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When news broke that the CIA had colluded with literary magazines to produce cultural propaganda throughout the Cold War, a debate began that has never been resolved. The story continues to unfold, with the reputations of some of America’s best-loved literary figures—including Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, and Richard Wright—tarnished as their work for the intelligence agency has come to light.

Finksis a tale of two CIAs, and how they blurred the line between propaganda and literature. One CIA created literary magazines that promoted American and European writers and cultural freedom, while the other toppled governments, using assassination and censorship as political tools. Defenders of the “cultural” CIA argue that it should have been lauded for boosting interest in the arts and freedom of thought, but the two CIAs had the same undercover goals, and shared many of the same methods: deception, subterfuge and intimidation.

Finksdemonstrates how the good-versus-bad CIA is a false divide, and that the cultural Cold Warriors again and again used anti-Communism as a lever to spy relentlessly on leftists, and indeed writers of all political inclinations, and thereby pushed U.S. democracy a little closer to the Soviet model of the surveillance state.
Year:
2017
Edition:
Hardcover
Publisher:
OR Books
Language:
english
Pages:
336 / 350
ISBN 10:
1944869131
ISBN 13:
9781944869137
File:
PDF, 2.10 MB
Download (pdf, 2.10 MB)

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— KIRKUS

REVIEWS

(STARRED

REVIEW)

“L I S T E N T O T H I S B O O K , be c aus e it t alk s in a ver y clear way about what
has be en silence d.”
B E R G E R , AUTHOR OF WAYS OF SEEING AND WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE

—JOHN

“ W ith F ink s, Joel W hitne y V I V I D L Y B R I N G S T O L I F E T H E E A R L Y D A Y S
O F T H E C O L D W A R , when ke y A mer ic an liter ar y f igure s were willing to
s e cr e tl y do the bidding of the nation’s spymas ter s .”
—JAMES

T A L B O T , F O U N D E R O F S A L O N A N D A U T H O R O F T H E D E V I L’ S C H E S S B O A R D :

A L L E N D U L L E S , T H E C I A A N D T H E R I S E O F A M E R I C A’ S S E C R E T G O V E R N M E N T

“Joel Whitne y is A S A V V Y D R A M A T I S T W H O K N O W S P E R F E C T L Y H O W
TO JUICE INTRIGUE!”
— I L A N S TAVA N S , A U T H O R O F G A B R I E L G A R C Í A M Á R Q U E Z : T H E E A R LY Y E A R S

“A n I L L U M I N A T I N G R E A D A N D A C A U T I O N A R Y T A L E about the
potential cos t s—politic al and ar tis tic— of accommodating power.”
— BEN

FINKS
How the CI A Tricked
the World’s Best Writers

“A D E E P L O O K A T T H A T S C O U N D R E L T I M E when A mer ic a’s mo s t
s ophis tic ate d and enlig htene d liter ati eager l y collabor ate d with our g r owing
national s e cur it y s t ate. F ink s is A T I M E L Y M O R A L R E C K O N I N G ”
— DAVID

WHEN NEWS BROKE

R I S E N , A U T H O R O F PAY A N Y P R I C E : G R E E D , P O W E R A N D E N D L E S S W A R

W I Z N E R , AC LU DIREC TO R O F S PE EC H , PRIVACY AN D T EC H N O LO GY PROJ EC T

Joel Whitney

is a co founder and e ditor-at-lar ge of Guer nica : A
Magazine of A r t & Politic s . His wr iting has
appear e d in T he New Yor k T ime s , T he Wall
S treet Jour nal , T he New Republic , B os ton
Review , T he S an Fr ancis co Chronicle , Dis s ent ,
S alon , NP R , New Yor k Magazine and T he Sun .
W ith photog r apher Br e t t Van Or t, he co -wr ote
the T E D Talk s ebook on landmine eradication,
Minescape . His poetr ; y has appeared in The
Paris Review , The Nation , and Agni . His Salon
essay on The Paris Review and the Congress
for Cultural Freedom was a Notable in Best
American Essays .

FINKS

JOEL WHITNEY

“A nother odd epis ode s teps out f r om the C old War ’s shadow s . R I V E T I N G .”

Joel Whitney

that the CI A had collude d with liter ar y
magazine s to pr oduce cultur al pr opaganda
thr oug hout the C old War, a debate began
that has ne ver be en re s olve d. T he s tor y
continue s to unfold, with the r eput ations
of s ome of A mer ic a’s be s t-love d liter ar y
f igur e s—including Pe ter Mat thie s s en, G e or ge
Plimpton, and Richard Wr ig ht—t ar nishe d as
their wor k for the intelligence agenc y has
come to lig ht.

Finks is a tale of t wo CIA s, and how they
blurred the line bet ween propaganda and
literature. One CIA created literar y magazines
that promoted American and European
writer s and cultural freedom, while the other
toppled governments, using assassination and
censor ship as political tools.
Defender s of the “cultural” CIA argue that it
should have been lauded for boosting interest
in the ar t s and freedom of thought, but the
t wo CIA s had the same undercover goals, and
shared many of the same methods : deception,
subter fuge and intimidation.

C ur r e n t A f f air s & P o li t i c s

OR Books/
Counterpoint
C o v e r d e s ig n b y U n d e r / O v e r
A u t h o r P h o t o g r ap h b y B e o w ul f S h e e h an

D i s t r ib u t e d t o t h e t r a d e b y
P ub li s h e r s G r o up We s t

ISBN: 978-1-944869-13-7
5 2 6 0 0

9 781944 869137

U. S . $ 2 6 .0 0
C A N $ 3 5. 9 9

F INK S

FINKS
How the CIA Tricked
the World’s Best Writers

Joel Whitney

OR Books
New York • London

ebook ISBN 9781944869267
© 2016 Joel Whitney
Published for the book trade by OR Books in partnership with Counterpoint Press.
Distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West
All rights information: rights@orbooks.com
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or
any information storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
publisher, except brief passages for review purposes.
First trade printing 2016
Cataloging-in-Publication data is available from the Library of Congress.
A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 978-1-944869-13-7
Text design by Under|Over. Typeset by AarkMany Media, Chennai, India.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I N T R O D U C T I O N A Lit’r’y Coup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1
Graduates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
2
The Responsibility of Editors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
3
Pasternak, the CIA, and Feltrinelli . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
4
The Paris Review Goes to Moscow . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
5
Did the CIA Censor Its Magazines? . . . . . . . . . . . 89
6
James Baldwin’s Protest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
7
Into India . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
8
The US Coup in Guatemala . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
9
Cuba: A Portrait by Figueres, Plimpton,
Hemingway, García Márquez, Part 1 . . . . . . . . . . 161

1 0 Cuba: A Portrait by Plimpton, Hemingway
and García Márquez, Part 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181

1 1 Tools Rush In: Pablo Neruda, Mundo
Nuevo and Keith Botsford . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191

1 2 The Vital Center Cannot Hold . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
1 3 Blowback . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 239
C O D A Afghanistan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 259
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 271
S O U R C E S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275
E N D N O T E S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 293
I N D E X . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323

If you speak for the wolf, speak against
him as well.
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

INTRODUCTION
A LIT’R’Y COUP

Where else but in Eden could we find
our freedom only by losing it. . .
—Richard Howard, Lining Up

In early 1966, Harold “Doc” Humes, one of the founders of The Paris Review,
wrote a well-intentioned ultimatum to George Plimpton, another founder.
Having left it to Plimpton to run the famous magazine long before, Humes
was floundering. Living in London, where his wife Anna Lou had left him over
the holidays, he was dogged by bouts of extreme paranoia and convinced
that he was under surveillance. According to Anna Lou, he believed that
the bedposts in his London home recorded whatever he said, and that the
recordings were then played directly for Queen Elizabeth.
Yet in his March 1966 letter to Plimpton, he was clear and reasonable,
writing that Peter Matthiessen, another Paris Review founder, had just visited London and had told Humes an astonishing story. During his stay,
Matthiessen had admitted that “The Paris Review was originally set up and
used as a cover for [Matthiessen’s] activities as an agent for the Central
Intelligence Agency.” Humes continued,

He further said that you [Plimpton] knew nothing about this until
recently, that in fact when he told you your face “turned the color of
(my) sweater” which I hasten to inform you is neither red nor blue
but a very dirty grey-white, my having worn nothing else since my
wife left. It precisely matches my spirits; they get greyer every day.1
Humes even sympathized. “I believe Peter when he says he is properly
ashamed of involving the [Paris Review] in his youthful folly, and, true, this
was all 15 years ago. BUT. . .”2
Humes was just one of The Paris Review’s larger-than-life personalities.
The magazine received early praise from American publications like Time
and Newsweek, and also from magazines and newspapers all over Europe.
It helped launch the careers of William Styron, Terry Southern, T.C. Boyle,
and Philip Roth, among others. It threw legendary parties where, for decades, actors like Warren Beatty and political and cultural figures like Jackie
Kennedy would rub shoulders with New York City’s writers and book publishing rank and file. Its editor-in-chief Plimpton was already a best-selling
author, a friend of the Kennedys, one of Esquire magazine’s “most attractive men in America,”3 and, according to Norman Mailer, the most popular
man in New York City.4 His personal entourage drew attention, too. A 1963
Cornell Capa photograph shows a group assembled for one of the famous
cocktail parties in Plimpton’s apartment. In the picture are Truman Capote,
Ralph Ellison, Humes, Matthiessen, Styron, Southern, and Godfather author
Mario Puzo.
In Paris in the 1950s, long before they were famous, Matthiessen,
Humes, Plimpton, and a few classmates debated what to call the magazine.
They couldn’t decide between the name that eventually stuck and other suggestions, such as Baccarat. 5 Having initially collaborated on Humes’s Paris
News Post, later dubbed “a fourth-rate New Yorker,”6 Humes and Matthiessen
were already involved with the project of launching a new magazine in Paris
before Plimpton was called over from Cambridge. Handing off their project,
Humes and Matthiessen both left decisions largely to Plimpton in order to
attend to their writing careers. On his way to becoming a Zen master and
an award-winning novelist and nature writer, Matthiessen published early,
including in The Paris Review’s first issue, and won fans for his fiction and
nonfiction alike. Plimpton became a participatory sports writer, whose
best-selling book on quarterbacking for the Detroit Lions was made into a
film with Alan Alda. No slouch himself, Humes published a pair of novels
in 1958 and 1959 that earned praise in The New York Times and elsewhere.

2

WHITNEY

Humes’s diverse lifetime accomplishments would include a scheme to make
affordable homes for poor people out of pressed newspapers and cardboard,
running Norman Mailer’s New York City mayoral campaign, dropping LSD
with Timothy Leary, and successfully fighting the New York City police
over the racist Cabaret Card laws in effect at the time. But, as with so many
young people who were acutely sensitive to the changes of the 1960s, Humes
began to veer off the path, casting about for his calling. He thought he was
being watched—watched from above. Especially after the Kennedy assassination, Humes was growing increasingly paranoid, railing about being
bugged and followed. After his marriage unraveled, he wandered the ruins
of Rome, started a new family, witnessed the 1968 student protests in Paris,
produced a Beat-poetry-inspired short film titled Don Peyote, and gave away
thousands of dollars of his inheritance as anti-capitalist performance art
around Columbia University in uptown Manhattan (where he squatted in
the young Paul Auster’s dorm). But in his letter to Plimpton, he was acting
in his capacity as a founder of The Paris Review, claiming he had the best
interests of the magazine in mind.
Arguing that an association with secret institutions like the CIA would
inevitably lead to “rot,” Humes advised Plimpton that, for the integrity of
the magazine, he should make Matthiessen’s ties during the magazine’s
founding public. Citing Edmund Burke’s line “that it is enough for evil to
triumph that good men do nothing,” Humes wrote, “I have deeply believed
in the Review and all that we hoped it stood for, but until this matter is
righted I feel I have no honorable choice but to resolutely resign. Even if I
have to split an infinitive to do it.” He went on to suggest that Matthiessen
might “laugh the matter off in print in a manner calculated to restore our
tarnished escutcheon. . .” Under these circumstances, he would stay. Barring
that, however, “I should like my name removed from the masthead. I’m sure
it will not be missed.” 7
In attempting to inspire his colleagues to come clean, Humes cited
an opinion that grew increasingly common as revelations of the CIA’s vast
propaganda apparatus were published in Ramparts magazine and The New
York Times in 1964, 1966, and 1967. Namely, that any association with the
super-secret spy agency—notorious for coups, assassinations, and undermining democracy in the name of fighting Communism—tainted the reputations of those involved. Humes pressed the point forcefully. “Since this was
apparently a formal arrangement, involving his being trained in a New York
safehouse and being paid through a cover name, then without doubt the fact
is recorded in some or several dusty functionarys’ [sic] files in Washington

FINKS

3

or around the world that our hapless magazine was created and used as an
engine in the damned cold war. . .” He continued,
although Peter is not [to] be blamed for a paranoid system that
makes victims of its instruments, nevertheless what of Styron? . . .
What of half the young writers in America who have been netted
in our basket? What color would their faces turn?
In his reply, Plimpton batted away the suggestion that he divulge
Matthiessen’s secret or that he encourage Matthiessen himself to do so.
Moreover, while downplaying the significance of Matthiessen’s CIA stint
and his using the magazine as a cover in Paris, Plimpton failed to confess
his own ties to the CIA, ties that, however subtle, would not emerge definitively until 2012, when several years’ worth of correspondence between
Plimpton, his staff, and functionaries of the CIA-funded Congress for
Cultural Freedom were unearthed in The Paris Review’s archives at the
Morgan Library in midtown Manhattan.
Indeed, The Paris Review was one of the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s
many active partners that agreed to syndicate “content.” These were magazines not necessarily founded or run by the Congress (though The Paris
Review was indeed founded by one agent) but whose editors were willing
to work with the Congress for Cultural Freedom—or CCF—on a slew of collaborations large and small. The Paris Review was one of these CCF-friendly
literary magazines (call them semi-official), which joined more than two
dozen official magazines like Preuves in France, Der Monat in Germany, and
Encounter in London—plus the lesser known Quest in India, Mundo Nuevo
in Paris (for Hispanic readers), and Jiyu in Japan. These official magazines
were conceived, created, named, and even overseen by CIA officers who
consulted directly with the likes of CIA Director Allen Dulles and a handful
of other agency or foreign intelligence officials about their editorial operations. But unlike these official CIA magazines, The Paris Review was left
almost entirely to its own devices.
Nevertheless, at key moments beginning with its founding in the early
1950s and continuing beyond the exposure of the CIA’s growing propaganda and censorship networks, The Paris Review, through Plimpton—not
Matthiessen—consciously aligned its mission with this apparatus. It did so
likely knowing what that apparatus was doing. Despite himself and backlit
by history, Plimpton’s 1966 correspondence with Doc Humes makes this
clear.

4

WHITNEY

Even if The Paris Review played only a small role in the Cold War’s marshalling of culture against the Soviets, the magazine’s history nevertheless
opens a compelling window onto forces that still direct, mesmerize, and
affect our understanding of culture in times of political crisis. We understand vaguely that our media are linked to our government still today, and
to government’s stated foreign policy; and this understanding is enhanced
by eavesdropping on The Paris Review’s bit part in this massive secret performance that drove a nation for nearly two decades, and whose hangover
drives us still.
What follows is by necessity a group biography, reconstructed from
splintered histories of the time. These histories have been scattered around
the world in books, archives, and occasionally rising up on websites; I have
collected several of them together again in a way that might suggest the
vastness of the project that involved them. The Paris Review will disappear
and reappear beside portraits of liberal hawks, nonaligned leftist novelists and Western-yearning Russian dissidents, characters such as Dwight
Macdonald, Arthur Schlesinger, Sol Stein, Boris Pasternak, Nelson Aldrich,
John Berger, James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Jayaprakash Narayan,
Pablo Neruda, Arthur Miller, Ernesto Che Guevara, Keith Botsford, Emir
Rodríguez Monegal, and Gabriel García Márquez. The whistleblower-journalists, many of them women, who fought against a long-entrenched habit
of secrecy and deception—Immy Humes, Frances Stonor Saunders, Angus
Mackenzie, and Michèle Ray-Gavras—will also make their way into these
pages, especially when their attempts merely to do their jobs were thwarted,
dramatically or instructively, by one of the finks the book is named for.8
This account relies on as many primary documents as possible, most
of them letters, and leans on a structure that might be closer to 1001 Nights
than a straightforward biography of three friends who founded a magazine. This is because the book that you hold is really the biography of an
idea. Compared by one critic to a case of the measles, that idea starts with
well-intentioned men who agreed, winking and invoicing, to promote an
anti-Communist ideology through secret patronage; it ends with a totalitarian system where secret agents spy on the media and sabotage free
speech and press freedom. As Humes cautioned, that evolution was inevitable, and its inevitability was understood in the United States’ founding
documents.
•

FINKS

•

•

5

The partnership between The Paris Review and the CIA’s Congress for
Cultural Freedom began with ad exchanges and the CIA reprinting The
Paris Review’s famous author interviews in its official magazines.
Some of The Paris Review’s early praise came from functionaries within
CIA circles. This was beyond The Paris Review’s direct control, but it still
made them passive beneficiaries of CIA propaganda that posed as spontaneous and free critical praise. On the surface, the publicity came as a result
of something that looked like networking and successful marketing. But
when you dust off the archival letters, it places the editors in a role that,
from the very beginning, blurs the line between criticism, journalism, and
the needs of the state; between aesthetics and the political requirements
of the Cold War. What many, including the CIA itself, would simply call
propaganda.
First á la carte, then en masse, The Paris Review granted reprint rights
for its interviews to the Congress’s official magazines. The understanding
was clear: the Congress could take what it liked and pay the magazine what
it thought fair later on. It was a little extra cash for the fledgling magazine
and a good deal more international publicity beyond those places where it
was officially distributed (New York, London, and Paris).
But then the quarterly pursued an arrangement by which it shared the
costs of an editor’s living expenses with the CIA. This editor would do double
duty, working simultaneously for the magazine and in the publishing wing
of the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s headquarters in Paris. The editor
who initially championed this arrangement, Nelson Aldrich, called it a
“joint emploi,” playfully blending the English and French in letters between
the Paris office and Plimpton. Aldrich, Plimpton, and the other editors also
arranged for the Congress for Cultural Freedom to vet the candidate in New
York before sending him to start work in Paris. To work at the apolitical
magazine, then, in its Paris office, you went through a cultural version of
a security clearance. And it wasn’t just Nelson Aldrich who moved from
his work in the magazine’s Paris office to join the staff of the Congress for
Cultural Freedom; New York poet Frederick Seidel and journalist (and CIA
daughter) Frances Fitzgerald followed the same trajectory.
Even while the scheme was incipient, one sees in The Paris Review’s
archives that the CIA’s cultural functionaries took advantage of this
arrangement to influence the magazine’s coverage, ordering up, as it were,
interviews that The Paris Review had yet to conduct or commission, and
affirming their interest in interviews The Review hoped to conduct in the
future. Innocent enough? Humes, if he’d known of this other CIA tie, might

6

WHITNEY

not have thought so. Humes wrote his colleagues in 1966 of his apprehension toward secret organizations and their inevitable rot: “[H]owever much
one might agree with Peter that ‘in those days the CIA was just a collection
of college kids,’”
it would appear that the activities of this Kollection of Kollege Kids
is inKreasingly Kriminal in nature. I don’t believe that the principles of freedom and justice and respect for Law—which after all
are the very foundation of western civilization—are best upheld
by raping those principles on the pretext of defending their honor;
but, as history repeatedly teaches, this is what any unchecked
secret organization invariably ends in doing.9
Implicit in Plimpton’s response, detailed in the pages to come, is the notion
that became chronic throughout the American media that working journalists may justifiably do double duty as CIA assets, and that CIA assets may
use the media in its many forms as cover, and as a soft power method of
dampening blowback against its unpopular operations. Even after Humes
begged his colleagues to come clean, Matthiessen’s work for the CIA, however short-lived, remained secret until a 1977 article in The New York Times
by John M. Crewdson outed him among scores of others embedded across
media as undercover agents. If Plimpton and Matthiessen had listened to
Humes, there would have been no story implicating The Paris Review. In the
same article identifying Matthiessen’s past service in that agency—out just a
year before he won the National Book Award for The Snow Leopard—a former
agent is quoted claiming, “We ‘had’ at least one newspaper in every foreign
capital . . . .” Crewdson added a claim that those which “the CIA did not own
outright or subsidize heavily it infiltrated with paid agents or staff officers
who could have stories printed that were useful to the agency and not print
those it found detrimental.”10 It seems likely, given new archival evidence
to come at the end of this book, that yet another Paris Review co-founder’s
intelligence ties in that period bolstered Matthiessen and Plimpton’s silence.
The program that The Paris Review was part of—Matthiessen through
the front door and Plimpton through the back—was astonishingly vast.
While Humes argued for transparency, Plimpton, for reasons we can
imagine, balked. Many of the liberal interventionists who turned to culture
to beat back Soviet influence were of course well-intentioned and were legitimately concerned about the spread of Soviet ideology at home and abroad.
But good intentions or not, Plimpton and Matthiessen’s silence was collusion

FINKS

7

with those who would weaken American media. If The Paris Review played
a relatively small part in the CIA’s media war, it also had many friends who
joined the young CIA. Even if some could guess, no one, obviously, could
know for sure what the young agency, born in the late 1940s, would become.
Furthermore, those tied to the CIA through funding designated for cultural
programming were often unaware, as has been said many times before,
where the money originated. But many others would lean on the contradictory line of being unaware, yet being nevertheless proud. It reeked of
doublespeak and of hedging: if I had known who paid the bill, I’d have been
proud to do exactly what I did do. But I didn’t know. The pride argument has
held up behind a second argument that the CIA and its editors never censored. But the record shows they censored repeatedly.
Exposing these ties is not for the purpose of moral condemnation. It
marks my attempt to look through a keyhole into the vast engine room of
the cultural Cold War, to see if this ideology—one favoring paranoid intervention into the media over adherence to democratic principle—remains
with us. If so, what do we lose by accepting that our media exist, in part,
to encourage support for our interventions? And if we’re ok with it during
one administration, are we still ok with our tax dollars fostering the nexus
of CIA contractors, military propagandists, and journalists even when the
opposition runs the government? Most important, what—if anything—can
we do about it all?

8

WHITNEY

1
GRADUATES

At first we received a not inconsiderable honorarium for the meetings we attended. . .
—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Congress”

Matthiessen made the decision, which he would downplay for the rest of
his life, at Yale.
Like many young Ivy League men in the late 1940s and early 1950s, his
CIA career began with a nod from his English professor. By all accounts a
brilliant scholar, Norman Holmes Pearson became a professor of English
while still a young man himself, then a professor of American Studies.
During World War II, Pearson worked in the Office of Strategic Services,
the country’s fledgling wartime intelligence service. He also joined a team
of men who formed a postwar brain trust that helped to lobby for the CIA’s
creation.
Some of the young agency’s earliest recruits were Pearson’s students—many of whom first saw publication in the prestigious Yale Literary
Magazine, the school’s student-run magazine and the oldest literary magazine in the country. Like scores of early agency men (they were usually

men), Pearson’s career is a mashup of literature and spying. A friend of the
modernist poet Hilda Doolittle (aka, “H.D.”), he hired H.D.’s daughter as his
secretary. She later became the secretary of his protégé, the CIA’s counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton—famous for the CIA’s great molehunt in the 1960s and 1970s, the failure of which would lead to Angleton’s
resignation. During World War II, Pearson ran the Art Looting Unit, recently
fictionalized in the Hollywood film Monuments Men.1
After an illustrious record in the OSS alongside Allen Dulles, Frank
Wisner, and CIA founder William “Wild Bill” Donovan, Pearson returned
to academia to launch Yale’s American Studies program. A letter from Yale’s
dean laid out the explicit propaganda aims of the program: “In the international scene it is clear that our government has not been too effective in
blazoning to Europe and Asia, as a weapon in the ‘cold war’ the merits of
our way of thinking and living . . . . Until we put more vigor and conviction
into our own cause . . . it is not likely that we shall be able to convince the
wavering peoples of the world that we have something infinitely better than
Communism. . .”2
It was into this shifting milieu that Matthiessen was first thrust, in
pursuit of those wavering peoples. He wanted to be a writer of important
books. In a 1945 photograph from his Hotchkiss School yearbook, young
Peter’s stare is blank. He has the same extended chin, the same long neck
and large ears, the same prominent eyebrows and penetrating look that he
would show in later photographs. But the eyelines and crinkling forehead
that give the older Matthiessen a gentle, if slightly fierce wisdom, haven’t
yet appeared.
Where better for this young American blueblood to study the American
century than at Yale, as a family legacy, where the brilliant Professor
Pearson straddled the English and American Studies departments? Yale’s
American Studies program would be, as one scholar has written, “not a
matter of preaching against Communism, but one of advocacy for the
American alternative.”3 Call it “positive propaganda.” When the literary CIA
got into the game—deploying cultural propaganda or psychological warfare techniques—it would use both positive and negative means, celebrating
American cultural achievements on one hand and attacking Soviet ideas
and policies on the other.
According to Matthiessen, it was a paper on William Faulkner that
caught the attention of Pearson—and the CIA. Although he was a less than
diligent student, Matthiessen formed a friendship with Professor Pearson,
who had once been a friend of Peter’s father’s cousin, F.O. Matthiessen.

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F.O. Matthiessen, as Peter points out in an unpublished interview, “killed
himself at Harvard, rather long story.” An expert on the American
Transcendentalists, and author of The American Renaissance (“the great text
about nineteenth century American writers,” Peter called it), F.O. had been
friends with Pearson—which touched Peter—and Pearson was also a friend
of Wallace Stevens, which impressed him.4
Peter grew up the son of an architect in a well-to-do environment,
and attended the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. It was while
working in a camp for troubled kids one summer during boarding school
that he had what he reports to be his first glimpse into politics. Seeing how
hard these kids from “troubled backgrounds” had it in life woke him to a
vague sense of being sheltered.5 Likewise, his experience in World War
II, where he spent two years during college, deepened his perspective. In
the South Pacific one night, Matthiessen saw a glimpse of what he later
described as the “primordial longing.” If the camp counseling for troubled
kids was a political glimpse into a larger narrative, a raging storm during
his naval service was a spiritual one. “One night in 1945,” he wrote, “on a
Navy vessel in a Pacific storm, my relief on bow watch, seasick, failed to
appear, and I was alone for eight hours in a maelstrom of wind and water,
noise and iron; again and again, waves crashed across the deck, until water,
air and iron became one. Overwhelmed, exhausted, all thought and emotion beaten out of me, I lost my sense of self, the heartbeat I heard was the
heart of the world, I breathed with the mighty risings and declines of earth,
and this evanescence seemed less frightening than exalting.”6
The year of his graduation from Yale, Peter’s cousin’s suicide helped
solidify his bond with Pearson. He recalled Pearson showing him letters
about “Matty,” as F.O. Matthiessen was called. “My father was also called
Matty,” he said, “and they were first cousins. But Pearson and I were pretty
close, [and] we would heckle each other. I’d been goofing off, going to Smith
[College] and drinking much too much. I never spent a Saturday night at
Yale the whole time I was there. And Pearson was kind of ticked off at me
because he thought I was an irresponsible youth.” 7
Even if Peter grew serious about one of those Smith girls he was always
rushing off to see—named Patsy Southgate, whom he wound up marrying—
the stain of irresponsibility colored his relationship with Pearson. Then
he wrote a paper on William Faulkner, recalling proudly, “I knew about
Faulkner and I had ideas about Faulkner. And I remember it very well;
[Pearson] called me in and said, ‘Where have you been for the last three
years?’” With work like this, Pearson told him, “You could have won the

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English prize.”8 Was it good enough work for the CIA? So common was
recruitment for the Agency from Ivy League schools it was given the codename “P SOURCE”—P for professor.
William Lippincott, a recruiter at Princeton, used his influential place
as dean to staff the agency with new blood. His refrain? “How would you
like to serve your country in a different way?” Skip Walz was the Yale crew
coach who “would work the boathouse and the field house, Mory’s and fraternity row, looking for strong young shoulders and quick minds. When the
Korean War called for some beef, he broadened his recruiting ground to
the National Football League, producing twenty-five former football players
who would be trained, he was told, for parachuting behind enemy lines.”9
So whether he wrote an insightful Faulkner paper or not mattered more to
Matthiessen than to Pearson; a taste of his professor’s approval, playing on
his sense of patriotism, was the beginning, and it would lead him into Yale’s
secret societies. Pearson, Matthiessen recalled, “was a member of this Yale
literary thing called the Jacobean club. And a great friend of Pearson, I’m
sorry to say, was Mr. James Jesus Angleton.”10
The head of counterintelligence from 1954 until the 1970s, Angleton
was charged with, among other tasks, eliminating Soviet agents posing as
spies for the CIA. The moles. Arguably, this was that most paranoid agency’s
most paranoid task, revealing itself as a veritable “wilderness of mirrors,”
the image of T.S. Eliot’s.11
“And as it turned out, Pearson recruited a great great many Yale seniors
for the CIA,” said Matthiessen. “Now this was right after the war, when the
CIA was starting up, [and was] an offshoot of the OSS, and not into assassinations and all the ugly stuff yet. But I’m afraid that I was one of the ones
conscripted, and I was sent to Paris. And I was writing—before I left Yale I
was publishing my first short stories in The Atlantic, I already had an agent,
I was more or less established, and [was] working on my second novel. But
Patsy [Southgate] and I wanted to go back to Paris, and I thought, ‘Hey, here’s
a great way to get to Paris free, and adventure.’ I didn’t know about the CIA
from anything, I was just a greenhorn.”12
Matthiessen repeated many times how the CIA’s reputation was not yet
destroyed by its subsequent law breaking. “The ugly stuff,” he called it. And
it’s true that this would obviously depend on how informed you were. Given
how the press often saw itself then as partners with government in its Cold
War efforts on foreign policy, Matthiessen like many others might not have
initially known much about the agency. Yet it was indeed into plenty of ugly
stuff by 1950.

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When he got to Paris after his training, Matthiessen “discovered that
we [he and Southgate] were being shadowed, that we were being followed
where we were going, and I don’t know who that was, but it was one of the
intelligence services trying to find out what I was up to.”13 Matthiessen eventually linked up with Harold “Doc” Humes, who had already established a
magazine, called the Paris News Post. Humes grew up in Princeton, New
Jersey, did a stint at MIT and the US Navy, and then made his way to Paris in
1948. As the News Post’s fiction editor, Matthiessen exploited its infrastructure, even if he didn’t think much of what Humes had built. The idea for The
Paris Review grew out of these false starts.
“Doc loved James Baldwin, absolutely idolized James Baldwin, and
he says they talked about making a magazine—how great it would be if
there were an outlet, and a safe space for writers by writers,” said Humes’s
daughter, the filmmaker Immy Humes. “Doc always talked about The
Paris Review as an anti-anxiety measure . . . [that] was going to be this
protected space, and it was going to be criticism free . . . a measure against
this ‘age of anxiety’. . .” 14 Baldwin was an expat black writer in Paris whose
relationship with others at the magazine, like Matthiessen, was fraught,
and who would go on to write the best-selling novel Another Country. The
anxiety these writers sought to escape came from McCarthyism, white
supremacy, Jim Crow, domestic espionage by the FBI, and a list of other
American maladies. The year Humes got to Paris, Richard Nixon made
his name by grandstanding before the House Un-American Activities
Committee, and helped tear down popular New Deal figures, like Alger
Hiss, by tarring them as Communists. Occasionally, as with Hiss, they
scored a hit.
Plimpton was Matthiessen’s childhood friend in New York, the two
having attended St. Bernard’s together. Plimpton could see the school
through the window of his childhood home on Fifth Avenue in midtown
Manhattan. Their school days together ended after fourth grade. “Somehow
I kept up with George enough to know he was in [the UK]. ‘How would you
like to come to Paris to run a little magazine’?” Matthiessen asked him.
Plimpton had worked on the Harvard Lampoon, where he had known
John Train and Sadruddin Aga Khan, the magazine’s respective managing
editor and publisher, and where he had been accepted into poet Archibald
MacLeish’s highly selective creative writing class.15 MacLeish, like Pearson,
had ties to the founding elements of the CIA, and inspired Plimpton’s choice
of Cambridge for postgraduate work.16 Plimpton hadn’t been known for
his academics at St. Bernard’s, or Exeter, where he went next. But he got

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a little more serious about literature after studying with MacLeish and
Matthiessen’s cousin, F.O.
The son of a prominent New York lawyer who was appointed deputy
ambassador to the United Nations under President Kennedy, Plimpton grew
up in Manhattan and spent summers in Long Island. In the middle of his
undergraduate work at Harvard, he did a stint in the military during World
War II, where, as the war was ending, he taught public speaking to soldiers.
Or as one comrade called it, “social graces.”17 Many have described how his
patrician accent might put a new friend off, until it sank in how immensely
friendly and charismatic the tall, slender fellow was, and that the MidAtlantic accent was permanent more than affected. The proud descendent
of a lionized Union general,18 Plimpton had the charm of a Kennedy; indeed,
his brother said in an interview, “I think George might have even dated”
Jacqueline Kennedy.19 “I really didn’t like [George] at first, mistaking the
apparent snobbishness and studied front for gratuitous thoughtlessness,
rather than recognizing the necessary camouflage of an almost tenderly
vulnerable man,” wrote Doc Humes years later. “I know a lot about [him]
now that I didn’t when I first met him, and he is a complex, lonely, rather
brave human being.”20
Given the constant allegations of CIA ties that clung to The Paris Review
throughout its life, one admires the language, straight out of spy thrillers,
that Matthiessen used in an undated letter during the period in which he
recruited Plimpton for the magazine. “Michael tells me you are planning
to come here and join forces with us, which is very cheering intelligence
indeed. I have had a long letter from Humes, presently in Portugal, full of
bright ideas, and if we can lure Guinzburg into the trap, which I think we
can, all will be well.”21
It’s unclear to which Michael he refers. 22 Thomas Guinzburg was
another founder, and a classmate of Matthiessen’s at Yale. The first managing
editor, he was unable to run the magazine after falling in love with Francine
du Plessix (now Gray). He was too heartsick to work. 23 Like Matthiessen,
Guinzburg was a Hotchkiss alumnus, the son of a publishing magnate, and
a member of Skull & Bones, and worked under William F. Buckley on the
Yale Daily News. During Matthiessen’s final year at Yale, Guinzburg was his
roommate. 24
“Meanwhile,” Matthiessen recalled, “in making contacts around Paris
for the CIA, my politics by this time had really changed. I was not only going
left, I was veering left very hard. And I wrote a book which began actually
as part of my cover, my second novel, called Partisans. But when I ended

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up, it was a kind of a statement of belief. And it was so left that the Chicago
Tribune told me to go back to Moscow, which was ridiculous.”25
Matthiessen’s CIA liaison didn’t think the novel was enough of a
cover and kept asking, what else can you do in Paris? There was no issue
of the new magazine he proposed, but there was letterhead, and an office.
Compared to some expat magazines there, The Review’s first Paris office
stood out. “The rue Garancière, where The Paris Review had its office, contained within the larger office of [French publisher] La Table Ronde, was just
around the corner from the Tournon [café], and the magazine’s editorial
team settled into the café and made it their local.” Plimpton mused that
the publishing house “worked with the kind of silence one associates with
clerking in nineteenth-century banking institutions,” but “the Paris team
preferred instead to read galleys and new submissions snugly enveloped in
the congenial smoke of the Tournon.”26 The office was posh enough to stimulate casual rumors of CIA ties. “The Paris Review . . . seems at first sight an
unlikely recipient of ideologically determined disbursements; but the other
side of the bill says that publications generally reflective of ‘American values’
and broadly in line with the American government’s hatred of Communism
might be looked on favorably if a request for funding were to be made.”27
Plimpton denied ties to the CIA, recalling, “Many people felt that The
Paris Review was somehow involved with the CIA as a recipient of its funds
through the agency of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. That was not
true.” But from nearly day one, the rumors stuck, and some speculated that
there would soon be quid pro quo for such funding. “There would have had
to be a return somehow,” thought Otto Friedrich, the journalist and author.
“It might have just been a matter of the CIA asking these people to keep an
eye on things around their café tables and in their hotels. There was lots
of it going on at the time. There wasn’t anything even particularly sinister
about it.”28 The Congress for Cultural Freedom was the CIA’s new propaganda front, its attempt to offset the use of culture by the Soviets to lure
intellectuals to the fringe benefits of Communism—which included government funding for the arts.
Plimpton acknowledged the rumors occasionally in interviews,
but was “adamant that there were no government favors done for favors
returned.” “The Paris Review was started with private money,” he told James
Campbell. “The families of Peter Matthiessen, myself, and John Train each
gave $500. That got the magazine off the ground.” Plimpton did admit “that
one prominent member of The Paris Review’s editorial team was actually
working for the CIA at the time, as he confessed to colleagues in later life.

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He resigned his security position . . . after being asked to spy on the expatriate community.” 29
The New York Times revealed Matthiessen’s CIA ties in 1977, 30 somewhat against his will. Matthiessen claimed that he spoke on the understanding that the journalist would not use his name. But the journalist
reneged. “I knew and he admitted that a lot of people he was talking to weren’t using their names,” said Matthiessen, who attempted to make the same
arrangement to speak anonymously. But then, “he had this long gray piece
and needed a little spice in it. So he threw my name in it.” 31 It was precisely
because the CIA had already launched magazines that such suspicions were
attached to the group’s office, which was luxe compared to the Left Bank
dives where rival magazines like Merlin were located. Preuves, launched in
October 1951—the year The Paris Review crowd was planning its first issue
and debating the new magazine’s name—was already under suspicion, as it
“was unmistakably the house organ of the Congress [for Cultural Freedom],
giving it a voice as well as advertising its activities. As such it immediately
faced . . . [hostility], but stood firm in the face of virulent attacks from both
the left and the right.”32
If Matthiessen had been asked to spy on his expat friends, he was not
alone. Richard Wright, author of the acclaimed novel Native Son, began
to suspect he was being watched. Wright had founded a group called the
Franco-American Fellowship. Its mission involved elucidating “the problem
of human freedom. . .[in order] to combat the . . . extension of racist ideas
and practices . . .” He and his group were relentlessly spied on. Though he
was an anti-Communist, Wright was an activist writer with a political bent,
who lobbied for more employment of “‘Americans of African ancestry’ in US
government jobs in Paris,” and observations by informants found their way
into his FBI file. One of the informants who spied on Wright was known
to be mentally imbalanced, described in Wright’s file as having a “mental
quirk.”33
Aware he was being spied on, Wright resigned as president, and this
group that might have gotten more jobs for black expat Americans, such
as the perpetually broke James Baldwin, folded for want of his leadership.
It turned out that Wright’s extensive FBI file was constructed mostly from
spies from military intelligence, though the US Information Agency and the
Foreign Liaison Service also helped keep a covert eye on Wright. In fact, in
a photograph in Nelson Aldrich’s oral history of Plimpton, George, Being
George, a handsome young Peter Matthiessen, flanked by writer Max Steele
on one side, laughs with Wright in front of a Paris cathedral. Wright, too,

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laughs, and the scene looks like a jolly one between friends. But during the
period that the photograph was taken, Matthiessen was a covert counterintelligence agent of the CIA, and Wright was being spied on by multiple
acquaintances in multiple agencies. The fact of having to resign from a
group due to infiltration by intelligence agents naturally embittered Wright.
Years later, he told a group on the Quai D’Orsay that “most revolutionary
movements in the West are government-sponsored. They are launched by
agents provocateurs to organize the discontented so that the government
can keep an eye on them.”34 As we shall see, the CIA’s cloak of secrecy would
tempt it to suppress lawful political activists, and this à la carte suppression
would then lead to Operations Chaos and Mockingbird, involving exactly
the sort of mass infiltration Wright described.
“I remember I was trained in New York that winter,” Matthiessen said
of the time before his trip to Paris. “I went to Paris in the spring.” Training
consisted of “how to photograph documents, surveillance, the usual. I
thought it was kind of fun. I really did. They had a safe house and every
day [Matthiessen and his trainer] would work together.”35 After training as
an intelligence officer for around three months, the senior agent challenged
Matthiessen: “‘I could find out your real name and this is how I would go
about it,’ [he said]. So I came back a few days later, and said, ‘I can find out
your real name, too, and this is what I would do, bing bing bing,’ and he said,
‘Right, stop right there,’ and ‘more or less your training is [done].’” Though
Matthiessen impressed his CIA trainer, he admitted, “I never learned who
he really was. . .”36
•

•

•

Instead of telling people he was training for the CIA, Matthiessen said he
was beginning work on his novel. “Which I was. We only worked a few
hours a day.” But the first uncomfortable request came up. “They wanted me
to come to Washington. [But] I said, ‘Look, if I do that, my cover is blown
right away. Either you train me in New York or there’s no go.’ That was the
first sticking point right there. Because there were so many guys signing up
for the CIA.” 37 Apparently, it was such a high number from his social circle
that a trip to Washington, Matthiessen felt, would blow his cover with the
others that he would see there. “I have a lot of friends who did it [joined the
CIA]. So does George. We still do.”38
But the pressure—and guilt—were mounting. His boss in the agency
“kept hitting that patriotic note. And when he sent me to Washington, guess

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who he sent me to? James Jesus Angleton. The headquarters at that time,
temporary housing in the woods, [had] buildings thrown up, like they do
for migrant workers, by no means a big operation.” Initially his wife Patsy
was in favor of Peter’s new vocation. “But she wasn’t all for it later on, after
we lost our first kid. I started getting followed every time I left the place,”
in Paris. She would say, “‘We don’t need this.’ But also for political reasons, this was not my gang. I realized that all these Ivy League rich people,
[from] wealthy families . . . this isn’t where reality is at all.” Matthiessen
said he “was reading the Communist papers for research purposes to keep
up to date about France. But I really found that—[the French Communist
Party] weren’t a very humorous bunch, I’ll tell you—but they were the only
honest party in France at that time; everybody had their hand in the till. So,
I respected the people I was supposed to be spying on, more than the ones
that” he was spying for.39
Irwin Shaw, a novelist from the older generation who had befriended
The Paris Review group in Paris, described the privileged milieu that was
wearying Matthiessen: “The literary hopefuls of the Paris contingent spoke
in the casual tones of the good schools and could be found surrounded by
flocks of pretty and nobly acquiescent girls, in chic places like Lipp’s on the
Boulevard St-Germain or on the roads to Deauville or Biarritz for monthlong holidays.” He continued, “They were mild-mannered, beautifully
polite, recoiled from the appearance of seeming ambitious and were ready
at all times to drop whatever they were almost secretly composing to play
tennis (usually very well), drive down to Spain for a bullfight, fly to Rome for
a wedding . . . they gave the impression they were going through a period of
Gallic slumming for the fun of it. One guessed that there were wealthy and
benevolent parents on the other side of the Atlantic.”40
Attractive qualities emanated from these figures, and these qualities
didn’t go unnoticed. For one young writer in Paris and New York during
that time, Matthiessen especially stood out. “Peter Matthiessen was not
just a long-legged prep-school-looking man,” wrote Anne Roiphe, “he also
had appeared to be a man who hunted and climbed mountains and spoke
in native languages and lay down in the tall grass and let bugs crawl over
his chest.” She was referring to the reputation increasingly arising from his
nature writing, in books like The Cloud Forest and, later, The Snow Leopard.
“He had a quiet fierce intelligence that came from his eyes, the cut of his
jaw.” She thought “a wise goodness was moving within him. . .”41
Working on his first novel while in the Agency’s employ, Matthiessen
joined a long tradition of writer-spies. This relationship wasn’t incidental.

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This aspect of the “P Source,” especially as exemplified at Yale, emerged
from a kind of close reading popularized by the movement known as the
“New Criticism.” The New Critics’ method for studying a literary text owed
much to an understanding of language put forth by Sir William Empson in
his Seven Types of Ambiguity: “Empson’s peculiar achievement,” wrote one
scholar, “was to find a way of talking about poetry which was at once exemplary of the commitment to literature that he found essential in a critic . . .
exact, teachable, and seemingly quite detached from the political quarrels
of the day.”42 Other scholarly methods of criticism emphasized the historical
context of a literary text. Upending this, New Criticism sought to examine
texts ahistorically, as closed, self-contained systems.
Angleton, Matthiessen’s ultimate boss at the CIA, came of age intellectually within this tradition. His official CIA photo shows a man with deeply
subdued, quietly distracted eyes, borne by a slightly gaunt face, with pronounced cheekbones resembling the young Sinatra, but with the large ears
of Mickey Mouse, which make him seem both boyish and underline the
degree to which he was a human antenna searching for signals.
Angleton’s father was from Idaho. He started in sales and eventually
owned a successful cash register business, and his mother was from Nogales,
Mexico. He met her on an expedition to capture Pancho Villa. His father’s
business took him to Italy, so that young Angleton grew up speaking Italian
in addition to Spanish. His English schooling gave him an appreciation for
expensive English-cut suits, and a sense of his Americanness as containing,
owning, the European culture to which he was now heir.43 Even if his literary
publishing at Yale wasn’t exactly his cover, in the way it was for Matthiessen,
it at least led him into the CIA. First, Angleton launched a Francophone student literary magazine called Vif, then another, Furioso.44 Furioso spurred
Angleton’s correspondence with T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams,
who said of Angleton’s own poetry, “I like the rich color and intensity (a bit
nostalgic) of the feeling—but I’d rather see more before judging.” Furioso
also fostered his friendship with poets Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, and
Reed Whittemore. After graduation, Angleton hoped to go to Harvard Law
School, but he was rejected. He then enlisted Professor Pearson, who wrote
a letter praising how serious Furioso was. It got him in.45 Though Angleton
would call himself a lawyer when testifying before lawmakers later in his
career, he actually enlisted to fight in World War II before graduating from
Harvard Law, never finishing. Pearson eventually yanked Angleton into the
OSS, and, before long, he was serving as an intelligence official in Italy, the
country he knew so well. Among the “ugly stuff” from those early years (of

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which Matthiessen denied knowledge) was the huge infusion of CIA bribe
money for the 1948 Italian elections, which initiated more than two decades’
worth of subsequent Italian election bribes. “‘All in all, between 1948 and
1975, over $75 million was spent by the CIA on Italian elections,’ part of a
worldwide program of secret and illicit support for . . . Christian Democrat
parties and their analogues, like the particularly corrupt Japanese Liberal
Party. . .”46 Other early efforts would see the useless march of Albanians
and other Eastern Europeans to death and capture behind the Iron Curtain
in guerrilla operations meant to spark regime change, operations that had
already been compromised.47 These missions were betrayed by early double
agents, “moles,” and would become Angleton’s key obsession beginning in
the years he had Matthiessen in his employment at the Agency. This was
likely why Matthiessen read the Communist newspapers in Paris.
But as The Paris Review editors sifted through copy for their first issue,
the CIA was shifting focus. In the wake of President Eisenhower’s January
1953 inauguration, Allen Dulles took over as director, having served under
Walter Bedell Smith as deputy director. The following year James Jesus
Angleton was named chief of counterintelligence. “At this point, long before
I left Paris, they came to me, the government did, and wanted me to go very
much deeper,” said Matthiessen.48 Counterintelligence Chief Angleton had
an army of journalists who were under what was called “deep snow” cover.
“I spoke good French by that time. I had good contacts; apparently mine
were good.” Matthiessen had taken his junior year at Yale abroad at the
Sorbonne. “I said nope, and not only am I not going to do that, I’m going
to resign from the CIA right now. And I did. And I’ve [been] going leftward
ever since.”49
As vague as Matthiessen’s post-training responsibilities were—did
he spy on his friends, sabotage the French left?—the above is more than
anyone has gotten him to say on the record. These details about his recruitment, training, and chain of command were given in an on-camera interview to Doc Humes’s daughter, the filmmaker Immy Humes, who sought
to untangle her father’s paranoia in a documentary about his life. Once
Matthiessen agreed to the interview, and signed a release, it was all Humes
could do to keep any of the details about his CIA service in her film. After
Matthiessen saw a cut of the film, he began a campaign to browbeat her to
take his own confession out of her film. Much of the above wound up on the
cutting room floor.

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2
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF
EDITORS

A very good editor is almost a collaborator. —Ken Follett

But literature was not just a cover; it was a weapon in its own right.
The need for amped-up Cold War cultural propaganda—a sort of international American Studies—grew out of the reaction to Soviet cultural
programming in post–World War II Western Europe. George F. Kennan,
the founding father of American “containment,” worried in his “Long
Telegram” from Moscow that the Soviets were infiltrating organizations
throughout the world.1 Many policymakers felt that Western Europeans
were being softened to the horror of Communism thanks to towering
Soviet and Russian cultural achievements. Americans, in a word, needed
to become boosters of their high culture. But the same men who agitated
for an agency to champion culture also believed the Americans needed
to fight fire with fire, employing sabotage, covert warfare, and all sorts
of nefarious activities that Kennan and others insisted the Soviets were
engaged in.

This thinking eventually spurred the creation of the Office of Policy
Coordination and the International Organizations Division, out of which
would emerge the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom. The Congress
itself dwelt within a slew of propaganda agents who worked in radio,
books, film, art, music, labor, student groups, and so on. In 1952, the
OPC, having started under the State Department, was merged into the
CIA. Out of this grew the new umbrella for propaganda, covert ops and
psychological warfare, 2 the Directorate of Plans. Under this behemoth sat
the new magazines, usually under the Congress’s sovereignty. A use for
culture had finally been found; it was a weapon. The CIA sent the Boston
Symphony Orchestra on its first European tour and covertly sponsored
abstract expressionism’s first European exhibition. Like the New Critics’
ahistorical approach to a text, the paint splashes of Jackson Pollock
did not lend themselves to a Marxist or anti-imperialist narrative the
way Diego Rivera’s sweeping murals did. This American expressionism
pointed instead to individual freedom in a tacit campaign against social
realism, a style that Franklin D. Roosevelt had funded openly during the
Depression. Now, twenty years later, this art that was sensitive to history
was anathema: a tool of the enemy. Those conservative figures leading
the reaction against the New Deal’s popular programs were themselves
curmudgeons about funding art. Whether it could be used for soft power
purposes or not was beside the point. These modern, decadent paint
splashers, let alone writers who depicted the realities of the poor and marginalized, should be banned, not funded. Rather than educate through
public discussion, instead these would-be builders of the non-Communist
consensus “did it black,” to use their later phrasing. This meant funding
their scheme for cultural propaganda secretly through the unaccountable
new agency, rather than rally for consensus before lawmakers and the
public. The expressionist painters would be championed. The canonical
writers would be too. But in order not to raise the reactionaries’ hackles,
the social realists would be marginalized. This sloppy compromise was
papered over by CIA secrecy.
The Wall Street lawyer Frank Wisner was head of both propaganda
schemes and covert operations. The diminutive manic-depressive had been
a World War II adventurer who would head up the Directorate of Plans, and
thus, ultimately, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, as well as its sibling
offices in coups and assassinations. The Congress had offices in dozens of
countries, employed hundreds of personnel, published dozens of intellectual and anti-Communist magazines, and “held art exhibitions, owned a

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news and feature service, organized high-profile international conferences,
and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances.
Its mission was to nudge the intelligentsia of Western Europe away from its
lingering Marxism and Communism towards a view more accommodating
of ‘the American way.’”3
And it wasn’t just government propaganda outfits that Wisner and his
CIA boss Allen Dulles directed, but cover businesses—airlines and paper
factories and film production fronts. Sometimes a legitimate company
housed within it a CIA shell company to lend it a veneer of legitimacy. The
CIA’s “empire,” as Evan Thomas called it, expanded into Asia, Africa, and
Latin America, and—according to one of its boosters—the flagship Congress
for Cultural Freedom was “the only outfit . . . making an anti-Communist
anti-neutralist dent with intellectuals in Europe and Asia.”4
The neutralists and avowed leftists of Europe, men like existentialist
writer Jean-Paul Sartre, were one test of sorts for the CIA’s efforts. Some
results can certainly be claimed in Europe, as when Sartre denounced the
Soviets for their repression in Hungary in 1956. But the neutralist intellectuals of Asia and the developing world, a key area of focus when Dulles
became Eisenhower’s Director of Central Intelligence, were left cold by often
clumsy, ham-fisted efforts to win them over with a schizophrenic cocktail of
perfidy, coups, and culture.
The CCF would not just do positive propaganda, like reminding our
European and global friends about our Nobel Prize winners. The CCF and its
CIA partner agencies would also engage in negative propaganda, exposing
the “lies” of “coexistence,” “neutrality,” “non-alignment,” “peace,” “antiracism,” and other buzzwords alleged to originate with the Communist
front groups. Like its parent agency, the CCF was enlisted not just to spread
criticism, but outright disinformation to foreigners and Americans alike.
The Congress for Cultural Freedom’s CIA funding was kept secret. Yet
those working within its vast apparatus knew the rumors, according to several well established accounts.5
•

•

•

As The Paris Review founders trickled back to New York in the middle and late
1950s, a group dubbed the New York Intellectuals had laid down arguments
that would affect the fledgling magazine’s long-term prospects. The New York
Intellectuals were a clutch of leftists associated with the magazine Partisan
Review. They had renounced their former Communist sympathies during the

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worst of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, and after the Hitler–Stalin non-aggression pact of 1939.6 Well-informed in the nature of Soviet tactics, these intellectuals, under the banner of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, a
nonprofit foundation sometimes called the American Committee for short,
began to crusade for anti-Communist causes. They disrupted conferences
and critiqued supposed Communist front activities and groups, writing letters to editors and government officials, holding public forums, discussions,
and debates. When the international Congress for Cultural Freedom formed
in Paris in 1950, the American Committee became the US affiliate.
Sidney Hook, a pragmatist philosopher at NYU and the chair of its philosophy department, was the most hard-line of these ex-leftists, and Dwight
Macdonald, a contrarian critic, author, and professor, was the most ambivalent. Respectively, these two formed the right and left wings of the group.
Sol Stein—the novelist, playwright, and propagandist, and the only member
alive today—claimed the center. Dan Bell, the sociologist editor, and Arthur
Schlesinger, the historian, helped round out Macdonald’s liberal-left camp
of the American Committee.
Macdonald was another Yalie who became known for his outspokenness. After a stint with Partisan Review, he worked at The New Yorker. The
contrarian magazine he had founded, Politics, was an outlet for the vestiges
of his pacifism. But in the late 1940s, he was so depressed about politics that
he flirted with giving it up for cultural criticism. His marriage was stagnant;
as an anarchist he attacked all the presidential candidates of the liberal-left
in the 1948 election. According to Macdonald, Henry Wallace, the socialist
running for the Democratic nomination against Truman, was an apologist
for the monstrous dictator in the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin. Macdonald saw
Wallace’s naïveté toward Stalin as unforgivable and relentlessly attacked
him. While Harry Truman ultimately upset Republican Governor Thomas
Dewey of New York, neither candidate was good enough for Macdonald:
they were more of the same. Even if one them had to win (it was Truman),
Macdonald was consoled that the election was marked by the fact that
almost half of the eligible electorate had opted not to vote—a victory for
Macdonald’s anarchist views.
By March 1949, Macdonald and the American Committee were united
in a great plan of subversion that embodied their consensus. They gathered
like covert action spies at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to disrupt the
“Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace,” which they thought
was a Communist Trojan horse. Attending in the name of cultural exchange
were dramatist Lillian Hellman, playwright Clifford Odets, composer

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Leonard Bernstein, playwright Arthur Miller, NAACP co-founder W.E.B.
Du Bois, and author Dashiell Hammett. Young Peter Matthiessen’s cousin,
F.O. Matthiessen, also attended. The Soviets who came were the composer
Dmitri Shostakovich and Alexander Fadeyev, head of the Soviet Writers’
Union. Priests, nuns, and political conservatives organized by the American
Legion picketed outside the hotel in very cold New York weather, jeering
and booing.7
Contrasting this “unintelligent anticommunism,” Macdonald’s and
the American Committee’s style was designed to play better to educated
anti-Communists, thanks to the group’s trademarked brand of urbane
gravitas, the beloved intellectuals who lined its letterhead and the sober,
meticulous tone of their public takedowns. The NYU philosopher Hook had
written several books on Marx, but his hero was pragmatist philosopher
John Dewey.8 Hook’s second book on Dewey was nearly out, and as a frequent commentator on politics to the media, Hook represented an outsized
fear of Soviet penetration of American institutions.
In addition to Macdonald and Hook, the novelist Mary McCarthy,
poet Robert Lowell, novelist Elizabeth Hardwick, composer Nicolas
Nabokov (first cousin to Vladimir), and future Kennedy administration
historian Arthur Schlesinger all crammed into one of the Waldorf suites,
their makeshift command center. At stake was more than peace. “The
Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace . . . was widely suspected of being underwritten by the Soviet Union (a claim, which, to
this day, is impossible to verify). Anticommunists feared that the Soviets
were co-opting intellectuals with words like ‘peace’ and ‘freedom,’ and
thus winning the Cold War by controlling the terms of the debate.” 9
Whether it could be proven or not, the American Committee thought
the Waldorf conference was a dangerous foothold in the heart of New
York City, and planned a bit of theatrical counter-debate bordering on
counter-insurgency.
During those days in late March, hard-liners like Hook seemed almost
disappointed that rather than being tossed ignominiously into the chilled
air amidst those picketing crowds outside, they simply had to wait their
turn. Since Hook had insisted they’d be shouted down or removed, they had
written their comments down on tear sheets to be handed to the media. But
they were treated well, asked pointedly not to shout interruptions; in a few
minutes they would have the floor. The warfare Hook had prepared them
for was not necessary. The more moderate among them saw that there were
distortions within this “paranoid style.”10

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When their turn came, it was a lesson in public shaming. Mary McCarthy
asked American Renaissance author and Transcendentalist scholar F.O.
Matthiessen if he thought that Emerson would be free to write and live as
he liked in the Soviet Union. Matthiessen acknowledged he would not but
added that Lenin would not be allowed to live in the United States either.11
(F.O. Matthiessen was not long for this world. Soon he would be hounded
into suicide like many leftists after him, the abuse at the Waldorf exacerbating a long depression that he went into after the death of his domestic
partner.) Macdonald asked the Russian writer Fadeyev why he had allowed
the Politburo to make such drastic edits to his novel The Young Guard.12
Robert Lowell asked the composer Shostakovich whether the state’s criticism of his work had been helpful.13
But the Committee’s militancy was only embarrassing them. After
banging her umbrella to be heard and receiving a polite response in return,
Mary McCarthy “blushed” at her rudeness and later resented Hook’s distortions about the monstrous treatment they should expect. According to
his biographer, Macdonald, too, came prepared for warfare but was won
over by an aura of shopworn humanity in some of the men demonized by
their group. He rightly sensed clumsiness in the soft-spoken Matthiessen,
this “fellow traveler,” the term for those sympathetic to Communist ideology
who were therefore nearly as dangerous as the Communists themselves.
Looking back and forth between the composer Shostakovich and the writer
Fadeyev, Macdonald divided Russian cultural warriors, respectively, into
victims and bureaucrats. The victims were the artists like Shostakovich,
sensitive, always pale and thin like the embattled composer, who until
that year had been severely criticized by the Soviet Union’s official organs.
Fadeyev on the other hand, was large, cold, and wooden, more like a “plainclothes detective.”14 Whatever differences officialdom had lavished on these
men, the members of the Committee were impaling both.
When Mary McCarthy’s argument turned into a discussion, she and
the others were cordially invited by members of the National Council of
the Arts, Sciences, and Professions to a reception at the run-down Hotel
Seymour. On the way inside, Macdonald had handed out copies of his magazine Politics. But coming out of the Waldorf, his own dissenters’ camp was
booed alongside the so-called Stalinists and fellow travelers. Rather than
glimpsing a window into a plot to penetrate America, Macdonald found
himself a little bored, and somewhat charmed. “But despite his boredom he
did get a much different impression of the Stalinists than he had previously
gleaned,” his biographer, Michael Wreszin, recalled.

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He found it possible to communicate with them, since . . . they
shared a common culture and political background. They read
many of the same books, went to the same art shows, foreign films,
held the “same conviction in favor of the (American) underdog—
the Negroes, the Jews, the economically underprivileged”—and
against the Catholic hierarchy and the US State Department.15
In the next issue of Politics, Macdonald ran a piece that he’d written before
the conference taking the State Department line that you couldn’t talk to
“Stalinists” and fellow travelers. But when he recapped the reception after the
Waldorf panel, he made it clear that you could. After readers pointed to the contradiction, he tried to clarify that so long as you stayed clear of the “main point”
you were fine.16 But the whole episode seems to have reminded him that the
Stalinists and Communists may have begun their decline. They were shabbily
arrayed; they apparently had little funding and this made their influence seem
questionable. They weren’t so fearsome after all. And the consensus items he
shared with them—fighting for the underprivileged, for black Americans, for
Jews—was being overshadowed by the fight against Communism.
Other events might have made Macdonald suspicious of the paranoia
in the air. Weeks before the Waldorf battle, Macdonald was embroiled in a
battle over Yaddo, the writers’ and artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New
York. As it is today, Yaddo was a beloved retreat space to write and create
and Macdonald had been accepted to take up residency there to work on a
book. But underneath Yaddo’s idyllic landscape, J. Edgar Hoover was rattling the retreat space’s bedrock. Hoover’s FBI was investigating an alleged
sympathizer with Chinese Communism, Agnes Smedley, who had written
books about China. Smedley was friends with Yaddo’s leadership and was
busily working on her next project there. Robert Lowell, an acclaimed poet
from New England and a manic depressive member of the Waldorf action,
was provoked by news of the FBI investigation.17
Lowell and his cohort accused Yaddo’s beloved director, Elizabeth
Ames, of being a Communist spy, however indirectly. The incident led
to a board meeting meant to oust her from her position. Although Ames
asked Smedley to clarify her sympathies or leave Yaddo, and Smedley left,
Lowell had already called up applicants to get them to boycott, including
Macdonald. “Although there was little offered in the way of supporting evidence,” wrote Macdonald’s biographer, “Dwight immediately wrote Ames
a rude and blistering letter declining his appointment and condemning
[Smedley] for turning the retreat into a ‘center for pro-Soviet propaganda.’”18

