Operation Mockingbird

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the the alleged CIA program. For an overview of CIA influence on media, see CIA influence on public opinion.

Operation Mockingbird was a campaign by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to influence media in the US and internationally. It was reportedly organized as an independent office by Frank Wisner in 1948. After 1953, when Allen Dulles was appointed as head of the CIA, he took a strong role in overseeing the operation, which already had influence with 25 newspapers and wire agencies. The operation has been documented as operating at least during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

The unit recruited leading American journalists into a propaganda network to help present the CIA's views. It funded some student and cultural organizations and magazines as fronts. As it developed, it also worked to influence foreign media and political campaigns, in addition to activities conducted by other operating units of the CIA. The CIA's use of journalists continued unabated until 1973, when the program was scaled back. When George H.W. Bush was appointed as director of the CIA in 1976, the program of paying journalists for cooperation was announced to have ended. Their voluntary cooperation was encouraged.[1]

In 1966 Ramparts magazine published an article revealing that the National Student Association was funded by the CIA. It was the first time the agency was revealed to have interfered with US domestic activities. The United States Congress investigated the allegations and published a report in 1976.

Other accounts of these activities have also been published. The media operation was first called Mockingbird in Deborah Davis's 1979 book, Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and The Washington Post.[2]


In 1948, Frank Wisner was appointed director of the Office of Special Projects (OSP) at the CIA. Soon afterwards, OSP was renamed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), which became the CIA's covert action branch. Wisner was told to create an organization that concentrated on

"propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world".[3][not in citation given]

Later that year, Wisner established Mockingbird, a program to influence foreign media.[citation needed]

Wisner recruited Philip Graham from The Washington Post to run the project within the industry. According to Deborah Davis in Katharine the Great, "By the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of The New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles."[4]

In 1951, Allen W. Dulles persuaded Cord Meyer to join the CIA. According to Deborah Davis, Meyer became Mockingbird's "principal operative."[5]

After 1953, the media network was overseen by CIA Director Allen Dulles, by which time Operation Mockingbird had major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies.[6] The usual method was placing reports developed from intelligence provided by the CIA to cooperating or unwitting reporters. Those reports would be repeated or cited by the preceding reporters, which in turn would then be cited throughout the media wire services. These networks were run by people with well-known liberal but pro-American big business and anti-Soviet views, such as William S. Paley (CBS), Henry Luce (Time and Life Magazine), Arthur Hays Sulzberger (New York Times), Alfred Friendly (managing editor of the Washington Post), Jerry O'Leary (Washington Star), Hal Hendrix (Miami News), Barry Bingham, Sr. (Louisville Courier-Journal), James Copley (Copley News Services) and Joseph Harrison (Christian Science Monitor).[6]

The Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was funded by siphoning off funds intended for the Marshall Plan. Wisner was constantly looking for ways to persuade the public of the dangers of Soviet communism. In 1954, Wisner arranged for the funding of a Hollywood production of Animal Farm as an animated work based on the novel of the same name written by George Orwell.[7]

Thomas Braden, head of the International Organizations Division (IOD) of the CIA, played an important role in Operation Mockingbird.[citation needed] In a 1975 interview, he said:

"If the director of CIA wanted to extend a present, say, to someone in Europe—a Labour leader—suppose he just thought, This man can use fifty thousand dollars, he's working well and doing a good job—he could hand it to him and never have to account to anybody... There was simply no limit to the money it could spend and no limit to the people it could hire and no limit to the activities it could decide were necessary to conduct the war—the secret war... It was a multinational. Maybe it was one of the first. Journalists were a target, labor unions a particular target—that was one of the activities in which the communists spent the most money."[8]

Congressional investigations[edit]

After the Watergate scandal in 1972-74, the U.S. Congress became concerned over possible presidential abuse of the CIA. This concern reached its height when reporter Seymour Hersh published a lengthy expose of the CIA's Operation CHAOS in 1975.[9] CHAOS was a domestic surveillance program aimed at determining whether American opposition to the Vietnam war was being financed or manipulated by foreign governments. As a result of these concerns, Congress authorized a series of Congressional investigations into Agency activities from 1975 to 1976. A wide range of CIA operations were examined in these investigations, including CIA ties with journalists and numerous private voluntary organizations. None of the resulting reports, however, refer to an Operation Mockingbird.

The most extensive discussion of CIA relations with news media from these investigations is in the Church Committee's final report, published in April 1976. The report covered CIA ties with both foreign and domestic news media.

