Tag Archives: CIA

How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers

Joel Whitney talks about his book Finks, which exposes the agency’s corruption of American culture during the Cold War.

It would be hard to bring this point home more saliently now than Joel Whitney does in Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers. Whitney’s topic is “the instrumentalization of writing,” as he put it at one point in our long exchange—“the weaponization of publishing,” as he said at another. In a broader, simpler phrase, he means the corruption of American culture, discourse, and public space in the name of ideology. Tell me, is there a better time to read of such things as they have unfolded in the past? A better time to hold up history’s mirror so we may look at ourselves as we are? When he finished writing last year, Whitney had no intention of using the shameful record he recounts as an instrument to deploy in the age of Donald Trump. “No, I was expecting to explain my book in the age of Hillary,” he said. “I still don’t have a vocabulary for Trump.” But there is no escaping the timeliness of Whitney’s book, which came out a couple of weeks before Trump’s inauguration. When OR Books sent a notice about it last autumn, I instantly called its Los Angeles office to mooch a set of galleys. I called Whitney to suggest this exchange a couple of days later.

Whitney’s stylish narrative explores the CIA’s covert Cold War program, through which it created dozens of magazines and corrupted many others already publishing. The star of the show is The Paris Review, and some of the names Whitney names caused my jaw to hit the edge of my desk. The cultural Cold War, as the phenom is known, has begotten a small subgenre by now. Whitney’s contribution lies in his focus on literature and, by extension, journalism. “I was after telling the story of the cultural Cold War not in its typical little academic bin, which completely separates it from history and the political Cold War, the so-called real Cold War,” he said, “and to restore the idea that they were both happening at the same time.”

Whitney, who is 44, took an MFA in writing at Columbia in 2000 and wasted little time afterward. In 2004 he co-founded Guernica, a well-considered online magazine where he is now an editor-at-large. Its name is nicely to the point: Like Picasso’s celebrated painting depicting the celebrated Spanish town, Guernica sits at the ever-interesting intersection of art and politics. This is, indeed, where Whitney makes his intellectual home and the hardly implicit theme of Finks. “Culture and politics are siblings,” Whitney said. “It’s not a separate niche category.”

I met Whitney in a quiet corner off a hotel lobby in midtown Manhattan, where we spoke for more than two hours. Satire, sarcasm, parody, irony, snark: There is little trace of these rhetorics in Whitney’s conversation. I found him, instead, courteously measured and considered in his responses. What follows is the first of two parts. There are ellipses galore: I had to cut considerably for the sake of length, but no important point Whitney made during our exchange was lost.

I again thank Michael Conway Garofalo for producing the transcript. I asked Michael when he was finished if he found the conversation interesting, as I always do. “Fascinating,” he replied. “The breadth and depth of what Whitney details is staggering.” It was my thought, too.

You’ve written a very good book and you’ve published at a very propitious moment. We’ll get to our current circumstances in a while. I’m eager to hear what the author of Finks has to say about what one has to consider crises in our politics and our media—which are inseparable, of course. But let’s begin with what drew you to your topic. “The cultural Cold War” is a very specific interest of mine. How did you find your way to it?

I came into this topic through the subsection of the cultural Cold War that is magazine publishing. Having launched a magazine online, having been a poet at Columbia just before launching that magazine, I saw magazine editing, at first, as a way to engage with creative writers I liked. One of my professors at Columbia was the poetry editor of The Paris Review, Richard Howard. He was one of my mentors. He’s a translator, too, and an interesting essayist and critic as well…. Some friends who had also done MFAs wanted to launch various magazines, and it always seemed like The Paris Review was the gold standard. By the time we launched what became Guernica, we were well into the [George W.] Bush years and facing a second, unfortunate term, and we wanted to engage with politics and poetry, fictions and essays, and direct criticism, not just of books, but of the state of things. I was maybe the only one who wanted to sell the budding magazine to people by describing it as “The Paris Review meets The Nation.” I was just trying to figure out how to get the sensibility we were going for into people’s minds. A certain generation, often white boomers of a certain socioeconomic class, would often say, “No, The Paris Review is The Paris Review, and that’s a literary magazine, and literary magazines are not political by definition.”

That thought must’ve landed with a thud.

Yes, I thought that was a strange notion. There’s a generation of lit mags that thought of themselves as apolitical. The Paris Review is one, maybe The Kenyon Review is another. They were influenced by the New Critics—less engagement with history and more engagement with the text. Anyway, flash-forward to maybe 2010, I think; I belatedly saw a New York Times story about Immy Humes’s film Doc, and there were those blurbs about The Paris Review’s alleged CIA ties, or Peter Matthiessen’s alleged CIA ties, and I thought, I’m interested in this. [Harold “Doc” Humes was a Paris Review co-founder, Immy Humes his daughter. Doc was released in 2008.] Why would an apolitical magazine interest the CIA? Would it have been just for his [Matthiessen’s] cover, as I later found out he said? Or would it have been of interest for its own doings? And that’s when I discovered the story, told through people like Frances Stonor Saunders [The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, 1999] and Hugh Wilford [America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, 2013]. I got interested then, and it became an obsession.

This question of the apolitical magazine. If you go back to the years when the events you’re writing about took place, it was a dreadful charge to be told one is “being political.” That was prima facie to be condemned. This all comes under the heading of The End of Ideology, to quote the title of Daniel Bell’s book. There is nothing so monumentally political as that which declares itself apolitical.

Yes, that’s correct.

So here you are at Columbia, a student of a very honorable poet, and The Paris Review is on your mind. And then you find out that it is shot through with spooks. Did it distress you?

I don’t think I initially thought it was shot through. I thought it was all about Peter Matthiessen.… I didn’t find out until 2010 that I had missed this story of the ties through Matthiessen, and I instantly began looking for a way to talk about this decades-old story and what would make it fresh. My sense was that since that book [Stonor Saunders’] came out in 1999 in London, and 2000 here, there was a certain group that had missed it, maybe Generation X, certainly the millennials, and maybe people of different ages who came onto the web and the web debates after that.… My sense was that these web debates wouldn’t have happened, and I was very much in the web publishing sensibility by then….

