In an age in which the failures of the U. Central Intelligence Agency CIA are fodder for late-night comedians, Hugh Wilford's nuanced book is a welcome reminder of the agency's complexities and contradictions. Building on the work of fine scholars like Kenneth Osgood, Scott Lucas, Helen Laville, and Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, Wilford has produced a marvelously researched and engagingly written account of the diverse array of private groups that the CIA enlisted in its battle against the global spread of Communism during the early Cold War.
Frank Wisner, the agency's first chief of political warfare, compared these "front organizations" to a "Mighty Wurlitzer" able to produce any propaganda tune he wished. Wilford demonstrates that the "fronts" were often much less potent and considerably more cacophonous than Wisner and other CIA leaders claimed. Alarmed by the creation of the Communist Information Bureau Cominform in the fall of , the CIA searched for ways to combat Communist-controlled labor, cultural, and political groups.
In , after the leftist magazine Ramparts revealed ties between the CIA and the National Student Association, a storm of subsequent media coverage exposed covert CIA sponsorship of a stunning number of other U.
The news triggered bitter denunciations and impassioned defenses of [End Page ] the front network. Many groups collapsed under the impact of the disbelief and distrust unleashed by the revelations. Others severed their ties with the CIA and managed to survive.
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The furor obscured the moral clarity present when the front network was established in the late s. At that point, few of those involved in private organizations promoting democratic capitalism abroad questioned the ethics of accepting CIA funds and assistance. Bound by a common belief in the superiority of the American way of life, a wide array of individuals participated in the CIA's global outreach efforts. Former Communists like novelist Arthur Koestler and labor organizer Jay Lovestone used their first-hand knowledge of Communist tactics to help the CIA craft its covert operations.
Lovestone engineered early CIA infiltration of the international labor movement, and Koestler organized the rally of artists and intellectuals in West Berlin that spawned the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the best-known and most hotly disputed CIA collaboration. CIA officials soon discovered the difficulties inherent in harnessing the energies of such disparate individuals and groups.
Although many of the so-called fronts eagerly accepted CIA money, they continued to pursue their own objectives. Even organizations directly founded by the CIA proved challenging to manage. The ANG was a founding member of the International Federation of Journalists, a group of anticommunist newspapermen established in Brussels in to oppose the left-leaning International Organization of Journalists. These CIA fronts offered many free services of a technical and educational character, and were funded by many of the usual CIA pass-through foundations.
By , it had organizations on US campuses. In a highly relevant section of The Mighty Wurlitzer , Wilford explains how professors, particularly from the elite Ivy League colleges, acted as conduits for the agency. In his conclusion, the author emphasizes that such university operations are clearly not over, but are increasing. The quintessence of sellout US-business unionism, a fanatic anticommunist, George Meany was a disgrace to labor in America for many decades in the postwar.
As filthy a collaborator and traitor to his class as they come. This was a major concern, under conditions where the European colonialists were being thrown out and the anti-colonial movement was spreading like wildfire. Many Americans who admire Richard Wright for his literary honesty and willingness to lay bare the brutality of racism are surprised to learn that he joined the CIA front group. Wright secured funding and arranged a five-man delegation from the US to the Paris congress.
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By contrast, W. It disseminated propaganda, including an ambitious series of publications, held annual conferences featuring a glittering array of black intellectuals, artists and performers Nina Simone, Lionel Hampton, etc. Wright eventually became disillusioned. In November , he delivered a surprising address at the American Church in Paris lambasting the US government for spying on expatriates and attempting to silence them.
There were recurrent rumors, the author notes, that he was murdered. With the hands-on assistance of Carl T. Rowan, the first African-American to sit on the National Security Council, Farmer arrived in Africa in January , visiting nine countries and meeting virtually every head of state, lecturing students, meeting with members of parliament and addressing trade unions. The most important drawback of the book is the disconnect between the covert operations and their political purpose.
This initiative dovetailed with the drive of the Eisenhower administration to humanize the American image expanded upon by the Peace Corps, founded in by President John F. Kennedy , while binding US citizens into a Cold War consensus at home.
FDL Book Salon Welcomes Hugh Wilford and “The Mighty Wurlitzer”
The networks created by the Committees of Correspondence were considered a clever Cold War tactic and the basis of future intelligence operations. Like many of the other CIA fronts, the committee was funded generously by a series of foundations and corporate fronts, including: the Dearborn Foundation, the Asia Foundation, the J. This effort was indeed a great challenge, especially in the face of the well-known Babbitry of the American elite. The group sponsored an unprecedented number of literary prizes, art exhibits and music festivals. At its height, it boasted offices in 35 countries and the publication of more than two dozen magazines, including Encounter , edited by neoconservative Irving Kristol which also received support from MI6.
