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March 26, 2006

Reporting For The CIA Media  Politics

Americans are naive. We're brought up to believe that we've got a free news media, we've got real representative politics, and so on. The game may be rigged in other countries, but not here. So, we know that the NSA listens to every scrap of electronic communications overseas, but we take it on faith that they don't listen to communications here in the US. But then it turns out they do.

We know also that the CIA is skilled in manipulating the news media overseas. We know they manipulate other countries' political processes, funding this candidate, smearing that one, bolstering a regime here, creating chaos there. But we take it on faith that they don't apply those skills internally. Why? If they believe the national security is at stake, why wouldn't they conclude it is their duty to bring to bear every tool at their disposal?

Actually, we don't have to guess. In 1977, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame wrote an article for Rolling Stone that exposed the fact that hundreds of American journalists, including some of the biggest names in news, had secretly carried out assignments on behalf of the CIA. Bernstein:

[M]ore than 400 American journalists...in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. [...]

The Agency's relationship with the [New York] 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 possible.

...[T]he Agency's working relationship with the Times was closer and more extensive than with any other paper...

CBS was unquestionably the CIA's most valuable broadcasting asset. CBS president William Paley and [CIA Director] Allen Dulles enjoyed an easy working and social relationship...[CBS] 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. [Emphasis added]

200 reporters, Bernstein said, had gone so far as to sign secrecy agreements with the CIA. That was in 1977. But CIA infiltration of the American news media isn't exactly something a CIA-infiltrated news media is going to report on, so, in the 30 years since Bernstein's article, we haven't heard much more about it.

But SusanG at DailyKos (link via Xymphora) has posted an interview she did with Daniel Ellsberg, who speculates on the current state of affairs as seen through the prism of the Judith Miller affair. Excerpt below the fold.


Over 200 reporters, according to Bernstein, had signed secrecy agreements with the CIA. There were a number of individuals who did really work to put stories in that they wanted, to publish stuff they wanted. I believe that's what they were saying about Joe Alsop and Stewart Alsop, that they were essentially assets of the CIA, which means they would put out CIA line. Not because they were literal employees, but because they were friends with people in the CIA.

Q: But that's a thin line isn't it? I'm not sure that anybody said specifically, write a story that's very positive about X so that we look good. I think a lot of it is just an understanding of being a part of that establishment back then and they saw it as patriotism, from what Bernstein said.

Certainly that is a major aspect to the whole thing. They're not under the impression that they're working for and with the city machine or the mafia or something. This is the U.S. government, this is the CIA, this is the establishment.

But let me put a slightly different spin on it: Remember Sy Sulzberger was mentioned as one person who had a clearance. He had a column, and he denied it, but several people from the CIA said that on one occasion he called up for information, they gave him the briefing paper and he simply put the briefing in under his byline. He literally reproduced the whole briefing paper.

Now how often is that done? Remember, a lot of these people were putting out mainly opinion columns, not reporting news...like Joe Alsop and Stewart Alsop. How often did they call up their friend at the CIA who simply told them, here's what's going on. And they then go on to print, here's what's going on. They don't say, I was told by a high official. See, they say, this is the reality. This is what's really happening, here's the real news. Sometimes they would say, yes, I got this from some official, but other times they would just say, this is a result of my observations or this is they way I see it. How often was the way they saw it in their highly read column simply what Allen Dulles or Richard Helms told them and they believed it? It wasn't that they were just being servile, they're just presenting a crafted CIA line which has been given to them.

Here's the point I was really coming to: I was most struck in that by the idea of a secrecy clearance, as somebody who had had a dozen simultaneous clearances.

The relationship that that implies has a number of dimensions to it. One of them - it's just one, but it's an important one - is that you are led to believe (quite misleadingly actually) that if you violate that agreement, you will be prosecuted. You are violating a law. And even if you're not prosecuted, you will know you are violating a law if you break the terms of that agreement. They mention to you 18 USC 793 (d) and (e) and so forth - what I was charged with. And indeed, I was prosecuted.

Now the catch is, I was the first person ever prosecuted for it. No one had ever been prosecuted, but I didn't know that, and they don't know that, and most people don't know it to this day. Not one reporter in a hundred have I ever met - and I've talked to audiences of journalists - knows that I was the first person ever to be prosecuted.

