NOW, That’s a Surprise

I came at this one from a weird angle. One of the Pacifica Radio Archive shows I listened to was an interview with Betty Friedan (FTV074) @13:53 during a question period someone asks:

Q: What is your opinion on the Red Stockings document put out linking Gloria Stienem’s ten-year association with the CIA?

Friedan’s response sounded uncomfortable, like she was blindsided for a moment but then she steadies down:

A: Well, I have read that… I was not in the country when it was released at the Moore Journalism Convention. I read it carefully, and it is a serious and well-documented piece of work. I checked with a friend of uh, er, a member of congress for whom I have utmost respect who told me that the people who did the research for the Red Stockings document are serious people with a record of integrity. Because I take the women’s movement in America very seriously, because I have been aware for some time that probably we have been infiltrated by agents, because enormous exposes have been released lately as a result of the Watergate and then with the recent Rockefeller Report, on the infiltration of agents of the CIA – not only in your countries, which they had no business meddling around with, but in our [Friedan is really pissed off] own domestic organizations of students, of blacks, of indians – everything, you name it, they were there. It stands to reason that they were in the women’s movement, too. I have no way of knowing whether Glorian Stienem was actually a CIA agent as charged, or whether she isn’t. But I think she must answer – she must answer those charges. They are too serious, they cannot be dismissed as irrelevant – not, from what we know.

[redstockings] I almost did not pursue this further, because it screams “conspiracy theory” except that some cursory digging indicates that the Red Stockings article was about Project Mockingbird. You may have heard of COINTELPRO, which was an FBI project that was outed by the burglars who doxxed an FBI facility – but Project Mockingbird was the CIA counterpart and it was “evaporated” when the Church Commission started digging. When I say “evaporated” I mean: documents destroyed, payment receipts lost, covert reports deleted, program names changed [see below] But project Mockingbird did exist, once. It was the CIA’s internal domestic propaganda program that ran from around 1950 until the mid 1970s. Some of the individual sub-operations would have their own project names and life-spans and it’s a fair guess that a number of them were discontinued and vanished when the Church Commission breathed the word “MOCKINGBIRD.”

In the context of the time, the Watergate scandal was the tip of an iceberg: a covert war between the CIA and FBI over who got closer to a corrupt president. Nixon was a fan of the “can do” CIA types he had access to, and began using them for domestic surveillance of his enemies, wire-taps, etc. Petty shit compared to Donald Trump, but it was a different time. Mark Felt, an assistant director of the FBI, decided to covertly blow the CIA’s operations and in the process brought down a president. Congress’ reaction was scandalized, when they realized that they were the targets of wire-taps and skullbuggery skullduggery and began the Church Commission to investigate and white-wash the situation. So, congress was digging about an the CIA was throwing smoke as fast as they could while they covered their tracks. The cover-up surrounding the CIA’s torture program was “same shit, different day.”

So we never got to know exactly what MOCKINGBIRD did, but the fingerprints are scary. The CIA set up its own media outlets, recruited biddable journalists and editors, and helped promote them into positions where they could form and manipulate public opinion. It was a remarkably successful program since Americans, foolishly, trusted their media. That was back in the days when people thought Walter Cronkite was on their side, and was telling the what was happening, not that he was telling them what the establishment wanted them to know. Picture this: between COINTELPRO on one side, and MOCKINGBIRD on the other, the US public was getting shellacked with a great big blast of propaganda. For example, COINTELPRO infiltrated the Weather Underground and FBI informants attempted to encourage them to be more violent in their attacks against New York City police – and journalists who were part of MOCKINGBIRD made sure that the party line against those evil anarchist kids was all the news.

1/18/1983: Reagan, Murdoch, Roy Cohn in the oval office with the dagger

You’re probably thinking “Well, nowadays we have FOX news.” But have you considered the possibility that Rupert Murdoch may have been part of MOCKINGBIRD? Almost certainly not because the CIA no longer had a program named MOCKINGBIRD by that time.