For foreign news media, the report concluded that:

The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.[10]

For domestic media, the report states:

Approximately 50 of the [Agency] assets are individual American journalists or employees of U.S. media organizations. Of these, fewer than half are "accredited" by U.S. media organizations ... The remaining individuals are non-accredited freelance contributors and media representatives abroad ... More than a dozen United States news organizations and commercial publishing houses formerly provided cover for CIA agents abroad. A few of these organizations were unaware that they provided this cover.[11]

CIA response[edit]

Prior to the release of the Church report, the CIA had already begun restricting its use of journalists. According to the report, former CIA director William Colby informed the committee that in 1973 he had issued instructions that "As a general policy, the Agency will not make any clandestine use of staff employees of U.S. publications which have a substantial impact or influence on public opinion."[12]

In February 1976, Director George Bush announced an even more restrictive policy: "effective immediately, 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.[13]

By the time the Church Committee Report was completed, all CIA contacts with accredited journalists had been dropped. The Committee noted, however, that "accredited correspondent” meant the ban was limited to individuals "formally authorized by contract or issuance of press credentials to represent themselves as correspondents" and that non-contract workers who did not receive press credentials, such as stringers or freelancers, were not included.

Other coverage[edit]

Journalist Carl Bernstein, writing in an October 1977 article in the magazine Rolling Stone, claims that the Church Committee report "covered up" CIA relations with news media, and names a number of journalists whom he says worked with the CIA.[14] Like the Church Committee report, however, Bernstein does not refer to any Operation Mockingbird.

Project Mockingbird[edit]

In 2007 a CIA report was declassified that is titled the Family Jewels.[15] Compiled by the CIA in 1973, it refers to a Project Mockingbird and describes a wiretap of journalists. The report was compiled at the request of then CIA director James Schlesinger, and was not declassified until 2007.

According to the report:

Project Mockingbird, a telephone intercept activity, was conducted between 12 March 1963 and 15 June 1963, and targeted two Washington based newsmen who, at the time, had been publishing news articles based on, and frequently quoting, classified materials of this Agency and others, including Top Secret and Special Intelligence.[16]

The wiretap was authorized by CIA director John McCone, "in coordination with the Attorney General (Mr. Robert Kennedy), the Secretary of Defense (Mr. Robert McNamara), and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (Gen. Joseph Carroll)." [17]

David Robarge's 2005 internal CIA biography of McCone, made public under an FOIA request, addressed this incident, identifying the two Washington reporters as Robert Allen and Paul Scott.[18] Their syndicated column, "The Allen-Scott Report," appeared in as many as three hundred papers at the height of its popularity.[19]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Carl Bernstein, "CIA and the Media", People, 1977
  2. ^ Davis, Deborah (1979). Katherine The Great: Katherine Graham and The Washington Post. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0151467846. 
  3. ^ David Wise and Thomas Ross (1964). Invisible Government. 
  4. ^ Deborah Davis (1979). Katharine the Great. pp. 137–138. 
  5. ^ Deborah Davis (1979). Katharine the Great. p. 226. 
  6. ^ a b Carl Bernstein (20 October 1977). "CIA and the Media". Rolling Stone Magazine. 
  7. ^ Evan Thomas (1995). The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA. p. 33. 
  8. ^ "Thomas Braden, interview". World in Action: The Rise and Fall of the CIA. Granada Television. 1975. 
  9. ^ Ranelagh, 571-575.
  10. ^ Church Committee Final Report, Vol 1: Foreign and Military Intelligence, p. 455
  11. ^ Church Committee Final Report, Vol 1: Foreign and Military Intelligence, p. 455
  12. ^ Church Committee Final Report, Vol 1: Foreign and Military Intelligence, p. 196
  13. ^ Church Committee Final Report, Vol 1: Foreign and Military Intelligence, p. 454
  14. ^ The article, The CIA and the Media", is available on Bernstein's website.
  15. ^ "Family Jewels". FOIA Electronic Reading Room. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2016-12-14. 
  16. ^ "Family Jewels" Report, p. 22
  17. ^ "Family Jewels" Report, p. 22
  18. ^ Robarge, David (2005). John McCone as Director of Central Intelligence, 1961-1965 (part 2). Center for the Study of Intelligence. pp. 328–329. Retrieved 2016-02-14. 
  19. ^ "Long-ago wiretap inspires a battle with the CIA for more information". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-12. 

External links[edit]