CIA influence on public opinion

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At various times, under its own authority or in accordance with directives from the President of the United States or the National Security Council staff, the Central Intelligence Agency has attempted to influence domestic and international public opinion.[1]

CIA authority to perform psychological operations[edit]

Psychological operations was assigned to the pre-CIA Office of Policy Coordination, with oversight by the Department of State.[2] The OPC was later consolidated into the CIA, and the psychological operations staff placed under the Deputy Directorate of Plans, the Directorate of Operations, or the National Clandestine Service.

Subsidies of non-government groups[edit]

In 1947, the Soviet-dominated Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) was created by Joseph Stalin. The conference, at which it was created, was a response of Eastern European countries to invitations to attend the July 1947 Paris Conference on the Marshall Plan. The Cominform's stated purpose was to coordinate the work of Communist parties, under Soviet direction, so the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin called the conference in response to divergences among the eastern European governments on whether or not to attend the Paris Conference on Marshall Aid in July 1947.

The initial seat of the Cominform was located in Belgrade (then the capital of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). After the expulsion of Yugoslavia from the group in June 1948, the seat was moved to Bucharest, Romania. The expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Cominform for Titoism initiated the Informbiro period in that nation's history.

The intended purpose of the Cominform was to coordinate actions between Communist parties, and a scores of Communist-controlled professional, artistic and intellectual groups under Soviet direction. The Kremlin had set up the Cominform in the early years of the cold war to coordinate the activities of the Cominform acted as a tool of Soviet foreign policy and Stalinism.[3]

In response, CIA psychological operators decided that the Cominform-controlled groups could best be countered by Western groups not only of intensely anti-Communist right-wing groups, but groups across the ideological spectrum. Many of them were unaware of CIA subsidy, or only a few leaders knew of the subsidy, and were not expected to follow orders. Wilford cited, as examples, the small magazines Partisan Review and The New Leader, received C.I.A. funds in one way or another, owed nothing to the agency, either in their founding or in their operations, and were not "front" organizations.[4] Other groups formed by the CIA, however, were true fronts, although some of the individuals being sponsored were unaware of the source of funds.

As Tom Braden, who headed the agency's International Organization Division between 1951 and 1954, wrote in 1967, when the subsidies were disclosed,[5]

Philip Agee suggested that funding from the CIA to the National Student Association, which had been formed in 1947, may have begun in 1950. Tom Braden, head of the CIA International Organizations Division, is not clear, in an article, whether it was 1950 or 1951, but it clearly began in the 1950s and continued until 1967. Braden said that the Division was established in 1950, when Director of Central Intelligence Allen W. Dulles overruled Frank Wisner, who headed the quasi-autonomous Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). Until 1952, OPC was the covert action branch of the U.S. government, loosely part of CIA but also with direct access and appeal to the Secretaries of Defense and State.[5]

Agee cites a New York Times interview with Frederic Delano Houghteling, then NSA secretary, as saying that the CIA gave him several thousand dollars to pay traveling expenses for a delegation of 12 representatives to a European international student conference.[6]

1950 also marked the beginning of the ten-year Crusade for Freedom, an operation to generate American support for Radio Free Europe that was covertly backed by the CIA.

Agee wrote that the CIA, in 1952, funded then NSA president William Dentzer, who later went on to become [ United States Agency for International Development ] (AID) director in Peru. The New York Times also identified Cord Meyer, Jr. as having headed the NSA operation.[6]

NSA leaders knew of the CIA sponsorship, although members, including those representing the organization internationally, may have had no more direction than persuasion from the leadership. The former were members, not employees, and could not be directed with threats of expulsion. In addition to representation as a form of psychological operation, some of the leadership, according to Agee, provided intelligence reports to CIA.[6]

Another organization set up on 26 June 1950,[7] as the cultural arm of the International Organizations Division, was the Congress for Cultural Freedom. According to, which describes itself as "libertarian communist," it was intended to be anti-communist without necessarily pro-Western or pro-American. The Congress intended to

"Build up the reputation of artists in the West whose work could in some way be viewed as supportive or at least uncritical of American foreign policy and free trade, and to show Western Europe as somewhere where the arts were both supported and allowed to flourish uninhibited by the ruling elite. Due to its secrecy (any detection of state intervention in the Arts on this scale would have made a mockery of the idea that the West allowed more cultural freedom than the Soviets), it managed to fund artistic activity which would never have received US State Department funding – the abstract impressionists, serialist composers, and many other “progressive” artists loosely aligned to the Non-Communist Left (NCL). “The CIA estimated the NCL as a reliably anti-Communist force which in action would be, if not pro-Western and pro-American, at any rate not anti-Western and anti-American.”[8][9]

