COMMENT: A very important article appeared in Salon recently–so important that both the L.A. Times and New York Times saw fit to take swipes at it.
Noting The Paris Review’s long-standing relationship with the CIA front organization Congress for Cultural Freedom, the article takes stock of the profound influence of the Agency and other intelligence services on the American intelligentsia. (An excellent account of the CCF is to be found in Frances Stonor Saunders’ The Cultural Cold War.)
An epicenter of respected literary culture for decades in this and other countries, The Paris Review served as a cover for the intelligence career of its founder Peter Matthiessen and is part of a constellation of periodicals that have served as bellwethers of cultural and intellectual merit around the world.
We would note that dynamics of this kind fundamentally shape what passes for “progressive” politics and the culture embodied in them.
Apart from the pivotal influence of CIA in the cultures that shaped the second half of the 20th century, the number of luminaries in the liberal-to-left segment of society with agency affiliations could not be exaggerated. Some of the more prominent among them and some of their relative associations include:
- Gloria Steinem, who discussed her background in the CIA in interviews with both The New York Times and The Washington Post, citing it as a positive journalistic credential.
- For many years, Steinem’s “significant other” was J. Stanley Pottinger, a close friend and associate of George H.W. Bush, an Assistant Attorney General under Nixon and Ford and the attorney for the Hashemi brothers, key participants in the October Surprise imbroglio. In Death in Washington, authors Donald Freed and Fred Landis maintain that Pottinger helped to obfuscate the investigations into the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Orlando Lettelier. Pottinger is alleged to have helped cover up aspects of the Watergate affair. Interesting company.
- Steinem’s publishing career received essential assistance from the Katherine Graham/Washington Post milieu, inextricably linked with the CIA.
- On Agency assignment, Steinem worked with, among others, 60’s New Left icon Allard Loewenstein in promoting a non-communist left alternative abroad.
- Loewenstein was deeply involved in the campaign of former Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968, the so-called “Peace Candidate.” McCathy, himself, is alleged to have been a CIA officer.
- McCarthy’s 1968 campaign split the Democratic vote and fed the frustrations manipulated and exploited at the party’s convention in Chicago that summer, was financed to a considerable extent by Stewart Mott. According to author Jim Hougan in Spooks, at the same time that he was funding “Peace” candidate McCarthy’s campaign, Mott was financing the parent company of Mitch WerBel’s Parabellum Corporation. That firm manufactured the Ingram Mac 10 and Mac 11 silenced machine pistols.
- PBS’s Bill Moyers is also alleged to have a CIA background.
In the Salon piece, Peter Matthiessen has stated that he joined the CIA in 1950, before “the ugly stuff” began. Matthiesen and others may very well have been unaware of the ugly stuff–great pains were taken to compartmentalize operations to the extent that it could be done. But “the ugly stuff” was very much underway by 1950.
As we contemplate the thorough drugging out of America during the 1960’s and thereafter, the ravaging of inner-city African-American neighborhoods during the crack epidemic, the success of fascist political expression couched as “progressive”–the Thrive and Zeitgeist movies, WikiLeaks, the “Truther” movement being examples–one can but wonder to what extent the “weaponized” political culture evolving from the Cold War period has engendered these phenomena.
One can also but wonder to what extent the failure of our journalistic culture to recognize the obvious stems from the same phenomenon. We note in this regard that the information presented on this website is from public sources. Why don’t more journalistic interests delve into the material?
EXCERPT: . . . . The Paris Review has been hailed by Time magazine as the “biggest ‘little magazine’ in history.” At the celebration of its 200th issue this spring, current editors and board members ran down the roster of literary heavyweights it helped launch since its first issue in 1953. Philip Roth, V. S. Naipaul, T.C. Boyle, Edward P. Jones and Rick Moody published their first stories in the Review; Jack Kerouac, Jim Carroll, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides all had important early stories in its pages. But as Peter Matthiessen, the magazine’s founder, has told interviewers — most recently at Penn State — the journal also began as part of his CIA cover.
[Editor George] Plimpton’s letter on Pasternak is essential, however, because for many years a small group of journalists has been trying to pry more information out of Matthiessen on the still-unknown extent of the CIA’s role with the Paris Review — and many in particular have wondered what the legendary Plimpton himself knew of the magazine’s CIA origins. Matthiessen’s story has not changed much since it was first revealed in a 1977 New York Times story. But the Review’s archive at the Morgan Library in Manhattan — until now left mostly out of the debate — shows a number of never-reported CIA ties that bypass Matthiessen or outlive his official tenure at the Agency. In fact, a number of editors, Plimpton included, repeatedly courted ties to the Congress for Cultural Freedom. These ties started modestly — ad exchanges, reprints of Paris Review interviews in the Congress’s official magazines — but grew much more robust, including what one editor described as a “joint emploi” where the Congress and the Review would team up to share an editor’s living expenses in Paris and also to share interviews and other editorial content. In its vast quest to beat the Soviets in cultural achievement and showcase American writing to influential European audiences and intellectuals, the Congress may have even suggested some of the famed Paris Review interviews. All of which means that at the dawn of the CIA’s era of coups and nefarious plots, America’s most celebrated apolitical literary magazine served, in part, as a covert international weapon of soft power. . . .
