Operation Mockingbird was a large-scale program of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that began in the early 1950s and attempted to manipulate news media for propaganda purposes.
It funded student and cultural organizations and magazines as front organizations.
According to writer Deborah Davis, Operation Mockingbird recruited leading American journalists into a propaganda network and oversaw the operations of front groups. CIA support of front groups was exposed after a 1967 Ramparts magazine article reported that the National Student Association received funding from the CIA. In the 1970s, Congressional investigations and reports also revealed Agency connections with journalists and civic groups. None of these reports, however, mentions an Operation Mockingbird coordinating or supporting these activities.
A Project Mockingbird is mentioned in the CIA Family Jewels report, compiled in the mid-1970s. According to the declassified version of the report released in 2007, Project Mockingbird involved the wire-tapping of two American journalists for several months in the early 1960s.
In the early years of the Cold War, efforts were made by the Governments of the Soviet Union and the United States to use media companies to influence Public opinion internationally.
Reporter Deborah Davis claimed in her 1979 biography of Katharine Graham, owner of The Washington Post, (Katharine the Great), that the CIA ran an “Operation Mockingbird” during this time.
Davis claimed that the International Organization of Journalists was created as a Communist front organization and “received money from Moscow and controlled reporters on every major newspaper in Europe, disseminating stories that promoted the Communist cause.
“Davis claimed that Frank Wisner, director of the Office of Policy Coordination (a covert operations unit created in 1948 by the United States National Security Council) had created Operation Mockingbird in response to the International Organization of Journalists, recruiting Phil Graham from The Washington Post to run the project within the industry. According to Davis, “By the early 1950s, Wisner ‘owned’ respected members of The New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles.” Davis claimed that after Cord Meyer joined the CIA in 1951, he became Operation Mockingbird’s “principal operative.”
In a 1977 Rolling Stone magazine article, “The CIA and the Media,” reporter Carl Bernstein wrote that by 1953, CIA Director Allen Dulles oversaw the media network, which had major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies.
Its usual modus operandi was to place reports, developed from CIA-provided intelligence, with cooperating or unwitting reporters. Those reports would be repeated or cited by the recipient reporters and would then, in turn, be cited throughout the media wire services. These networks were run by people with well-known liberal, but pro-American-big-business and anti-Soviet views, such as William S. Paley (CBS), Henry Luce (Time and Life), Arthur Hays Sulzberger (The New York Times), Alfred Friendly (managing editor of The Washington Post), Jerry O’Leary (The Washington Star), Hal Hendrix (Miami News), Barry Bingham, Sr. (Louisville Courier-Journal), James S. Copley (Copley News Services) and Joseph Harrison (The Christian Science Monitor).
In 2007 a CIA report was declassified that is titled the Family Jewels.
Compiled by the CIA in 1973, it refers to a Project Mockingbird and describes a wiretap of journalists. The report was compiled at the request of then CIA director James R. Schlesinger.
“Project Mockingbird, a telephone intercept activity, was conducted between 12 March 1963 and 15 June 1963, and targeted two Washington based newsmen who, at the time, had been publishing news articles based on, and frequently quoting, classified materials of this Agency and others, including Top Secret and Special Intelligence.”
The wiretap was authorized by CIA director John A. McCone, “in coordination with the Attorney General (Mr. Robert Kennedy), the Secretary of Defense (Mr. Robert McNamara), and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (Gen. Joseph Carroll).
An internal CIA biography of McCone by CIA Chief Historian David Robarge, made public under an FOIA request, identified the two reporters as Robert Allen and Paul Scott.
Their syndicated column, “The Allen-Scott Report,” appeared in as many as three hundred papers at the height of its popularity.