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 fifty thousand dollars, 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. 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 was 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.
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 handling money to opposition parties or supporting a candidate for this, that, or the other office.”
This article & site has since been removed from the internet & is archived from 2007 at:
Carl Bernstein, CIA and the Media | Rolling Stone Magazine
Over the years several members have refered to Carl Bernstein’s article, CIA and the Media, that appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine on 20th October, 1977. I thought it might be a good idea to publish the full article. It is worth noting that Bernstein wrote the article soon after leaving the Washington Post. Bernstein of course did not mention the Washington Post as being part of the CIA media campaign.
In 1979 Deborah Davis published a book about the CIA and the Washington Post (Katharine the Great). Davis became the first person to write in detail about Operation Mockingbird (in fact, she was the first person to give it this name). In the book she names Robert Ober as Deep Throat. I recently asked Deborah if it was Bernstein who gave her this information. She denied it and said it was a senior figure in the CIA.
When the book was originally published in 1979 Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee (probably under instructions from the CIA) persuaded the publishers William Jovanovich, to pulp 20,000 copies of the book. Davis filed a breach-of- contract and damage-to-reputation suit against Jovanovich, who settled out of court with her in 1983. I have a copy of the original printing (some reached the public before they were destroyed). I highly recommend anyone who is interested in the subject of the CIA and the media to read this book.
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