I was told one story about Barney Rosset having a run-in with these guys and being told that he should publish more non–Communist Left Latin Americans, and that when he said “fuck off” or whatever he was supposed to have said, Matthiessen, Plimpton, and Styron—who are gentlemen if nothing else; I couldn’t picture them doing this—left him on a jungle road while at a writers’ conference [in Puerto Rico] after spending half an hour driving around looking for a bar. I was getting put in contact with Rosset that very week, and he died. So I waited what I thought was a respectful two weeks or a month before bothering his widow, Astrid Meyers Rosset, and she graciously gave me an early chapter from his memoir that was still being edited [Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship, 2017], but we couldn’t find in the manuscript anything resembling the incident where Rosset was kicked out of the car. It sounded apocryphal. There was one chapter where she said he talks about this writers’ conference in Puerto Rico. Anyway, it was a dead end.…

So I went to the Morgan [Library in New York]. And there was a whole folder called “The Congress for Cultural Freedom.” I thought, This could be a eureka moment. I started reading it and there were, sort of delineated in these wonderfully written letters between New York and Paris, the story of The Paris Review’s attempt to add relevance by “being political” in the responsible way, as it was seen at the time.… Later you would hear, exactly to your point, how Matthiessen would describe Baldwin as a polemical writer, and he didn’t mean it as a compliment.…

Parenthetically, Peter Matthiessen couldn’t change Jimmy Baldwin’s typewriter ribbon, as we used to say, but we’ll leave that. I think we need to stop and define a couple of terms. Let’s define the cultural Cold War and what we mean. And let’s explain the role, maybe the essential role, of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CCF.

It seems that there were some people after World War II, some of them landed in Berlin circa 1946, and they were watching a lot of the Allied troops, a lot of young workers who had arrived, and their interest in Soviet culture. It was the transition between the US and allied military occupation of Europe and the Marshall Plan, and so workers were starting to get there. These guys would see the soldiers from the Allied section of Berlin going over to the Soviet quarter, and they were going over for culture—a movie would be screening, or a symphony orchestra. And some of these guys quickly understood that the United States wasn’t known for its high culture; it was known mostly for its Hollywood movies and maybe Cadillacs and tanks and hamburgers.

They decided that, as the occupation and the Marshall Plan were creating this weird blowback, where people felt completely beholden to the United States, there needed to be…I think some of these guys who went on to create the CCF just wanted a Ministry of Culture. They couldn’t do it in the late ’40s, and they certainly wouldn’t have felt like they could have done it openly in the McCarthy era proper. So they had this new secret budget.… Rather than have this land in some sort of known propaganda side of the US government, through the State Department or somewhere else, it ends up becoming a covert CIA program, with the caveat that it was started under the OPC—the Office of Policy Coordination, which was Frank Wisner’s little realm—which was kind of straddling between the State Department and the CIA. [Wisner served in Europe for the Office of Strategic Services during the later war years and went on to a long career in the CIA.]

That’s the back story. They wanted a Ministry of Culture. Some of them very sincerely believed that culture would influence the way the hard Cold War went, so people started calling it the cultural Cold War. I think it was actually Christopher Lasch who coined that, as early as ’67 or ’68.… He defined it as two tiers: the experts, the cultural geniuses up front and on the cover for their creative work; and then these other guys who could take a hint, and I think he meant people like Irving Kristol, who weren’t as smart, who weren’t as good, but they would be the ones on the inside doing the op-eds and pulling the strings and reporting back to headquarters.

The Congress for Cultural Freedom was within the OPC. There were a number of fronts that they wanted to beat the Soviets out of: labor, students, and culture being just three of them. Eventually they were doing stuff in refugee relief. They had penetrated the IRC [International Rescue Committee], in their way, which was another interesting story, but the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s main outlet was the almost three dozen magazines that the CIA directly created.

What was interesting to me is they also started working with other magazines that they saw as friendly, which would vastly expand their influence on intellectuals. They called a conference with these magazines to coordinate their anti-communism and American cheerleading and named the scheme “the clearinghouse of little magazines.” They had a few names for it. I refer to it as the publishing clearinghouse. They wanted to have a conference of magazine editors and they wanted to be very clear that anti-Americanism could be a deal-breaker for the cultural Cold War.…

The CCF was headed by this guy called Michael Josselson. They created magazines, they sponsored symphony orchestras and junkets. I think the first things they did were these conferences that were intended to be the West’s answer to the World Peace Council. [The WPC was founded in Paris in 1949 under Cominform influence.] It was sort of like, “Let’s rally the writers.” It’s the same impulse we have now—“Writers resist Trump!” They were “resisting” Stalin-penetrated cultural organizations and propaganda.…

Paris was very hot after the war. There’s now a considerable subgenre of writing on this topic. I came to it through the Guilbaut book [Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, 1983], about the perverse use made of the Abstract Expressionists. As you mentioned, Frances Stonor Saunders came along with The Cultural Cold War, which is a fairly comprehensive treatment. What was your intent when you set out? What were, or are, you after in Finks? Your bent is the literary scene. You’re not doing orchestras or painters.

Correct. My cultural filter is literary publishing and its weaponization.… I thought it was becoming more relevant, first in the Bush years as the way this is happening was changing, but equally relevant under Obama—the way culture will or won’t be used, the way the media are often seen as an outlet for winning support for an intervention: The way that was changing.…

One of the things I was after was telling the story of the cultural Cold War not in its typical little academic bin, which completely separates it from history and the political Cold War, the so-called real Cold War, and to restore the idea that they were both happening at the same time. I wanted to see—having lived in a place like Central America, where so many coups had happened—what the cultural Cold War would look like next to a history of political interventions in a place like that. I wanted to see: Did the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the propaganda front, the secret Ministry of Culture for the West, actively support and defend coups and things of that nature? The answer was yes.…

But again, since it was done through a secrecy regime, through secret patronage, through a secret budget of the CIA, the second big feature of the Congress for Cultural Freedom—the first was secrecy—the thing that comes out of that secrecy is subtlety. If Soviet propaganda was often ham-fisted or too obvious—they supported writing directly; they had a writers’ union, they gave their writers houses in the suburbs of Moscow—there has to be an alternative, and that has to be made, as much as it can be, into a negative. The way to do that, I think they understood, was: “Our version of this, by definition, has to be subtle so it’s not ‘outed.’” Then it can also gesture toward the heavy-handedness of the Soviet equivalent.

