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 it 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 America’s leading
The history of the CIA’s involvement with the American press continues
to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception . . . .
Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were William
Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System, Henry Luce of Time Inc., Arthur Hays
Sulzberger of the New York Times, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier-Journal
and 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 Pres International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers,
Scripps-Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami
Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald-Tribune.
By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials,
have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc.
. . . . .
From the Agency’s perspective, there is nothing untoward in such relationships,
and any ethical questions are a matter for the journalistic profession to resolve,
not the intelligence community.
. . . . .
THE AGENCY’S DEALINGS WITH THE PRESS BEGAN during the earliest
stages of the Cold War. Allen Dulles, who became director of the CIA in 1953,
sought to establish a recruiting-and-cover capability within America’s
most prestigious journalistic institutions. By operating under the guise of
accredited news correspondents, Dulles believed, CIA operatives abroad would
be accorded a degree of access and freedom of movement unobtainable under almost
any other type of cover.
American publishers, like so many other corporate and institutional leaders
at the time, were willing us commit the resources of their companies to the
struggle against “global Communism.” Accordingly, the traditional
line separating the American press corps and government was often indistinguishable:
rarely was a news agency used to provide cover for CIA operatives abroad without
the knowledge and consent of either its principal owner; publisher or senior
editor. Thus, contrary to the notion that the CIA era and news executives allowed
themselves and their organizations to become handmaidens to the intelligence
services. “Let’s not pick on some poor reporters, for God’s
sake,” William Colby exclaimed at one point to the Church committee’s
investigators. “Let’s go to the managements. They were witting”
In all, about twenty-five news organizations (including those listed at the
beginning of this article) provided cover for the Agency.
. . . . .
Many journalists who covered World War II were close to people in the Office
of Strategic Services, the wartime predecessor of the CIA; more important, they
were all on the same side. When the war ended and many OSS officials went into
the CIA, it was only natural that these relationships would continue. Meanwhile,
the first postwar generation of journalists entered the profession; they shared
the same political and professional values as their mentors. “You had
a gang of people who worked together during World War II and never got over
it,” said one Agency official. “They were genuinely motivated and
highly susceptible to intrigue and being on the inside. Then in the Fifties
and Sixties there was a national consensus about a national threat. The Vietnam
War tore everything to pieces—shredded the consensus and threw it in the
air.” Another Agency official observed: “Many journalists didn’t
give a second thought to associating with the Agency. But there was a point
when the ethical issues which most people had submerged finally surfaced. Today,
a lot of these guys vehemently deny that they had any relationship with the
. . . . .
The CIA even ran a formal training program in the 1950s to teach its agents
to be journalists. Intelligence officers were “taught to make noises like
reporters,” explained a high CIA official, and were then placed in major
news organizations with help from management. “These were the guys who
went through the ranks and were told, “You’re going to be a journalist,”
the CIA official said. Relatively few of the 400-some relationships described
in Agency files followed that pattern, however; most involved persons who were
already bona fide journalists when they began undertaking tasks for the Agency.
The Agency’s relationships with journalists, as described in CIA files,
include the following general categories:
• Legitimate, accredited staff members of news organizations —
usually reporters. Some were paid; some worked for the Agency on a purely voluntary
basis. . . .
• Stringers and freelancers. Most were payrolled by the Agency under
standard contractual terms. . . .
• Employees of so-called CIA “proprietaries.” During the
past twenty-five years, the Agency has secretly bankrolled numerous foreign
press services, periodicals and newspapers — both English and foreign
language — which provided excellent cover for CIA operatives. . . .
• Columnists and commentators. There are perhaps a dozen well-known columnists
and broadcast commentators whose relationships with the CIA go far beyond those
normally maintained between reporters and their sources. They are referred to
at the Agency as “known assets” and can be counted on to perform
a variety of undercover tasks; they are considered receptive to the Agency’s
point of view on various subjects.
. . . . .
MURKY DETAILS OF CIA RELATIONSHIPS with individuals and news organizations
began trickling out in 1973 when it was first disclosed that the CIA had, on
occasion, employed journalists. Those reports, combined with new information,
serve as casebook studies of the Agency’s use of journalists for intelligence
• The New York Times. The Agency’s relationship with the Times
was by far its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials. [It
was] general Times policy . . . to provide assistance to the CIA whenever possible.
. . . . .
CIA officials cite two reasons why the Agency’s working relationship
with the Times was closer and more extensive than with any other paper: the
fact that the Times maintained the largest foreign news operation in American
daily journalism; and the close personal ties between the men who ran both institutions.
. . . . .
• The Columbia Broadcasting System. CBS was unquestionably the CIA’s
most valuable broadcasting asset. CBS president William Paley and Allen Dulles
enjoyed an easy working and social relationship. Over the years, the network
provided cover for CIA employees, including at least one well-known foreign
correspondent and several stringers; it supplied outtakes of newsfilm to the
CIA; established a formal channel of communication between the Washington bureau
chief and the Agency; gave the Agency access to the CBS newsfilm library; and
allowed reports by CBS correspondents to the Washington and New York newsrooms
to be routinely monitored by the CIA. Once a year during the 1950s and early
1960s, CBS correspondents joined the CIA hierarchy for private dinners and briefings.
. . . . .
At the headquarters of CBS News in New York, Paley’s cooperation
with the CIA is taken for granted by many news executives and reporters, despite
the denials. Paley, 76, was not interviewed by Salant’s investigators.
“It wouldn’t do any good,” said one CBS executive. “It
is the single subject about which his memory has failed.”
