By John Simkin
In 1948 Frank Wisner was appointed director of the Office of Special Projects. Soon afterwards it was renamed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). This became the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the Central Intelligence Agency. Wisner was told to create an organization that concentrated on "propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world."
Later that year Wisner established Mockingbird, a program to influence the domestic American media. Wisner recruited Philip Graham (Washington Post) to run the project within the industry. Graham himself recruited others who had worked for military intelligence during the war. This included James Truitt, Russell Wiggins, Phil Geyelin, John Hayes and Alan Barth. Others like Stewart Alsop, Joseph Alsop and James Reston, were recruited from within the Georgetown Set. According to Deborah Davis (Katharine the Great): "By the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles."
In 1951 Allen W. Dulles persuaded Cord Meyer to join the CIA. However, there is evidence that he was recruited several years earlier and had been spying on the liberal organizations he had been a member of in the later 1940s. According to Deborah Davis, Meyer became Mockingbird's "principal operative."
One of the most important journalists under the control of Operation Mockingbird was Joseph Alsop, whose articles appeared in over 300 different newspapers. Other journalists willing to promote the views of the CIA included Stewart Alsop (New York Herald Tribune), Ben Bradlee (Newsweek), James Reston (New York Times), Charles Douglas Jackson (Time Magazine), Walter Pincus (Washington Post), William C. Baggs (Miami News), Herb Gold (Miami News) and Charles Bartlett (Chattanooga Times). According to Nina Burleigh (A Very Private Woman) these journalists sometimes wrote articles that were commissioned by Frank Wisner. The CIA also provided them with classified information to help them with their work.
After 1953 the network was overseen by Allen W. Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. By this time Operation Mockingbird had a major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies. These organizations were run by people with well-known right-wing views such as William Paley (CBS), Henry Luce (Time Magazine and Life Magazine), Arthur Hays Sulzberger (New York Times), Alfred Friendly (managing editor of the Washington Post), Jerry O'Leary (Washington Star), Hal Hendrix (Miami News), Barry Bingham Sr., (Louisville Courier-Journal), James Copley (Copley News Services) and Joseph Harrison (Christian Science Monitor).
The Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was funded by siphoning of funds intended for the Marshall Plan. Some of this money was used to bribe journalists and publishers. Frank Wisner was constantly looked for ways to help convince the public of the dangers of communism. In 1954 Wisner arranged for the funding the Hollywood production of Animal Farm, the animated allegory based on the book written by George Orwell.
According to Alex Constantine (Mockingbird: The Subversion Of The Free Press By The CIA), in the 1950s, "some 3,000 salaried and contract CIA employees were eventually engaged in propaganda efforts." Wisner was also able to restrict newspapers from reporting about certain events. For example, the CIA plots to overthrow the governments of Iran and Guatemala.
Thomas Braden, head of the of International Organizations Division (IOD), played an important role in Operation Mockingbird. Many years later he revealed his role in these events: "If the director of CIA wanted to extend a present, say, to someone in Europe - a Labour leader - suppose he just thought, This man can use $50,000, he's working well and doing a good job - he could hand it to him and never have to account to anybody... There was simply no limit to the money it could spend and no limit to the people it could hire and no limit to the activities it could decide were necessary to conduct the war - the secret war.... It was a multinational. Maybe it was one of the first. Journalists were a target, labor unions a particular target - that was one of the activities in which the communists spent the most money."
In August, 1952, the Office of Policy Coordination and the Office of Special Operations (the espionage division) were merged to form the Directorate of Plans (DPP). Frank Wisner became head of this new organization and Richard Helms became his chief of operations. Mockingbird was now the responsibility of the DPP.
J. Edgar Hoover became jealous of the CIA's growing power. He described the OPC as "Wisner's gang of weirdos" and began carrying out investigations into their past. It did not take him long to discover that some of them had been active in left-wing politics in the 1930s. This information was passed to who started making attacks on members of the OPC. Hoover also gave McCarthy details of an affair that Frank Wisner had with Princess Caradja in Romania during the war. Hoover, claimed that Caradja was a Soviet agent.
