| 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 valuable intelligence in the journalistic community. He ordered his deputies to maintain Agency ties with its best journalist contacts while severing formal relationships with many regarded as inactive, relatively unproductive or only marginally important. In reviewing Agency files to comply with Colby’s directive, officials found that many journalists had not performed useful functions for the CIA in years. Such relationships, perhaps as many as a hundred, were terminated between 1973 and 1976.
Meanwhile, important CIA operatives who had been placed on the staffs of some major newspaper and broadcast outlets were told to resign and become stringers or freelancers, thus enabling Colby to assure concerned editors that members of their staffs were not CIA employees. Colby also feared that some valuable stringer‑operatives might find their covers blown if scrutiny of the Agency’s ties with journalists continued. Some of these individuals were reassigned to jobs on so‑called proprietary publications—foreign periodicals and broadcast outlets secretly funded and staffed by the CIA. Other journalists who had signed formal contracts with the CIA—making them employees of the Agency—were released from their contracts, and asked to continue working under less formal arrangements.
In November 1973, after many such shifts had been made, Colby told reporters and editors from the New York Times and the Washington Star that the Agency had “some three dozen” American newsmen “on the CIA payroll,” including five who worked for “general‑circulation news organizations.” Yet even while the Senate Intelligence Committee was holding its hearings in 1976, according to high‑level CIA sources, the CIA continued to maintain ties with seventy‑five to ninety journalists of every description—executives, reporters, stringers, photographers, columnists, bureau clerks and members of broadcast technical crews. More than half of these had been moved off CIA contracts and payrolls but they were still bound by other secret agreements with the Agency. According to an unpublished report by the House Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Representative Otis Pike, at least fifteen news organizations were still providing cover for CIA operatives as of 1976.
Colby, who built a reputation as one of the most skilled undercover tacticians in the CIA’s history, had himself run journalists in clandestine operations before becoming director in 1973. But even he was said by his closest associates to have been disturbed at how extensively and, in his view, indiscriminately, the Agency continued to use journalists at the time he took over. “Too prominent,” the director frequently said of some of the individuals and news organizations then working with the CIA. Others in the Agency refer to their best‑known journalistic assets as “brand names.”)
“Colby’s concern was that he might lose the resource altogether unless we became a little more careful about who we used and how we got them,” explained one of the former director’s deputies. The thrust of Colby’s subsequent actions was to move the Agency’s affiliations away from the so‑called “majors” and to concentrate them instead in smaller newspaper chains, broadcasting groups and such specialized publications as trade journals and newsletters.
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 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.
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 Agency.
“It’s tough to run a secret agency in this country,” explained one high‑level CIA official. “We have a curious ambivalence about intelligence. In order to serve overseas we need cover. But we have been fighting a rear‑guard action to try and provide cover. The Peace Corps is off‑limits, so is USIA, the foundations and voluntary organizations have been off‑limits since ‘67, and there is a self‑imposed prohibition on Fulbrights [Fulbright Scholars]. If you take the American community and line up who could work for the CIA and who couldn’t there is a very narrow potential. Even the Foreign Service doesn’t want us. So where the hell do you go? Business is nice, but the press is a natural. One journalist is worth twenty agents. He has access, the ability to ask questions without arousing suspicion.”
ROLE OF THE CHURCH COMMITTEE
DESPITE THE EVIDENCE OF WIDESPREAD CIA USE OF journalists, the Senate Intelligence Committee and its staff decided against questioning any of the reporters, editors, publishers or broadcast executives whose relationships with the Agency are detailed in CIA files.
According to sources in the Senate and the Agency, the use of journalists was one of two areas of inquiry which the CIA went to extraordinary lengths to curtail. The other was the Agency’s continuing and extensive use of academics for recruitment and information gathering purposes.
In both instances, the sources said, former directors Colby and Bush and CIA special counsel Mitchell Rogovin were able to convince key members of the committee that full inquiry or even limited public disclosure of the dimensions of the activities would do irreparable damage to the nation’s intelligence‑gathering apparatus, as well as to the reputations of hundreds of individuals. Colby was reported to have been especially persuasive in arguing that disclosure would bring on a latter‑day “witch hunt” in which the victims would be reporters, publishers and editors.