Therefore, if you’re going to look for it defending some of the worst aspects of US policy, you’re going to have to look very carefully, but in the end, you do see regular defenses of NATO alliance configurations, US policy. I didn’t spend as much time looking at Encounter [the CIA–funded journal founded in London by Stephen Spender and Irving Kristol in 1953], because Stonor Saunders had done such a good job of that. I certainly quoted some of her big findings. She found structural censorship in the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s very explicit marching orders—meaning a standing order to show something to the Congress/CIA brass if it might be controversial.

I looked into Costa Rica, I looked into Africa, as much as I could, Arab magazines. I wanted to tell the story more globally. Stonor Saunders told, I think, the definitive story for Western Europe, and she gave some of the outlines of the story globally, but I wanted very explicitly to put it into a political context by looking at how the coups may or may not have been supported by the propaganda. There are these great stories of the disasters of the CIA’s coups, and when you read them you’re astonished that the CIA wasn’t shut down long ago.…

These stories keep coming up again and again. By the middle to late ’60s, when it’s exposed, the intellectuals were ashamed to be associated with the CIA. So I wanted to sort of bridge the gap—to break down the wall between the Cold War and the cultural Cold War, and to marry [the latter] with those great books, by people like Stephen Kinzer, of political assassinations and the CIA’s legacy of ashes. I wanted to marry the legacy of ashes to the legacy of letters and see if they were the same tale. I think they are.

You name a lot of names, which I found riveting from page one onward. Some were previously disclosed, some new, at least to me, and they’re now all in the same place. I was astonished as I read some of these—and they’re more or less endless. George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, James Michener, Arthur Hayes Sulzberger, William F. Buckley, of course, Robert Lowell of all people, the Asia Foundation, The Paris Review, Viking Books, William Morrow, Sol Stein and Patricia Day, Bill Styron, Richard Wright, W.E.B. Du Bois, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Isaiah Berlin, James T. Farrell. It just doesn’t stop.

Those on the list I just read are one or another degree of separation from active participation. Then we have the unwittingly used, and then those who resisted, who declined to participate—some excellent names there: Baldwin, the late John Berger—and then the targets, who, along with the resisters, I think, are the heroes of your book, figures such as Pablo Neruda and Miguel Ángel Asturias, the great novelist of Guatemala. Your sections on Latin America are very good, maybe because you lived there.

I’m astonished, in short. What did you think as your work went on and these stunning names began to accumulate in your text? Were you surprised?

Yes.… All of these people were being sought, targeted, victimized, paid, subsidized, subsidized unwittingly, by the Western powers and by their opponents in the Soviet Union, as they saw it. So in a way, it’s the inversion of influence. It’s the instrumentalization of writing.… It’s the feeling of fear dictating the rules of culture, and, of course, therefore, of journalism. So it astonished me as much as it has astonished you.…

I’m very familiar with modernization theory because I spent many years in Asia, where it was applied in fairly pure form. Modernization theory is a complicated matter to explain, but a reasonable capsule definition might be the assertion that modernization and Westernization mean the same thing, and of course they do not.

I think as a Guernica editor and a writer I’ve been battling this really insidious and racist idea that the West is the cradle of civilization that the other nations of the world need. As I went through other non-Western countries, there were different things to debunk and that became a big part of it. In the so-called Western world, Stonor Saunders had shown that these magazines censored, and therefore, that there was a sort of censorship mission there. I wanted to also show that they had this bias, and to debunk it through the stories of people like García Márquez, who found his own reasons to distrust the Soviet system, but he remained a democratic socialist and he remained friends with Fidel. His story was one that came not as late as Baldwin’s, but came late into the story, when I found this great letter of his where he spoke beautifully for himself.… In addition to calling himself a cuckold for having been sucked into one CIA magazine, he also said it was a supreme idiocy for the CIA to keep someone like him outside its borders. By some inversion of the law, he was too threatening politically to come to the United States, but they wanted to suck him into its magazines.

So telling the story of modernization theory, these countries don’t need the West if the West means military spending, manipulating culture—essentially, corruption. When you look from a bird’s-eye view at what this was, it was patronage. It’s not just kickbacks—you can’t minimize it that much—but it’s keeping people in line politically by letting them know what they’ll get paid to write.

All in the name of keeping politics out of culture.

Keeping the wrong kind of politics out of culture.

It goes to our earlier point about what describes itself as “apolitical” and Bell’s book: To declare the end of ideology is to declare the triumph of one’s ideology.… Can you talk about the extent to which the cultural Cold War was conducted more or less entirely under an umbrella of an apolitical stance?

Really it’s just a camouflage or a shield to call what you’re doing apolitical. A bizarre example came in 2010, when the Tea Party was born. I remember a friend who has worked at various magazines as a reporter and researcher tried telling me that the Tea Party was apolitical, or that they were just concerned citizens or something. You’re laughing. That should have been my response. But I was so concerned for his intellect that I started raising all these points. What we hear now about Soros [the Soros Foundation] funding all of these [overseas] protests—everything that the right does it essentially returns to the left as a projection. Sometimes that goes both ways. But this idea of the apolitical is often used as a clever shield.…

Matthiessen is singular among the people you name. He had the decency to be ashamed, you suggest later in the book, but he wouldn’t come clean, even when very old. He was ashamed in a fairly diminished fashion, fair to say—not properly ashamed. Matthiessen hid behind innocence. “This was what young people did then.… It was a great way to get to Paris for some fun and adventure.… I was just a greenhorn”—I think he used that word. What is your position on these people and how did you come to it? Do you forgive? I don’t, just to be clear, which I’ll explain later.