Joseph McCarthy also began accusing other senior members of the CIA as being security risks. McCarthy claimed that the CIA was a "sinkhole of communists" and claimed he intended to root out a hundred of them. One of his first targets was Cord Meyer, who was still working for Operation Mockingbird. In August, 1953, Richard Helms, Wisner's deputy at the OPC, told Meyer that Joseph McCarthy had accused him of being a communist. The Federal Bureau of Investigation added to the smear by announcing it was unwilling to give Meyer "security clearance." However, the FBI refused to explain what evidence they had against Meyer. Allen W. Dulles and both came to his defence and refused to permit a FBI interrogation of Meyer.
Joseph McCarthy did not realise what he was taking on (accepting). Wisner unleashed Mockingbird on McCarthy. Drew Pearson, Joe Alsop, Jack Anderson, Walter Lippmann and Ed Murrow all went into attack mode and McCarthy was permanently damaged by the press coverage orchestrated by Wisner.
Mockingbird was very active during the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. People like Henry Luce were able to censor stories that appeared too sympathetic towards the plight of Arbenz. Allen W. Dulles was even able to keep left-wing journalists from travelling to Guatemala. This including Sydney Gruson of the New York Times.
In 1955 President Dwight Eisenhower established the 5412 Committee in order to keep a check on the CIA's covert activities. The committee (also called the Special Group) included the CIA director, the national security adviser, and the deputy secretaries at State and Defence and had the responsibility to decide whether covert actions were "proper" and in the national interest. It was also decided to include Richard B. Russell, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. However, as Allen W. Dulles was later to admit, because of "plausible deniability" planned covert actions were not referred to the 5412 Committee.
Editor's note: The term "plausible deniability" means that something sounds correct, but is not. A perfect example of this is "Fluoride prevents tooth decay.
Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about CIA covert activities and in 1956 appointed David Bruce as a member of the President's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities (PBCFIA). Eisenhower asked Bruce to write a report on the CIA. It was presented to Eisenhower on 20th December, 1956. Bruce argued that the CIA's covert actions were "responsible in great measure for stirring up the turmoil and raising the doubts about us that exists in many countries in the world today." Bruce was also highly critical of Mockingbird. He argued: "what right have we to go barging around in other countries buying newspapers and handing money to opposition parties or supporting a candidate for this, that, or the other office."
After Richard Bissell lost his post as Director of Plans in 1962, Tracy Barnes took over the running of Mockingbird. According to Evan Thomas (The Very Best Men) Barnes planted editorials about political candidates who were regarded as pro-CIA.
In 1963, John McCone, the director of the CIA, discovered that Random House intended to publish Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas Ross. McCone discovered that the book intended to look at his links with the Military Industrial Congress Complex. The authors also claimed that the CIA was having a major influence on American foreign policy. This included the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran (1953) and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1954). The book also covered the role that the CIA played in the Bay of Pigs operation, the attempts to remove President Sukarno in Indonesia and the covert operations taking place in Laos and Vietnam.
John McCone called in Wise and Ross to demand deletions on the basis of galleys the CIA had secretly obtained from Random House. The authors refused to made these changes and Random House decided to go ahead and publish the book. The CIA considered buying up the entire printing of Invisible Government but this idea was rejected when Random House pointed out that if this happened they would have to print a second edition. McCone now formed a special group to deal with the book and tried to arrange for it to get bad reviews.
Invisible Government was published in 1964. It was the first full account of America's intelligence and espionage apparatus. In the book Wise and Ross argued that the "Invisible Government is made up of many agencies and people, including the intelligence branches of the State and Defense Departments, of the Army, Navy and Air Force." However, they claimed that the most important organization involved in this process was the CIA.
