Category Archives: The CIA and the Media

The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #89

The famous film of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination captured by amateur filmographer Abraham Zapruder was likely altered from its original with advanced technology in a CIA-owned laboratory within hours of the event. These are the observations of veteran JFK assassination researcher David S. Lifton.

“In 1971, I was permitted to study, in the L.A. offices of Time-Life, a 35mm print made from what Time-Life called the ‘camera original’ of the Zapruder film,” Lifton begins.

To my surprise, I found that those frames showed the large head wound situated toward the right front, not the rear of the head as reported by Dallas observers. The rear of the head gave the appearance of having been “blacked out”–or of having been in a deep shadow.

I also discovered splices on the film which had never been mentioned by Time-Life. I then began exploring the possibility that the Zapruder film itself had been altered sometime before it became Warren Commission evidence in 1964, perhaps even before it went to Life on November 23, 1963. (Life purchased the film on November 25, 1963 for $150,000.) But alteration of the film required a film laboratory with the sophisticated apparatus normally used by Hollywood to create “special effects.” Was the original Zapruder film at some point taken to such a laboratory? Officially, the film went only from Zapruder and Kodak in Dallas; then to Jamison Film Co. in Dallas, where three prints were made (two for the Secret Service, and one for Zapruder); then back to Zapruder, and then to the vault at Life. I suspected it had taken a secret detour, but I could find no directr evidence to prove that.

Then, in 1976, among records released by the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act, Paul Hoch found CIA item 450, a group of documents indicating the Zapruder film was at the CIA’s National Photo Interpretation Center (NPIC), possibly on Friday night, November 22, 1963, and certainly within days of the assassination. NPIC is one of the most sophisticated photo labs in the world.

The CIA documents indicate that the film, when at NPIC, was not yet numbered as it was later by the FBI laboratory. CIA tables and frame numbers arranged in a multiple-column format bearing such headings as “frames on which shots occur” and “seconds between shots” explores various three-shot interpretations of the film. One document refers to the existence of either a negative or master positive–and calls for the striking of four prints from that item: one “test print,” and a second group of three prints. the total job, it indicated, would take seven hours. the making of four prints is significant–that number is exactly what existed in Dallas: an original, and three prints made from that original.

In 1976, I interviewed Herbert Orth, the photo chief at Life. Orth believed the film never left his custody in 1963. Yet the CIA documents establish that it, or a copy, was worked on at the CIA’s film lab in Washington. Indeed, the figures used in the CIA documents to describe the time intervals between shots–“74 frames later” and “48 frames after that”–are identical with those used in the first Life article about the film (Life, 11/29/63, “End to Nagging Rumors: The Six Critical Seconds”). Was the CIA supplying Life with data? Or did the agency have the film later, and was it reading Life for its information?

In my view, previously unreported CIA possession of the Zapruder film compromised the film’s value as evidence: (1) the forward motion of Kennedy’s head, for one frame preceding frame 313, might be the result of an altered film, and if that was so, it made the theory of a forward high-angle shot completely unnecessary; (2) an altered film might also explain why the occipital area, where the Dallas doctors saw a wound, appears suspiciously dark, whereaas a large wound appears on the forward right-hand side of the head, where the Dallas doctors saw no wound at all. Dr. Paul Peters, one of the Dallas doctors quoted in this book, when ashown color blowups made from the Zapruder film frames depicting these wounds, wrote, “The wound which you marked … I never saw and I don’t htink there was such a wound. I think that was simply an artifact of copying Zapruder’s movie … The only wound I saw on President Kennedy’s head was in the occipitoparietal area on the right side.”

David S. Lifton, Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Asssassination of John F. Kennedy, New York: MacMillan, 1980, 555-557f.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #88

In a significant April 2018 freedom of information decision in favor of government censorship Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York ruled that the CIA has full discretion to provide classified information to journalists and news organizations of its choosing while withholding the identical information from other reporters or the broader public when the same information is requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2017 free lance journalist Adam Johnson filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA, citing a 2012 FOIA request to the Agency by Gawker journalist John Cook for exchanges between the CIA and several prominent journalists. In many of the documents CIA produced the responses to journalists were redacted. Johnson was concerned with the preferential treatment meted out by the Agency while the same information was granted to others.