It’s hard to look at this stuff without getting lost in a wilderness of mirrors [wc] and sounding like a conspiracy nut. The stuff about MOCKINGBIRD that is out there is pretty scary. [wik] Planted news, secret funding for cut-outs, etc.:

Approximately 50 of the [Agency] assets are individual American journalists or employees of U.S. media organizations. Of these, fewer than half are “accredited” by U.S. media organizations … The remaining individuals are non-accredited freelance contributors and media representatives abroad … More than a dozen United States news organizations and commercial publishing houses formerly provided cover for CIA agents abroad. A few of these organizations were unaware that they provided this cover.

The current situation is similar, except 50 is way too low a number. But at the time, 50 was a pretty huge footprint and you could get a lot of public opinion formed if your people were in the right place.

By the way:

By the time the Church Committee Report was completed, all CIA contacts with accredited journalists had been dropped. The Committee noted, however, that “accredited correspondent” meant the ban was limited to individuals “formally authorized by contract or issuance of press credentials to represent themselves as correspondents” and that non-contract workers who did not receive press credentials, such as stringers or freelancers, were not included.

In other words, they didn’t actually stop; they just got sneakier about it.

Back to Steinem and Ms. Magazine. The full story from Red Stockings does not seem to be easily accessible online, but there’s a pretty solid overview in the Chicago Tribune. [ct] There are other pieces of the story I have found here and there which sound more fraught. That’s a problem with covert activity: you can’t tell what’s what by design which means that establishing a notion of truth depends on who you want to believe. Let’s look at a few chunks from the Chicago Tribune article:

CIA agents are tight-lipped, but Steinem spoke openly about her relationship to “The Agency” in the 1950s and ’60s after a magazine revealed her employment by a CIA front organization, the Independent Research Service.

While popularly pilloried because of her paymaster, Steinem defended the CIA relationship, saying: “In my experience The Agency was completely different from its image; it was liberal, nonviolent and honorable.”

In my experience, nobody is stupid enough to think the CIA is liberal, nonviolent, and honorable and I would not want to presume that a famous feminist is stupid. That is serious “pull the other one, it’s got bells on” stuff.

Strange as it may seem, Steinem’s personal views and CIA political goals aligned. Her brand of social revolution, promoted by American tax dollars, was meant to counter Soviet-sponsored revolutionary messaging. Public funds were intended to slow the Soviet scourge while showing America’s alternative democratic face.

Let me unpack that a bit. The accusation is that Steinem’s initial funding for Ms. Magazine came through a CIA cut-out who dropped $1.5 million in start-up cash on pretty ex-model Gloria whose opinions on feminism were aligned with a “divide and conquer” strategy that peeled white feminist women away from the broader social justice movement and student movements. What today we’d call “soccer moms” were lured off into a different set of issues, where they were less likely to be radicalized if they were arguing about whether proper feminists get face lifts, or whatever.

I have a copy of this book on order: [wc] but have not had a chance to dig into it, yet. It sounds like a wild ride. I’m going to quote a bit from the New York Times book reviews. I was interested that the NYT felt it had to preface its review of the book with some faffish hand-wringing about how tough it is to figure this stuff out because it’s so complicated.

There were indeed fronts directly established by the C.I.A. for a particular goal, and the story Wilford tells of them in “The Mighty Wurlitzer” is fascinating, involving a surprising collection of well-known figures in American life. Consider the Independent Service for Information, set up at Harvard specifically for the purpose of getting some young anti-Communist Americans to attend a huge youth festival being organized by the Communists in Vienna in 1959. This was one of a series of events in which the Soviet Union promoted its versions of peace and progress, as contrasted with the cold-war policies of the capitalist United States.

A youthful Gloria Steinem had just spent a year and half in India, where, we are told, she befriended Indira Gandhi and the widow of the “revolutionary humanist” M. N. Roy, and had met a researcher who seems to have been a C.I.A. agent or contact. Attractive and progressive, Steinem was hired to run the I.S.I. and to recruit knowledgeable young Americans who could debate effectively with the Communist organizers of the festival, defending the United States against Communist criticism of segregation and other American failings.

That sure sounds like a covert influence operation, to me: let’s send some spoilers to the commies’ conference to troll them. Oh, right, the word “trolling” was not used, yet.

This remark illustrates Wilford’s somewhat cool attitude toward what many saw, with some legitimacy, as a worldwide conflict between tyranny and freedom.