. . . . . . . . The weaponization of culture starts at Yale. Prof. Norman Holmes Pearson is cited on the Paris Review web site as the intelligence officer who recruited Matthiessen (Yale College, 1950) into the CIA. This fact may explain the subtle cultural politics of the supposedly apolitical Paris Review. Pearson’s career is a mashup of literature and spying. A friend of the modernist poet Hilda Doolittle (aka, “H.D.”), he hired H.D.’s daughter as his secretary. She then became that of his assistant, the CIA’s bogeyman, James Jesus Angleton. After an illustrious record during World War II in the Office of Strategic Services alongside CIA founding light William Donovan and CIA director Allen Dulles, Pearson returned to academe to take charge of Yale’s fledgling American Studies program. . . .
. . . . This thinking eventually spurred the creation, under the new CIA, of the Office of Policy Coordination, under which would emerge the Congress for Cultural Freedom. As Frances Stonor Saunders has written in her landmark “The Cultural Cold War”: “At its peak, the Congress for Cultural Freedom had offices in 35 countries, employed dozens of personnel, published over 20 prestige magazines, held art exhibitions, owned a news and feature service, organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances. Its mission was to nudge the intelligentsia of Western Europe away from its lingering Marxism and communism towards a view more accommodating of the American way.”
It later expanded to Asia, Africa and Latin America, and — according to one of its boosters — was “the only outfit … making an anti-Communist anti-neutralist dent with intellectuals in Europe and Asia.” The fact of its CIA origin was kept well hidden, but those working within its vast apparatus knew the rumors attached it to its origins, according to one former staffer.
Though these efforts started with conferences, they soon moved to publishing. In his “Proposal for the American Review,” Melvin Lasky argued for the creation of a magazine to “support the general objectives of U.S. policy in Germany and Europe by illustrating the background of ideas, spiritual activity, literary and intellectual achievement from which the American democracy takes its inspiration.” As Saunders wrote, The American Review was born instead as Germany’s Der Monat. Its equivalent in France was Preuves, edited by Francois Bondy. In the U.K., it would be called Encounter, edited by poet Stephen Spender and Irving Kristol (later replaced by Lasky). All, Saunders reported, would be secretly funded by the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Encounter was born in a planning meeting attended by Michael Josselson (who would covertly lead the Congress for Cultural Freedom for the CIA for most of its life), the composer Nicolas Nabokov (Vladimir’s first cousin), and, from the United Kingdom, by Christopher Montague Woodhouse, a British intelligence officer. Encounter finally launched with an initial grant of $40,000, which came via Julius Fleischman. The yeast and gin heir also served as the most important “quiet channel” for the Congress and was used to funnel CIA money to various organizations and assets. And the Paris Review sought out his patronage from inception. . . .
. . . . In the documentary “Doc,” Plimpton admits that Matthiessen founded the Review as a CIA cover. But Plimpton says that none of the other editors knew this until the 1960s. Matthiessen confirmed that in his Penn State interview, and says it would have been illegal for him to tell them of the agency’s involvement.) “This was right after the war. It was when the CIA was starting up. It was not into assassinations and all the ugly stuff yet,” he adds in “Doc,” speaking to documentarian, Immy Humes. “There were so many guys signing up for the CIA. It was kind of the thing to do.” Matthiessen declined several requests to discuss the Paris Review and the CIA with Salon.
But whether or not Plimpton knew of his old friend’s work as a spy, the other editors’ ties to the CIA through the Congress for Cultural Freedom lasted beyond the John F. Kennedy assassination and the buildup to and U.S. entrance into the Vietnam War. Nelson Aldrich, who began as a Review editor in 1958, writes in his oral history of Plimpton, “George, Being George,” that he left the Review to join the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom. From the Morgan letters, it is clear his work for the two organizations brought them closer, and when he left the Review in 1961, he helped ensure it would be working in concert with the Congress. . . .
. . . . Of course, you could be unknowingly linked to the Congress, or linked, without quite understanding the scale and scope of projects some of the vast secret hierarchy was spearheading. Many writers in this time undoubtedly were linked to this vast apparatus, and some clearly did not know the Congress was the child of the CIA. By taking money for interviews and sharing staff with the CIA’s cultural propaganda wing, it is not as if Plimpton and Aldrich were knowingly toppling governments in Iran or Guatemala, or — this must be said — responsible for those things the people who paid them money would later say or do. The total 1950 budget for psychological warfare — $320 million or so in today’s dollars—would quadruple over the next two years, writes Saunders. The Paris Review’s share of that — the bits I found recorded in the Morgan letters — were crumbs.
But Matthiessen’s claim that he got out of the CIA before the “ugly stuff” is false, if you consider the CIA’s messy exploits in the late 1940s and early 1950s as ugly. Either way, a secret patronage system, paid for by the taxpayer with no public debate, appears to have existed. . . .