All of the journalists in question had strong rapports with the CIA and worked for corporate-controlled news media: Jo Becker and Scott Shane of the New York Times; David Ignatius of the Washington Post; Ken Dilanian and Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times; Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman of the Associated Press; and Siobhan Gorman and Evan Perez of the Wall Street Journal.

One example from Johnson’s suit cites the Wall Street Journal’s Gorman, who inquired of the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs,

I’m told that on runs, Director Petraeus’s security detail hands him bottles of water, relay-style, so as not to slow him down. And you mentioned the director’s running a 6-minute mile, but I was told that the agency-wide invitation was that if you could run a 7-minute mile, you can come run with the director. I wanted to make sure both are is [sic] accurate. On the chart, it’s accurate to say that the congressional gym and the Pentagon gym ranked high, right? And I was just told that the facilities at the black sites were better than the ones at CIA. Don’t know whether that’s something you want to weigh in on, but I thought I’d see if you did.

The CIA’s response came just hours later: “Siobhan …” The body of the response is redacted. The CIA’s closing reads, “We can chat more on Monday, hope this helps.” That’s it. The entire response was regarded as too sensitive for the FOIA requester and broader public, but permissible for Siobhan Gorman, who replied, “Thanks for the help. I hope I wasn’t the cause of your dental appointment delay. This is very helpful as I try to tie up loose ends on this story. Sometimes ‘fun’ stories take as much work as their ‘less fun’ brethren. Sorry for all the qus [sic].”

Citing the National Security Act of 1947, the CIA contended that “limited, selective disclosures of classified information to journalists are perfectly legal,” CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou observes. “The National Security Act of 1947, they said, only requires protection of intelligence sources and methods from “unauthorized” disclosure, not from authorized disclosure. And because the disclosures at issue were actually intended to protect intelligence sources and methods, they were fully authorized.”

John Kiriakou, “Why Does the CIA Prefer Corporate Media?” Reader Supported News, February 23, 2018.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #87

The CIA’s use of closely-affiliated executives overseeing top US journalistic outlets combined with its own media assets in newsrooms throughout the country strongly contributed to laying the groundwork for then propelling the Warren Commission’s conspiracy theory of Lee Harvey Oswald acting as the “lone gunman”.

“The press could learn a good deal about the assassination, and about its own failure to pursue the story independently, by reviewing its own initial reporting out of Dallas,” argues Jerry Policoff. “Those early reports stand in stark contrast to what is officially alleged to have transpired. The infamous ‘grass knoll,’ for example, was no concoction of the Warren Commission critics. ‘The shots apparently came from a grassy knoll in the area,’ reported the Associated Press in its initial dispatches.”

News coverage throughout that afternoon preceded official enforcement of the government-sanctioned narrative comprised in the President Lyndon Johnson-endorsed study headed by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren.

Words of shots from the front dominated early reports from the site (witnesses interviewed by the press seemed to be nearly unanimous on this point), but these reports were forgotten by the press within several hours, as Dallas authorities began to make it clear that a local “communist” by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald had fired all of the shots from a sniper’s nest constructed on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository to the rear of the presidential limousine. Leaked biographical data depicting the “erratic” nature of the “political malcontent” Oswald began to flood the media almost immediately.

“By the time Oswald himself was assassinated,” Policoff continues,  “all pretense had disappeared. The press had found Oswald guilty without the benefit of trial. ‘President’s Assassin Shot…,” proclaimed the New York Times. Life profiled the ‘Assassin: The Man Held–And Killed–For Murder.” Time’s combination biography/obituary was titled simply ‘The Man Who Killed Kennedy.'” The press’ fawning acceptance of the government’s storyline set the stage for its almost thoroughly uncritical acceptance and in certain instances ardent defense of the Warren Report’s “lone gunman” conclusion.

The Kennedy assassination cover-up has survived so long only because the press, confronted with the choice of believing what it was told or examining the facts independently, chose the former. Unless and until the press repudiates that choice, it is unlikely that we shall ever know the truth.

