John Simkin Tuesday, 10th June, 2014
In January 2005, I wrote an article entitled Operation Mockingbird. At that time very little was known about this highly secret Central Intelligence Agency media operation that dated back to 1948 when Frank Wisner was appointed director of the Office of Special Projects. Soon afterwards it was renamed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). This became the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the CIA. 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."
Later that year Wisner established Mockingbird, a program to influence the domestic American media. Wisner recruited Philip Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, to run the project within the industry. Graham himself recruited others who had worked for military intelligence during the war. This included James Truitt, Russell Wiggins, Phil Geyelin, John Hayes and Alan Barth. Others like Stewart Alsop, Joseph Alsop and James Reston, were recruited from within the Georgetown Set. According toDeborah Davis, the author of Katharine the Great (1979): "By the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles."
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), C. D. Jackson (Time Magazine), Walter Pincus (Washington Post), Walter Winchell (New York Daily Mirror), Drew Pearson, Walter Lippmann, William Allen White, Edgar Ansel Mowrer (Chicago Daily News), Hal Hendrix (Miami News), Whitelaw Reid (New York Herald Tribune), Jerry O'Leary (Washington Star), William C. Baggs (Miami News), Herb Gold (Miami News) and Charles L. Bartlett (Chattanooga Times). According to Nina Burleigh, the author of A Very Private Woman, (1998) these journalists sometimes wrote articles that were commissioned by Frank Wisner. The CIA also provided them with classified information to help them with their work.
Evidence for Operation Mockingbird first came from many different sources. Thomas Braden, head of the of the CIA's International Organizations Division (IOD), played an important role in Operation Mockingbird. In June, 1975, Braden gave an interview to the Granada Television program, World in Action: The Rise and Fall of the CIA. "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." In another interview Braden confessed that the activities of the CIA had to be kept secret from Congress. As he pointed out in the article: "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."
Further details of Operation Mockingbird was revealed as a result of the Frank Church investigations (Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities). 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." Church argued that the cost of misinforming the world cost American taxpayers an estimated $265 million a year.
Church showed that it was CIA policy to use clandestine handling of journalists and authors to get information published initially in the foreign media in order to get it disseminated in the United States. Church quotes from one document written by the Chief of the Covert Action Staff on how this process worked (page 193). For example, he writes: “Get books published or distributed abroad without revealing any U.S. influence, by covertly subsidizing foreign publicans or booksellers.” Later in the document he writes: “Get books published for operational reasons, regardless of commercial viability”. Church goes onto report that “over a thousand books were produced, subsidized or sponsored by the CIA before the end of 1967”. All these books eventually found their way into the American market-place. Either in their original form (Church gives the example of the Penkovskiy Papers) or repackaged as articles for American newspapers and magazines.
In another document published in 1961 the Chief of the Agency’s propaganda unit wrote: “The advantage of our direct contact with the author is that we can acquaint him in great detail with our intentions; that we can provide him with whatever material we want him to include and that we can check the manuscript at every stage… (the Agency) must make sure the actual manuscript will correspond with our operational and propagandistic intention.” Church quotes Thomas H. Karamessines as saying: “If you plant an article in some paper overseas, and it is a hard-hitting article, or a revelation, there is no way of guaranteeing that it is not going to be picked up and published by the Associated Press in this country” (page 198).
By analyzing CIA documents Church was able to identify over 50 U.S. journalists who were employed directly by the Agency. He was aware that there were a lot more who enjoyed a very close relationship with the CIA who were “being paid regularly for their services, to those who receive only occasional gifts and reimbursements from the CIA” (page 195). Church pointed out that this was probably only the tip of the iceberg because the CIA refused to “provide the names of its media agents or the names of media organizations with which they are connected”. Church was also aware that most of these payments were not documented. This was the main point of the Otis Pike Report. If these payments were not documented and accounted for, there must be a strong possibility of financial corruption taking place. This includes the large commercial contracts that the CIA was responsible for distributing. Pike’s report actually highlighted in 1976 what eventually emerged in the 1980s via the activities of CIA operatives such as Edwin Wilson, Thomas Clines, Ted Shackley, Raphael Quintero, Richard Secord and Felix Rodriguez.
Carl Bernstein, who had worked with Bob Woodward in the investigation of Watergate, provided further information about Operation Mockingbird in an article in The Rolling Stone in October, 1977. Bernstein claimed that over a 25 year period over 400 American journalists secretly carried out assignments for the CIA: "Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors-without-portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested it the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles, and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad."
I published my article on Operation Mockingbird on the Spartacus Educational website in January 2005. I also posted my discoveries on the Education Forum. I then carried out a search for "Operation Mockingbird" at Google. First in the ranking was the Wikipedia entry. On 6th April, 2005, it said: “Operation Mockingbird is the name of a CIA project that may or may not have existed. It has been mentioned in several books and web sites, but its existence has not yet been determined. Some believe the operation is merely an urban legend or a conspiracy theory.” Clearly, the person who wrote this entry knew nothing about CIA operations. I therefore decided to edit the page. I therefore decided to write the entry for Operation Mockingbird on Wikipedia. However, as soon as I did this, it was deleted and the original entry was put back.
My own page on Operation Mockingbird appeared in search-engines such as AltaVista, Yahoo and AlltheWeb. However, Google did not appear to have it in its database. This was surprising as at the time I was doing very well at Google from my other pages. In the past I have worked for national newspapers and I used my contacts to make inquiries about Google's relationship with the CIA.
I posted information on the Education Forum and had letters published in the national press about the failings of Wikipedia. Eventually I was contacted by a representative of Wikipedia and I was told that if I gave full page references for my history of this CIA operation they would allow it to stand.
On 14th June, 2005, I was able to announce that my page on Operation Mockingbird had been restored to the Google database. (It now appeared at 3rd place in the ranking). So also was my page on Frank Wisner, the man who established Mockingbird. Another person blocked, Mary Pinchot Meyer, was also back in.
Recently, I had reason to do a search for "Operation Mockingbird". At Bing it came 2nd to Wikipedia. This was to be expected as it is the most detailed page on the web on the subject. In 7th place was the original debate we had about it on the Education Forum. However, I got quite a surprise, when I did the same thing at Google. It was on the third page in 22nd place. (The Education Forum was in 23rd place). Why has Google downgraded this page? I recently had an email from Bing stating: "For the second year, in blind tests, using the UK's most popular web searches, more people prefer Bing results than Google!" I am not surprised, it will be my default search-engine in future.
The current Wikipedia entry is also disturbing. Although it still contains some of the material that I produced, it has removed all reference to my website. Another important change is the removal of most of the journalists I named who were working for America 's leading media organisations. It would seem that Operation Mockingbird is still in existence and is having an impact on online information.
No one knows the name and academic credentials of the person who did the final edit. Google gives Wikipedia a domain authority of 100 (that is why it always appears at the top of the rankings). However, that is not true of teachers in schools and universities who refuse to accept references from Wikipedia as we have no idea who has written the material.
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© John Simkin, September 1997 - June 2014