By James F. Tracy
Editor’s Note: In August 2015 MHB published, “The CIA and the Media: 50 Historical Facts The World Needs to Know.” The present series seeks to augment this initial article with several dozen additional facts and observations on the relationship between the US intelligence community, the mass media, and public opinion. One historical fact will be released each day over the next month and beyond.
“The CIA is the only US government agency authorized to engage in black propaganda operations,” writes former CIA officer Philip Agee, “but it shares the responsibility for grey propaganda with other agencies such as [United States Information Agency].” Other lettered agencies “must obtain prior CIA approval before engaging in grey propaganda.” This is part of the National Security Council’s “grey law.” The purpose and design of Agency propaganda is inculcated as standard operating procedure in CIA officer training. In NSA and CIA parlance, “white propaganda” is communication overtly disseminated by the US government, frequently through one of its representative organs such as the USIA. The escape clause of “plausible denial” is integrated in to the Agency’s covert propaganda practices. “[G]rey propaganda is ostensibly attributed to people or organizations who do not acknowledge the US government as the source of their material and who produce the material as if it were their own; black propaganda is unattributed material, or it is attributed to a non-existent source, or it is false material attributed to a real source.” As Agee explains, the CIA officer’s training anticipates how journalists and editors will be used—wittingly or unwittingly—to plant information and stories in the public mind. “In propaganda operations, as in all other [psychological and Paramilitary] activities, standard security procedures forbids payment for services rendered to be made by a CIA officer working under official cover (one posing as an official of the Department of State, for instance) … The vehicles for grey and black propaganda,” observes Agee,
may be unaware of their CIA or US government sponsorship. This is partly so that it can be more effective and partly to keep down the number of people who know what is going on and thus reduce the danger of exposing the true sponsorship. Thus editorialists, politicians, businessmen and others may produce propaganda, even for money, without necessarily knowing who their masters in the case are. Some of the obviously will and so, in agency terminology, there is a distinction between ‘witting’ and ‘unwitting’ agents.
During formal instruction in covert operations CIA propagandists impressed upon Agee and other trainees the complex transnational execution of such information operations, which involved
the business of orchestrating the treatment of events of importance among several countries. Thus problems of communist influence in one country can be made to appear of international concern in others under the rubric of ‘a threat to one is a threat to all’. For example, the CIA station in Caracas can cable information on a secret communist plot in Venezuela to the Bogota station which can ‘surface’ through a local propaganda agent with attribution to an unidentified Venezuelan government official. The information can then be picked up from the Columbian press and relayed to CIA stations in Quito, Lima, La Paz, Santiago, and, perhaps, Brazil. A few days later editorials begin to appear in the newspapers of these places and pressure mounts on the Venezuelan government to take repressive action against its communists.
Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, New York: Stonehill Publishing Company, 1975, 71, 72.