In 1979, Ronald Reagan was campaigning for the American presidency. On the electoral platform he promised that if he was elected he would “unleash the CIA” upon America’s enemies. His words were prophetic and foretold the CIA’s largest ever covert operation, launched against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. They also underlined that the CIA had become more than a mere intelligence agency. The CIA had become symbolic of all that is contested in American foreign policy.
From Christopher Hitchens to Noam Chomsky, from Gore Vidal to William Buckley, no public intellectual has discussed American foreign policy without spotlighting the CIA. The CIA has become a symbol for American in the world. It stands for interventionism rather than isolationism. It stands for a secret presidential foreign policy rather than congressional control. Most importantly, it stands for the triumph of national security imperatives over democratic core values, including human rights. Recent debates about drone strikes, rendition, torture and secret prisons have focused on the CIA – but they are also fundamentally about global America.
No intelligence agency has enjoyed a higher public profile than the CIA. No secret organisation has received more press attention. Since the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961 – almost exactly half a century ago - American espionage and covert operations have enjoyed a uniquely high profile in the American press. This is partly because of a taste for 'covert' interventions that were often impossible to keep hidden from public view. Frequent revelations also reflected America’s First Amendment that guaranteed investigative journalists remarkable freedom to expose secret matters. Accordingly, the record of the CIA has constituted a battleground with the American press at its centre.
This book explores a fascinating but neglected subject. Despite more then half a century of co-operation and conflict, the connections between the most secret realm of American government and the media has received little attention. This book traces a journey from deference to defiance. In the early years of the Cold War many journalists willingly co-operated with the CIA as eager patriots in the expanding realm of espionage and cultural warfare. But during the 1960s, the exposure of CIA operations within American itself had promoted revulsion. By the early 1970s, Watergate accelerated had a counter-culture of anti-intelligence reporting. Journalists like Seymour Hersh now focused their spotlight upon what they considered to be governmental miscreants.
Since 9/11 government has fought back with unprecedented efforts to put journalists and their sources into court. Pullitzer prize-winning writers have simultaneously been celebrated and reviled in an increasingly partisan battle over the course of US foreign policy and American core values, with the CIA at its centre. In their efforts to “watch the watchers” the journalists themselves became counter-spies, seeking to expose the activities of government and have begun to resemble to very object of their investigations. Journalism and espionage – this book concludes - are cognate activities and share common values, including the diligent protection of agents and most secret sources.
Richard J. Aldrich was born in 1961 and was educated at the universities of Manchester, Aberdeen and Cambridge. He has held a Fulbright fellowship at Georgetown University in Washington DC and is currently visiting Canberra and Ottawa as a Leverhulme fellow. He teaches international security at the University of Warwick and is Director of the Institute of Advanced Study. He is the author of several books including The Hidden Hand: Britain American and Cold War Secret Intelligence which won the Donner Book prize in 2002 and was shortlisted for the Westminster Medal. More recently he has auth...
More about Richard J. Aldrich