REVIEW by Willard Manus

THE CULTURAL COLD WAR: THE CIA AND THE WORLD OF ARTS AND LETTERS by Frances Stoner Saunders (The New Press) made my jaw drop. Even though I knew that the CIA had secretly funded magazines like Encounter and organizations like the Congress for Cultural Freedom during the Cold War, I had no idea that this was just the tip of the propaganda iceberg. Saunders, a British TV producer and writer, has put together a 509-page book that is one of the most shocking and important exposes ever written about the nefarious workings of America's secret service.

Saunders believed at first that she would be aided by the Freedom of Information Act. "It is certainly the case that many previously classified government documents have been released by researchers under this Act, and recent studies of the FBI have been greatly enriched as a result," she writes. "But retrieving documentation from the CIA is another matter. My initial request to them of 1992 has yet to be answered. A subsequent application was acknowledged, though I was warned that the total cost for supplying the records I had requested would be in the region of $30,000. However, the CIA's Information and Privacy Coordinator went on to explain that the chances of my application being successfully processed were virtually nil. The Freedom of Information Act is much vaunted by British historians, who indeed face greater challenges in researching material relating to the defence of the realm. But its application, at least as far as the CIA is concerned, is lamentable."

Fortunately, Saunders was able to tap other government and private sources to find the documentation she needed. She was also able to interview many of the players in the elaborate undercover game masterminded and bankrolled by the CIA for decades after WW II. The object was to "nudge the intelligentsia of western Europe away from its lingering fascination with Marxism and Communism toward a view more accomodating of 'the American Way.'"

The "nudging" took the form of magazine and book publishing sponsorship, the creation of front charitable groups to launder the money, the subsidization of museums, galleries and radio stations (such as Radio Free Europe), the formation of news services and high-profile international conferences. The CIA also "rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances," a case in point being the tours of Russia and East Europe by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

This isn't to say Armstrong and Ellington knew that the money for their tours came from the CIA. The CIA was too clever for that. It hid the truth by ordering the State Department to sign the checks. Armstrong and Ellington, like the many hundreds of other artists, scientists and historians in the West who benefitted from the CIA's largess, were unwitting participants in the covert cultural war.

The CIA's motive in sending black artists on tour was to counter the Left's attack on the USA for being a racist society. The attack was propaganda in the CIA's eyes, aimed at the West by intellectuals in the service of communist ideology. The West was supposed to be superior to that; its jazz musicians could play what they wanted, its painters could throw paint around as they saw fit, its writers weren't required to follow a party line.

But as Saunders shows, "our" side wasn't superior--neither politically nor morally. The CIA manipulated major artists and writers like Isiah Berlin, Clement Greenberg, Jackson Pollock, Arthur Koestler, Robert Lowell, Andre Malraux, George Orwell and many others. The CIA also had its "man in Hollywood," a snoop who checked every script for leftist ideology before it could be put into production. And so on, down through just about every level of intellectual life in the West. Big Brother was not only watching but running the show.

As Saunders says, "The democratic process which western cultural Cold Warriors rushed to legitimize was undermined by its own lack of candor. The 'freedom' it purveyed was compromised, 'unfree,' in the sense that it was anchored to the contradictory imperative of 'the necessary lie.' The context of the Cold War...was one where you operated under the sign of total fealty to an ideal. The ends justified the means, even if they included lying (directly, or by omission) to one's colleagues; ethics were subject to politics. They confused their role, pursuing their aims by acting on people's state of mind, choosing to slant things one way rather than another, in the hope of achieving a particular result."