I think if these people are public figures, there’s nothing defensible about turning institutions that are essentially cultural public trusts into ones that collude with the secrecy regime, especially in the literary arts. I’ll just use this caveat: If this merely remained a Congress for Cultural Freedom that brought symphonies and painters to Paris, it might be nasty enough that it was secret, but, it seems to me, it’s far less harmful. As soon as it gets into the literary arts, by definition, it gets into journalism. These things are not distinguishable.… By creating a political test for writers, which is essentially what was happening, by letting them winkingly know and tell each other that they were being paid when they were more pro-American and anti-Communist, by letting the regime of secrecy rule over even a small corner of the Fourth Estate, it grows. It will grow. Secrecy and the transparency that’s required of journalists are not compatible. It’s just that simple.

So I don’t forgive these public figures for doing that, but I did try. I tried to honor John Powell, the great Berkeley intellectual, whose quotation is, “Be hard on institutions and soft on people.” My way of enacting that was just to give as much context as I could, so that if you were sympathetic to an anti-communist, anti-Stalinist impetus in the arts or in journalism, you would see your rationale mouthed by one of my characters.… What you see also in the book is that it’s a slippery slope. You can tell yourself, “New Criticism, The Paris Review, it’s apolitical,” but that quickly turns into the CIA protecting it, and secrecy when it’s outed in Ramparts and The New York Times.… That becomes an operation called Chaos, which shows that it quickly expands into a much more fulsome media penetration, which is terrifying. [Operation Chaos was a domestic spying program conducted covertly by the CIA, 1967–74.]

“Be hard on institutions and soft on people.” I tend to take a hard position on institutions and also a hard position on people. Look, the CCF tried to co-opt Sartre at the time of the Hungarian crisis in ’56. They would have done better to read Sartre. If they had, they would have understood: We are all individually responsible for the things we do.

I feel strongly about this, as you will notice, because of what’s going on out the window. Former colleagues, people I knew, people I knew of, are writing the most repellent stuff these days. I understand that they have bills to pay and summer houses and condos with mortgages and school fees—middle-class overheads. This is not an excuse for their conduct. If these sorts of material considerations drive you, there are other professions. Journalism brings in a paycheck, but a lot of professions bring in paychecks. Journalism has other responsibilities. You have a civic responsibility and a place in public space that others don’t. This is why I depart on this point.

I’ll read a few sentences of my summary, and I think it’s more in line with what you’re saying. “The role these organs played put them at odds with the traditional adversarial role of media, a role that, at least theoretically, checked government power and guarded against overreach and corruption. It had gone nearly absent for the prior three decades, if it had existed with any solidity before that. Indeed, these operators, despite their patriotism, put the United States at odds with its own founding vision, the insistence upon freedom of expression that the nation advocates for its international friends and adversaries.… It’s not anathema to our purposes of exposing this history to have sympathy for the young men and women who signed [secrecy oaths] under duress, pressure, or surprise, with little experience, and in some cases under illness. Many of them didn’t know what they were getting into.… The less central members, who may not have feared arrest, no doubt still feared they would be blacklisted.…”

That’s possibly the passage that prompted my remarks.

I think we’re of a similar attitude, but I tried to look at all the forces of secrecy weighing down on them—open secrecy, likeability, profitability, career-mindedness—I wanted to tell, as much as I could in an already pretty dense book, or rich-in-names book…

Rich book, not dense book. It’s quite readable.

I wanted to tell as much as I could about what the pressures were on these writers.

Let’s dolly out and look at the very large question of culture. You have poetry, novels, essays, but you also have television, radio, film, publishing, painting, architecture. A scholar at Duke did a book about how Hilton International conceived of its hotels abroad as Cold War weapons. [Annabel Jane Wharton, Building the Cold War: Hilton Hotels and Modern Architecture, 2001]. If you look at them now with this thought in mind, they were carefully composed projections of modern capitalism and its virtues. This extended across the board. No aspect of culture was left untouched. In the case of architecture, we’re talking about the politicization of space and the projection of authority in spatial landscapes.

This raises a lot of questions. Before I ask any, do you have a thought as to the larger implications of your book for culture in general?

As we just discussed, the idea that culture lives separately from politics or history—I hope anyone who hears that notion will be suspicious of it.

Succinctly put and just the point.

Some people have asked, with the caveat that we should be careful what we wish for, Isn’t there something to be nostalgic about when the state was so concerned about culture that they funded it? I’ve wanted to turn that question back on the caveat: Be careful what you ask for. To me, the broader implications in this are that anything done secretly, but certainly government funding, will corrupt.… What secret patronage essentially offers culture is a much faster, much darker sort of instrumentalization than something that’s done with public discussion surrounding it. To me, that’s one of the big takeaways for culture.

The other might just be that culture does matter, it always has mattered, and it will continue to matter. Culture is a sibling to politics. It’s not a separate niche category. And it’s not a luxury. It’s not something that only the privileged deserve and it’s not something that only the rich countries produce. I’ve always been suspicious of the idea that x country or x culture doesn’t have these traditions that we have in the West. That idea has always been automatically suspicious to me because, by definition, we don’t know what x culture has. We have to go and look and ask their experts and their indigenous groups, “What is it that you offer and can we share it with you?”

Culture as an entirely distinct category, culture with a velvet rope around it, for which one takes an afternoon off and pays an admission fee: I think that’s what you’re talking about. This is a Western construct, it’s worth noting. In the East, art and life are not separate. An exquisite piece of lacquer has a use.… Think of tea ceremony, or ceramics. Not only is culture not distinct from life—you don’t get into a taxi, off to some separate activity, after consuming culture—“consuming culture” being a strange notion in itself. Culture is life.

You walk through culture. You regard culture. You live it.

