“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, Or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment US Constitution.
In America we like to assume that we have a free press and while it’s not always as unbiased as we like we at least know they are allowed to tell us what they think we need to know, regardless of how it makes anyone look. It’s nice to know that we aren’t going to be spied on or locked up for reporting that a congressmen secretly enjoys junk food Tv . But in 1963 the CIA put all that into question with the legally dubious wiretapping of two reporters in what is known as Project Mockingbird.
The CIA admitted in 2007 in a document called the Family Jewels an attempt by the CIA to clean house that they did in fact wiretap and spy on at least 2 reporters. The report claims that from March 1963 to June of that year the CIA under director of central intelligence John McCone with permission from both the attorney general Robert Kennedy and secretary of defense Robert McNamara placed 3 wire taps in the offices and homes of 2 reporters who were living in Washington DC. Later in a FOAA request the names of the reporters were discovered to be Robert Allen and Paul Scott.
Scott and Allen wrote about the political goings of the country and about American cold war foreign policy. Apparently a few things they reported on drew the attention of the CIA as being potentially classified information so they decided they needed to hunt for a potential leaker. The CIA found that Scott and Allen had been in contact with 12 senators, 6 congressmen, and members of the vice presidents staff. They also found that they passed the information they got to at least 13 other news professionals to report on. The CIA also made a report on Scott’s trip to South Africa to talk to a captured soviet agent. None of the legislators nor news professional’s caught on tape names have ever been released.
Apparently this wasn’t the only time the CIA tried to influence the press. In the Church report released in 1976 the CIA came out and said that it had about 50 US journalists working as assets (Assets being a CIA term used for spies.) and that 12 US news organizations had provided cover for these reporters to do secret missions. Deborah Davis in a biography of Kathrine Graham owner of the Washington post claims that of the 12 news organizations involved were the Washington Post, CBS, The New York Times, and Time magazine. She claims that these organizations were given CIA files pretending to be new scoops to follow-up on and then report as real news. Whether Davis’s claims are true is often debated but funny enough she claims this was done under an Operation Mockingbird and given the above Project Mockingbird and the Church Report both being valid sources from the CIA its self-it’s at least possible.
We can never know how much the CIA had its thumb on the press in the 60’s. Carl Bernstein who was a major Watergate reporter and highly respected wrote in an article in Rolling Stone Magazine that the number might be over 400 reporters and involve almost every major news organization of the time. But what’s really concerning is the CIA thought it had the power to potentially tamper with freedom of the press at all and thus violate the constitution. It goes to show that we should always take the news with a small grain of salt and try to look for potential biases be it normal partisanship or something more covert.
Katharine The Great: Katharine Graham and The Washington Post. By Deborah Davis