I've been sitting on this story for, oh, gosh, more than a decade. I heard it, or at least part of it, from a famous writer. You would recognize the name. You would shit
if I told you the name.
I've kept silent because he asked me to be silent. But perhaps the time has come to put the gist of the thing -- without naming names -- on the record.
Why? Because "the record" is constantly being manipulated, and what the Writer (as we shall call him) told me offers some insight into how that process of manipulation works.
The Writer grew up in a southwest state, the son of a politically prominent father. When the Writer was a college student -- a young man of promise -- the CIA made an approach. A subtle approach. You might say that he was being probed.
The future Writer did not respond positively to this probe. But his Friend (as we shall call him) did.
The Friend had been the Writer's friend since boyhood. They grew up together. They grew apart only when the Friend embarked on his new career path.
The Friend did not go to work at a desk in Langley, VA. Neither did he become a James Bondian agent in the field. Instead, he became a journalist, rising with well-greased rapidity within the ranks of a major American newspaper. Eventually, he became a senior correspondent in Moscow for that paper.
In the 1970s and '80s, as the resurgent right did everything it could to create a new cold war (or to deepen the old one), the Friend wrote many pieces that stoked fears of the Soviet menace.
The Russians had this guy figured out from the get-go. They knew he was CIA and they said so in their literature. Of course, no-one in the United States took Soviet publications seriously.
I'm not sure if the Friend is still alive. He published a few books between the mid-1990s and (roughly) 2007. As far as I know, he has never truly admitted his CIA recruitment, but neither did he make much effort to deny the accusation -- an accusation which lingered long after the fall of the USSR. I can picture his reaction: The wry smile, the dark chuckle, the cynical joke, the refilled glass. Yes, they've been saying for years that I'm CIA. Heh. Heh heh heh.
The Friend has a name similar to that of a famous architect. I may have said too much just now.
Let's return to our story: Back in those callow days of youth, when the Friend first decided to play the Agency's game, the Writer (then just a Would-Be Writer) chose not to get involved with the CIA.
The second approach came a few years later.
By this time, the writer had written his first novel, and he had high hopes for it. It was, at least in part, a novel about the covert world, and it displays evidence that the Writer had consulted with one or two individuals "in the know."
This novel is good but not great. It will not be read a hundred years from now. It is not important in and of itself. For present purposes, what interests us is the way the CIA wanted to use this novel.
Before publication, a representative of the Agency told the Writer that they wanted to insert a passage into the manuscript. These paragraphs would describe a piece of advanced technology allegedly in the American arsenal. The Writer had no idea as to whether this purported technological advance was real, although he suspected that the information was bogus.
For whatever reason, the spooks wanted to convince the Soviets that this technology was genuine and in use. And so they came up with a plan that involved inserting a few paragraphs into the Writer's book.
There was more. If I remember aright, the CIA also intended to slip false documents to known Soviet agents. These documents would express alarm over the Writer's novel, because it supposedly contained super-secret details about a super-secret real-life thingamabob. Thus, the only thing that truly counted in that novel was that added passage, which was to serve as one cog in a larger disinformation machine directed against the Soviet intelligence services.
If the Writer went along with this plan, his career was secure -- or so said his CIA contact. The CIA would make sure that prominent book reviewers made a Big Damn Deal over this unknown writer's first novel. The publishing house would have enough money for a major ad campaign. The Writer would be on his way to riches and fame.
The previous paragraph is the reason why I'm telling you this Cold War story. The previous paragraph explains why some books and writers become famous and some do not.
(I note, for example, that Bill O'Reilly's crappy Killing Kennedy remains perched on the bestseller charts while Jim DiEugenio's Destiny Betrayed -- advertised in the upper right-hand corner of this page -- will never sell as well, even though most people would find the DiEugenio book more interesting and persuasive.)
The Writer insisted to me that he did not take the CIA's offer. That first book did not set the universe ablaze, sales-wise. His subsequent efforts had nothing to do with spies or military tech. These books sold well -- well enough to induce Hollywood to do a little Hollywooding. Eventually, the Writer produced a breakthrough work, a massive bestseller, and his life underwent a transformation.
(You're dying to know, aren't you? Seriously, you would just shit if I told you.)
The key point you should take away from the story of the Writer concerns the manipulation of our culture. The CIA guys insisted that they could make a first novel by an obscure author famous. They had the means to make such things happen.
And don't forget about the Friend in Moscow, who spent his days filling a major metropolitan daily with warnings about those insidious commies and their insidious plots.
I was reminded of the Writer and the Friend earlier this evening, as I re-read Mark Lane's book Plausible Denial. That book recounts a cognate narrative. Ten years after the JFK assassination, Lane pried loose (via a hard-fought court battle) a CIA document which described the Agency's plan to discredit critics of the Warren report. This document is well-known to all students of the case. Its provenance has never been questioned.
Even if you support the Oswald-diddit thesis, this document remains alarming. The CIA outlined the best ways to counter criticism of the report:
"Employ propaganda assets to answer and refute the attacks of the critics. Book reviews and feature articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The unclassified attachments to this guidance should provide useful background material for passage to assets. Our play should point out, as applicable, that the critics are (i) wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, (ii) politically interested, (iii) financially interested, (iv) hasty and inaccurate in their research, or (v) infatuated with their own theories. In the course of discussions of the whole phenomenon of criticism, a useful strategy may be to single out Edward Jay Epstein's theory for attack, using the attached Fletcher Knebel article and Spectator piece for background." According to the CIA, my book, Rush to Judgment, was "much more difficult to answer as a whole." The agency document did not list any errors in the book.
Just in case the book reviewers did not get the point, the CIA offered specific language that they might incorporate into their critiques. "Reviewers" of the books "might be encouraged to add to their account the idea that, checking back with the Report itself, they found it far superior to the work of its critics."
Among those who criticized Rush to Judgment and other books along lines similar to those suggested by the CIA were the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and, especially, Walter Cronkite and CBS. Among those who did not march in lockstep with the intelligence agencies' effort to destroy the First Amendment were the Houston Post; Norman Mailer, who reviewed Rush to Judgment in the United States and Len Deighton, who reviewed it in London.
Again: Your feelings about the JFK assassination do not matter. Not right now, not for the purposes of our present essay. What matters is a key concept which many readers of this document have tended to gloss over:
The CIA is, and has always been, forbidden by statute from operating domestically.
By what right does the CIA employ "propaganda assets" in this country? By what right do they say which books are to be reviewed, and how
they are to be reviewed?
How much of our discourse, our national conversation, is driven by "propaganda assets"? Can't we be allowed to make our own culture?
Granted, the above-quoted document is an artifact of the Cold War, as is the tale of the Writer and his Friend. But do you truly believe that such things do not happen now? Are you sure
Some of you may be tempted to guess the big secret. I won't tell you if you are hot or cold. But honestly, you would just...well, you know.