Yet more complex is the clandestine support of perfectly legal organizations and individuals, especially with no interference with their expression, when it is believed that their beliefs, perhaps expressed in other places in the world, advance American policies.[8] In 1967, a number of clandestine subsidies to associations and journals became public. Given the CIA's prohibition from domestic activities, support of US groups with worldwide presence, such as the National Student Association, were especially problematic.[10] The exposure, by Ramparts magazine, of CIA subsidies to the National Association, according to Time, led to the term "orphans", referring to nearly 100 private agencies that had been getting CIA money, and were affected by a Presidential order that support must end by the end of 1967. Time succinctly summarized the issue with "the question is whether, in a free society, it is right, wise—or necessary—for supposedly independent organizations to receive secret subsidies."[10]

Whatever the merits or demerits of the CIA's methods, most of these groups served the U.S. well in its contest for the faith and understanding of the world's workers and thinkers, students and teachers, refugees from yesterday and leaders of tomorrow. This led to the appointment of a presidential commission, headed by Under Secretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach, to figure out how the gap left by the CIA should be filled. ... a politically ambitious former California newspaper publisher who served with the CIA between 1950 and 1954, added further details. In an article in the Saturday Evening Post, Braden indignantly defended the CIA against charges that it had been "immoral" by recording some of the extremely useful things it accomplished early in the cold war.[10]

By 1953, according to Braden, the US subsidy program was operating in earnest.

By 1953 we were operating or influencing international organizations in every field where Communist fronts had previously seized ground, and in some where they had not even begun to operate. The money we spent was very little by Soviet standards. But that was reflected in the first rule of our operational plan: "Limit the money to amounts private organizations can credibly spend." The other rules were equally obvious: "Use legitimate, existing organizations; disguise the extent of American interest: protect the integrity of the organization by not requiring it to support every aspect of official American policy."[5]

A front organization organized in 1959 was the Independent Service for Information, set up at Harvard specifically for the purpose of getting some young anti-Communist Americans to attend a huge youth festival being organized by the Communists in Vienna. Among those sponsored were Gloria Steinem who had just spent a year and half in India, where she befriended Indira Gandhi and the widow of the “revolutionary humanist” M. N. Roy, and had met a researcher who seems to have been a C.I.A. agent or contact. Steinem was hired to run the I.S.I. and to recruit knowledgeable young Americans who could debate effectively with the Communist organizers of the festival, defending the United States against Communist criticism.[4]


In February 1967, Ramparts magazine reported that the CIA had been funding the National Student Association through a series of foundation cutouts. Resulting journalistic and other investigations led to the cessation of most CIA subsidies.[6]

After reading of the disclosures, Tom Braden wrote about looking at "a creased and faded yellow paper. It bears the following inscription in pencil:

"Received from Warren G. Haskins, $15,000. (signed) Norris A. Grambo." For I was Warren G. Haskins. Norris A. Grambo was Irving Brown, of the American Federation of Labor. The $15,000 was from the vaults of the CIA, and the piece of yellow paper is the last memento I possess of a vast and secret operation whose death has been brought about by small-minded and resentful men."[5]

Relationships with organized labor are not surprising, given the World War II activity of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Labor Branch under Arthur Goldberg. European labor groups often provided OSS with volunteers to penetrate occupied Europe, and, with greatest danger, into Nazi Germany.[11] " [Arthur] Goldberg, head of the Labor Division of the OSS clandestine intelligence unit, later appointed to the US Supreme Court by President John F. Kennedy—was known at the time for his defense of the Chicago Newspaper Guild during its 1938 strike against the Hearst Corporation. Joining OSS/London in 1943, Goldberg convinced colleagues and OSS director, Gen. William J. Donovan, of the need to establish contact with underground labor groups in occupied and Axis countries. ... Because such groups were already major forces of internal resistance behind enemy lines, they constituted a ready made source of valuable military and political intelligence."