It’s the same with culture and politics, I think. Here’s my largest question about culture and the consequences of the cultural Cold War.
We are talking about the politicization of culture—of space, language, painted canvas, and so on. It was stunningly comprehensive. Given this, to what extent can we any longer speak of American culture in an authentic, let’s say, uncontaminated state? This is a very disturbing matter to me, because you also have to ask, “To what extent should we consider the thought that we are a society wherein culture has been more or less defaced, if not destroyed?” In other words, the Cold War has left us a culture without a culture, if you can live with the paradox. It’s a very odd question, I realize.

It is an odd question.… The obliteration of culture, the defacing of culture, you do see that. If it’s understood by us, by our own traditions, that, for instance, journalism and writing and creativity can all point to this Fourth Estate that is the last check on power, and if we know that that’s one of our values and that we ourselves are so concerned about some outside force, the Soviets or whoever it’s going to be, manipulating that, and we manipulate it ourselves so that we can control it, we’ve really tamed something that should be wild. We’ve limited something that should be free.…

Even to put this question on the table is, to me, horrific. It suggests that we live amid a kind of cultural blight like nothing one has ever read about in history. In any event, one final question in this line. We sent Pollock’s paintings overseas as exemplary of American individualism. We gave the world Joe Friday on Dragnet and 17 Hiltons and John Ford westerns, and I suppose we fooled a lot of people as to what and how great America is. But didn’t we fool ourselves most of all?

Here’s what I mean: Are we not captivated by our own manufactured imagery? It becomes self-reflexive. I’m thinking of Daniel Boorstin’s book The Image, which was remarkably prescient, given it came out in 1961. We substituted images of reality for reality—again, in service of the Cold War. This was Boorstin’s argument. And now, years later, we are endlessly loyal to the substituted images as we give ourselves, over and over, actual reproductions of the imagined reality. Do you see what I mean?

I do.

We’re tumbling over ourselves. No wonder we have no idea who we truly are or what we’re doing. It’s a form of stupefaction. What’s your thought, reading out of your accounts in Finks?

When you’re confronted with such a bleak takeaway, I do have this American tendency to want to say, “But those people who resisted—they’re important. They’re poking the hole in the tent. We may be looking at the other side of the tent most of the time, but maybe a little hole in the bottom of the tent.”

À propos, I knew a Japanese dancer who once said to me, “All culture is subculture, Patrick.”

Right. That’s great. With the rise of the internet there’s an answer. That is, independent publishing. It’s just not as expensive. When it was expensive to produce culture, relatively, it was easier to dominate it in the way that these groups were. But the self-reflexiveness that you describe is very much there.

The reason people have been telling me the book is important is because we have this Trump vs. CIA pissing contest. I don’t think that’s why the book is important. Trump vs. the CIA is a little bit of noise. It takes some deconstructing, but in the end they’re trying to take a book about history and instrumentalize it so that it talks about what’s happening now. Which, again, is the instrumentalization of history, which the book is implicitly, if not explicitly, against.

So read the book on its own terms. Don’t try to turn it into something about Trump is what I’ve wanted to tell some of the other interviewers. You’re getting at something much more interesting and complicated—which is, yes, the reason this needs to be told is because we didn’t know it.… When I started the book, my big fear was that someone was going to say it was a conspiracy theory, when I knew that it wasn’t. It was a true conspiracy. What the conspiracy theory was, I realized a couple of weeks ago, was when some Western institutions had been penetrated by the Soviets. Not knowing the limits of that penetration made these anti-Stalinists into conspiracy theorists, and that conspiracy theory became a projection whereby they created one of the biggest conspiracies of the 20th century. To me, that’s the story that makes this compelling.


The readers I’ve most connected with, I think, saw that this was just hinting at the bigness, in the way that you hint.… I maybe don’t have the right symbol for what this was—this patronage network, I’ve called it, network of influence, others have called it—but whatever it was, it tried to encompass everything related to culture. All of the writers. So you get that list of names that you read out before. But it is huge. I’ll take another look at Boorstin, because that sounds interesting.

I think his point, and the point of my question to you was, We seem to be not so much living as posing as living—pretending to live. I cannot help but relate this to the profound and very reckless corruption of culture during the Cold War—as you say, its instrumentalization.

By Patrick Lawrenc/TheNation

Posted by The NON-Conformist

#Vault7: WikiLeaks reveals CIA ‘Scribbles’ tool can track whistleblowers & foreign spies

A user manual describing a CIA project known as ‘Scribbles’ has been published by WikiLeaks, exposing the potential for the spying agency to track when documents are leaked by whistleblowers or “Foreign Intelligence Officers.”

Released as part of the whistleblowing organization’s ‘Vault 7’ series, the project is purportedly designed to allow the embedding of ‘web beacon’ tags into documents “likely to be stolen,” according to a press release from WikiLeaks.

Dr Martin McHugh, Information Technology Programme chair at Dublin Institute of Technology, said web beacons can be used for “bad as well as good.”

“Methods of tracking have historically been developed for our protection but have evolved to become used to track us without our knowledge,” he told RT.com.

“Web beacons typically go unnoticed. A tiny file is loaded as part of a webpage. Once this file is accessed, it records unique information about you, such as your IP address and sends this back to the creator of the beacon.”

WikiLeaks says ‘Scribbles’ uses similar technology, which suggests the CIA would have been able to see when sensitive documents are accessed by third parties, including when they’re accessed by potential whistleblowers.

WikiLeaks notes that the latest iteration of the tool is dated March 1, 2016 – indicating it was used up until at least last year – and was seemingly meant to remain classified until 2066.

READ MORE: ‘Top secret CIA virus control system’: WikiLeaks releases ‘Hive’ from #Vault7 series

The ‘Scribbles’ User Guide explains how the tool generates a random watermark for each document, inserts that watermark into the document, saves all such processed documents in an output directory, and creates a log file which identifies the watermarks inserted into each document.

Scribbles can watermark multiple documents in one batch and is designed to watermark several groups of documents.

The tool was successfully tested on Microsoft Office versions 1997-2016 and documents that are not locked forms, encrypted, or password protected.

