Operation Mockingbird was a secret campaign by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to influence media. Begun in the 1950s, it was initially organized by Cord Meyer and Allen W. Dulles, and was later led by Frank Wisner after Dulles became the head of the CIA. The organization recruited leading American journalists into a network to help present the CIA’s views, and funded some student and cultural organizations, and magazines as fronts. As it developed, it also worked to influence foreign media and political campaigns, in addition to activities by other operating units of the CIA. In addition to earlier exposés of CIA activities in foreign affairs, in 1966, Ramparts 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.
In the early years of the Cold War, efforts were made by the United States Government to use mass media to influence public opinion internationally. After the United States Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 uncovered domestic surveillance abuses directed by the Executive branch of the United States government and The New York Times in 1974 published an article by Seymour Hersh claiming the CIA had violated its charter by spying on anti-war activists, former CIA officials and some lawmakers called for a congressional inquiry that became known as the Church Committee.
Published in 1976, the Committee’s report confirmed some earlier stories that charged that the CIA had cultivated relationships with private institutions, including the press.
Without identifying individuals by name, the Church Committee stated that it found fifty journalists who had official, but secret, relationships with the CIA. In a 1977 Rolling Stone magazine article, “The CIA and the Media,” reporter Carl Bernstein expanded upon the Church Committee’s report and said that around 400 press members were considered intelligence assets by the CIA, including New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, columnist and political analyst Stewart Alsop and Time magazine. Berstein documented the way in which overseas branches of major US news agencies had for many years served as the “eyes and ears” of Operation Mockingbird, which functioned to disseminate CIA propaganda through domestic US media.
The program has never been officially discontinued.