Later government funded organizations[edit]

The National Endowment for Democracy was established as an overt quasi-public corporation, primarily funded by the U.S. government. In his doctoral dissertation, Hale cites a widespread opinion that NED provides, overtly, political assistance previously provided clandestinely by the CIA. "This has led most observers – including many NED supporters – to conclude that NED is attempting to do overtly what was done covertly by the CIA in the past....NED has been careful to avoid any links with the CIA."[12] NED's own history cites the problems created by CIA clandestine approaches to affecting opinion related to U.S. goals: "When it was revealed in the late 1960s that some American PVO's were receiving covert funding from the CIA to wage the battle of ideas at international forums, the Johnson Administration concluded that such funding should cease, recommending establishment of "a public-private mechanism" to fund overseas activities openly."[13] It contains four institutes, which, in some cases, parallel groups, such as the International Organizations Division, that had been in the CIA Directorate of Plans, the predecessor to the National Clandestine Service:

  • Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), which represents the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), representing the Democratic Party,
  • National Republican Institute for International Affairs (later renamed the International Republican Institute or "IRI"), representing the Republican Party,
  • American Center for International Labor Solidarity, also known as the "Solidarity Center," and formerly the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI), which represents the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

The NED recognizes the somewhat controversial inclusion of institutes for the main American political parties as "Even some who favored the Endowment's program questioned why—contrary to American political tradition—organizations affiliated with America's two political parties should receive federal funding... As for their being favored over other entities, these four Institutes represent large public American institutions with substantial nationwide constituencies. This sets them apart from NGOs that work in the areas of democracy and human rights."[13]

William Blum, an author and critic of the CIA and U.S. foreign policy, suggests NED was set up to legally continue the CIA's prohibited activities of support to selected political parties abroad.[14]

Use of mass media[edit]

The Central Intelligence Agency has made use of mass media assets, both foreign and domestic, for its covert operations. It was first reported on in the late 1960s, when it became known that the Congress for Cultural Freedom was largely funded by the CIA. In 1973, the Washington Star-News reported that CIA had enlisted more than thirty Americans working abroad as journalists, citing an internal CIA inquiry ordered by CIA director William E. Colby.[15] The Church Committee was the first congressional committee established in the 1970s to look specifically into the CIA's past activities. Some classified information in the (unpublished) report of the Pike Committee was leaked to The Village Voice, which showed more details on the CIA's media manipulation. The Committee mentioned that the:

"After Colby left the Agency on January 28, 1976, and was succeeded by George H.W. Bush, the CIA announced a new policy: “Effective immediately, the CIA will not enter into any paid or contractual 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” At the time of the announcement, the Agency acknowledged that the policy would result in termination of less than half of the relationships with the 50 U.S. journalists it said were still affiliated with the Agency. 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."[17]

Influencing public opinion abroad[edit]

The CIA urged its field stations to use their "propaganda assets" to refute those who did not agree with the Warren Report.[18] An April 1967 dispatch from CIA headquarters said: "Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit circulation of such claims in other countries."[19] The Agency instructed its stations around the world to "discuss the publicity problem with liaison and friendly elite contacts, especially politicians and editors" and "employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose."[18]

Assistance to entertainment[edit]

In the mid-1990s, the CIA named Chase Brandon, an operations officer who was assigned to South America, as liaison to Hollywood.[20] Brandon's film credits include The Recruit, The Sum of All Fears, Enemy of the State, Bad Company and In the Company of Spies. He has consulted for television programs including The Agency, Alias and JAG. He has appeared on Discovery, Learning Channel, History Channel, PBS, A&E, and has been interviewed on E! Entertainment, Access Hollywood, and Entertainment Tonight.[21]

The Guardian journalist John Patterson criticizes the CIA assistance as being only to complimentary productions, including not running material, such as "the original pilot episode of The Agency, which was pulled. It featured the spymasters preventing a plot by a Bin Laden-backed terrorist cell to blow up a fictionalized Harrods. The airing of such an episode might have pointed up the real CIA's corresponding lack of success in foiling the World Trade Center attacks."[20]

According to Brandon, the agency would not endorse Spy Game, starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The final rewrite "showed our senior management in an insensitive light and we just wouldn't want to be a part of that kind of project", said Brandon, who also withheld approval from 24, a Fox series about a fictional intelligence agency, CTU, that also suggests all is not hunky-dory in the company's upper echelons. And The Bourne Identity, based on the 1984 novel by Robert Ludlum, was "so awful that I tossed it in the burn bag after page 25".[20]

