Journalism and the CIA:

Daniel Brandt
Journalism and the CIA:
Wed Apr 20, 2005 05:38

Journalism and the CIA: The Mighty Wurlitzer
by Daniel Brandt
From NameBase NewsLine, No. 17, April-June 1997

CBS took Daniel Schorr off the air after he leaked the Pike committee report. This was most likely a convenient opportunity for William Paley, chairman of CBS, who didn't approve of Schorr's interest in the network's own CIA connection. Former CBS News president Sig Mickelson, who by 1976 was president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, said that in October 1954, Paley called him into his office for a friendly discussion with two CIA officials. Schorr mentioned this on Walter Cronkite's show, and in an op-ed piece for the New York Times (Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the late publisher of the Times, had been cozy with the CIA also). "There are executives and retired executives," Schorr wrote, "who could help dispel the cloud hanging over the press by coming forward to tell the arrangements they made with the CIA."[9]

Little had changed since 1974, when Michael J. Harrington, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, leaked Colby's closed-door testimony about CIA involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile. Harrington soon found himself the target of a formal Ethics Committee investigation; now Schorr was also their target. Apparently Congress was fearful that the executive branch might paint them as bungling and irresponsible when it came to keeping secrets, and then use this as a club to deprive them of access to information.

If Congress felt this way, it was more than simple paranoia. In 1976 the CIA began cranking up their Wurlitzer on the matter of Richard Welch, a station chief in Athens who was assassinated by urban guerrillas at the end of 1975. The CIA's exploitation of this timely tragedy had both an immediate target and a general target. Ostensibly the CIA was complaining about an obscure Washington magazine called CounterSpy, which had been printing CIA names. In the same spirit, Philip Agee's just-published diary of CIA tricks in Latin America was loaded with names, and was already an international sensation. But the general target of this campaign was more important -- the CIA managed to change the nature of the debate. Suddenly it was no longer a question of what dirty work the CIA might be doing, but rather a question of what happens when the press recklessly endangers the lives of our brave boys overseas.

The fact that Welch's name had been published by the East Germans five years earlier, and that he could be identified as a CIA officer from his listing in the unclassified 1973 State Department Biographic Register, were both ignored. In any case, it was hardly a secret in Athens -- the group that killed Welch had been stalking his predecessor, Stacy Hulse, until Welch moved into the Hulse residence five months earlier. Colby eventually admitted to a House subcommittee that Welch's cover was inexcusably weak, and that the publication of his name in an Athens newspaper had only an indirect effect on his assassination.[10]

Colby could say this two years later because by then his comments were destined for a back page. The battle to rein in the CIA was already lost. In 1982 Congress passed a controversial new law that made publication of CIA names a felony under certain conditions. Although these conditions rarely applied to journalists, the wide coverage on this issue served to intimidate most publishers and editors.

Today the CIA, which once issued an automatic "no comment" when asked anything by reporters, is playing an adept game of "soft cop, hard cop" public relations. In 1991 an internal CIA task force recommended a more active posture by the public affairs office when responding to requests for assistance (that year they handled 3,369 telephone inquires from reporters, provided 174 unclassified background briefings for them at Headquarters, and arranged 164 interviews with senior Agency officials).[11] The "hard cop" was discovered by Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation. In 1995 she was telephoned by Vin Swasey, CIA deputy director of public affairs, who strongly objected to an editorial because it included the names of nine former station chiefs in Guatemala.[12] Reuters was persuaded by Swasey's colleagues to run the story without the names.

The final months of 1977 produced three significant pieces of journalism on the CIA and the media, just before the issue was abandoned altogether. The first, by Joe Trento and Dave Roman, reported the connections between Copley Press and the CIA. Owner James S. Copley cooperated with the CIA for three decades. A subsidiary, Copley News Service, was used as a CIA front in Latin America, while reporters at the Copley-owned San Diego Union and Evening News were instructed to spy on antiwar protesters for the FBI. No less than 23 news service employees were simultaneously working for the CIA. James Copley, who died in 1973, was also a leading figure behind the CIA-funded Inter-American Press Association.[13]

The next article was by Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. In a long piece in Rolling Stone, he came up with the figure of 400 American journalists over the past 25 years, based primarily on interviews with Church committee staffers. This figure included stringers and freelancers who had an understanding that they were expected to help the CIA, as well as a small number of full-time CIA employees using journalism as a cover. It did not include foreigners, nor did it include numerous Americans who traded favors with the CIA in the normal give-and-take between a journalist and his sources. In addition to some of the names already mentioned above, Bernstein supplied details on Stewart and Joseph Alsop, Henry Luce, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Hal Hendrix of the Miami News, columnist C.L. Sulzberger, Richard Salant of CBS, and Philip Graham and John Hayes of the Washington Post.

Bernstein concentrated more on the owners, executives, and editors of news organizations than on individual reporters. "Lets's not pick on some poor reporters, for God's sake," William Colby said at one point to the Church committee's investigators. "Let's go to the management. They were witting." Bernstein noted that Colby had specific definitions for words such as "contract employee," "agent," "asset," "accredited correspondent," "editorial employee," "freelance," "stringer," and even "reporter," and through careful use of these words, the CIA "managed to obscure the most elemental fact about the relationships detailed in its files: i.e., that there was recognition by all parties involved that the cooperating journalists were working for the CIA -- whether or not they were paid or had signed employment contracts."[14]

The reaction to Bernstein's piece among mainstream media was to ignore it, or to suggest that it was sloppy and exaggerated. Then two months later, the New York Times published the results of their "three- month inquiry by a team of Times reporters and researchers." This three-part series not only confirmed Bernstein, but added a wealth of far-ranging details and contained twice as many names. Now almost everyone pretended not to notice.

The Times reported that over the last twenty years, the CIA owned or subsidized more than fifty newspapers, news services, radio stations, periodicals and other communications facilities, most of them overseas. These were used for propaganda efforts, or even as cover for operations. Another dozen foreign news organizations were infiltrated by paid CIA agents. At least 22 American news organizations had employed American journalists who were also working for the CIA, and nearly a dozen American publishing houses printed some of the more than 1,000 books that had been produced or subsidized by the CIA. When asked in a 1976 interview whether the CIA had ever told its media agents what to write, William Colby replied, "Oh, sure, all the time."





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