However, every time you sign that agreement, you are confronted with these laws that say you are subject to prosecution, so they think they're violating a law if they put that out, that they will get prosecuted having agreed to this. A reporter who is just slipped something under the cover on one particular day or who was told something over lunch, a reporter who hasn't signed an agreement, I think, is unlikely to believe that he or she is in trouble if he puts it out. He's more likely to believe that the source will get in trouble.

A reporter who has signed that agreement is definitely led to believe that he or she is subject to prosecution if he breaks that agreement. That's the number one point.

Number two point is... Judith Miller said, I had a security clearance. Now I think she was telling the truth. They said, no, it was just a simple non-disclosure agreement or some misunderstanding, I think that's the cover story. She had a clearance. What would that mean?

It means that she's trusted by these people as one of the team. They're not giving it to her under threat, they're giving it to her because they trust her to carry this out. Wonderful self-esteem there and the feeling of being an insider, and your fellows don't have that. It means you will now get information that people who don't have that clearance will not get. You'll get it in part because you're trusted and because you have something to lose, they'll take it away. If you violate it, you won't get that stuff anymore. You infer from that that you will get information that others don't get because you'll be trusted not to print it unless they tell you it's all right.

My guess is very strongly that Judith Miller did have such a clearance and did have a background check and it meant that she was entitled to get information authoritatively that others were not entitled to get on the understanding that she has a lot to lose - namely a clearance - and not just the one source, but from a lot of sources. It gives her entrée. [...]

If she has a clearance, he could take her to a meeting, to a place, to anybody, and say, "This woman is okay, she's cleared."

I thought right away: Judith Miller, Judith Miller. She's one of Bernstein's people here. And remember, he says it was one of their most carefully guarded secrets that they had, that they kept the Church Committee from putting out. They gave them stuff on assassination instead; that was less scary.

In every case, Bernstein said, where a journalist had such an agreement, it was known to their boss - to their editor or publisher or both. So I infer from that that probably Bill Keller - possibly not - or Howell Raines, but certainly the publisher, Sulzberger, did know. Now let's go one step further. Bernstein quotes somebody at the CIA as saying, "Our greatest asset is the New York Times." All right. [...]

...I'm sorry, I would not be happy to have it proved that the New York Times, which is the first thing I read every morning is, after all, a government newspaper. And obviously there are limitations to that because there's no question that they do put out from time to time things that the government does not want out. I can say that I know that better than most.

But keep in mind that Nixon was not in fact unhappy to see the Pentagon Papers out, and he wanted to put more stuff out.

Q: And in order to be an effective instrument of the government, it has to sometimes challenge the government.

It should show a certain amount of independence from time to time, yes.

But the stuff that was coming out during the first Gulf War was exactly like what was coming out in the invasion of Iraq this time. If the coverage had been coming right out of a shop in the Pentagon, controlling every aspect of the television coverage of the first Gulf War, how different would it have been? I didn't see how it could have been different.

It's still going on.

Q: So how did they do it?

...The control of the war coverage was very, very effective. And these PR guys know what they're doing. They did it in Grenada. I believe they didn't allow any reporters in when the actual operation was going on. And in Panama, there was hardly any coverage and to this day there's never been any investigation of how many Panamanians had been killed in that attack on Noriega's headquarters.

Just from the outside, you look at that and you say: You know, they're acting as though it's a controlled press. So let me put into the pot just the hypothesis that to a greater extent than we are really aware, it is a controlled press. And it's not 100 percent and some of the exposes occasionally - not that many - even go beyond what is necessary to establish an appearance of independence and constitutes a real degree of independence. But I think it's just possible that when you look a flagship like the New York Times from which other papers take their cues as to what is news and what isn't, there may be a critical element of top-level people being actually on the team. It's clear that Judith Miller was on the team. I'm suggesting that that goes beyond a mere groupie-type enthusiasm for the policy. She was on the team, period. She was one of us. She's an insider, not an outsider, let's say.

The Bush family has intelligence ties going back several generations. George H. W. Bush was CIA Director. The name of CIA headquarters is the George Bush Center for Intelligence, for pete's sake. Think back to the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Do they pass the smell test? Or did the Bush forces manipulate them the way the CIA has long since learned to manipulate elections abroad?

Posted by Jonathan at March 26, 2006 06:21 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


Here's the full post that contained the link to Bernstein's 1977 Rolling Stone article (I never could find the entire Rolling Stone piece). My post is mostly about CIA involvement in the JFK assassination aftermath, but also more broadly on the longstanding CIA-media linkage.


Posted by: dan at March 28, 2006 10:40 AM