CIA’s first rule of stopping the next Manning/Snowden – don’t leave CIA document tracking software on suspected source’s computer

The guide notes that the program has a number of flaws.

Significantly, the watermarks were tested only with Microsoft Office applications so if the “targeted end-user” opened them with an alternative application, such as OpenOffice, they may be able to see the watermarks and URLs, potentially exposing the fact that the document is being tracked.

The tool also sometimes generates errors for temporary reasons, like when the Microsoft Office applications do not properly “clean up their resources.” To rectify this the guide advises users to close all Office applications and then run Scribbles again with the same input parameters.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Manhunt underway for CIA ‘traitor’ who leaked ‘Vault 7’ to WikiLeaks – report

The FBI and CIA are investigating hundreds of possible suspects in one of the biggest security breaches in CIA history, CBS News reports. The WikiLeaks “Vault 7” release, which contained thousands of top-secret documents, revealed the agency’s hacking tools.

A joint investigation and manhunt by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency into the source of WikiLeaks’ “Vault 7” dump last month has begun, CBS News justice and homeland security correspondent Jeff Pegues reported Wednesday evening.

The release last month brought to light the CIA’s digital arsenal for hacking into computer systems and smart devices such as phones and televisions. Thousands of top-secret classified files that had previously been guarded within a “highly secure section of the intelligence agency,” as CBS News sources described it, were made available to the world for free by WikiLeaks.

The source of the leak, the FBI and CIA reportedly believe, was one of the hundreds of agents or contractors who had physical access to the material, not an outside hacker. That suspicion seems to align with what WikiLeaks said in their press release announcing the Vault 7 release on March 7.

“The archive appears to have been circulated among former US government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive,” the pro-transparency group said.

Unnamed US intelligence sources told Reuters within a day of the release that the CIA had been anticipating it since near the end of 2016.

The FBI and CIA coordinated reviews of the incident and a criminal investigation was opened within a day of the release, the Washington Post reported at the time, based on an unnamed former intelligence official who said to expect “another major mole hunt.”

Former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell told CBS News less than a week after the release that the leak “has to be an inside job,” as the data was on a CIA top secret network “not connected to any other network.”

Former NSA contractor and whistleblower Ed Snowden tweeted hours after the release that “only a cleared insider” could be responsible for the leak.

Last week, in his first public comments in his new position, CIA director Mike Pompeo blasted WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia” and called founder Julian Assange a “demon.”

Assange on Wednesday hit back at Pompeo on ‘The Intercepted’ podcast with Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, accusing him of attacking WikiLeaks “to get ahead of the publicity curve.”

“In fact, the reason Pompeo is launching this attack is because he understands we are exposing in this series all sorts of illegal actions by the CIA, so he’s trying to get ahead of the publicity curve and create a preemptive defense,” Assange said.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

How the CIA helped apartheid South Africa imprison Nelson Mandela for 27 years — and is now facing lawsuits

It has long been suspected that the CIA played a role in the apartheid South Africa regime’s arrest and 27-year imprisonment of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. It has now been confirmed.

Donald Rickard, a former U.S. vice-consul in Durban, South Africa who worked as a CIA agent, admitted that he tipped off the apartheid regime with Mandela’s location in 1962, the British media reported this week.

Rickard said the U.S. helped arrest the anti-apartheid leader because he was “the world’s most dangerous communist outside of the Soviet Union.” The U.S. feared Mandela was about “to incite” a communist revolution against the apartheid regime, and could align with the Soviet Union.

“Mandela would have welcomed a war,” the former CIA operative said. “If the Soviets had come in force, the United States would have had to get involved, and things could have gone to hell.”

“We were teetering on the brink here and it had to be stopped, which meant Mandela had to be stopped. And I put a stop to it,” Rickard added.

The 88-year-old ex-CIA operative made these comments in an interview in March with researchers for “Mandela’s Gun,” a new film by British director John Irvin, which will appear in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival next week.

Rickard, who retired from the CIA in 1978, died two weeks after breaking the silence in the interview.

U.S. support for apartheid South Africa

Mandela was imprisoned from 1962 to 1990. He subsequently went on to become South Africa’s first black president, from 1994 and 1999.

In 2013, Mandela died, leaving behind a long legacy of support for liberation movements throughout the world, particularly in Palestine, where anti-apartheid leaders such as Desmond Tutu have compared the actions of the apartheid South African regime to those of the Israeli government. In late April, Palestinian officials unveiled a statue of Mandela in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

The U.S. government propped up the apartheid South African regime for decades. Like its close ally, Israel also supported the apartheid regime.

President Ronald Reagan was particularly close with the apartheid South African regime. “Can we abandon a country that has stood beside us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that strategically is essential to the free world in its production of minerals we all must have?” he asked in a 1981 CBS interview.

Mandela went on to blast U.S. hypocrisy. “I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies,” he explained in an interview on “Larry King Live” in 2000.

“That is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one,” Mandela added.

In fact, it was not until 2008 that the U.S. removed Mandela from its terrorism watch list. When the apartheid South African regime declared Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, or ANC, to be a terrorist group, the U.S. State Department did the same, in 1988.

The U.S. condemned Mandela and the ANC for its goals to build a “multiracial Socialist government in South Africa,” and for receiving “support from the Soviet bloc, Cuba and a number of African nations.”


Prominent transparency activist Ryan Shapiro, a national security researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is suing the CIA, along with numerous other government agencies, for information about the U.S.’s role in repressing the anti-apartheid movement.

“We’ve long known that there has been a U.S. intelligence agency role in the efforts to surveil and suppress the South African anti-apartheid movement,” he told BBC in an interview this week.

Shapiro says FBI documents he has received show how, when Mandela was released in prison, the FBI spied on him and his inner circle “for political information about who Mandela was speaking to, about anti-apartheid activities.”

Government documents not just from the 1960s, but even from the 1990s, “show that the FBI viewed Nelson Mandela and the South African, United States and global anti-apartheid movements as a serious communist threat that imperiled national security,” Shapiro explained.

