owned by the CIA for three decades.
The CIA went as far as to write scripts for Hollywood. One interesting example is the funding of the movie version of Animal Farm in 1954, a book written just less than a decade earlier by George Orwell which enjoyed large commercial success. The problem for the CIA was that Orwell was a socialist, and his book attacked both capitalism and communism. To avoid this conflict, the CIA changed the ending of the Hollywood version to portray capitalism in a more positive light.
Domestic surveillance was also used on journalists who had published classified material. In one example, a physical surveillance post was set up at a Hilton Hotel in view of the office of Washington Post writer Michael Getler. The operation defied the CIA’s charter, which specifically prohibits domestic spying. The operation was directed towards numerous members of the Washington press corp, and was signed off by John F. Kennedy himself, in coordination with CIA director John McCone.
Some investigative journalists have claimed that Operation Mockingbird did not end in 1976 as the CIA claims. For example, in 1998, researcher Steve Kangas claimed that conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who ran ‘Forum World Features’, a foreign news organization, was a CIA asset and used the organization to disseminate propaganda for circulation in the United States. Kangas ended up dead with a bullet hole in his head, in the office of Richard Scaife. It was ruled a suicide, although there were discrepancies in the police report and the autopsy.
While it is deplorable for citizens of countries to be subjected to a state-owned media, at least they can be aware of the biases and filter information accordingly. We have been taught the lie from birth that the U.S. press is free from government meddling. In a situation where the manipulation is completely covert, the American public has been left unaware of the propaganda they have been ingesting for decades.
Consolidated media industry has made it easier for news to be manipulated to fit ‘the agenda.
“Do we have a free press today? Sure we do. It’s free to report all the sex scandals it wants, all the stock market news we can handle, every new health fad that comes down the pike, and every celebrity marriage or divorce that happens. But when it comes to the real down and dirty stuff — stories like Tailwind, the October Surprise, the El Mozote massacre, corporate corruption, or CIA involvement in drug trafficking — that’s where we begin to see the limits of our freedoms. In today’s media environment, sadly, such stories are not even open for discussion. Back in 1938, when fascism was sweeping Europe, legendary investigative reporter George Seldes observed (in his book, The Lords of the Press) that “it is possible to fool all the people all the time — when government and press cooperate.” Unfortunately, we have reached that point.” –Gary Webb
Here is what American propaganda / double-speak looks like:
I want to digress here and mention that just months before this article was written, Ronald Reagan took to the public airwaves and gave a big speech condemning the Sandanistas, the communist government of Nicaragua. He stated: “Now they’re exporting drugs to poison our youth and linking up with the terrorists of Iran.”
When in reality it was the Contras, our allies, exporting drugs into our country and it was America who was covertly facilitating arm sales in Iran, at the same time we were publicly supplying arms to Iraq, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war!
Under Obama, as Business Insider reported, “The NDAA Legalizes The Use Of Propaganda On The US Public.”