Tyranny needs to lie; who, in this situation, was serving freedom?

A more direct review of Wilford is here: [grean]

Steinem’s CIA links came to mainstream media attention a second time in 1979, when the Village Voice ran an article about a chapter Random House had censored from Redstockings Collective’s 1979 book Feminist Revolution. Random House spiked the chapter, which describes Steinem’s earlier CIA work, after Steinem threatened to sue them. This deleted chapter (which you can get free by ordering an out-of-print copy of Feminist Revolution from Redstockings Collective) also suggests her CIA involvement may not have ended in 1969 when she left the International Research Associates. It details the right wing corporate funding which helped Steinem inaugurate Ms Magazine, as well as the magazine’s pivotal role in transforming American feminism from a broad multi-class, multiracial movement to one devoted to divisive male bashing and advancing career opportunities for white upper middle class women.


In 1960 Clay Felker, founder of New York Magazine, and a CIA-linked Independent Research Service staffer who accompanied Steinem to the Helsinki World Youth Festival in 1962, became the editor of Esquire magazine, where he published many of Steinem’s early feminist articles. In 1968 Felker started New York magazine, and in 1971 he hired Steinem as contributing editor. It was Felker who published the first edition of Ms Magazine as a New York magazine insert.

As the feminist magazine Off Our Backs states in a 1975 article about the Redstockings scandal, their discovery of Steinem’s earlier CIA employment raised a host of concerns about her sudden installation (mainly by corporate media) as the official leader of the US women’s movement without any previous involvement in feminist groups or campaigns.

Interestingly Ms Magazine‘s first publisher was Elizabeth Forsling Harris, a CIA-connected PR executive who planned John Kennedy’s Dallas motorcade route.

-10 points for gratuitous Kennedy assassination linkage.

This does not sound good:

In 1966, Steinem was still on the board of directors of International Research Service, when she co-founded National Organization for Women (NOW) with Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique. A 2001 article in The American Prospect describes (quoting from The World Split Open by Ruth Rosen) how in 1975 prominent NOW members Carol Hanisch and Kathie Sarachild openly accused Steinem of working for the CIA and “directing the movement toward moderation and capitulation.” Ultimately Friedan herself became concerned “a paralysis of leadership” in the movement “could be due to the CIA” and demanded that Steinem respond.

After three months, Steinem wrote a six-page letter to various feminist publications describing her work on two student festivals in 1959 and 1962 that were funded by the CIA. Aiming to deflect the charge she was or had been a government operative, it stated, “I naively thought then that the ultimate money source didn’t matter, since in my own experience, no control or orders came with it.”

The Off Our Backs article also raises questions about a parallel organization Steinem started (in competition with NOW – starting parallel groups is a common strategy employed by US intelligence to sabotage grassroots organizations) in 1971 called Women’s Action Alliance. Located in the same building as Ms. Despite its name, the WAA wasn’t involved in “action,” as its name suggests. It engaged mainly in information gathering. It had a $20,000 grant from Rockefeller Family Fund for the establishment of a “national clearinghouse information and referral service” on the women’s movement. WAA collected information on key women leaders and their groups and activities, presumably facilitation FBI/CIA efforts to monitor them.

The argument that “the ultimate money source didn’t matter” doesn’t wash, unless you’re completely stupid. If Steinem was taking CIA money, she had to be able to assume that they were giving her the money because she was ideologically aligned with what they wanted. This is a subtle but pernicious point: they didn’t influence her, they found her a pre-formed useful idiot who thought the CIA was “liberal, nonviolent and honorable.”

In the late seventies and early seventies, African American organizers became concerned about a pattern in which agents posing as black feminists infiltrated their community groups in an effort to split off women members into separate organizations. They traced this phenomenon back to 1978 when Steinem put a book called Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman on the cover of Ms Magazine.

The book was allegedly “written” by a Black “feminist” and “activist” named Michele Wallace. In her early twenties Wallace, who like Steinem came out of nowhere (she was a Newsweek book review researcher), was suddenly being touted as the “leader” of Black feminism. In the book, Wallace called abolitionists like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth “ugly” and “stupid” for supporting Black men. She called Black Revolutionaries “chauvinist macho pigs” and advised Black women to “go it alone.”