Jerry Policoff, “The Media and the Murder of John Kennedy,” in The Assassination: Dallas and Beyond: A Guide to Cover-Ups and Assassinations, Peter Dale Scott, Paul L. Hoch and Russell Stetler, eds., New York: Vintage Books, 1976, 263, 271.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #86

In 1991 the CIA collaborated with some of the nation’s top public relations firms to sway public opinion toward supporting military action against Iraq. Photos of alleged atrocities committed by occupying Iraqi troops accompanied  testimony of “Nayirah,” later revealed as the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US, whose claims were later proven false.

“During the 1991 Gulf War,” Peter Phillips observes, “the world witnessed testimony to Congress about babies taken from incubators and left on cold hospital floors and the heartfelt please by the Kuwaitis to help liberate them from a ruthless Iraqi dictator. In truth, the CIA, using taxpayer money, funded these images, which were fabricated and disseminated by the Rendon Group, Hill and Knowlton, and other private public relations and crisis management companies.”

Peter Phillips, “Parameters of Power in the Global Dominance Group: 9/11 & Election Irregularities in Context,” in 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out, David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott, eds., Northampton MA: Olive Branch Press, 2007, 182.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #85

The CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) oversaw the Agency’s various propaganda efforts and from its formation in 1947 recruited and trained US journalists as media assets while helping to establish and maintain friendly relations with news industry executives throughout the Cold War. Among OPC Director Frank Wisner’s most favored programs was covert propaganda. The former Wall Street attorney and OSS veteran famously referred to these activities as his “Wurlitzer,” after the popular organ and jukebox manufacturer.

In an effort to conceal such activities from public view certain front groups with virtuous-sounding titles were created by US diplomats Joseph C. Grew and Dewitt C. Poole, under advisement of George Kennan and then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson. In 1949 Grew and Poole established the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), with Allen Dulles elected as its first president.

In the following year the NCFE formed a subsidiary for broadcasting in Europe, Radio Free Europe (RFE), with headquarters in New York and production arm in Munich. With the assistance of Franklin A. Lindsey, a CIA representative and liaison to the British, another public face for transmitting propaganda directly into the Soviet Union was established in 1951, the American Committee for Freedom for the Peoples of the USSR; its broadcast outlet became known as Radio Liberty.

John Prados, Presidents’ Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations From World War II Through the Persian Gulf, Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks, 1996, 34-35.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #84

Months after investigative journalist Gary Webb’s exposé “Dark Alliance” on CIA involvement in the illicit drug trade was published online by the San Jose Mercury News (August 1996) Webb’s work was judged as “’irresponsible’” by an array of newspapers, including the CIA-linked Washington Post.

“The series was now described frequently as ‘discredited,’” Webb wrote in the early 2000s, “even though nothing had surfaced showing that any of the facts were incorrect.” In fact, a two-year internal investigation into the allegations encompassed in “Dark Alliance’s” by the CIA and Justice Department found that Webb’s reporting was fittingly circumspect. “The CIA’s knowledge and involvement had been far greater than I’d ever imagined,” notes Webb.

The drug ring was even bigger than I had portrayed. The involvement between the CIA agents running the Contras and the drug traffickers was closer than I had written … The CIA also admitted having direct involvement with about four dozen other drug traffickers or their companies, and that this too had been known and effectively condoned by the CIA’s top brass.

Notwithstanding the magnitude of these admissions that might have resulted in Webb’s exoneration, they were downplayed by major news outlets as “having uncovered no formal evidence of CIA involvement in drug trafficking and no evidence of a conspiracy to send crack to black neighborhoods.” These were claims Webb had never made in the first place.

Gary Webb, “The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On,” in Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Kristina Borjesson (ed.) Amherst NY: Prometheus, 2002, 305-308.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #83

Newspaper publisher and venture capitalist John Hay Whitney. Image Credit: Alchetron.com

Among the most extensively distributed of CIA‐owned or subsidized news services within the United States was Forum World Features, established in 1958 as Forum Information Service, with headquarters in London. Through most of its existence Forum was apparently owned by New York Herald Tribune publisher and pioneer venture capitalist John Hay Whitney.

