The CIA and the Media by Carl Bernstein- Rolling Stone, Oct. 20, 1977
In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America's leading syndicated columnists,
went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was
asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do
so by the newspapers that printed his column.
He went at the request of the CIA.
Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past
twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central
Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters.
Some of these journalists? relationships with the Agency were tacit; some
were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap.
Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services -- from simple
intelligence gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist
countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared
their staffs. 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. In
many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform
tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements America?s leading
The history of the CIA?s involvement with the American press continues to
be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception . . . .
Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were William
Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System, Henry Luce of Time Inc., Arthur
Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville
Courier-Journal and James Copley of the Copley News Service. Other
organizations which cooperated with the CIA include the American
Broadcasting Company, the National Broadcasting Company, the Associated
Press, United Press International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers,
Scripps-Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, The
Miami Herald, and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York
Herald-Tribune. By far the most valuable of these associations, according
to CIA officials, have been with The New York Times, CBS, and Time Inc.
... From the Agency?s perspective, there is nothing untoward in such
relationships, and any ethical questions are a matter for the journalistic
profession to resolve, not the intelligence community ... .
Many journalists were used by the CIA to assist in this process and they
had the reputation of being among the best in the business. The peculiar
nature of the job of the foreign correspondent is ideal for such work; he
is accorded unusual access, by his host country, permitted to travel in
areas often off-limits to other Americans, spends much of his time
cultivating sources in governments, academic institutions, the military
establishment and the scientific communities. He has the opportunity to
form long-term personal relationships with sources and -- perhaps more than
any other category of American operative -- is in a position to make
correct judgments about the susceptibility and availability of foreign
nationals for recruitment as spies.
The Agency?s dealings with the press began during the earliest stages of
the Cold War. Allen Dulles, who became director of the CIA in 1953, sought
to establish a recruiting-and-cover capability within America?s most
prestigious journalistic institutions. By operating under the guise of
accredited news correspondents, Dulles believed, CIA operatives abroad
would be accorded a degree of access and freedom of movement unobtainable
under almost any other type of cover.
American publishers, like so many other corporate and institutional leaders
at the time, were willing us commit the resources of their companies to the
struggle against ?global Communism.? Accordingly, the traditional line
separating the American press corps and government was often
indistinguishable: rarely was a news agency used to provide cover for CIA
operatives abroad without the knowledge and consent of either its principal
owner; publisher or senior editor. Thus, contrary to the notion that the
CIA era and news executives allowed themselves and their organizations to
become handmaidens to the intelligence services. ?Let?s not pick on some
poor reporters, for God?s sake,? William Colby exclaimed at one point to
the Church committee?s investigators. ?Let?s go to the managements. They
were witting? In all, about twenty-five news organizations (including those
listed at the beginning of this article) provided cover for the Agency.
... Many journalists who covered World War II were close to people in the
Office of Strategic Services, the wartime predecessor of the CIA; more
important, they were all on the same side. When the war ended and many OSS
officials went into the CIA, it was only natural that these relationships
Meanwhile, the first postwar generation of journalists entered the
profession; they shared the same political and professional values as their
mentors. ?You had a gang of people who worked together during World War II
and never got over it,? said one Agency official. ?They were genuinely
motivated and highly susceptible to intrigue and being on the inside. Then
in the Fifties and Sixties there was a national consensus about a national
threat. The Vietnam War tore everything to pieces -- shredded the consensus
and threw it in the air.? Another Agency official observed: ?Many
journalists didn?t give a second thought to associating with the Agency.
But there was a point when the ethical issues which most people had
submerged finally surfaced. Today, a lot of these guys vehemently deny that
they had any relationship with the Agency.?
... The CIA even ran a formal training program in the 1950s to teach its
agents to be journalists. Intelligence officers were ?taught to make noises
like reporters,? explained a high CIA official, and were then placed in
major news organizations with help from management. ?These were the guys
who went through the ranks and were told, ?You?re going to be a
journalist,? the CIA official said. Relatively few of the 400-some
relationships described in Agency files followed that pattern, however;
most involved persons who were already bona fide journalists when they
began undertaking tasks for the Agency. The Agency?s relationships with
journalists, as described in CIA files, include the following general
. Legitimate, accredited staff members of news organizations - usually
reporters. Some were paid; some worked for the Agency on a purely voluntary
. Stringers and freelancers. Most were payrolled by the Agency under
standard contractual terms.
. Employees of so-called CIA ?proprietaries.? During the past twenty-five
years, the Agency has secretly bankrolled numerous foreign press services,
periodicals and newspapers -- both English and foreign language -- which
provided excellent cover for CIA operatives.
. Columnists and commentators. There are perhaps a dozen well-known
columnists and broadcast commentators whose relationships with the CIA go
far beyond those normally maintained between reporters and their sources.
They are referred to at the Agency as ?known assets? and can be counted on
to perform a variety of undercover tasks; they are considered receptive to
the Agency?s point of view on various subjects.
