Surrealpolitik: The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America

Author: Hugh Wilford

Cambridge: Harvard University Press (2008)

Quick Summary

Judging from the title, you might expect this book to be a damning exposé of the CIA's efforts to propagandize and lie to the American people. But no. It reads more like an apologia. Yes, it's well researched and contains a detailed insider history of some of the ways the CIA manipulates public opinion at home and abroad -- e.g., through associations, conferences, publications, and journalists -- but the author's upshot is always that the groups being infiltrated/controlled always had agency and direction of their own, the CIA's fumbling efforts usually backfired or had little effect, and in any case they were only responding to Soviet provocations by trying to save democracy. Wilford's uncritical adoption of Cold War language is one of the clues that this book is really trying to redeem, rather than condemn, the CIA's information warfare -- the Soviets are insatiable totalitarians relentlessly trying to take over the world through their twisted promotion of peace and equality, while the CIA is always promoting democracy (never capitalism), and it's always a struggle of nations (never classes), so what's good for Wall Street must be good for Main Street. Wilford also claims that these efforts ended with the Ramparts and NY Times revelations of 1967, which is patently ridiculous. Despite the obvious and ironic propaganda value of the spin, the book contains a wealth of information that, in the hands of a more critical author (or reader), could be interpreted in more accurate and sinister light. Read alongside Doug Valentine's work, for example, this pre-1967 Mockingbird stuff can be seen as laying the groundwork for the kinds of pacification programs that began to reach their logical, violent conclusions in Operation Phoenix and its clones.


There are 7 quotes currently associated with this book.

Just returned from the front line in the Spanish Civil War, Ernest Hemingway told the Second Congress of the League of American Writers that fascism was "a lie told by bullets." (page 13)
Tags: [Politics & Novels, Fascism]
Then there was the OSS's...penchant not only for paramilitary sabotage and subversion but also for the subtler arts of "psychological warfare," propaganda designed to undermine enemy morale and strengthen that of allies. "Persuasion, penetration, and intimidation...are the modern counterparts of sapping and mining in the siege warfare of former days," believed Donovan. (page 18-19)
Tags: [Fascism, Propaganda, Conspiracy, Media, Disinformation, Gaslighting]
"What began as an effort to promote and defend democracy," wrote [CIA labor infiltrator turned whistleblower Paul] Sakwa later, "evolved into operations designed to thwart real, incipient, or imagined Communist threats at the expense of democracy itself." (page 68)
Tags: [Fascism, American Exceptionalism, Paranoia]
Not only did the CIA seek to influence the production of commercial films -- "to insert in their scripts and in their action the right ideas with the proper subtlety," as C.D. Jackson put it, the Agency also occasionally initiated film projects. The best documented instance of the latter practice is the animated version of George Orwell's celebrated 1945 novella Animal Farm... (page 118)
Tags: [Fascism, Propaganda, Media]
More important than the question of Henry Kissinger's fittingness is the broader pattern of CIA activity on Cold War American university campuses to which the Summer School episode points. Harvard was not unique in this respect...Countless other less well-known institutions contributed to the secret Cold War effort: the Ramparts revelations began in 1966 with a report that the CIA had paid Michigan State University $25 million to hire five Agency employees to train South Vietnamese students in covert police methods. (page 128)
Tags: [Fascism, Conspiracy]
[CIA front the American Society for African Culture representative Ted] Harris's move from New York to the Congo in 1961 is suggestive of his importance to CIA operations in Africa: the murder of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in January of that year had cleared the way for the creation of a US-friendly government in the central African republic, and the purpose of Harris's new institute in Leopoldville was to train local politicians in western administrative techniques (and, probably, channel CIA subsidies to them). (page 214)
Tags: [Fascism, Conspiracy]
In 1976, the Church Committee reported that it was "disturbed" by the Agency's :operational use" of individual academics, which included "providing leads and making introductions for intelligence purposes, collaboration in research and analysis, intelligence collection abroad, and preparation of books and other propaganda materials." (page 253)
Tags: [Propaganda, Conspiracy]