UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper LVIII: September 29, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Hugh Wilford, The Might Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, January 2008). List of Illustrations. Abbreviations. Introduction. The U.S. National Student Association was the first CIA front organization to be exposed, in February 1967, quickly followed by many others (1-5). The CIA’s covert network began in the late 1940s, based on the Cold War, domestic anti-communism, and American love of associations (5-7). The book’s title comes from a remark by Frank Wisner, “the Agency’s first chief of political warfare” (7). Three phases: 1) organizations providing cover for émigrés; 2) operations to shore of Western European civil society; 3) programs aimed at Third World nations (7-8). Earlier interpretations have exaggerated the CIA’s ability to call the tune (8-10). Aims of book: to be comprehensive though not exhaustive, and to present as rounded a picture as possible (10). “U.S. citizens at first followed the Agency’s score, then began improvising their own tunes, eventually turning harmony into cacophony” (10). Ch. 1: Innocents’ Clubs: The Origins of the CIA Front. Communist front organizations were pioneered by Willi Münzenberg in the 1920s and 1930s (1115). “Will Bill” Donovan, appointed Coordinator of Information (COI) by FDR in 1941, founded the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) (15-18). OSS-CIA connections have been exaggerated, as have the left-liberal leanings of these organizations (18-19). Frank Wisner, from Mississippi, built a network of anticommunist spies in the Balkans in WWII (19-20). In 1945, Truman declined to found an intelligence agency (20-21). But in 1946, as the Cold War began and Kennan’s containment doctrine was adopted, he changed his mind (22-23). In early 1948, Kennan planned the creation of a “covert political warfare operations directorate within the Government” (25; 24-27). The OSS “Park Avenue cowboys” were brought back, and the Mighty Wurlitzer was born (2728). Ch. 2: Secret Army: Emigrés. The National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) was founded in 1949 as a front organization to support émigrés (29-34). Radio Free Europe was founded in 1950 (34-36). Factions were rife (36-37). Émigrés were hard to control (37-40). The American Committee for the Liberation for the Peoples of the USSR (AMCOMLIB) founded in 1951 for émigrés from the Soviet Union (40-44). Frank Wisner exaggerated his capacity to control projects (44-47). Ironically, faith in “rollback” was lost just as Eisenhower, identified with “liberation,” took power (47-48). Wisner ultimately became unbalanced, was relieved of duties, and, in 1965, committed suicide (49-50). From the late 1950s on, émigrés became less important (50). Ch. 3: AFL-CIA: Labor. Organizations led by ex-communist Jay Lovestone and his acolyte Irving Brown working with George Meany in opposing communist influence in the labor movement through the Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC) were funded by the CIA beginning in 1948 (51-56). But Lovestone refused to take direction from the CIA and relations were fraught (56-60). The CIA also courted the CIO, to Lovestone’s dismay (60-65). Its relation to labor dwindled as the 1950s progressed (65-69). Ch. 4: A Deep Sickness in New York: Intellectuals. The “New York
intellectuals”—led by Sidney Hook and James Burnham—were highbrow and anti-communist; the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s New York-based affiliate, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom (ACCF), was an even more troublesome client than the FTUC (70-98). Ch. 5: The Cultural Cold War: Writers, Artists, Musicians, Filmmakers. Sponsorship of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the most studied of the CIA front organizations, was a response to communism’s claim to be the true heir of the Enlightenment; it was exposed by the New York Times in 1967, but was impossible to control (99122). Ch. 6: The CIA on Campus: Students. Unclear whether Henry Kissinger knew that the Harvard International Summer School that was conceived by Prof. William Y Elliott and begun in 1951 was . funded by the CIA (123-28). Yale and Princeton were centers of recruitment (128). There were many autonomous anti-communist youth organizations (129-30). Allard Lowenstein, liberal anticommunist, appears not to have enjoyed direct CIA support (130-34). The CIA intervened in elections of the National Student Assn. (NSA) in the early 1950s and arranged for funding disguised as money from an anonymous donor (13436). Details of how the CIA managed the NSA and kept most unaware that it was a front organization (though Tom Hayden figured it out) (136-41). Gloria Steinem as “witting” director of the CIA-front Independent Service for Information (Zbigniew Brzezinski was also a “star”) (141-48). Ch. 7: The Truth Shall Make You Free: Women. Dorothy Bauman, Minnesota-born wife of a U.S. businessman, was recruited in 1952 by the CIA to lead what became in 1953 the Committee of Correspondence, a pro-
