CIA Influence On Public Opinion
At various times, under its own authority or in accordance with directives from the President of the United States or the National Security Council staff, the Central Intelligence Agency has attempted to influence domestic and international public opinion, and sometimes law enforcement. This article does not address, other than incidental to influencing opinion or actions reasonably associated with CIA security, possibly illegal domestic surveillance.
It also does not address narrowly focused psychological warfare in support of covert or military action. The focus of this article is on long-term influence on opinion leaders, including journalists, artists, labor leaders, etc., rather than starting rumors to assist in supporting a coup.
This is an area with many shades of gray. There is little argument, for example, that the CIA acted inappropriately in providing technical support to White House operatives conducting both political and security investigations, with no legal authority to do so. While there is an established history of assigning responsibilities for international psychological operations to various organizations, depending if the operation is overt or clandestine, there are also questions of the wisdom of a particular operation.
Things become much more ambiguous when law enforcement may expose a clandestine operation, a problem not unique to intelligence but also seen among different law enforcement organizations, where one wants to prosecute and another to continue investigations, perhaps reaching higher levels in a conspiracy.
Not all inappropriate activities were initiated or conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, but by other members of the United States Intelligence Community. In particular, the Federal Bureau of Investigation took a very broad view of its mandate to collect information to protect the state from domestic subversion. In other cases, the National Security Agency intercepted electronic communications without the warrants deemed necessary at the time.
It has been suggested that a number of things assigned to the CIA really did not need to be clandestine, and having an overt organization support initiatives desired by the U.S. government has much less political risk. The United States Information Agency (USIA) has always been an overt white propaganda organization. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, as distinct from the Voice of America (VOA), had been clandestinely funded through the CIA, but, with the VOA, now all come under the authority of a quasi-public corporation, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). BBG was part of USIA until 1999.
Another overt organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, was created in 1983. William Blum, an author and critic of the CIA and U.S. foreign policy, suggests it was set up to legally continue the CIA's prohibited activities of support to selected political parties abroad. See additional discussion under USA 1983.
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“He is superstitious grown of late,
Quite from the main opinion he held once
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“The faceless head lay still. I could not run
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This private thing was owned by all the town,
Though never claimed by us within my hearing.”
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“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
—Bible: New Testament John 8:32.
These words of Jesus are inscribed on the wall of the main lobby at the CIA headquarters, Langley, Virginia.