Operation Mockingbird

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Operation Mockingbird was a campaign by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to influence media during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Begun in the 1950s, it was initially organized by Cord Meyer and Allen W. Dulles, and was later led by Frank Wisner after Dulles became the head of the CIA. The organization 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 by other operating units of the CIA. The CIA's use of journalists continued unabated until 1973, when the program was scaled back, finally coming to a halt in 1976 when George H.W. Bush took over as director.[1]

In addition to earlier exposés of CIA activities in foreign affairs, in 1966, Ramparts magazine published an article revealing that the National Student Association was funded by the CIA. The United States Congress investigated the allegations and published a report in 1976. Other accounts were also 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). 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] 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. However, there is evidence that he was recruited several years earlier and had been spying on the liberal internationalist organizations he had been a member of in the late 1940s.[5] According to Deborah Davis, Meyer became Mockingbird's "principal operative."[6]

After 1953, the network was overseen by CIA Director Allen Dulles, by which time Operation Mockingbird had major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies.[citation needed] The usual methodology was placing reports developed from intelligence provided by the CIA to witting or unwitting reporters. Those reports would then 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).[8]

The Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was funded by siphoning off funds intended for the Marshall Plan. Some of this money was used to bribe journalists and publishers. Frank Wisner was constantly looking for ways to help convince 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 allegory based on the book written by George Orwell.[9]

Thomas Braden, head of the International Organizations Division (IOD), played an important role in Operation Mockingbird.[citation needed] Many years later he revealed his role in these events:

"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."[10]

First exposure[edit]

In 1964, Random House published Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas Ross. The book exposed the role of the CIA in foreign policy. This included CIA coups in Guatemala (Operation PBSUCCESS) and Iran (Operation Ajax) and the Bay of Pigs Invasion. It also revealed the CIA's attempts to overthrow President Sukarno in Indonesia and the covert operations taking place in Laos and Vietnam. The CIA considered buying up the entire printing of Invisible Government, but this idea was rejected when Random House pointed out that if this happened, they would have to print a second edition.[3]

John McCone, the new director of the CIA, tried to prevent Edward Yates from making a documentary on the CIA for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). This attempt at censorship failed, and NBC broadcast this critical documentary.

In early 1967 Directorate for Plans Desmond FitzGerald learned that the left-wing magazine Ramparts had was going to publish an article exposing the CIA's secret funding for the National Student Association. He attempted to organize a covert campaign against Ramparts, but the story still appeared in March 1967.[11]

In May 1967, Thomas Braden published "I'm Glad the CIA is 'Immoral'", in the Saturday Evening Post. He defended the activities of the International Organizations Division unit of the CIA. Braden said that the CIA had kept these activities secret from Congress. As he wrote: "In the early 1950s, when the Cold War was really hot, the idea that Congress would have approved many of our projects was about as likely as the John Birch Society's approving Medicare."[12]

Church Committee investigations[edit]

Further details of Operation Mockingbird were revealed as a result of the Senator Frank Church investigations (Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities) in 1975.[citation needed] According to the Congress report published in 1976:

"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."[citation needed]

In February 1976, George H. W. Bush, the recently appointed Director of 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."[13] He added that the CIA would continue to "welcome" the voluntary, unpaid cooperation of journalists.[citation needed]

"Family Jewels" report[edit]

According to the "Family Jewels" report, released by the National Security Archive on June 26, 2007, during the period from March 12, 1963 to June 15, 1963, the CIA installed telephone taps on two Washington-based news reporters.[14]

Termination of Program[edit]

After William Colby left the Agency on January 28th, 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.” However, more than half of the relationships the CIA had with U.S. journalists continued. The text of the announcement noted that the CIA would continue to “welcome” the voluntary, unpaid cooperation of journalists. Thus, while Operation Mockingbird came to an end, many relationships between the CIA and journalists were allowed to remain intact.[15]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php
  2. ^ Davis, Deborah (1979). Katherine The Great: Katherine Graham and The Washington Post. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0151467846. 
  3. ^ a b David Wise and Thomas Ross (1964). Invisible Government. 
  4. ^ Deborah Davis (1979). Katharine the Great. pp. 137–138. 
  5. ^ Cord Meyer (1980). Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA. pp. 42–59. 
  6. ^ Deborah Davis (1979). Katharine the Great. p. 226. 
  7. ^ Carl Bernstein, CIA and the Media, People, 1977
  8. ^ Carl Bernstein (20 October 1977). "CIA and the Media". Rolling Stone Magazine. 
  9. ^ Evan Thomas (1995). The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA. p. 33. 
  10. ^ Thomas Braden, interview included in the Granada Television program, World in Action: The Rise and Fall of the CIA. 1975. 
  11. ^ Evan Thomas (1995). The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA. p. 330. 
  12. ^ Thomas Braden (20 May 1967). "I'm Glad the CIA is 'Immoral'". Saturday Evening Post. 
  13. ^ Klein, Peter. The Interview reinforces a negative view of US journalists Columbia Journalism Review, 30 Dec., 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  14. ^ Family Jewels, PDF page 5, para. 3
  15. ^ http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php

External links[edit]