. . . . .
• Time and Newsweek magazines. According to CIA and Senate sources, Agency
files contain written agreements with former foreign correspondents and stringers
for both the weekly news magazines. The same sources refused to say whether
the CIA has ended all its associations with individuals who work for the two
publications. Allen Dulles often interceded with his good friend, the late Henry
Luce, founder of Time and Life magazines, who readily allowed certain members
of his staff to work for the Agency and agreed to provide jobs and credentials
for other CIA operatives who lacked journalistic experience.
. . . . .
At Newsweek, Agency sources reported, the CIA engaged the services of several
foreign correspondents and stringers under arrangements approved by senior
editors at the magazine.
. . . . .
“To the best of my knowledge:’ said [Harry] Kern, [Newsweek’s
foreign editor from 1945 to 1956] “nobody at Newsweek worked for the CIA....
The informal relationship was there. Why have anybody sign anything? What we
knew we told them [the CIA] and the State Department.... When I went to Washington,
I would talk to Foster or Allen Dulles about what was going on .... We thought
it was admirable at the time. We were all on the same side.” CIA officials
say that Kern's dealings with the Agency were extensive.
. . . . .
When Newsweek was purchased by the Washington Post Company, publisher Philip
L. Graham was informed by Agency officials that the CIA occasionally used the
magazine for cover purposes, according to CIA sources. “It was widely
known that Phil Graham was somebody you could get help from,” said a former
deputy director of the Agency. . . . But Graham, who committed suicide in 1963,
apparently knew little of the specifics of any cover arrangements with Newsweek,
CIA sources said.
. . . . .
Information about Agency dealings with the Washington Post newspaper is extremely
sketchy. According to CIA officials, some Post stringers have been CIA employees,
but these officials say they do not know if anyone in the Post management was
aware of the arrangements.
. . . . .
• Other major news organizations. According to Agency officials, CIA
files document additional cover arrangements with the following news-gathering
organizations, among others: the New York Herald Tribune, the Saturday Evening
Post, Scripps-Howard Newspapers, Hearst Newspapers, . . . Associated Press,
United Press International, the Mutual Broadcasting System, Reuters and the
Miami Herald. . . .
“And that's just a small part of the list,” in the words of one
official who served in the CIA hierarchy. Like many sources, this official said
that the only way to end the uncertainties about aid furnished the Agency by
journalists is to disclose the contents of the CIA files - a course opposed
by almost all of the thirty-five present and former CIA officials interviewed
over the course of a year.
COLBY CUTS HIS LOSSES
THE CIA’S USE OF JOURNALISTS CONTINUED virtually unabated until
1973 when, in response to public disclosure that the Agency had secretly employed
American reporters, William Colby began scaling down the program. In his public
statements, Colby conveyed the impression that the use of journalists had been
minimal and of limited importance to the Agency.
He then initiated a series of moves intended to convince the press, Congress
and the public that the CIA had gotten out of the news business. But according
to Agency officials, Colby had in fact thrown a protective net around his most
valuable intelligence assets in the journalistic community.
. . . . .
After Colby left the Agency on January 28th, 1976, and was succeeded by George
Bush, 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.” . . . The text of
the announcement noted that the CIA would continue to “welcome”
the voluntary, unpaid cooperation of journalists. Thus, many relationships were
permitted to remain intact.
The Agency's unwillingness to end its use of journalists and its continued
relationships with some news executives is largely the product of two basic
facts of the intelligence game: journalistic cover is ideal because of the inquisitive
nature of a reporter's job;[i]
and many other sources of institutional cover have been denied the CIA in recent
years by businesses, foundations and educational institutions that once cooperated
with the Agency.
Rolling Stone, October 20, 1977
[Earlier in the article, Bernstein had stated the following:] Many journalists
were used by the CIA to assist in this process and they had the reputation of
being among the best in the business. The peculiar nature of the job of
the foreign correspondent is ideal for such work; he is accorded unusual
access, by his host country, permitted to travel in areas often off-limits to
other Americans, spends much of his time cultivating sources in governments,
academic institutions, the military establishment and the scientific communities.
He has the opportunity to form long-term personal relationships with sources
and — perhaps more than any other category of American operative —
is in a position to make correct judgments about the susceptibility and availability
of foreign nationals for recruitment as spies.
According to The New York Times, which broke the story February 19, 2002 "The
Pentagon is developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones,
to foreign media organizations as part of a new effort to influence public sentiment
and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries."
The leak clearly ambushed the Pentagon, which quickly retreated in a fog of
contradictory statements that culminated in an announcement just a week later
by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the whole idea had probably been scrapped.
"I met with Undersecretary Doug Feith this morning and he indicated to
me that he's decided to close down the Office of Strategic Influence,"
Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.
That didn’t mean, of course, that the idea was dead, or couldn’t
be moved to another agency with more experience in "disinformation,"
such as the Central Intelligence Agency.
Remarks by the President
on the Office of Strategic Influence
February 25, 2002
(Remarks During Presentation of World Trade Center Bullhorn)
Q: Sir, have you told Secretary Rumsfeld to get rid of the Office of Disinformation
that he's talking about?
THE PRESIDENT: I told Secretary Rumsfeld -- I didn't even need to tell him
this; he knows how I feel, I saw it reflected in his comments the other day
-- that we'll tell the American people the truth. And he was just as amazed
as I was about reading, you know, some allegation that somehow our government
would never tell the American people the truth. And I don't -- I've got confidence,
having heard his statement, I heard him this morning talk about it, that he'll
handle this in the right way.