Patterson observed "It used to be the case that if a movie explicitly condemned CIA actions - such as Under Fire - the studios could be counted on to bury it. That was no longer true after Costa-Gavras's Missing won Jack Lemmon an Oscar in 1982, and Iran-Contra slimed the CIA in the late 1980s. Since then, "CIA renegade" has become a dependable staple not just of big-budget movies like Enemy of the State, but also of a million straight-to-cable action-schlockfests starring Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal."[20]

Other films that the CIA has provided assistance to include the 1992 film version of the Tom Clancy novel Patriot Games, and the 2003 movie, The Recruit. According to Director Roger Donaldson When the Agency commits to providing their support to a project, that can include letting a photographer shoot stills to help in designing sets, or, in certain instances, having the actors spend time in the building. By visiting Langley, the director says, he came to “understand how the space worked and looked. I needed a real sense of how a new person would feel when they saw the place for the first time."[22]

In 2012, Tricia Jenkins released a book, The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television,[23] which further documents the CIA's efforts at manipulating its public image through entertainment media from the 1990s to the present. The book explains that the CIA has used motion pictures to boost recruitment, mitigate public affairs disasters (like Aldrich Ames), bolster its own image, and even intimidate terrorists through disinformation campaigns.


  1. ^ Saunders, Frances Stonor (1999), The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, The New Press, ISBN 1-56584-664-8 
  2. ^ The Foreign Information Program and Psychological Warfare Planning (PDF), Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950-1955: The Intelligence Community, United States Department of State, March 9, 1950, NSC 59/1; FRUS document 2, archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-01-09 
  3. ^ Glazer, Nathan (January 20, 2008), "A Word From Our Sponsor", NY Times Sunday Book Review 
  4. ^ a b Wilford, Hugh (2008), The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-02681-0 
  5. ^ a b c d Braden, Thomas W. (20 May 1967), "I'm glad the CIA is 'immoral'", Saturday Evening Post: 10–14, retrieved 2013-11-27 
  6. ^ a b c d Agee, Philip Jr. (Fall 1991), "CIA Infiltration of Student Groups: The National Student Association Scandal", Campus Watch: 12–13 
  7. ^ Warner, Michael, Origins of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1949-50, pp. 1995 Edition – Volume 38, Number 5, archived from the original on 2007-06-13, retrieved 2007-04-15 
  8. ^ a b "Steven" (September 11, 2006), "1950-today: Corporate and state intervention in the arts", libcom. org 
  9. ^ James Burnham, Notes on the CIA shambles, National Review, 21 March 1967, cited ibid.
  10. ^ a b c "How to Care for the CIA Orphans", Time, 19 May 1967 
  11. ^ Gould, Jonathan S., "The OSS and the London "Free Germans": Strange Bedfellows", Studies in Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency 
  12. ^ Hale, Edward T. (2003), A Quantitative and Qualitative Evaluation of the National Endowment for Democracy, 1990-1999 (PDF), Doctoral dissertation in political science, Louisiana State University andAgricultural and Mechanical College 
  13. ^ a b David Lowe (March 2008), Idea to Reality: A Brief History of the National Endowment for Democracy, National Endowment for Democracy 
  14. ^ Blum, William (2003), Killing Hope, Common Courage Press, ISBN 1-56751-252-6, (revised edition) 
  15. ^ "U.S. Journalists Doubling as CIA Agents, Paper Says". Los Angeles Times. 1973-11-30. 
  16. ^ "The Select Committee's Investigative Record". The Village Voice. 1976-02-16. p. 88. 
  17. ^ Bernstein, Carl, The CIA and the Media: How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up, retrieved 2013-11-27, originally appeared in Rolling Stone, 1977, reprinted on author's website 
  18. ^ a b "Cable Sought to Discredit Critics of Warren Report" (PDF), New York Times: A3, 26 December 1977, retrieved 2013-11-27 
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b c d Patterson, John (5 October 2001), "Hollywood reporter: The caring, sharing CIA: Central Intelligence gets a makeover", Guardian (UK) 
  21. ^ "The Recruit: About the Production", Cinema Review Magazine 
  22. ^ TY - BOOK T1 - The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television A1 - Jenkins, Tricia PY - 2012 PB - University of Texas Press CY - Austin SN - 9780292737075 UR - ER -

External Links[edit]

Historical Documents from the Foreign Relations of the United States series