FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The CIA and the Press: When the Washington Post Ran the CIA’s Propaganda Network

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair

 

Last week, the Washington Post published a scurrilous piece by a heretofore obscure technology reporter named Craig Timberg, alleging without the faintest evidence that Russian intelligence was using more than 200 independent news sites to pump out pro-Putin and anti-Clinton propaganda during the election campaign.

Under the breathless headline, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” Timberg concocted his story based on allegations from a vaporous group called ProporNot, run by nameless individuals of unknown origin, whom Timberg (cribbing from the Bob Woodward stylesheet) agreed to quote as anonymous sources.

ProporNot’s catalogue of supposed Putin-controlled outlets reeks of the McCarthyite smears of the Red Scare era. The blacklist includes some of the most esteemed alternative news sites on the web, including Anti-war.com, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, Naked Capitalism, Consortium News, Truthout, Lew Rockwell.com, Global Research, Unz.com, Zero Hedge and, yes, CounterPunch, among many others. I’ll have more on Timberg and ProporNot in my Friday column.

In the meantime, here is a brief historical note on how at the height of the Cold War the CIA developed it’s very own stable of writers, editors and publishers (swelling to as many as 3000 individuals) that it paid to scribble Agency propaganda under a program called Operation Mockingbird. The disinformation network was supervised by the late Philip Graham, former publisher of Timberg’s very own paper, the Washington Post. 

Craig Timberg’s story, which was about as substantial as anonymous slurs scrawled on a bathroom stall, lends rise to the suspicion that the Post may still be a player in the same old game it perfected in the 1950s and continued across the decades culminating in its 1996 hatchet-job on my old friend Gary Webb and his immaculate reporting on drug-running by the CIA-backed contras in the 1980s. The Post’s disgusting assault on Webb was spearheaded, in part, by the paper’s intelligence reporter Walter Pincus, himself an old CIA hand.

For Timberg, this was probably just another day at the office: fling some red slurs on the wall and see what sticks before moving on to his next big tech scoop (courtesy of hot tips from a couple of anonymous teenagers in Cupertino) on software glitches in the i-Phone 7.

For the subjects of hit-and-run journalism such as this, however, it’s often a different matter entirely. In Webb’s case, the Post’s deplorable and baseless attacks killed his career as an investigative reporter and sparked a spiraling depression that ended with Gary taking his own life. Although the CIA’s own inspector general, Frederick Hitz, later confirmed Webb’s reporting, the Post never retracted its slanderous stories or apologized for ruining the life of one of the country’s finest and most courageous journalists.

Now it appears that the paper is circling round for yet another drive-by.

(This article is adapted from our book End Times: the Death of the Fourth Estate.) –JSC

Almost from its founding in 1947, the CIA had journalists on its payroll, a fact acknowledged in ringing tones by the Agency in its announcement in 1976 when G.H.W. Bush took over from William Colby that “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 US news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station.”

Though the announcement also stressed that the CIA would continue to “welcome” the voluntary, unpaid cooperation of journalists, there’s no reason to believe that the Agency actually stopped covert payoffs to the Fourth Estate.

Its practices in this regard before 1976 have been documented to a certain degree. In 1977 Carl Bernstein attacked the subject in Rolling Stone, concluding that more than 400 journalists had maintained some sort of alliance with the Agency between 1956 and 1972.
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550-e1477943826411

In 1997 the son of a well known CIA senior man in the Agency’s earlier years said emphatically, though off the record, to a CounterPuncher that “of course” the powerful and malevolent columnist Joseph Alsop “was on the payroll”.

Press manipulation was always a paramount concern of the CIA, as with the Pentagon. In his Secret History of the CIA, published in 2001, Joe Trento described how in 1948 CIA man Frank Wisner was appointed director of the Office of Special Projects, soon renamed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). This became the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the Central Intelligence Agency, the very first in its list of designated functions was “propaganda”.

Later that year Wisner set an operation codenamed “Mockingbird”, to influence the domestic American press. He recruited Philip Graham of the Washington Post to run the project within the industry.

Trento writes that

“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).

By 1953 Operation Mockingbird had a major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies, including the New York Times, Time, CBS, Time. Wisner’s operations were funded by siphoning of funds intended for the Marshall Plan. Some of this money was used to bribe journalists and publishers.”

In his book Mockingbird: The Subversion of the Free Press by the CIA, Alex Constantine writes that in the 1950s, “some 3,000 salaried and contract CIA employees were eventually engaged in propaganda efforts”.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail