— WhoWhatWhy introduction by Russ Baker
This is the first of two installments from Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood, by Nicholas Schou. (Published by Hot Books, June 2016). Introduction. To see the second installment, please go here.
The CIA has a long history of “spooking the news,” dating back to its earliest days when legendary spymaster Allen Dulles and his top staff drank and dined regularly with the press elite of New York and Washington—including the top executives and editors of the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, and CBS—and the agency boasted hundreds of US and foreign journalists as paid and unpaid assets.
In 1977, after this systematic media manipulation was publicly exposed by congressional investigations, the CIA created an Office of Public Affairs that was tasked with guiding press coverage of intelligence matters in a more transparent fashion. The agency insists that it no longer maintains a stable of friendly American journalists, and that its efforts to influence the press are much more above board.
But, in truth, the US intelligence empire’s efforts to manufacture the truth and mold public opinion are more vast and varied than ever before.
During a recent interview at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, a pair of CIA public affairs officers confirmed they provide journalists with frequent background briefings, typically about foreign hot spots. Their mission, they stated, is simply to guide news coverage of national security issues in a truthful direction, while also protecting personnel and operations from public disclosure.
“Our role at the Office of Public Affairs is not to manipulate reporters,” one CIA spokesperson told me. “If they come to us with questions about nonclassified information that makes us look bad, we just give our typical comment.”
The CIA has a longstanding tradition of providing briefings to favored journalists, he acknowledged. “In the 1980s, Bob Woodward came out here a lot of times to get briefed,” the press officer said, referring to the Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame. But the agency is happy to speak with any journalist seeking its perspective on global crises. “Now, we get a lot of calls about the crisis in the Middle East. Reporters want a basic understanding of what’s happening.”