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Thursday, February 3, 2011

"The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media." William Colby

William Colby Quote 

"The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media."

 

Journalism and the CIA: The Mighty Wurlitzer

During the last half of those ten years, sandwiched between Watergate coverage on one end, and Congressional investigations of the CIA on the other, the media showed some interest in examining their own intelligence connections. The first shoe was dropped by Jack Anderson in late August, 1973, when he revealed that Seymour Freidin, head of the Hearst bureau in London, was a CIA agent. Freidin, already in the news because the Republicans paid him $10,000 in 1972 to spy on the Democrats, confirmed Anderson's story. At that point William Colby, the new CIA director, was asked by the New York Times and the Washington Star-News if any of their staff were on the CIA payroll.

James (Scotty) Reston of the NYT was satisfied with an evasive answer, but when the Star-News editorial board met with Colby, they made some progress. The other shoe dropped with an article by Oswald Johnston on November 30: the Star-News learned from an "authoritative source" (Colby) that the CIA had some three dozen American journalists on its payroll. Johnston named only one -- Jeremiah O'Leary -- who was one of their own diplomatic correspondents. (The Star-News stopped publishing in 1981, at which point O'Leary joined Reagan's national security staff. From 1982 until his death in 1993, he was with the Washington Times.)

That was the first and last time that Colby was helpful on this topic. Some believe that the new director was under pressure from the "young Turks" (junior staffers) at the Agency, who were granted a mandate by Colby's predecessor to cough up the "family jewels" -- a list of illegal exploits that could be culled from the CIA's files. Already there were rumors that the CIA was guilty of illegal spying on the antiwar movement -- rumors that were confirmed a year later by Seymour Hersh, whose sources were some of these same "young Turks."

Why was Colby initially forthcoming on the issue of the CIA and the media, and why did he then start stonewalling? Some believe that he was attempting a "limited hangout" as the best way out of a position that made him nervous, while others feel that he was implicitly threatening to provide additional names in order to scare off the media. Colby had reason to be worried: by late 1973, investigative journalism was in the air because of Watergate -- an issue that had more than the usual share of CIA connections.

Colby's stonewalling continued for the remainder of his tenure, even as a Senate committee led by Frank Church desperately tried to squeeze more names out of him. George Bush replaced Colby in January, 1976, and eventually agreed to a one-paragraph summary of each file of a CIA journalist, with names deleted. When the CIA said it was finished, the Church committee had over 400 summaries.

The committee staff was shocked at the extent of the CIA's activity in this area, and felt that they still didn't have the story. But they were running out of time, and expected that the Senate's new permanent oversight committee would continue their work. The Church committee's final report contained only a handful of vague and misleading pages on the CIA and the media. "It hardly reflects what was found," stated Senator Gary Hart. "There was a prolonged and elaborate negotiation [with the CIA] over what would be said."[5]

The House investigation of the CIA, under Otis Pike, had more problems than the Senate investigation. The full House voted to suppress its committee's final report under pressure from the executive branch, at which point Daniel Schorr of CBS leaked a copy to the Village Voice. This report contained just twelve paragraphs on the topic of the CIA and the media, including the tidbit about the CIA's "frequent manipulation of Reuters wire service dispatches."[6] Another paragraph gave some idea of the scope of the CIA's efforts in this area:

Some 29 percent of Forty Committee-approved covert actions were for media and propaganda projects. This number is probably not representative. Staff has determined the existence of a large number of CIA internally-approved operations of this type, apparently deemed not politically sensitive. It is believed that if the correct number of all media and propaganda projects could be determined, it would exceed Election Support as the largest single category of covert action projects undertaken by the CIA.[7]

One enterprising researcher took this 29 percent figure, and extrapolating from figures on CIA expenditures for covert operations, found that the cost of propaganda in 1978 was around $265 million and involved 2,000 personnel. Comparing this to figures for other news agencies, he concluded that the CIA "uses far more resources in its propaganda operations than any single news agency.... In fact, the CIA propaganda budget is as large as the combined budgets of Reuters, United Press International and the Associated Press."[8]

CBS took Daniel Schorr off the air after he leaked the Pike committee report. This was most likely a convenient opportunity for William Paley, chairman of CBS, who didn't approve of Schorr's interest in the network's own CIA connection. Former CBS News president Sig Mickelson, who by 1976 was president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, said that in October 1954, Paley called him into his office for a friendly discussion with two CIA officials. Schorr mentioned this on Walter Cronkite's show, and in an op-ed piece for the New York Times (Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the late publisher of the Times, had been cozy with the CIA also). "There are executives and retired executives," Schorr wrote, "who could help dispel the cloud hanging over the press by coming forward to tell the arrangements they made with the CIA."[9]

Little had changed since 1974, when Michael J. Harrington, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, leaked Colby's closed-door testimony about CIA involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile. Harrington soon found himself the target of a formal Ethics Committee investigation; now Schorr was also their target. Apparently Congress was fearful that the executive branch might paint them as bungling and irresponsible when it came to keeping secrets, and then use this as a club to deprive them of access to information.

 

The CIA and the Media

Here's just a snippet from Carl Bernstein's famous 1977 article entitled "The CIA & The Media" from Rolling Stone, 10/20/77. Anyone with access to a library should try to find this - it's a truly breakthrough piece - 16 pages long in the reprint!


In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America's leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA.

Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past 25 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.

The history of the CIA's involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception for the following principal reasons:

  • The use of journalists has been among the most productive means of intelligence-gathering employed by the CIA. Although the agency has cut back sharply on the use of reporters since 1973 (primarily as a result of pressure from the media), some journalists are still posted abroad.
  • Further investigation into the matter, CIA officials say, would inevitably reveal a series of embarrassing relationships in the 1950's and 1960's with some of the most powerful organizations and individuals in American journalism.

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