In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America's leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA.
Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past 25 years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists' relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services -- from simple intelligence-gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America's leading news organizations.
The history of the CIA's involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception for the following principal reasons:
The use of journalists has been among the most productive means of intelligence-gathering employed by the CIA. Although the agency has cut back sharply on the use of reporters since 1973 (primarily as a result of pressure from the media), some journalists are still posted abroad.
Further investigation into the matter, CIA officials say, would inevitably reveal a series of embarrassing relationships in the 1950's and 1960's with some of the most powerful organizations and individuals in American journalism.
Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were William Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System, Henry Luce of Time Inc., Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier-Journal, and James Copley of the Copley News Services. Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA include the American Broadcasting Company, the National Broadcasting Company, the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps-Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald-Tribune.
By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc.
Appropriately, the CIA uses the term 'reporting' to describe much of what cooperating journalists did for the Agency. "We would ask them, 'Will you do us a favor?'" said a senior CIA official. "'We understand you're going to be in Yugoslavia. Have they paved all the streets? Where did you see planes? Were there any signs of military presence? How many Soviets did you see? If you happen to meet a Soviet, get his name and spell it right....Can you set up a meeting for us? Or arrange a message?'" Many CIA officials regarded these helpful journalists as operatives: the journalists tended to see themselves as trusted friends of the Agency who performed occasional favors -- usually without pay -- in the national interest.
Two of the Agency's most valuable relationships in the 1960's, according to CIA officials, were with reporters who covered Latin America -- Jerry O'Leary of the Washington Star and Hal Hendrix of Miami News, a Pulitzer Prize winner who became a high official of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. Hendrix was extremely helpful to the Agency in providing information about individuals in Miami's Cuban exile community.