Walter Elder, deputy to former CIA director McCone and the principal Agency liaison to the Church committee, argued that the committee lacked jurisdiction because there had been no misuse of journalists by the CIA; the relationships had been voluntary. Elder cited as an example the case of the Louisville Courier‑Journal. “Church and other people on the committee were on the chandelier about the Courier‑Journal,” one Agency official said, “until we pointed out that we had gone to the editor to arrange cover, and that the editor had said, ‘Fine.’”
Some members of the Church committee and staff feared that Agency officials had gained control of the inquiry and that they were being hoodwinked. “The Agency was extremely clever about it and the committee played right into its hands,” said one congressional source familiar with all aspects of the inquiry. “Church and some of the other members were much more interested in making headlines than in doing serious, tough investigating. The Agency pretended to be giving up a lot whenever it was asked about the flashy stuff—assassinations and secret weapons and James Bond operations. Then, when it came to things that they didn’t want to give away, that were much more important to the Agency, Colby in particular called in his chits. And the committee bought it.”
The Senate committee’s investigation into the use of journalists was supervised by William B. Bader, a former CIA intelligence officer who returned briefly to the Agency this year as deputy to CIA director Stansfield Turner and is now a high‑level intelligence official at the Defense Department. Bader was assisted by David Aaron, who now serves as the deputy to Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser.
According to colleagues on the staff of the Senate inquiry, both Bader and Aaron were disturbed by the information contained in CIA files about journalists; they urged that further investigation he undertaken by the Senate’s new permanent CIA oversight committee. That committee, however, has spent its first year of existence writing a new charter for the CIA, and members say there has been little interest in delving further into the CIA’s use of the press.
Bader’s investigation was conducted under unusually difficult conditions. His first request for specific information on the use of journalists was turned down by the CIA on grounds that there had been no abuse of authority and that current intelligence operations might he compromised. Senators Walter Huddleston, Howard Baker, Gary Hart, Walter Mondale and Charles Mathias—who had expressed interest in the subject of the press and the CIA—shared Bader’s distress at the CIA’s reaction. In a series of phone calls and meetings with CIA director George Bush and other Agency officials, the senators insisted that the committee staff be provided information about the scope of CIA‑press activities. Finally, Bush agreed to order a search of the files and have those records pulled which deals with operations where journalists had been used. But the raw files could not he made available to Bader or the committee, Bush insisted. Instead, the director decided, his deputies would condense the material into one‑paragraph summaries describing in the most general terms the activities of each individual journalist. Most important, Bush decreed, the names of journalists and of the news organizations with which they were affiliated would be omitted from the summaries. However, there might be some indication of the region where the journalist had served and a general description of the type of news organization for which he worked.
Assembling the summaries was difficult, according to CIA officials who supervised the job. There were no “journalist files” per se and information had to be collected from divergent sources that reflect the highly compartmentalized character of the CIA. Case officers who had handled journalists supplied some names. Files were pulled on various undercover operations in which it seemed logical that journalists had been used. Significantly, all work by reporters for the Agency under the category of covert operations, not foreign intelligence.) Old station records were culled. “We really had to scramble,” said one official.
After several weeks, Bader began receiving the summaries, which numbered over 400 by the time the Agency said it had completed searching its files.
The Agency played an intriguing numbers game with the committee. Those who prepared the material say it was physically impossible to produce all of the Agency’s files on the use of journalists. “We gave them a broad, representative picture,” said one agency official. “We never pretended it was a total description of the range of activities over 25 years, or of the number of journalists who have done things for us.” A relatively small number of the summaries described the activities of foreign journalists—including those working as stringers for American publications. Those officials most knowledgeable about the subject say that a figure of 400 American journalists is on the low side of the actual number who maintained covert relationships and undertook clandestine tasks.
Bader and others to whom he described the contents of the summaries immediately reached some general conclusions: the sheer number of covert relationships with journalists was far greater than the CIA had ever hinted; and the Agency’s use of reporters and news executives was an intelligence asset of the first magnitude. Reporters had been involved in almost every conceivable kind of operation. Of the 400‑plus individuals whose activities were summarized, between 200 and 250 were “working journalists” in the usual sense of the term—reporters, editors, correspondents, photographers; the rest were employed at least nominally) by book publishers, trade publications and newsletters.
Still, the summaries were just that: compressed, vague, sketchy, incomplete. They could be subject to ambiguous interpretation. And they contained no suggestion that the CIA had abused its authority by manipulating the editorial content of American newspapers or broadcast reports.
Bader’s unease with what he had found led him to seek advice from several experienced hands in the fields of foreign relations and intelligence. They suggested that he press for more information and give those members of the committee in whom he had the most confidence a general idea of what the summaries revealed. Bader again went to Senators Huddleston, Baker, Hart, Mondale and Mathias. Meanwhile, he told the CIA that he wanted to see more—the full files on perhaps a hundred or so of the individuals whose activities had been summarized. The request was turned down outright. The Agency would provide no more information on the subject. Period.
The CIA’s intransigence led to an extraordinary dinner meeting at Agency headquarters in late March 1976. Those present included Senators Frank Church who had now been briefed by Bader), and John Tower, the vice‑chairman of the committee; Bader; William Miller, director of the committee staff; CIA director Bush; Agency counsel Rogovin; and Seymour Bolten, a high‑level CIA operative who for years had been a station chief in Germany and Willy Brandt’s case officer. Bolten had been deputized by Bush to deal with the committee’s requests for information on journalists and academics. At the dinner, the Agency held to its refusal to provide any full files. Nor would it give the committee the names of any individual journalists described in the 400 summaries or of the news organizations with whom they were affiliated. The discussion, according to participants, grew heated. The committee’s representatives said they could not honor their mandate—to determine if the CIA had abused its authority—without further information. The CIA maintained it could not protect its legitimate intelligence operations or its employees if further disclosures were made to the committee. Many of the journalists were contract employees of the Agency, Bush said at one point, and the CIA was no less obligated to them than to any other agents.
Finally, a highly unusual agreement was hammered out: Bader and Miller would be permitted to examine “sanitized” versions of the full files of twenty‑five journalists selected from the summaries; but the names of the journalists and the news organizations which employed them would be blanked out, as would the identities of other CIA employees mentioned in the files. Church and Tower would be permitted to examine the unsanitizedversions of five of the twenty‑five files—to attest that the CIA was not hiding anything except the names. The whole deal was contingent on an agreement that neither Bader, Miner, Tower nor Church would reveal the contents of the files to other members of the committee or staff.
Bader began reviewing the 400‑some summaries again. His object was to select twenty‑five that, on the basis of the sketchy information they contained, seemed to represent a cross section. Dates of CIA activity, general descriptions of news organizations, types of journalists and undercover operations all figured in his calculations.
From the twenty‑five files he got back, according to Senate sources and CIA officials, an unavoidable conclusion emerged: that to a degree never widely suspected, the CIA in the 1950s, ‘60s and even early ‘70s had concentrated its relationships with journalists in the most prominent sectors of the American press corps, including four or five of the largest newspapers in the country, the broadcast networks and the two major newsweekly magazines. Despite the omission of names and affiliations from the twenty‑five detailed files each was between three and eleven inches thick), the information was usually sufficient to tentatively identify either the newsman, his affiliation or both—particularly because so many of them were prominent in the profession.
“There is quite an incredible spread of relationships,” Bader reported to the senators. “You don’t need to manipulate Time magazine, for example, because there are Agency people at the management level.”
Ironically, one major news organization that set limits on its dealings with the CIA, according to Agency officials, was the one with perhaps the greatest editorial affinity for the Agency’s long‑range goals and policies: U.S. News and World Report. The late David Lawrence, the columnist and founding editor of U.S. News, was a close friend of Allen Dulles. But he repeatedly refused requests by the CIA director to use the magazine for cover purposes, the sources said. At one point, according to a high CIA official, Lawrence issued orders to his sub‑editors in which he threatened to fire any U.S. News employee who was found to have entered into a formal relationship with the Agency. Former editorial executives at the magazine confirmed that such orders had been issued. CIA sources declined to say, however, if the magazine remained off‑limits to the Agency after Lawrence’s death in 1973 or if Lawrence’s orders had been followed.)
Meanwhile, Bader attempted to get more information from the CIA, particularly about the Agency’s current relationships with journalists. He encountered a stone wall. “Bush has done nothing to date,” Bader told associates. “None of the important operations are affected in even a marginal way.” The CIA also refused the staffs requests for more information on the use of academics. Bush began to urge members of the committee to curtail its inquiries in both areas and conceal its findings in the final report. “He kept saying, ‘Don’t fuck these guys in the press and on the campuses,’ pleading that they were the only areas of public life with any credibility left,” reported a Senate source. Colby, Elder and Rogovin also implored individual members of the committee to keep secret what the staff had found. “There were a lot of representations that if this stuff got out some of the biggest names in journalism would get smeared,” said another source. Exposure of the CIA’s relationships with journalists and academics, the Agency feared, would close down two of the few avenues of agent recruitment still open. “The danger of exposure is not the other side,” explained one CIA expert in covert operations. “This is not stuff the other side doesn’t know about. The concern of the Agency is that another area of cover will be denied.”
A senator who was the object of the Agency’s lobbying later said: “From the CIA point of view this was the highest, most sensitive covert program of all.... It was a much larger part of the operational system than has been indicated.” He added, “I had a great compulsion to press the point but it was late .... If we had demanded, they would have gone the legal route to fight it.”
Indeed, time was running out for the committee. In the view of many staff members, it had squandered its resources in the search for CIA assassination plots and poison pen letters. It had undertaken the inquiry into journalists almost as an afterthought. The dimensions of the program and the CIA’s sensitivity to providing information on it had caught the staff and the committee by surprise. The CIA oversight committee that would succeed the Church panel would have the inclination and the time to inquire into the subject methodically; if, as seemed likely, the CIA refused to cooperate further, the mandate of the successor committee would put it in a more advantageous position to wage a protracted fight .... Or so the reasoning went as Church and the few other senators even vaguely familiar with Bader’s findings reached a decision not to pursue the matter further. No journalists would be interviewed about their dealings with the Agency—either by the staff or by the senators, in secret or in open session. The specter, first raised by CIA officials, of a witch hunt in the press corps haunted some members of the staff and the committee. “We weren’t about to bring up guys to the committee and then have everybody say they’ve been traitors to the ideals of their profession,” said a senator.
Bader, according to associates, was satisfied with the decision and believed that the successor committee would pick up the inquiry where he had left it. He was opposed to making public the names of individual journalists. He had been concerned all along that he had entered a “gray area” in which there were no moral absolutes. Had the CIA “manipulated” the press in the classic sense of the term? Probably not, he concluded; the major news organizations and their executives had willingly lent their resources to the Agency; foreign correspondents had regarded work for the CIA as a national service and a way of getting better stories and climbing to the top of their profession. Had the CIA abused its authority? It had dealt with the press almost exactly as it had dealt with other institutions from which it sought cover — the diplomatic service, academia, corporations. There was nothing in the CIA’s charter which declared any of these institutions off‑limits to America’s intelligence service. And, in the case of the press, the Agency had exercised more care in its dealings than with many other institutions; it had gone to considerable lengths to restrict its role to information‑gathering and cover.10
Bader was also said to be concerned that his knowledge was so heavily based on information furnished by the CIA; he hadn’t gotten the other side of the story from those journalists who had associated with the Agency. He could be seeing only “the lantern show,” he told associates. Still, Bader was reasonably sure that he had seen pretty much the full panoply of what was in the files. If the CIA had wanted to deceive him it would have never given away so much, he reasoned. “It was smart of the Agency to cooperate to the extent of showing the material to Bader,” observed a committee source. “That way, if one fine day a file popped up, the Agency would be covered. They could say they had already informed the Congress.”
The dependence on CIA files posed another problem. The CIA’s perception of a relationship with a journalist might be quite different than that of the journalist: a CIA official might think he had exercised control over a journalist; the journalist might think he had simply had a few drinks with a spook. It was possible that CIA case officers had written self‑serving memos for the files about their dealings with journalists, that the CIA was just as subject to common bureaucratic “cover‑your‑ass” paperwork as any other agency of government.
A CIA official who attempted to persuade members of the Senate committee that the Agency’s use of journalists had been innocuous maintained that the files were indeed filled with “puffing” by case officers. “You can’t establish what is puff and what isn’t,” he claimed. Many reporters, he added, “were recruited for finite [specific] undertakings and would be appalled to find that they were listed [in Agency files] as CIA operatives.” This same official estimated that the files contained descriptions of about half a dozen reporters and correspondents who would be considered “famous”—that is, their names would be recognized by most Americans. “The files show that the CIA goes to the press for and just as often that the press comes to the CIA,” he observed. “...There is a tacit agreement in many of these cases that there is going to be a quid pro quo”—i.e., that the reporter is going to get good stories from the Agency and that the CIA will pick up some valuable services from the reporter.
Whatever the interpretation, the findings of the Senate committees inquiry into the use of journalists were deliberately buried—from the full membership of the committee, from the Senate and from the public. “There was a difference of opinion on how to treat the subject,” explained one source. “Some [senators] thought these were abuses which should be exorcized and there were those who said, ‘We don’t know if this is bad or not.’”
Bader’s findings on the subject were never discussed with the full committee, even in executive session. That might have led to leaks—especially in view of the explosive nature of the facts. Since the beginning of the Church committee’s investigation, leaks had been the panel’s biggest collective fear, a real threat to its mission. At the slightest sign of a leak the CIA might cut off the flow of sensitive information as it did, several times in other areas), claiming that the committee could not be trusted with secrets. “It was as if we were on trial—not the CIA,” said a member of the committee staff. To describe in the committee’s final report the true dimensions of the Agency’s use of journalists would cause a furor in the press and on the Senate floor. And it would result in heavy pressure on the CIA to end its use of journalists altogether. “We just weren’t ready to take that step,” said a senator. A similar decision was made to conceal the results of the staff’s inquiry into the use of academics. Bader, who supervised both areas of inquiry, concurred in the decisions and drafted those sections of the committee’s final report. Pages 191 to 201 were entitled “Covert Relationships with the United States Media.” “It hardly reflects what we found,” stated Senator Gary Hart. “There was a prolonged and elaborate negotiation [with the CIA] over what would be said.”
Obscuring the facts was relatively simple. No mention was made of the 400 summaries or what they showed. Instead the report noted blandly that some fifty recent contacts with journalists had been studied by the committee staff—thus conveying the impression that the Agency’s dealings with the press had been limited to those instances. The Agency files, the report noted, contained little evidence that the editorial content of American news reports had been affected by the CIA’s dealings with journalists. Colby’s misleading public statements about the use of journalists were repeated without serious contradiction or elaboration. The role of cooperating news executives was given short shrift. The fact that the Agency had concentrated its relationships in the most prominent sectors of the press went unmentioned. That the CIA continued to regard the press as up for grabs was not even suggested.
Former ‘Washington Post’ reporter CARL BERNSTEIN is now working on a book about the witch hunts of the Cold War.
1 John McCone, director of the Agency from 1961 to 1965, said in a recent interview that he knew about "great deal of debriefing and exchanging help" but nothing about any arrangements for cover the CIA might have made with media organizations. "I wouldn't necessarily have known about it," he said. "Helms would have handled anything like that. It would be unusual for him to come to me and say, 'We're going to use journalists for cover.' He had a job to do. There was no policy during my period that would say, 'Don't go near that water,' nor was there one saying, 'Go to it!'" During the Church committee bearings, McCone testified that his subordinates failed to tell him about domestic surveillance activities or that they were working on plans to assassinate Fidel Castro. Richard Helms was deputy director of the Agency at the time; he became director in 1966.
2 A stringer is a reporter who works for one or several news organizations on a retainer or on a piecework basis.
3 From the CIA point of view, access to newsfilm outtakes and photo libraries is a matter of extreme importance. The Agency's photo archive is probably the greatest on earth; its graphic sources include satellites, photoreconnaissance, planes, miniature cameras ... and the American press. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Agency obtained carte‑blanche borrowing privileges in the photo libraries of literally dozens of American newspapers, magazines and television, outlets. For obvious reasons, the CIA also assigned high priority to the recruitment of photojournalists, particularly foreign‑based members of network camera crews.
4 On April 3rd, 1961, Koop left the Washington bureau to become head of CBS, Inc.’s Government Relations Department — a position he held until his retirement on March 31st, 1972. Koop, who worked as a deputy in the Censorship Office in World War II, continued to deal with the CIA in his new position, according to CBS sources.
5 Hayes, who left the Washington Post Company in 1965 to become U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, is now chairman of the board of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty — both of which severed their ties with the CIA in 1971. Hayes said he cleared his participation in the China project with the late Frederick S. Beebe, then chairman of the board of the Washington Post Company. Katharine Graham, the Post’s publisher, was unaware of the nature of the assignment, he said. Participants in the project signed secrecy agreements.
6 Philip Geyelin, editor of the Post editorial page, worked for the Agency before joining the Post.
7 Louis Buisch, presidentof the publishing company of the Hornell, New York, Evening Tribune, told the Courier‑Journal in 1976 that he remembered little about the hiring of Robert Campbell. "He wasn't there very long, and he didn't make much of an impression," said Buisch, who has since retired from active management of the newspaper.
8 Probably the most thoughtful article on the subject of the press and the CIA was written by Stuart H. Loory and appeared in the September‑October 1974 issue of Columbia Journalism Review.
9 Wes Gallagher, general manager of the Associated Press from 1962 to 1976, takes vigorous exception to the notion that the Associated Press might have aided the Agency. "We've always stayed clear on the CIA; I would have fired anybody who worked for them. We don't even let our people debrief." At the time of the first disclosures that reporters had worked for the CIA, Gallagher went to Colby. "We tried to find out names. All he would say was that no full‑time staff member of the Associated Press was employed by the Agency. We talked to Bush. He said the same thing." If any Agency personnel were placed in Associated Press bureaus, said Gallagher, it was done without consulting the management of the wire service. But Agency officials insist that they were able to make cover arrangements through someone in the upper management levelsof Associated Press, whom they refuse to identify.
10 Many journalists and some CIA officials dispute the Agency's claim that it has been scrupulous in respecting the editorial integrity of American publications and broadcast outlets.
WORKING PRESS — CIA STYLE
To understand the role of most journalist‑operatives, it is necessary to dismiss some myths about undercover work for American intelligence services. Few American agents are “spies” in the popularly accepted sense of the term. “Spying” — the acquisition of secrets from a foreign government—is almost always done by foreign nationals who have been recruited by the CIA and are under CIA control in their own countries. Thus the primary role of an American working undercover abroad is often to aid in the recruitment and “handling” of foreign nationals who are channels of secret information reaching American intelligence.
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.
“After a foreigner is recruited, a case officer often has to stay in the background,” explained a CIA official. “So you use a journalist to carry messages to and from both parties”
Journalists in the field generally took their assignments in the same manner as any other undercover operative. If, for instance, a journalist was based in Austria, he ordinarily would be under the general direction of the Vienna station chief and report to a case officer. Some, particularly roving correspondents or U.S.‑based reporters who made frequent trips abroad, reported directly to CIA officials in Langley, Virginia.
The tasks they performed sometimes consisted of little more than serving as “eyes and ears” for the CIA; reporting on what they had seen or overheard in an Eastern European factory, at a diplomatic reception in Bonn, on the perimeter of a military base in Portugal. On other occasions, their assignments were more complex: planting subtly concocted pieces of misinformation; hosting parties or receptions designed to bring together American agents and foreign spies; serving up “black” propaganda to leading foreign journalists at lunch or dinner; providing their hotel rooms or bureau offices as “drops” for highly sensitive information moving to and from foreign agents; conveying instructions and dollars to CIA controlled members of foreign governments.
Often the CIA’s relationship with a journalist might begin informally with a lunch, a drink, a casual exchange of information. An Agency official might then offer a favor—for example, a trip to a country difficult to reach; in return, he would seek nothing more than the opportunity to debrief the reporter afterward. A few more lunches, a few more favors, and only then might there be a mention of a formal arrangement — “That came later,” said a CIA official, “after you had the journalist on a string.”