John McCone also attempted to stop Edward Yates from making a documentary on the CIA for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). This attempt at censorship failed and NBC went ahead and broadcast this critical documentary.
In June, 1965, Desmond FitzGerald was appointed as head of the Directorate for Plans. He now took charge of Mockingbird. At the end of 1966 FitzGerald discovered that Ramparts, a left-wing publication, was planning to publish that the CIA had been secretly funding the National Student Association. FitzGerald ordered Edgar Applewhite to organize a campaign against the magazine. Applewhite later told Evan Thomas for his book, The Very Best Men: "I had all sorts of dirty tricks to hurt their circulation and financing. The people running Ramparts were vulnerable to blackmail. We had awful things in mind, some of which we carried off."
This dirty tricks campaign failed to stop Ramparts publishing this story in March, 1967. The article, written by Sol Stern, was entitled NSA and the CIA. As well as reporting CIA funding of the National Student Association it exposed the whole system of anti-Communist front organizations in Europe, Asia, and South America. It named Cord Meyer as a key figure in this campaign. This included the funding of the literary journal Encounter.
In May 1967 Thomas Braden responded to this by publishing an article entitled, I'm Glad the CIA is Immoral, in the Saturday Evening Post, where he defended the activities of the International Organizations Division unit of the CIA. Braden also confessed that the activities of the CIA had to be kept secret from Congress. As he pointed out in the article: "In the early 1950s, when the cold war was really hot, the idea that Congress would have approved many of our projects was about as likely as the John Birch Society's approving Medicare."
Meyer's role in Operation Mockingbird was further exposed in 1972 when he was accused of interfering with the publication of a book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia by Alfred W. McCoy. The book was highly critical of the CIA's dealings with the drug traffic in Southeast Asia. The publisher, who leaked the story, had been a former colleague of Meyer's when he was a liberal activist after the war.
Further details of Operation Mockingbird was revealed as a result of the Frank Church investigations (Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities) in 1975. According to the Congress report published in 1976: "The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets." Church argued that the cost of misinforming the world cost American taxpayers an estimated $265 million a year.
In February, 1976, George Bush, the recently appointed Director of the CIA announced a new policy: “Effective immediately, the CIA will not enter into any paid or contract relationship with any full-time or part-time news correspondent accredited by any U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station.” However, he added that the CIA would continue to “welcome” the voluntary, unpaid cooperation of journalists.
Carl Bernstein, who had worked with Bob Woodward in the investigation of Watergate, provided further information about Operation Mockingbird in an article in Rolling Stone in October, 1977. Bernstein claimed that over a 25 year period over 400 American journalists secretly carried out assignments for the CIA: "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 it the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles, and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad."
It is almost certain that Bernstein had encountered Operation Mockingbird while working on his Watergate investigation. For example, Deborah Davis (Katharine the Great) has argued that Deep Throat was senior CIA official, Richard Ober, who was running Operation Chaos for Richard Nixon during this period.
According to researchers such as Steve Kangas, Angus Mackenzie and Alex Constantine, Operation Mockingbird was not closed down by the CIA in 1976. For example, in 1998 Kangas argued that CIA asset Richard Mellon Scaife ran "Forum World Features, a foreign news service used as a front to disseminate CIA propaganda around the world."
On 8th February, 1999, Kangas was found dead in the bathroom of the Pittsburgh offices of Richard Mellon Scaife. He had been shot in the head. Officially he had committed suicide but some people believe he was murdered. In an article in Salon Magazine, (19th March, 1999) Andrew Leonard asked: "Why did the police report say the gun wound was to the left of his head, while the autopsy reported a wound on the roof of his mouth? Why had the hard drive on his computer been erased shortly after his death? Why had Scaife assigned his No. 1 private detective, Rex Armistead, to look into Kangas' past?"
The Journal of History - Spring 2009 Copyright © 2009 by News Source, Inc.