He also revealed that the NSA was providing intelligence to the apartheid South African regime on the activities of the anti-apartheid movement.

The CIA, on the other hand, is not complying with Shapiro’s requests. The agency claimed under oath in federal court that it is will not grant the researcher’s FOIA request for records on Nelson Mandela because it is supposedly unable to search through records by someone’s name.

Shapiro, who has been referred to as the “most prolific” Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requester, is suing the CIA, FBI, NSA and DIA for refusing to release requested records.

Allegations of continued subversion today

The CIA declined to comment on recent media reports about its role in arresting Mandela.

Mandla Mandela, the heir of Nelson Mandela, called on the U.S. and President Barack Obama to apologize, and to make a “full disclosure” of his grandfather’s arrest, The Telegraph reported.

“Whilst we were always aware of the West’s role in overt and covert support for the Apartheid state,” Mandla said, this “disclosure has put an end to decades of denial revealing the fact that the USA put its imperial interests above the struggle for liberation of millions of people.”

“We call on freedom-loving people of the world to come out in condemnation of this betrayal of our nation, the peoples of Southern Africa and all who suffered as a consequence of the USA’s support for the brutal apartheid state,” he added.

Mandla, who is a member of parliament representing Mandela’s ANC party, also suggested that the U.N. should punish the U.S., The Telegraph noted.

Zizi Kodwa, a spokesman for the ANC, told the newspaper the revelation was “a serious indictment” but not surprising.

“We always knew there was always collaboration between some Western countries and the apartheid regime,” he noted.

Kodwa says the U.S. government is still working to undermine South Africa’s government. “We have recently observed that there are efforts to undermine the democratically elected ANC government,” he added. “It is still happening now — the CIA is still collaborating with those who want regime change.”

By Ben Norton/Salon

Posted by The NON-Conformist


Thanks again “Obama,” enjoy your vacation, while true patriots enjoy prison!

I DO NOT like prison. No one should.

It is a strenuous, unceasing effort to cope with the ordeal of being incarcerated at a federal prison. I find myself identifying with the title character from Shakespeare’s “Richard II” when he laments his own effort to adjust to confinement by wondering, “I have been studying how I may compare this prison where I live unto the world.” I do my best to resist the thought that prison is a reflection of our society, but the comparisons are unavoidable. Unlike “Richard II,” my “studying” has not been so much a comparison as an unhappy realization.

From the moment I crossed the threshold from freedom to incarceration because I was charged with, and a jury convicted me of, leaking classified information to a New York Times reporter, I needed no reminder that I was no longer an individual. Prison, with its “one size fits all” structure, is not set up to recognize a person’s worth; the emphasis is removal and categorization. Inmates are not people; we are our offenses. In this particular prison where I live, there are S-Os (sex offenders), Cho-Mos (child molesters), and gun and drug offenders, among others. Considering the charges and conviction that brought me here, I’m not exactly sure to which category I belong. No matter. There is an overriding category to which I do belong, and it is this prison reality that I sadly “compare unto the world”: I’m not just an inmate, I’m a black inmate.

Thinking that you know about something and actually experiencing it are completely different. Previously, my window into prison life was informed, in part, by the same depictions in movies, TV shows, and books that the rest of America has seen. And unfortunately, as a child I heard firsthand so many stories about prison life from people I knew that it seemed commonplace. I expected there to be a separation of the races — by some accounts “necessary” racial segregation — because that is what I saw, read, and heard. My expectations and naiveté could not prepare me for actually living in it, however.

I didn’t have to be taught the rules of prison society, particularly in regard to racial segregation, because they are so ingrained in just about every aspect of prison society that they seem instinctual. Even though there is no official mandate, here, I am my skin color. Whenever, in my stubborn idealism, I refuse to acknowledge being racially categorized and question the submission to it, the other prisoners invariably respond, “Man, this is prison.”

These distinctions are maintained even when I’m watching TV, because there is no integrated TV watching in prison. I am not welcome to watch in the “white,” “Hispanic,” or “Native” TV rooms. So I spend a lot of time in the black TV room. There are no spatial advantages or disadvantages to this segregation, because all the rooms have one or two tables, one or two TVs that offer the same channels, and the occasional pigeon flitting about indoors.

For me, the black TV room is a place of solace for reading, writing, being frustrated by Sudoku, and generally escaping from the everyday pain of prison life. However, even as an escape, its very existence constantly reminds me of the pervasiveness, pointlessness, and harmfulness of separation along racial lines. It is a reflection of America outside these walls. What I see in prison is sad, but what I’m seeing from prison is worse.

Since arriving here last June, and from the black TV room, I have seen news reports on the racially motivated shooting of black parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and seemingly unending and routine instances of black citizens, including Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, falling victim to excessive force and being killed by law enforcement officers. I have also seen reports of law enforcement officers being killed in attacks no less horrific. The sadness I feel at what has been happening outside these walls was already festering inside me before I became an inmate; when I entered prison, I was still reeling from the death of Michael Brown in the St. Louis area, which I proudly call home.

Watching these tragedies from prison, and especially from the black TV room, has been a profound experience. Throughout the days when the shootings were being covered and commentary on the news channels was ongoing, both TVs in the black TV room were constantly tuned in. As the events were unfolding on the news, I was struck by the uncommon silence in the TV room. Accentuating the uneasy silence was an air of frustration and a palpable lack of surprise and shock not only from the others, but also from myself. I, for one, did not know what to say. And that silence was impacted by another burning question I had no answer for, especially being in prison: What am I, or anyone else here, to do? A possible answer came in the form of a comment from one of my fellow viewers that was as stark in breaking the silence as it was in defining where I was and what I was seeing. “Man, this is America,” he said.

I cannot and will not accept that viewpoint, so I wanted and needed to know that outside the black TV room and outside the prison walls, the rest of America also found it unacceptable. I ventured out to see how the news was playing out in the other TV rooms. With the pretext of going to the ice machine (funny how we can’t watch TV together, but we can use the same ice machine), I passed by the white TV room. Those TVs were not tuned to the news reports of the shootings. Instead, one was playing ESPN, the other COPS. I didn’t make it into the Hispanic or Native TV rooms, but it became clear that the America of the white TV room, at least, was not the same as the one that was playing out in the black TV room, both on and off the screen.