“According to several C.I.A. sources, Mr. Whitney was ‘witting’ of the agency’s true role,” a 1977 New York Times article series documents. “Though the C.I.A. has insisted that it never attempted directly to place its propaganda in the American press, at one time Forum World Features had 30 domestic newspapers among its clients, including The Washington Post.”

The selling of Forum content to The Post “and other American newspapers, one C.I.A. official said, ‘put us in a hell of a dilemma,’ The sales, he went on, were considered necessary to preserve the organization’s cover, and they occasioned a continuing and somewhat frantic effort to insure that the domestic clients were given only legitimate news stories.”

Worldwide Propaganda Network Built By the CIA,” New York Times, December 26, 1977.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #82

During President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress in Latin America “[t]he CIA used an entire news organization, Copley News Service, as a cover for its agents,” according to investigative journalists Joseph Trento and David Roman.

“’The Agency’s involvement with the Copley organization is so extensive that it’s almost impossible to sort out,’” one CIA official said of the Agency’s relationship with the entity. Other CIA officials confirmed that James S. Copley, the news chain’s owner, was directly involved in making cover arrangements for Copley journalists to serve as CIA assets.

In the 1950s, Trento and Roman explain, Copley personally offered his news organization to President Eisenhower to perform as “the eyes and ears” against “the Communist threat in Latin and Central America” for “our intelligence services.” James Copley was also intimately involved in the InterAmerican Press Association, a CIA-backed entity with close relations to rightwing owners of South American newspapers.

Trento and Roman were among the first journalists to elaborate on CIA infiltration of news media in a 1977 article published in Penthouse magazine, “The Spies Who Came In From the Newsroom.”

Joseph J. Trento, A Secret History of the CIA, New York: Prima Publishing/Random House, 2001.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #81

In early 1967 free-lance journalist Fred Powledge travelled to New Orleans to report on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation of the JFK assassination for New Republic magazine.

In one interview with Garrison the embattled DA told of the “’tremendous pressure from some sections of the Eastern press, especially those with connections with the administration’… that was causing potentially important witnesses who had initially contacted his office to become reluctant to come forward.”

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison

“’I couldn’t  contradict that,” Powledge observed in his June 17, 1967 article.

I had known, since the assassination, that the most influential purveyors of news in the nation had gone out of their way to present the Warren Commission side of the story, and ignore or downplay those who dissented. One organ of communication, I later learned, even sought the CIA’s advice on how to treat the story about the investigation. This, if Garrison’s allegations about CIA involvement are correct, is roughly comparable to a newspaper’s asking “Bull” Connor how he would handle a story on the Birmingham Freedom Ride massacre, and then following his advice.

“The Work of Ray Marcus,” Appendix VIII, in E. Martin Schotz, History Will Not Absolve Us: Orwellian Control, Public Denial, and the Murder of President Kennedy, Brookline MA: Kurtz, Ulmer and DeLucia Book Publishers, 1996, 252.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #80

The CIA’s well-known MKULTRA mind control experimentation program that began in the early 1950s. Operation MKU was partly justified by the Agency and DCI Allen Dulles through a propaganda campaign using the news media to push the false notion that communist forces were carrying out similar tests on US prisoners of war.

Indeed, the term “’brainwashing’ was coined by Edward Hunter, a CIA-employed journalist who authored many emotionally-charged books and articles on the subject,” according to authors Martin Lee and Norman Solomon. During World War II Hunter worked with the Office of Strategic Services, in propaganda operations.

When he launched his crusade to bring “the facts about brainwashing … to the people,” Hunter was working for U.S. intelligence. Popularizing the concept of brainwashing was part of his job as a CIA operative, despite U.S. Army studies which”failed to reveal even one conclusively documented case of the actual ‘brainwashing’ on an American prisoner of war in Korea.” Indeed, it appears that the communist brainwashing scare was a propaganda ploy, a kind of “brainwashing” or mind control in its own right designed to dupe the American people.

Martin A. Lee and Norman Solomon, Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media, New York: Carol Publishing, 1992, 118.

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