Gloria Steinem maintained that Wallace’s book would “define the future of Black relationships” and she pushed hard to make sure the book received massive publicity. Gloria Steinem’s efforts triggered a flood of “Hate Black Men” books and films that continues to this day.

This stuff makes me sick to my stomach, I must say. Because, simply enough, people who believe in their country and what it’s doing don’t need to lie about it. Or, people who believe in a movement don’t need to lie about it. To me, feminism has always seemed obvious – and the connection between women’s rights, black people and natives’ rights, and the rights of some guy I’ve never met who lives in Egypt – the connection is clear: you either support equality and human rights, or you don’t. And, if you don’t, you’re on the wrong side. The CIA consistently places itself on the wrong side, trying to manipulate people for the wrong reasons (except for when it tries to kill them outright) toward the wrong ends. They’re the terrorists. Sure, organizations like Al Quaeda and ISIS are terrorists, too, but they’d be using the CIA’s methods for the same ends as the CIA, if they had the nosebleed-inducing budget of the CIA.

When I started following up on that innocent-sounding question the woman asked Betty Friedan in 1975 [pra] I began to get the sensation that someone had taken a shit in my mouth. Suddenly the taste got worse and worse; I was expecting to find a bunch of hair-on-fire conspiracy theory stuff but as soon as I saw MOCKINGBIRD my heart skipped a beat because I knew things were going to get ugly. Look at what the CIA managed to accomplish with their useful idiot, Steinem, and multiply that 50-fold or 100-fold, then ask yourself, “why does shit like FOX and Friends exist?” You’ll realize, slowly as a glacier melts, that Noam Chomsky was not fucking kidding one bit when he wrote about Manufacturing Consent.

We cannot have heroes we can believe in, because there’s a solid chance that they’re animatronic dolls placed in our path to divert us. You know how, sometimes, anti-skeptics start “JAQing” (Just Asking Questions) dishonestly about one topic or another – perhaps they stoutly maintain they are feminists, but that only applies to real women, or whatever it is TERFs say – now you can wonder if that bit of skeptical reasoning is brought to you courtesy of the world’s largest exporter of terrorism, the CIA. And how will you know? It might help explain some of Steven Pinker’s shitty argumentation, or Sam Harris’ dishonesty about Israel.

I wonder what the new compartment name is? Perhaps it’s DODOBIRD.

------ divider ------

Program names: when a top secret project is started it is assigned one or more codewords that serve as a handle for discussing the project. For example, the CIA’s recovery of a sunken Soviet ballistic missile sub was AZORIAN, and the early spy satellites were CORONA. In principle even the name of a top secret project is classified (“code word classified”, i.e.: you know the name of the project) and when someone is cleared to learn about a project they are “read into” the project and given the code word. So presumably you could go down to some file-vault somewhere and ask some vault-gnome for the files for AZORIAN and they’d check the list and if you were on it, you’d get a stack of folders and someone would watch you from across the room while you read them. If a program is disclosed, one of the first things the CIA would typically do is rename it. Or cancel it, and start another program with another compartment/program name and people get re-authorized for the new one, maybe. So you’d go to the vault and ask for the AZORIAN files and the vault-gnome would say “Sorry there is no such compartment.” This is important to understand if you are spook-watching: the CIA and NSA are particularly adept at playing this game. You get unparseable responses like the time a CIA spokesperson was asked about the OXCART (A-12) and the reply was “CIA has no program named OXCART”; that’s because OXCART was NRO, see? And they had moved on to BLACKBIRD. When the Church Commission started digging around and asking about Project Mockingbird, Mockingbird had already been dismantled and squirreled away into a bunch of other things. “MOCKINGBIRD? CIA has no such program.”

Speaking of program-names, I brain-farted and looked up project NIGHTINGALE. [wik] I find it very unsettling that Google (remember: “don’t be evil”) uses CIA-style nomenclature for some of its projects. And Project Nightingale does not sound like a “don’t be evil” kind of project.

I’m not sure what to make of the fact that Steinem used to date Henry Kissinger; that’s a thing I did not know. I wonder whether she was cleared into PHOENIX and whether they talked about it into the long nights.

