Book details CIA literary subterfuge

02/09/2017

Mention of the C.I.A. in the 21st century brings cyberwarfare and espionage to mind, but in the ‘50s and ‘60s during the Cold War it engaged in a different type of international subterfuge: secretly funding a suite of literary and current affairs magazines throughout the world, in Europe, Asia and South America. It was an effort to win a culture war against the Soviet Union and communism by promoting essays and literature that reflected the so-called American worldview. The funding, which came through an entity called the Congress for Cultural Freedom, didn’t exactly start the Paris Review, the most famous of the magazines of that era. But a founder who turned out to work for the C.I.A. started it to help provide a cover. Peter Matthiessen admitted his C.I.A. link to the New York Times in 2008, though he denied it influenced the review. But the C.I.A. ties didn’t end with Mr. Matthiessen as Joel Whitney, the founder of the magazine Guernica, recounts in his new book Fink, a breathless and deeply researched account of the complex web of relationships and machinations involving the C.I.A., the freedom congress, the magazines and others. Mr. Whitney, who will be in conversation with Norm Solomon on Feb. 11 at Point Reyes Books at 7 p.m., wrote that the Congress for Cultural Freedom paid the review for reprint rights to a number of interviews, and the review even explored hiring an editor who would work for the congress at the same time in a joint employment of sorts. The C.I.A.’s secret funding was revealed decades ago, though even at the time rumors floated about the ties. While the idea of the C.I.A. funding literary magazines may seem odd to some, Mr. Whitney said the content was meant to show that the United States “had more than cadillacs and hamburgers. It was to remind people that America had values.” But as Mr. Whitney details in his book, the consequences of the CIA’s are serious. Writing that critiqued American policy could be censored outright or quietly discouraged. The perils of overlap of propaganda and journalism continue to this day—in both liberal and conservative presidencies, Mr. Whitney noted to the Light.