Comparing prison unto the world has been no more complex than comparing one TV room to another. The black TV room and the prison society that allows and perpetuates it have not been providing me with a window to America — they have provided a lamentable mirror. That mirror is reflecting the reality that racial segregation, particularly tacitly, is all too American. The America one sees and experiences depends on what TV room the color of one’s skin mandates.
In prison, I see that mindset of latent and allowable racism creating and being typified by racial segregation. On TV, I see that very same mindset in tragic action outside the prison walls through the use of racial profiling throughout the country, racially motivated voter ID laws, politicians stoking racial anxieties for votes, a criminal justice system that engages in racially disparate application and enforcement of the law, and much more. Such all-too-American, misguided practices foster, if not encourage, societal segregation and incite the dangers that necessarily accompany it. I can argue that the Charleston church shooter, the white law enforcement officers who have killed black citizens, and the black men who have killed law enforcement officers acted out of an animosity fueled by this same sort of prison mindset. What I have seen of the America I was a part of is the unfortunate and natural extension of what I’m living in prison.

Call me naive, call me a dreamer, and I’ll wear those monikers proudly because I still believe, even from prison, in this country and what it is supposed to stand for. Has that been my personal experience and what I’ve been seeing from prison? No. As merely one example, during my time in the CIA it became clear, in the organization’s words and actions toward me, that they saw me not as an American who wanted to serve his country but as “a big black guy.” But my dreams of America are far more enduring than a prison TV room mentality. There is a black America, there is a white America, there are many Americas. The greatness and promise of this country lies in equality reinforced by our differences rather than defined by them. My America is not a prison. For now, I’m confined to the black TV room at the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado. When I am free, I don’t want to feel that I’m merely going from one prison to another.

By Jeffrey Sterling/TheIntercept

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Is the CIA editing your newspaper?

Here is a great overview by Ed Jones of why corporate media are the arch-exponents of “fake news”. The media are overwhelming owned and controlled by billionaires and gargantuan corporations, who depend on the support of other corporations for ad revenue, and employ journalists from a narrow, privileged class whose careers depend on maintaining access to elite sources. It would be simply astounding in these circumstamces if we had anything resembling a pluralistic media.

The data concerns UK outlets, but the same principles apply in the US.

One section makes especially disturbing reading. It is the little-discussed matter of the intelligence services’ deep penetration of most western, and in some cases non-western, media organisations. In short, US intelligence services – and to a lesser extent British ones – have for many decades fed information to sympathetic journalists in key positions inside the “free” media, working with them hand in glove. Additionally, the CIA has sought to put its own people into publications to shape directly editorial content and influence public opinion. In some cases, these people may have reached very senior positions.

Nick Davies, of the Guardian, dedicated a whole chapter of his book Flat Earth News to documenting these practices. Strangely, that chapter is rarely mentioned. Journalists who praise the book instead concentrate on his less revealing concept of “churnalism” – journalism compromised by constraints of time and resources.

Jones adds other sources who make much the same point:

Richard Keeble, professor of journalism at the University of Lincoln, … has written on the history of the links between journalists and the intelligence services. … He quotes Roy Greenslade, who has been a media specialist for both the Telegraph and the Guardian [and is a former editor of the Mirror newspaper], as saying: “Most tabloid newspapers – or even newspapers in general – are playthings of MI5 [Britain’s FBI].”

Keeble goes on to say:

Bloch and Fitzgerald, in their examination of covert UK warfare, report the editor of ‘one of Britain’s most distinguished journals’ as believing that more than half its foreign correspondents were on the MI6 payroll [the British equivalent of the CIA – my emphasis]. And in 1991, Richard Norton-Taylor revealed in the Guardian that 500 prominent Britons paid by the CIA and the now defunct Bank of Commerce and Credit International, included 90 journalists.

Keeble has given many more examples in his book chapter of the intelligence services infiltrating the media and changing the politics of the time, including around the miners strikes and Arthur Scargill in the 1980s and during the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003. …

David Leigh, former investigations editor of The Guardian, wrote about a series of instances in which the secret services manipulated prominent journalists. He claims reporters are routinely approached and manipulated by intelligence agents and identifies three ways – providing examples for each in his article – in which they do it:

• They attempt to recruit journalists to spy on other people or themselves attempt to go under journalistic “cover.”

• They allow intelligence officers to pose as journalists “to write tendentious articles under false names.”

• And “the most malicious form”: they plant intelligence agency propaganda stories on willing journalists who disguise their origin from readers.

Remember that those who should be exposing the intelligence services’ manipulation of the mainstream media are the very same mainstream media that are already compromised. In other words, this story of systematic “fake news” planted by our intelligence services is almost impossible for the media to tell because it would expose a very uncomfortable reality: that they are not, as they claim, watchdogs on power, but rather the lapdogs of the powerful.

If all this still seems hard to believe, please watch this video of a senior German journalist admitting that he was recruited by the US intelligence services (h/t Antonio Nascimento). Udo Ulfkotte covered the Middle East for the Frankfurter Allgemeine for 12 years, and says he regularly acted as a conduit for CIA propaganda. He adds that many of his colleagues were doing the same, willingly promoting CIA disinformation.

Written by Jonathan Cook

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Saddam Hussein’s CIA Interrogator: He Should Have Been Left In Power

Image: Time Magazine

In 2003, I was part of the effort to find Saddam Hussein. I then became the first to debrief him after his capture that December. Prior to his incarceration, I heard over and over from counterparts in the military and the Bush administration that if we caught Saddam we would be able to nip the growing Iraqi insurgency in the bud.

When I interrogated Saddam, he told me: “You are going to fail. You are going to find that it is not so easy to govern Iraq.” When I told him I was curious why he felt that way, he replied: “You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind.”

More from Time Magazine

Posted by Libergirl