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Tip of the Iceberg: The CIA and The Paris Review

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?

“Exclu­sive: The Paris Review, the Cold War and the CIA” by Joel Whit­ney; Salon.com; 5/27/2012.

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. . . .


4 comments for “Tip of the Iceberg: The CIA and The Paris Review”

  1. God save us from pro­gres­sive intel­lec­tu­als and their embrace of any fas­cist who is ‘art­sy’ enough. For a good exam­ple of hard-hit­ting inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism read:

    “In 1955, he start­ed his own mag­a­zine and is gen­er­al­ly held to be respon­si­ble for assem­bling a coher­ent, respon­si­ble, mod­ern con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment in the Unit­ed States.”

    In this case ‘respon­si­ble’ should be thought of in con­text of the mas­sive glob­al polit­i­cal assas­si­na­tion pro­gram he helped orches­trate. Buck­ley’s own CIA career gets a men­tion but the impres­sion he gives is that it was not much more than a brief flir­ta­tion. His embrace by reac­tionary Catholic orga­ni­za­tions is also neglect­ed, as is his part in form­ing Young Amer­i­cans For Free­dom.

    I note that the inter­view is titled “The Art Of Fic­tion.”

    Posted by Dwight | June 6, 2012, 6:47 am
  2. good points, Dwight.

    Though it is telling that — com­pared to thugs like Bre­it­bart, Beck, and the host of oth­er fas­cist dem­a­gogues offer­ing their reac­tionary wares in the con­tem­po­rary media mar­ket­place — Buck­ley might be con­sid­ered “coher­ent and respon­si­ble”.

    Posted by ironcloudz | June 7, 2012, 11:20 am
  3. A bit more of the ice­berg comes into view, per­haps? A good Mark Ames arti­cle.


    “Aryeh Neier, founder of Human Rights Watch and its exec­u­tive direc­tor for 12 years, doesn’t hide his con­tempt for the idea of eco­nom­ic equal­i­ty as one of the key human rights. Neier is so opposed to the idea of eco­nom­ic equal­i­ty that he even equates the very idea of eco­nom­ic equal­i­ty and jus­tice with oppression—economic rights to him are a vio­la­tion of human rights, rather than essen­tial human rights, there­by com­plete­ly invert­ing tra­di­tion­al left think­ing.”

    Aryeh Neier—the same Aryeh Neier who lat­er led Human Rights Watch— col­lud­ed with William Buck­ley to push the ACLU right­ward against labor by get­ting the ACLU to rep­re­sent big busi­ness and “Right To Work” laws, under the guise of “pro­tect­ing free speech”—the same bull­shit pre­tense always used by lawyers and advo­cates to help big busi­ness crush labor and democ­ra­cy. This “free speech” pre­tense is the basis on which the ACLU cur­rent­ly sup­ports the Cit­i­zens Unit­ed deci­sion, which effec­tive­ly legal­ized the trans­for­ma­tion of Amer­i­ca into an oli­garchy.

    Posted by GrumpuRex | June 25, 2012, 10:31 pm
  4. The Ger­man Embassy is buy­ing live spot reads (at least one per show) on the Thom Hart­mann pro­gram. Mr. Hart­man­n’s show is rat­ed among the top 5 talk radio pro­grams cur­rent­ly broad­cast­ing and reach­es a most­ly liberal/“progressive” audi­ence.
    The copy reads that Ger­many sup­ports a Euro­pean strat­e­gy to strength­en the Euro through secu­ri­ty, sta­bil­i­ty, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and growth and urges inter­est­ed lis­ten­ers to vis­it Germany.info

    I won­der if the Ger­many embassy is feel­ing as com­pelled to reach out to a conservative/Republican audi­ence? I doubt it.

    Posted by GrumpuRex | June 25, 2012, 10:49 pm

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