Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series mapping the history of the U.S. secret state. Read part two here.
Following the scandalous spectacle of Russiagate, the distortion of public information under lockdown, and the conspiracy of the intelligence community to suppress the damaging Hunter Biden laptop story, comes news which shows precisely how much of the national and international conversation is shaped by former U.S. intelligence agents.
How far Greenwald’s claim can be evidenced is the subject of my two-part report today, which will compare what has gone before with what is happening now regarding the so-called “secret state” in the U.S.
A brief history of the national security state
What became today’s sprawling secret state began with powers granted under the National Security Act of 1947 – which permitted the formerly illegal covert operations to destabilize Soviet nations abroad.
It was followed by the creation of a special secret agency. Called the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), it became an espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the CIA.
Set up under Frank Wisner in 1948, it was intended to be a weapon against communism – with the knowledge that the creation of a secret network acting without transparency was a danger to democracy.
According to the writer Deborah Davis, the following year, the Wisner launched Mockingbird, a project whose aim was the capture of domestic American media.
Davis said in “Katharine the Great,” her biography of former Washington Post owner Katharine Graham that, “By the early 1950s, Wisner ‘owned’ respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS, and other communications vehicles.”
Mockingbird has been described as a “conspiracy theory,” as being unevidenced, and its Wikipedia entry is replete with derisory references to QAnon.
The entry omits much evidence which is readily found elsewhere, both online and in reality, to suggest that the goal of the capture of U.S. media by the secret state has not only been pursued for almost 80 years, it has been a tremendous success.
The designation of these activities as “conspiracy theories” is itself a compelling argument of the power of these agencies to shape the perception of reality.
Their actions, taken in the open to subvert and control major media organizations have long been documented in individual cases. Yet taken together they suggest a pattern which, despite its designation as the fantasies of the paranoid, provides a far better match for the controlled reality we inhabit than the dismissive alibis they offer in its place.
Abuses of power
Greenwald says that the power of the intelligence agencies was supposed to be “only directed outwards, towards America’s enemies.” Hence, as Greenwald noted:
The fundamental guiding principle of the U.S. intelligence community was that its powers should never be used domestically.
This stance was affirmed by John Deutch, director of Central Intelligence in 1996, in his response to a Senate hearing on the use of journalists and clergy by the CIA.
Simply put, the Central Intelligence Agency policy is not to use journalists accredited to American news organizations, their parent organizations, American clergy or the Peace Corps for intelligence purposes.
This includes any use of such organizations for cover. The policy that I have just stated, Mr. Chairman, has been in place for 20 years.
Yet the evidence given in the hearing suggested it was common practice, which endangered the free press as well as the lives of journalists – and whose only guarantee was the good faith of the director of the CIA.
Ted Koppel, who was the anchorman for Nightline for 25 years, said:
If lives are at stake, if the national interest is genuinely threatened, then I think that regardless of what Congress finds and regardless of what laws are in place, that our Intelligence Community will do what it has to do.
I would simply like the reassurance of knowing that there was a legal line in place and that those people who are violating the law recognize that there may be consequences for that. By removing those kinds of consequences, you simply create a circumstance where there is absolutely no prohibition against this kind of thing, and we are left with the good will, the professionalism, the assumption that the motives of the director and the deputy director of the CIA are similar to – they certainly are not parallel to or equivalent to those of a country that believes in a free press.
He reminded the hearing of the intelligence community’s record in the matter of inspiring this “good faith.”
With all due respect, sir, we also have precedent for the intelligence agencies of the United States routinely violating laws and simply assuming that they won’t be held to account.
Koppel was clearly outraged by the impunity of the CIA and other agencies to act, and then disclaim their actions, with no accountability or concern for the impact on democracy. His retort recalls a time when this only seemed to endanger Americans abroad:
First of all, why don’t we go all the way, then? Why don’t we simply enlist all American foreign correspondents overseas with the CIA and be done with the nonsense of assuming that we had nothing to do with one another?
This pretense has now been dropped. After 27 years, there is often no difference at all between the media and the intelligence agencies.
A growing influence
Greenwald argues that in granting secrecy – and growing funding – to the activities of agencies such as the CIA, the nascent power of the national security state was one factor in the infamous warning given by outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower in 1961.
In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.
Eisenhower’s speech nevertheless recognized the need to combat what he called “a hostile ideology, global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method – unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration.”
He was speaking of the communist threat, yet his words could equally apply to the secret state which has captured America in a project of forever wars.
A hostile ideology
Anticommunism was no mere “red scare.” The Soviet Union was itself engaged in changing regimes, sponsoring civil wars, and fomenting revolutions. This was the great game in the mid- to late-twentieth century.
It was one which transformed the American state. The project of sponsoring foreign wars and destabilizing nations abroad required a reliable flow of supporting information at home. The result was the infernal partnership of mass media and domestic intelligence agents with a hidden apparatus dedicated to perpetual subversion – and military action – overseas.
This would lead to the takeover of influential positions in the mainstream media by serving and former members of the CIA and similar agencies. The “Mockingbird” scandal broke in the early 1970s, but the exposure of media manipulation by intelligence agency figures did nothing to halt the project. The Watergate scandal followed, becoming a hallowed tale of how journalism safeguards the freedom of America. Yet the main source behind Watergate, which raised concerns over the growing influence of the secret intelligence agencies, was the acting director of the FBI, L Patrick Gray, who was leaking information to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward.
Bob Woodward was a former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer.
This partnership of domestic intelligence propaganda and covert foreign operations would flourish in the decades to come.
The 1980s, with the creation of CIA front groups such as Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy under President Ronald Reagan, would see what Robert Parry would call “a shadow foreign policy.” Directed in the dark, and given cover at home, it would involve operations from Nicaragua to Ukraine.
Why did these adventures continue after the fall of communism? With the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, where was the power of the “hostile ideology, global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method” of which Eisenhower had warned? It was at home in the U.S., spying on its citizens and manufacturing their consent.