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 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
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
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 journalist‑operatives are still posted abroad.
Further investigation into the matter, CIA officials say, would inevitably reveal a series of embarrassing relationships in the 1950s and 1960s with some of the most powerful organizations and individuals in American journalism.
The US government has no external "need to manipulate" mass media outlets such as "Time magazine, for example, because there are Agency [CIA] people at the management level."
Former CIA employee Barry Eisler explains why you shouldn't trust the CIA. Listen below the podcast:
If you checked out last week's episode, you know that Barry Eisler is a bestselling author with a lot to say about the publishing industry.
What you might not know is that he also used to work for the CIA, and he's got a lot to say about that world as well.
This week, Barry is back to talk about the culture and inner workings of the intelligence community.
Remember there are SIX Corporations that Control America's Media:
Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were,
Williarn Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System
Henry Luce of Tirne Inc.
Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times
Barry Bingham Sr. of the LouisviIle Courier‑Journal
James Copley of the Copley News Service
Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA include,
the American Broadcasting Company
the National Broadcasting Company
the Associated Press
United Press International
the Mutual Broadcasting System
the Miami Herald
the old Saturday Evening Post
New York Herald‑Tribune
By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with,
the New York Times
The CIA’s use of the American news media has been much more extensive than Agency officials have acknowledged publicly or in closed sessions with members of Congress.
The general outlines of what happened are indisputable; the specifics are harder to come by. CIA sources hint that a particular journalist was trafficking all over Eastern Europe for the Agency; the journalist says no, he just had lunch with the station chief. CIA sources say flatly that a well‑known ABC correspondent worked for the Agency through 1973; they refuse to identify him.
A high‑level CIA official with
a prodigious memory says that the New York Times
provided cover for about ten CIA operatives between 1950 and
1966; he does not know who they were, or who in the newspaper’s
management made the arrangements.
The Agency’s special relationships with the so‑called "majors" in publishing and broadcasting enabled the CIA to post some of its most valuable operatives abroad without exposure for more than two decades.
In most instances, Agency
files show, officials at the highest levels of the CIA (usually
director or deputy director) dealt personally with a single
designated individual in the top management of the cooperating
The aid furnished often took two forms:
providing jobs and credentials "journalistic cover" (in Agency parlance) for CIA operatives about to be posted in foreign capitals
lending the Agency the undercover services of reporters already on staff, including some of the best‑known correspondents in the business
CIA officials almost always refuse to divulge the names of journalists who have cooperated with the Agency.
They say it would be unfair to judge these individuals in a context different from the one that spawned the relationships in the first place.
"There was a time when it wasn’t considered a crime to serve your government," said one high‑level CIA official who makes no secret of his bitterness.
"This all has to be considered in the context of the morality of the times, rather than against latter‑day standards - and hypocritical standards at that."