Operation Mockingbird was an alleged CIA project that recruited journalists to write fake stories promoting government ideas while dispelling communist ones.
“AStudent Group Concedes It Took Funds from C.I.A.”
That was the front page headline of the Feb. 14, 1967, edition of the New York Times. The article was one in a slew of articles published at the time in relation to something called Operation Mockingbird.
What was Operation Mockingbird?
It was an alleged large-scale project undertaken by the CIA beginning in the 1950s in which they recruited American journalists into a propaganda network. The recruited journalists were put on a payroll by the CIA and instructed to write fake stories that promoted the views of the intelligence agency. Student cultural organizations and magazines were allegedly funded as fronts for this operation.
Operation Mockingbird expanded later on in order to influence foreign media as well.
Frank Wisner, the director of the espionage and counter-intelligence branch, spearheaded the organization and was told to concentrate on “propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.”
Journalists were reportedly blackmailed and threatened into this network.
The CIA’s financing of independent and private organizations wasn’t just meant to create favorable stories. It was also a means to covertly collect information from other countries that were relevant to America’s national security.
Like the New York Times article, Ramparts Magazine exposed the covert operation in 1967 when it reported that the National Student Association received funding from the CIA.
A 1977 article in Rolling Stone, written by Carl Bernstein, was titled “The CIA and the Media.” Bernstein said in the article that the CIA “has secretly bankrolled numerous foreign press services, periodicals and newspapers—both English and foreign language—which provided excellent cover for CIA operatives.”
These reports led to a series of congressional investigations done in the 1970s under a committee that was set up by the U.S. Senate and named the Church Committee. The Church Committee investigations looked into government operations and potential abuses by the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and the IRS.
In 2007, around 700 pages of documents from the 1970s were declassified and released by the CIA in a collection called “The Family Jewels.” The files all surrounded the investigations and scandals pertaining to agency misconduct during the 1970s.
There was only one mention of Operation Mockingbird in these files, in which it was revealed that two American journalists were wire-tapped for several months.
Though declassified documents show that this type of operation occurred, it’s never been officially confirmed as the title of Operation Mockingbird. Thus, it’s also never been officially discontinued.