Another official described a typical example of the way accredited journalists (either paid or unpaid by the CIA) might be used by the Agency: “In return for our giving them information, we’d ask them to do things that fit their roles as journalists but that they wouldn’t have thought of unless we put it in their minds. For instance, a reporter in Vienna would say to our man, ‘I met an interesting second secretary at the Czech Embassy.’ We’d say, ‘Can you get to know him? And after you get to know him, can you assess him? And then, can you put him in touch with us—would you mind us using your apartment?”‘
Formal recruitment of reporters was generally handled at high levels—after the journalist had undergone a thorough background check. The actual approach might even be made by a deputy director or division chief. On some occasions, no discussion would he entered into until the journalist had signed a pledge of secrecy.
“The secrecy agreement was the sort of ritual that got you into the tabernacle,” said a former assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence. “After that you had to play by the rules.” David Attlee Phillips, former Western Hemisphere chief of clandestine services and a former journalist himself, estimated in an interview that at least 200 journalists signed secrecy agreements or employment contracts with the Agency in the past twenty‑five years. Phillips, who owned a small English‑language newspaper in Santiago, Chile, when he was recruited by the CIA in 1950, described the approach: “Somebody from the Agency says, ‘I want you to help me. 1 know you are a true‑blue American, but I want you to sign a piece of paper before I tell you what it’s about.’ I didn’t hesitate to sign, and a lot of newsmen didn’t hesitate over the next twenty years.”
“One of the things we always had going for us in terms of enticing reporters,” observed a CIA official who coordinated some of the arrangements with journalists, “was that we could make them look better with their home offices. A foreign correspondent with ties to the Company [the CIA] stood a much better chance than his competitors of getting the good stories.”
Within the CIA, journalist‑operatives were accorded elite status, a consequence of the common experience journalists shared with high‑level CIA officials. Many had gone to the same schools as their CIA handlers, moved in the same circles, shared fashionably liberal, anti‑Communist political values, and were part of the same “old boy” network that constituted something of an establishment elite in the media, politics and academia of postwar America. The most valued of these lent themselves for reasons of national service, not money.
The Agency’s use of journalists in undercover operations has been most extensive in Western Europe (“That was the big focus, where the threat was,” said one CIA official), Latin America and the Far East. In the 1950s and 1960s journalists were used as intermediaries—spotting, paying, passing instructions—to members of the Christian Democratic party in Italy and the Social Democrats in Germany, both of which covertly received millions of dollars from the CIA. During those years “we had journalists all over Berlin and Vienna just to keep track of who the hell was coming in from the East and what they were up to,” explained a CIA official.
In the Sixties, reporters were used extensively in the CIA offensive against Salvador Allende in Chile; they provided funds to Allende’s opponents and wrote anti‑Allende propaganda for CIA proprietary publications that were distributed in Chile. (CIA officials insist that they make no attempt to influence the content of American newspapers, but some fallout is inevitable: during the Chilean offensive, CIA‑generated black propaganda transmitted on the wire service out of Santiago often turned up in American publications.)
According to CIA officials, the Agency has been particularly sparing in its use of journalist agents in Eastern Europe on grounds that exposure might result in diplomatic sanctions against the United States or in permanent prohibitions against American correspondents serving in some countries. The same officials claim that their use of journalists in the Soviet Union has been even more limited, but they remain extremely guarded in discussing the subject. They are insistent, however, in maintaining that the Moscow correspondents of major news organizations have not been “tasked” or controlled by the Agency.
The Soviets, according to CIA officials, have consistently raised false charges of CIA affiliation against individual American reporters as part of a continuing diplomatic game that often follows the ups and downs of Soviet‑American relations. The latest such charge by the Russians—against Christopher Wren of the New York Times and Alfred Friendly Jr., formerly of Newsweek, has no basis in fact, they insist.
CIA officials acknowledge, however, that such charges will persist as long as the CIA continues to use journalistic cover and maintain covert affiliations with individuals in the profession. But even an absolute prohibition against Agency use of journalists would not free reporters from suspicion, according to many Agency officials. “Look at the Peace Corps,” said one source. “We have had no affiliation there and they [foreign governments] still throw them out”