I admit I thought Steinem was really pretty, which influenced me. I feel stupid about that.

Researching and writing this was really upsetting for me; Steinem was someone I was taught to look up to when I was a teenager. I may take a couple days of downtime or not engage in the comments for a while until my head is sorted out a bit more.


  1. says

    The CIA did a lot of weird stuff. They seem to have been the force behind Abstract Expressionism (Jackson Pollock et al) which, as near as I can tell, didn’t do any harm. Not, I dare say, for lack of trying. That might have been part of MOCKINGBIRD, the timing, intent, and methods seem about right.

    Although when your budget it infinity you also tend to start up umtpy-leven identical projects, because why not. Bureaucrats gotta bureau, and also crat.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Wilford’s The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America includes chapters on spookery amongst emigrés, labor, intellectuals, artists (including writers, musicians, filmmakers), students, women, Catholics, African-Americans, and journalists: quite paranoia-inducing, at least for those of us in what we called “the Movement”.

    Also recommended: Robin W. Winks, Cloak & Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961; Christopher Simpson, Blowback: The First Full Account of American Recruitment of Nazis, and Its Disastrous Effect on our Domestic and Foreign Policy; and Alfred McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (you can’t even trust your friendly neighborhood dealer!).

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Andrew Molitor @ # 1 – Yup, at least per Wilford, “abstract expressionism” was cultivated in direct opposition to “socialist realism”.

  4. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#3:
    Yup, at least per Wilford, “abstract expressionism” was cultivated in direct opposition to “socialist realism”.

    Holy crap, the CIA appears to have been serious about art.

  5. says

    I was under the impression that a large percentage of ’60s American(and elsewhere in the West) revolutionary types were in fact “chauvinist macho pigs.” Their interest in women’s liberation was pretty much only about making it easier to liberate women from their clothing. Of course sticking bits of truth into your propaganda doesn’t hurt.

    The use of the term “divisive male bashing” makes me raise my eyebrows a bit too. Even the mildest of feminist critiques of male behaviour will get labelled as male bashing.

    This reminded me that at the same time the CIA may have been manipulating American feminism the RCMP Security Service was keeping track of people like Rita MacNeil. MacNeil became a popular singer in Canada in the 1980s, associated with her native Nova Scotia. But at the start of the ’70s she was part of feminist groups in the Toronto area. RCMP material declassified a few years ago revealed the surveillance.

  6. Dunc says

    The only thing that surprises me about this shit is that anybody is surprised about this shit. Seriously, what would you do if you were them? Of course you’d do this kind of shit. There’s always some naive, wide-eyed idiot willing to play along. The historical record is rife with this stuff. You think they’ve suddenly had an attack of conscience and given up on techniques that have worked reliably for centuries, if not millennia?

    The first and most important question in any radical political organisation is “who’s the stool pigeon?”

    But, hey, those Bernie Bros, right?

  7. says

    The only thing that surprises me about this shit is that anybody is surprised about this shit.

    I’m not surprised that the CIA are a bunch of scumbags; I’m surprised that someone I looked up to as a movement leader was one of their puppets.

    Feeling foolish is what comes from getting fooled; it’s not a sensation I enjoy.

  8. jrkrideau says

    @ 5 timgueguen
    I am not sure about the RCMP but I believe the FBI had some pretty hefty files on Buffy St. Marie and the White House, I forget which president, seems to have done a good job of blacklisting her in a lot of US radio markets.

    (This is going from memory of a CBC Radio interview with her, a couple of years ago.)

  9. Owlmirror says

    A cynical part of me wonders if the NOW position against decriminalization of prostitution is CIA-approved, because (a) it’s horribly divisive and (b) the CIA likes having levers of illegal behavior by the prominent, and decriminalization would weaken or remove some of those levers.


  10. dangerousbeans says

    @12 Owlmirror also criminalisation of sex work is another good lever for dividing white middle class cis women from poor, black, and trans women
    I wonder how much is them actively controlling this vs just occasionally leaning on people to promote people they like? Say, quietly offering an editor a donation in exchange for giving Sam Harris a platform
    /tinfoil hat


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