The CIA worked to make book contracts available for its designated writers with one of the publishing houses in which the agency had an interest, such as Frederick A. The paintings of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline, among others, were promoted as the antithesis of Soviet realism and held up as supposed evidence that capitalism could better nurture culture.
Paramount Studios had its own in-house CIA agent devoted to censorship, modifying some films and derailing others. Simultaneously, the notorious Hollywood blacklist was destroying careers and lives. The Mighty Wurlitzer provides a glimpse into the decades-long, multimillion-dollar campaigns of the American government to attempt to undermine socialist thought and give anticommunism a cultural, social and humanitarian facelift. In his final chapter, the author assures the reader that CIA front groups are alive and well today.
One could read most of the book and conclude that the American government was merely hypocritical, undemocratic and manipulative. Throughout the volume, the reader must bear in mind the horrific consequences of CIA activity throughout the world—the deaths of millions, the subversion of democracy, the installation of despots and oligarchs via regime-change—because these dirty operations are never alluded to in The Mighty Wurlitzer. In other words, the author, while exposing the activities of American imperialism, continually sanitizes it. He is a journalistic partisan of the American government.
Before our eyes, the courts and government at all levels—including the ever-growing military-intelligence apparatus—are eviscerating the entire framework of legal and democratic rights fought for in the course of hundreds of years.
The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America – The Greanville Post
Over seven million US workers participated in the great strike wave of Strikes took place at thousands of workplaces and included citywide general strikes. Eighty General Motors plants were struck in 50 cities. In just over 18 months, million work days were lost. Trento, Joseph J.
Hugh Wilford. Once upon a time, the Central Intelligence Agency ran a world-wide covert action campaign to counter such nonsense in societies in which communism might take hold. The Agency dealt directly with foreign representatives of these groups, but it also subsidized their activities indirectly by laundering funds through allied organizations based in the United States.
British historian Hugh Wilford has just given us the best history of the covert political action campaign to date. Wilford is now associate professor of history at California State University Long Beach , but before arriving there he spent years in pursuit of the documentation that he sensed had to exist in the organizational remains of the groups that the Agency had funded. His work brought him metaphorically to my door at the CIA History Staff, as the truth-in-reviewing code obliges me acknowledge.
Wilford exploits contemporary public accounts, memoirs, and, most important, the remaining files of the various private groups involved. The latter cast a wider net and surveyed a congeries of cultural, artistic, and intellectual groups, but its conspiracy-mongering style undermined its judgments. On both of these scores, Wilford does better than the earlier works. The Mighty Wurlitzer succeeds at its first goal of presenting as comprehensive a survey as can be expected without access to CIA files. In doing so, Wilford has surely saved a wealth of detail from oblivion.
He located and studied the yellowing archives of mostly forgotten organizations like the National Student Association, the American Congress for Cultural Freedom, the Committees of Correspondence, and the Family Rosary Crusade. Few historians work as hard as he did to capture the fading memories of a private America in the age just before cheap copy machines. Wilford falls short, however, in his second aim for The Mighty Wurlitzer , that of explaining both sides of the relationship between the Agency and its private clients.
Despite his careful research, he did not explore all available sources and avenues. For example, Wilford spoke with very few veterans, whether former Agency employees or officers of the relevant front groups. Doing so would have added texture to his tale, particularly with regard to the inter-personal dynamics inside and outside the CIA that played such large roles in these operations. The Mighty Wurlitzer jumps from episode to episode and group to group, detailing each in turn but leaving the reader wondering about the connections between them.
Here it might help the reader to understand that the insinuating sub-title of this book is a bit of a misnomer. Absence of a bibliography in The Mighty Wurlitzer makes it hard to be certain.
Wilford grasps this point, and adds another. Wilford has explained for an academic audience what CIA case officers learned the hard way in the early Cold War. Covert political action always requires willing partners, and they almost always work two agendas at once: that of the intelligence agency that subsidizes them, and that of their own faction within the private organization or movement they represent. Why is this important? His judicious approach should set the standard for their studies. Get back at the lying, criminal mainstream media and its masters by reposting the truth about world events.
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