Operation Mockingbird is an alleged large-scale program of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that began in the early years of the Cold War and attempted to manipulate news media for propaganda purposes. CIA director William Colby testified to the Church Committee that over 400 CIA agents were active in the US media to control what was reported in American mainstream television, newspapers, and magazines. Mockingbird was believed to be a widespread operation intended to influence public perception of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
All in all, Operation Mockingbird was a huge network of domestic journalists that were being influenced by the CIA. However, the CIA long contested that this was not the case in the fallout of the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s. The CIA abandoned several illegal projects after Watergate. Project Mockingbird was not among the projects that were going to be discontinued though it was believed that it was shut down.
Media consisted only of print media rather than the internet and fewer radio and TV stations back in the day. It probably won’t come as a surprise to many to know that journalists and news organisations worked hand in glove with the spy agency to push propaganda for decades after World War II. The program started back in 1948 under CIA official Frank Wisner but only came to light in 1970 after the Watergate scandal was exposed.
It's difficult to imagine a time when the Central intelligence agency did not exist. Famous Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein broke the story in 1977 for Rolling Stone. He revealed in a 25,000-word story the workings of Operation Mockingbird and the CIA’s tentacles into the most powerful media organisations. Many journalists joined the CIA’s payroll, writing fake stories to publicise the agency and provide intelligence. This is how the CIA paid and threatened journalists to get their work done.
In addition to earlier exposés of CIA activities in foreign affairs, in 1966, Rampart’s magazine published an article revealing that the National Student Association was funded by the CIA. The United States Congress investigated the allegations and published a report in 1976.
The International Organisation of Journalists was founded in 1946 in Copenhagen, Denmark. On the surface, this was a collective of journalists from Soviet and eastern European nations that acted a congress for the journalists in that part of the world. The IOJ was a front funded by the Communist Party. The IOJ was one of several similar organisations that were not so secretly funded to spread propaganda to the rest of the world.
“They had stolen the great words,” as Tom Braden, a former executive assistant to the CIA director Allen Dulles, later wrote in a magazine column. Young people reading such newspaper columns grew up to “assume….‘peace’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ must also mean Communism.”
The United States Intelligence Community knew that it needed to work to drag the IOJs' efforts. They found their proxy in the National Student Association. The NSA was founded in 1947, the same year as the CIA. Its main purpose was to represent the colleges of America to the International Union of Students - a global congress of students formed in Prague.
When Operation Mockingbird, under the direction of Cord Meyer, was launched during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, the CIA had not only begun focusing on influencing the President but decided that the best way of influencing executive decisions was to control the articles that the media would share with the public.
The result is visible today, though no public figure will disclose it. Democracy itself is consumed within an elaborate system balanced between the Intelligence community, bestowed interests, and the commercial media that generates and publishes an endless stream of influence articles.