Murky details of CIA relationships with individuals and news organizations
began trickling out in 1973 when it was first disclosed that the CIA had,
on occasion, employed journalists. Those reports, combined with new
information, serve as casebook studies of the Agency?s use of journalists
for intelligence purposes.
The New York Times -- The Agency?s relationship with the Times was by far
its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials. [It was]
general Times policy ... to provide assistance to the CIA whenever
... CIA officials cite two reasons why the Agency?s working relationship
with the Times was closer and more extensive than with any other paper: the
fact that the Times maintained the largest foreign news operation in
American daily journalism; and the close personal ties between the men who
ran both institutions ... .
The Columbia Broadcasting System -- CBS was unquestionably the CIA?s most
valuable broadcasting asset. CBS president William Paley and Allen Dulles
enjoyed an easy working and social relationship. Over the years, the
network provided cover for CIA employees, including at least one well-known
foreign correspondent and several stringers; it supplied outtakes of
newsfilm to the CIA; established a formal channel of communication between
the Washington bureau chief and the Agency; gave the Agency access to the
CBS newsfilm library; and allowed reports by CBS correspondents to the
Washington and New York newsrooms to be routinely monitored by the CIA.
Once a year during the 1950s and early 1960s, CBS correspondents joined the
CIA hierarchy for private dinners and briefings.
... At the headquarters of CBS News in New York, Paley?s cooperation with
the CIA is taken for granted by many news executives and reporters, despite
the denials. Paley, 76, was not interviewed by Salant?s investigators. ?It
wouldn?t do any good,? said one CBS executive. ?It is the single subject
about which his memory has failed.?
Time and Newsweek magazines -- According to CIA and Senate sources, Agency
files contain written agreements with former foreign correspondents and
stringers for both the weekly news magazines. The same sources refused to
say whether the CIA has ended all its associations with individuals who
work for the two publications. Allen Dulles often interceded with his good
friend, the late Henry Luce, founder of Time and Life magazines, who
readily allowed certain members of his staff to work for the Agency and
agreed to provide jobs and credentials for other CIA operatives who lacked
... At Newsweek, Agency sources reported, the CIA engaged the services of
several foreign correspondents and stringers under arrangements approved by
senior editors at the magazine.
... ?To the best of my knowledge:? said [Harry] Kern, [Newsweek?s foreign
editor from 1945 to 1956] ?nobody at Newsweek worked for the CIA.... The
informal relationship was there. Why have anybody sign anything? What we
knew we told them [the CIA] and the State Department.... When I went to
Washington, I would talk to Foster or Allen Dulles about what was going on
.... We thought it was admirable at the time. We were all on the same
side.? CIA officials say that Kern's dealings with the Agency were
... When Newsweek was purchased by the Washington Post Company, publisher
Philip L. Graham was informed by Agency officials that the CIA occasionally
used the magazine for cover purposes, according to CIA sources. ?It was
widely known that Phil Graham was somebody you could get help from,? said a
former deputy director of the Agency. . . . But Graham, who committed
suicide in 1963, apparently knew little of the specifics of any cover
arrangements with Newsweek, CIA sources said.
... Information about Agency dealings with the Washington Post newspaper is
extremely sketchy. According to CIA officials, some Post stringers have
been CIA employees, but these officials say they do not know if anyone in
the Post management was aware of the arrangements. ...
Other major news organizations -- According to Agency officials, CIA files
document additional cover arrangements with the following news gathering
organizations, among others: the New York Herald Tribune, Saturday Evening
Post, Scripps-Howard Newspapers, Hearst Newspapers, Associated Press,
United Press International, the Mutual Broadcasting System, Reuters and The
Miami Herald. ...
?And that's just a small part of the list,? in the words of one official
who served in the CIA hierarchy. Like many sources, this official said that
the only way to end the uncertainties about aid furnished the Agency by
journalists is to disclose the contents of the CIA files -- a course
opposed by almost all of the thirty-five present and former CIA officials
interviewed over the course of a year.
The CIA?s use of journalists continued virtually unabated until 1973 when,
in response to public disclosure that the Agency had secretly employed
American reporters, William Colby began scaling down the program. In his
public statements, Colby conveyed the impression that the use of
journalists had been minimal and of limited importance to the Agency.
He then initiated a series of moves intended to convince the press,
Congress and the public that the CIA had gotten out of the news business.
But according to Agency officials, Colby had in fact thrown a protective
net around his most valuable intelligence assets in the journalistic
... After Colby left the Agency on January 28th, 1976, and was succeeded by
George Bush, 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.? .
. . 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.
The Agency's unwillingness to end its use of journalists and its continued
relationships with some news executives is largely the product of two basic
facts of the intelligence game: journalistic cover is ideal because of the
inquisitive nature of a reporter's job; and many other sources of
institutional cover have been denied the CIA in recent years by businesses,
foundations and educational institutions that once cooperated with the
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