The Secret CIA Campaign to Influence Culture: Covert Cultural Operations
This video is a C-SPAN presentation by British author Frances Stoner Saunders on her 1999 book Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (published in the US as The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters). See The History of CIA Funded Foundations.
According to Saunders, her book was inspired by a 1974 essay Abstract Expressionism: Weapon of the Cold War by Eva Cockcroft. The essay discusses the CIA role in the global promotion of abstract art. Saunders found the notion of a US intelligence agency promoting modern art so bizarre she spent the next two years pouring through congressional archives and interviewing former CIA officers – including Tom Braden* and William Colby (right before he mysteriously fell into the Potomac in 1996).
In the process, she learned the CIA front Congress for Cultural Freedom (started in 1950) funded the publication of literally hundreds of books and magazines, art exhibits and overseas cultural organizations.
In her talk, she also mentions the large number of ex-communists and liberals (eg Arthur Scheslinger) who joined the Congress for Cultural Freedom (even though most of them knew it was CIA-funded).
For me the best parts are at 23 minutes, where she describes feminist Gloria Steinem’s work for a CIA front called the Independent Research Services** and the Q&As. The latter start at 34 minutes. At least three of the four questioners are obvious CIA plants, and she utterly demolishes them.
The CIA posted a review of Saunders’ book on their website
*Braden was a CIA officer from 1947 to 1954 who went on to co-host (as the “voice from the left”) the CNN program Crossfire.
Who Paid the Piper: The Cultural Cold War is about the covert “cultural” propaganda the CIA carried out between 1950 and 1967. The Congress for Cultural Freedom, the centerpiece of this operation, had offices in 35 countries, published over 20 magazines, held art exhibitions and provided major financial support for American artists, poets, authors and playwrights. Its primary purpose was to “nudge” the intelligentsia of Western Europe away from Marxism and communism towards a more accommodating view of US interests.
At the end of World War II, Europeans tended to view the US as “a culturally barren nation of gum chewing, Chevy driving, Dupont-sheathed Philistines.” To counteract this stigma, Truman issued an appendix to executive order NSC-4A, directing the CIA director to undertake covert psychological activities in support of American anti-Communist policies.
As Saunders details, this strategy included CIA support for both US and foreign Non-Communist Left (NCL) organizations, trade unions who agreed to weed out “dangerous radicals” and leftist intellectuals. The rationale was to create and support “parallel” organizations to provide an alternative to Communist groups over which the CIA had no control.
A strong advocate of this approach was “liberal” Kennedy adviser and biographer Arthur Schlesinger, a long time member of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. He was one of the few non non-CIA employees Congress members who knew the CIA was running it. Schlesinger also sat on the executive committee of Radio Free Europe, which the CIA set up in 1950.
Without Budgetary Limits or Oversight
Over the next two decades the CIA acted as a de facto ministry of culture, pumping millions of dollars into the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The Congress had no budgetary limits and was accountable to no one for the way they spent their money.
Via the this front organization, the CIA built the reputations of numerous American composers by funding European premiers of their work. Among the most prominent were Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Menotti and Aaron Copeland.
They also financed European performances of American plays, in essence solidifying the careers of Lillian Hellman, Eugene O’Neill, Thorton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, William Saroyan, Clifford Odets, and John Steinbeck.
And paid for the European distribution of American books, by authors such as Louisa May Alcott, Faulkner, Hemingway, James Thurber, Edith Wharton, Thomas Wolfe, T.S. Eliot and socialists Norman Cousins and Carl Sandburg.
The Wall Street Families Who Started the CIA
Who Paid the Piper focuses heavily on the personalities of the men who founded the Office for Strategic Services (OSS), which in 1947 would evolve into the CIA. Nearly all were from wealthy Ivy League and Wall Street families who attended the same cocktail parties and sent their kids to the same prep schools. They automatically identified the “American way” with the privileges of their class, including a well-rounded classical education. During this period, it was fairly common for high level CIA officers to edit literary magazines, as well as publishing poetry and fiction and writing book reviews for the New York Times.
The Rise of CIA-Funded Foundations
Although Tom Braden, director of the CIA’s International Operations Division (IOD), ran the Congress, on paper it appeared to drive its funding from “pass-through” foundations. The best known foundations serving as a conduit for covert CIA funds were (are?) the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Kaplan Foundation, the Whitney Trust and the Farfield Foundation. Many of these foundations set up separate administrative units to handle CIA pass through money and collaborate with them on specific projects.
Arthur Schlesinger sat on the board of Farfield Foundation, as did William van den Heuvel, another prominent liberal close to the Kennedy family (and father of Katherine van den Heuvel editor of the “left leaning” Nation magazine).
C. D. Jackson, long time managing director of Time-Life International was another high profile Congress member.2 The Congress also assigned a full time CIA operative to Paramount pictures. His role was to edit and reject scripts that portrayed the US in an unfavorable light.
Tom Braden Goes Public
In 1966, details of the CIA role in the Congress for Cultural Freedom were leaked to the radical zine Ramparts and ended up as a New York Times expose. A few months later Braden, who left the CIA in 1956, published a confessional in the Saturday Evening Post. In “I’m Glad the CIA is Immoral,” he brags about all the reporters and trade unions on the CIA payroll when he ran the OID.
A growing body of research indicates that the CIA continues to fund the Non-Communist Left. Based on the work of Sherman Skolnick, Bob Feldman, Brian Salter and others who research the 990A tax returns of so-called “liberal” foundations, CIA pass-through foundations are clearly alive and well.