American propaganda organization (14960). When CIA funding became public, many of the unwitting were furious (16063). The CIA did try to shape the Committee’s program, but the effect of this should not be exaggerated (163-65). Women were more “contained” than “liberated” by the covert patronage of the CIA (166). Ch. 8: Saving the World: Catholics. [Longest chapter] U.S. Catholicism’s anti-communism (167-68). Tom Dooley’s fame was greatly to be attributed to the CIA’s Edward G. Lansdale, who had William Lederer rewrite Dooley’s bestselling Deliver Us from Evil (1956) and had it promoted by Reader’s Digest; those with covert connections to the CIA oriented his later career while covering up his homosexuality; when he died of cancer in 1961, a Gallup poll rated him the 3rd most esteemed man, after Eisenhower and the Pope, but this image was soon replaced with that of morally compromised ethnocentric egotist who helped make the Vietnam War possible (168-82). Unlike Dooley, Patrick J. Peyton, founder of the Family Rosary Crusade, was fully witting of the CIA’s harnessing of his campaign from 1958 to 1966 and which was especially effective in Brazil; when Catholic sponsors learned of the CIA connection they, and ultimately the Pope in 1965, demanded it be severed (182-96). Ch. 9: Into Africa: African Americans. Richard Wright denounced covert U.S. sponsorship of radical groups in a November 1960 speech in Paris, days before his death (198-99). An expatriate in Paris, was involved in organizing a fiveperson delegation to a September 1956 international Congress of Negro Writers and Artists in Paris (198-205). When John A. Davis of CCNY helped set up a CIAfront organization, the American Society of African Culture (AMSAC) in July 1957, Richard Wright felt growing concerns and ended any association with it by the
summer of 1959 (205-209). AMSAC sponsored annual conferences featuring “black intellectuals, artists, performers” promoting “the validity of African and Negro cultural contributions,” as a publicity pamphlet put it; secret CIA funding was only exposed in 1967 (20915). It funded a tour of Africa by James Farmer—its last “really successful venture” (220; 215-20). In 1966, the CIA phased out funding, and the organization effectively ended in 1969 (220-22). It is wrong to think of “AMSAC Afros” as merely manipulated (222-24). Ch. 10: Things Fall Apart: Journalists. Estimates of the number of U.S. reporters with CIA ties range from “some three dozen” (Church Commission, 1976) to 400 (Carl Bernstein, 1977); “Many of the United States’s best-known newspapers cooperated with the CIA as a matter of policy,” including the New York Times (227; 225-29). The New Leader, the Reporter, and Time had CIA connections (229-31). In 1966-1967, CIA secrecy fell apart, with Ramparts editors Warren Hinckle and Robert Scheer in the lead (231-44). It seems the CIA itself participated in blowing its own cover with the supposedly maverick publication by operative Tom Braden of “Why I’m Glad the CIA is ‘Immoral’” in the Saturday Evening Post on May 20, 1967 (244-47). But the CIA fought “to retain the right to susbsidize voluntary organizations” (247). Coming as the Cold War consensus disintegrated, “[t]he exposure of the Mighty Wurlitzer constituted ‘one of the worst operational catastrophes in CIA history,’ reckons a historian on the Agency’s own staff” (248).
Conclusion. The “Wurlizter” metaphor is too simple—but Wilford uses it anyway (249-50). It hurt those who tried to play it (251). The cost: has been estimated at $15m/yr. (251). Its effects were uncertain (252). The CIA continues to be active “in areas of American civil society” and the techniques described here have been revived (252-54). “Cultural diplomacy, the winning of hearts and minds, should be left to overt government agencies and genuine, nongovernment organizations” (254). Notes. 62 pp. Acknowledgments. Friends and colleagues. Support from the British Academy, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Cold War Studies Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Index. 22 pp. [About the Author. Hugh Wilford is associate professor of history at California State University, Long Beach, having previously been lecturer in American History and Director of American Studies at the University of Sheffield. He is also the author of The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War (2003) and The New York Intellectuals: From Vanguard to Institution (1995) and co-editor of The US Government, Citizen Groups and the Cold War: The StatePrivate Network (2006), which contains his essay “‘The Permanent Revolution’? The New York Intellectuals, the CIA and the Cultural Cold War.” He holds a B.A. from Bristol University and a Ph.D. from Exeter University.]