Frequently referred to as “Left Gatekeeping Foundations,” they fund numerous so-called “alternative” media outlets. This may be why the Nation, Democracy Now, FAIR and similar outlets that rely on pass-through founding categorically refuse to cover the 9-11 Truth movement or the clear government role in the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King.
1The book was published in the US under the title The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. The CIA has posted a review of the US edition on website 2In 1953-54, Jackson was instrumental in establishing the Bilderberg Group. In 1963 he purchased the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination and kept it out of the public domain by locking it in a Time-Life vault for 15 years.
In the following video, liberal feminist Gloria Steinem discusses the funding she received from the CIA for her work:
Loss of union protection is catastrophic for millions of American workers with no way to protect themselves against layoffs and wage, benefit and pension cuts. In 2013, only 11.3% of US workers belonged to unions. Many Americans are unaware of the deliberate 95-year campaign by Wall Street to destroy the trade union movement. It all started in 1919 when the National Association of Manufacturers engaged Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, to destroy public support for a steel workers strike. Following a brief rise in union activism during the Great Depression, it continued with the punitive 1948 Taft Hartley Act, the expulsion of militant unionists during the McCarthy Era, and the cozy cold war collaboration between the CIA and AFL-CIO bureaucrats. The most decisive blow would be the trade liberalization of the 80s and 90s and the wholesale export of skilled union jobs to third world sweatshops.
Edward Bernays’ Campaign to Demonize Unions
In his 1995 Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, the late Australian psychologist Alex Carey describes how the National Association of Manufacturers engaged Edward Bernays to launch a massive media campaign to reverse public support for steel workers striking for the right to bargain collectively. Bernays first got his start helping President Woodrow Wilson sell World War I to a strongly isolationist and antiwar American public. Following the war, Bernays was immediately engaged by major corporate clients that included Proctor & Gamble, CBS, the American Tobacco Company, Standard Oil, General Electric and the United Fruit Company.
Bernays is also regarded as the father of “consumerism,” the transformation of Americans from engaged citizens into passive consumers by bombarding them with thousands of pro-consumption messages. He was also instrumental in convincing doctors and dentists (without a shred of scientific evidence) that disposing the industrial toxin fluoride in municipal water supplies would be good for peoples’ teeth.
His media campaign to convince the American public that striking workers were dangerous radicals, Bolsheviks and anarchists was an instant success. The anti-Red hysteria it created ushered in a decade of severe repression, enabling Bureau of Investigation J Edgar Hoover to launch a Red Scare and illegally arrest, detail and deport several hundred suspected radicals.
The 1948 Taft Harley Act
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unions became popular again. Then, as now, corporations took advantage of high unemployment rates to cut wages, increase hours and force employees to work under unsafe sweatshop conditions. Led largely by the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations), organized labor fought back with scores of sit down and wildcat strikes.
Immediately following World War II, the National Association of Manufacturers sought to reverse union gains by ramming the Taft Hartley Act through a Congress dominated by Republicans and conservative southern Democrats. Among other provisions restricting worksite unionization drives, Taft Hartley prohibits mass picketing, as well as wildcat and sit down strikes.
The McCarthy Era
The effect of the 1947 Taft Hartley Act on union membership was almost immediate. In 1946 the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) had 6.3 million members. By 1954, when it merged with the AFL, this number was down to 4.6 million or 34.7% of the American workforce. This percentage steadily declined as union officials used the anticommunist hysteria of the McCarthy Era (1950-56) to expel militant trade unionists from their ranks. The original Taft Hartley Act included a provision preventing members or former Communist Party members from holding office in a labor union – which the Supreme Court struck down in 1965 as unconstitutional. .
Thanks to the Taft Hartley Act and the purging of militant grassroots unionists, a trade union bureaucracy arose that felt closer to management than the workers they supposedly represented. This stemmed, in part, from perks they received for delivering “labor discipline” (i.e. preventing disruptive industrial action). Thus instead of lobbying to repeal Taft Hartley and relying on well-organized rank and file and industrial action, union officials became more focused on “sweetheart deals” they made with managers.
Enter the CIA
According to former CIA officer Tom Braden, many AFL-CIO officers were also on the CIA payroll for their work with USAID in suppressing foreign unions with anti-US leanings. In 1967 Braden bragged about this in the Saturday Evening Post. Founded by prominent Wall Street lawyer Allen Dulles, the CIA has always played a major role in protecting Wall Street interests. They have a long history of overthrowing democratically elected governments that threaten US corporations with overseas investments (e.g. major oil companies and United Fruit Company and Coca Cola in Latin America).
Killing Off American Manufacturing
With Reagan’s election in 1980, numerous trade laws protecting US industries and workers were repealed through the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades. Clinton continued this process by fast tracking both NAFTA and the World Trade Organization treaty through Congress. Once protective quotas and tariffs were repealed, there was nothing to stop Wall Street corporations from shutting down thousands of US factories and reopening them as sweatshops in the third world. In the process millions of US workers lost union manufacturing jobs to take minimum wage jobs at MacDonald’s and Wal-Mart.
The loss of the US manufacturing sector has clearly played a major role in the failed recovery and declining US global influence. This seems an enormous price to pay for the sake of destroying trade unions. Our children and grandchildren, who will reap the consequences, will not look kindly on the neoliberal presidents (Reagan, Clinton, both Bushes, and Obama) who enacted these disastrous policies.