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As part of the liberal-left wing of the American Committee, Macdonald’s
ambivalence and even tenderness later in March 1949 toward those at the
Waldorf whom he considered Stalinists-in-decline, alongside his militancy
when it came to Smedley and Ames, offer a glimpse into the confusing
nature of the times. But it got even stranger when Ames was cleared.
Novelist Malcolm Cowley, a Yaddo board member, recapped for his
friend Ernest Hemingway the strange turn events took next. Cowley noted
the “happy end” after Ames was cleared. But he went on to describe how
Lowell nevertheless had “gone out of his head” in the days afterward and
“had to be put in handcuffs by four sweating policemen and carried off for
treatment. Paranoid psychosis was the doctor’s verdict.” Cowley saw in the
incident a collective, not a singular psychosis. “What we had really been
living through was paranoia that had passed from mind to mind like measles running through a school. Not so long afterwards,” Cowley concluded,
Washington gossip columnist “Drew Pearson gave his famous broadcast
about [Secretary of Defense James] Forrestal and how he had been carried
off to the loony bin shouting, ‘The Russians are after me.’ This great nation
has been adopting its policies on the advice of a paranoiac Secretary of
Defense. Maybe this is the age of paranoia, of international delusions of
persecution and grandeur. Maybe persons like Forrestal and Robert Lowell
are the chosen representatives and suffering Christs of an era.”19
Having been born in this paranoid age, the American Committee for
Cultural Freedom was an attempt to create an eloquent, outspoken coalition
of liberal and conservative anti-Communists. Their reasonableness came
and went, along with their bipartisan anti-Communist consensus. But these
episodes show how a militant anticommunism was being used by upstarts
in the FBI and Congress with little to no real experience who could make a
name for themselves by denouncing the FDR and then the Truman administrations—and American institutions—as hotbeds for Communists and
fellow travelers. And the American Committee was the cultural supplement
to this work, done—if in public at all—often without due process.
As the decade wore on, the American Committee injected an adrenalized activist-interventionist impulse into the media, particularly with
respect to opinion pages, criticism, and literary journals, or “little magazines,” as they were sometimes called, over which the Committee presided
like literary agents.
•

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In the early 1950s, the House Un-American Activities Committe and its
Senate counterpart, driven by Joseph McCarthy, had put the nation on edge.
And while some saw it as evidence of an American strain of reactionary
repression that echoed Puritanism—and thus had to be challenged in order
to protect civil freedoms—the American Committee was divided over how
much to push back in defense of civil liberties at home. All were concerned
about Communism; they just weren’t unanimous that the threat was as significant inside the United States as it had once been.
Apart from its work coordinating magazines, a large percentage of the
American Committee’s day-to-day focus was spent writing proposals to
would-be funders like the Ford Foundation, the Fund for the Republic, and
the Asia Foundation. (The last turned out to be a CIA front.) The Committee
published books and white papers and helped ensure that its friends in the
United States Information Service bought them up for dispersal in its international offices.
As its archives show, members of the American Committee presumed
to know which arguments for civil liberties were sincere and which ill-intentioned, and which to brand as those of a Communist front. In some
cases, the implication of Soviet influence turned out to be true. Certainly
the occasional spy for the Soviet Union turned up. But in other cases, this
denunciatory behavior was blind, wrong, destructive, and tantamount to
blacklisting. It killed careers, forced people into poverty, and even triggered
the occasional suicide. 20
At times, the Committee seemed wary of alarmism and sensitive to the
importance of due process. When the city council of San Antonio, Texas,
was considering labeling its local library books with a warning if an author
had once been accused of an “affiliation with subversive organizations,” the
Committee’s chairman Dan Bell called the proposal “reprehensible” and
compared it to Communist attempts to “‘control’ thoughts.”21 But on other
issues it was clear that the appearance of this more liberal line was used
to rationalize hard-line anticommunism. Writing to the New York State
Education Commissioner in 1952, the American Committee’s executive
director, Irving Kristol, discouraged the compilation of a list of subversive
organizations, but he did so on logistical grounds. Kristol, later the father of
neoconservatism, suggested that the lists could be drawn up instead from
public debates. He also commended Sidney Hook’s expertise on such matters. 22 For his part, Sidney Hook had smeared the liberal professors at UC
Berkeley as dangerous “fellow travelers” for refusing to sign a loyalty oath,
which they thought violated their academic freedom. 23

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Requests for funding to the Ford Foundation and other grantmakers
during the early 1950s show that the group strained to make anticommunism palatable, drawing up these lists of subversives, branding the likes
of Agnes Smedley and Berkeley’s psychology professor Edward Tolman
as fellow travelers or Communist sympathizers, while masking the work
under what one member called a tone of “tolerable urbanity.”24
Among the most ambitious projects the American Commitee proposed
was a master list of subversives, extremists, and front groups. The proposal
sought funding for a nascent think tank of experts doing round-the-clock
analysis on Communist front organizations and extremist groups in the
United States. The proposal made the rounds at the Ford Foundation, getting as high up as Henry Ford himself. In one draft of the proposal they
asked for nearly $130,000 to carry out all the associated tasks involved in
researching the list. This would be about a million dollars in today’s currency. They hoped to create a permanent research staff led by an executive
staff of eight public experts and promised to release their findings in regular
reports. 25
The suspect groups who were listed in the proposal were divided
into Communist fronts—the Civil Rights Congress, the National Council
of the Arts, the Committee to Save the Rosenbergs, the American Women
for Peace—and “extremist groups of the Right”—the Christian Nationalist
Crusade, the Minute Women of the USA, Inc., the American Protestant
Defense League, the Patriotic Research Bureau, and the Protestant War
Veterans of the US, Inc. 26
One of the project’s chief aims was to “convince those who collaborate,
often unwittingly, with extremist groups that they are aiding forces antagonistic to the best American traditions and the ideals of the Constitution
of the United States.” The words “unwittingly” and “extremist” jump out
from the text as especially ironic, given that the majority of the American
Committee’s budget was paid by the CIA through a front organization
headed by Julius Fleischmann, the bon vivant, sailor, and the son of a
Cincinnati yeast magnate.
When it began to pay the Committee its monthly $2,500 stipend,
Fleischmann’s CIA front organization was called the Heritage Foundation,
Inc. Within weeks of the first monthly stipend, the name was changed to the
Farfield Foundation. When the CIA ties to these groups were outed, collaborators like Kristol would claim not to have known of CIA sponsorship. But
whether that’s true or not, these fronts paid the American Committee a minimum of about $30,000 per year in the early 1950s, the equivalent of nearly

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$280,000 today. But this amount shields the real money that was available for
project proposals and other anti-Communist tasks. In one letter to a potential collaborator at Columbia University in 1954, for example, the American
Committee’s Arnold Beichman, an author and scholar associated later with
Stanford’s Hoover Institution, sent a “partial list of some of the major contributors of the American Committee over the past year or two.” The first
section lists donations from foundations amounting to $167,500. These contributions came from such CIA front groups as the Fleischmann Foundation
($40,000), Hayfields Foundation ($20,000), National Committee for a
Free Europe ($35,000), Free Europe University in Exile ($4,500), Heritage
Foundation ($41,000), Farfield Foundation ($10,000), and so on. Many of
these pointed to Julius Fleischmann, whose foundation for laundering CIA
money had changed its name from Heritage to Fleischmann to Farfield, and
so on. The total listed, $167,500 (which doesn’t count the amounts given by
private and individual donors), would amount to $1,475,220.45 in today’s
dollars. If you divide that in half to account for the phrase above—“the past
year or two”—you have a minimum of $737,610.22 per year from CIA and
likely CIA front groups alone for the years 1953 and 1954. 27
What’s more, to get funded, they played into an already widespread
blacklisting tendency aimed at legitimate American groups. In the mid1950s, when the Civil Rights Congress was being maligned in the mainstream media as a Communist front, for example, African Americans were
being punished and sometimes killed for the Supreme Court’s decision to
desegregate schools in the American South. The pushback by entrenched
racists was part of a wider effort to preserve white supremacy and Jim Crow
in American institutions, both north and south. Among the many victims
of this pushback was young Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old from Chicago
who was murdered while visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955. His crime
was talking to, perhaps flirting with, a white woman in the Jim Crow South.
Hundreds of thousands of readers saw an image of the murdered boy on
the cover of Jet, “the Weekly Negro News Magazine.” Side-by-side photos
showed the innocent, bright, and handsome face of Emmett when he was
still alive and preparing to start eighth grade. Beside this cheerful image
was another of water-damaged lesions and swelling that beset the boy’s
skin, eyes, and mouth as a result of his killers dumping him in the muddy
river after they tormented and shot him. “Closeup of lynch victim bares
mute evidence of horrible slaying,” read the caption. 28
Accused repeatedly of being a Communist front, the Civil Rights
Congress had launched a campaign in years prior to Till’s murder that

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lobbied to prevent such murders. It culminated in a program called “We
Charge Genocide,” which brought an inquiry into America’s racial hatred
and crimes against black Americans before the United Nations. In the race
to win over hearts and minds against Communism, this was obviously an
act of war. This, and the CRC’s attempts to bail out alleged “Communists”
who were arrested at protests, sealed its fate. New Cold War laws like the
Smith and McCarran Acts effectively banned the Communist Party and
labor, and split organizations that had former or current Communist members by making these groups register with the government.
While the American Committee believed the Communist threat
serious enough to warrant such study, how should we see these episodes today? Given our widespread understanding of the horror of the
Soviet gulag system, did the CRC’s ties amount to support for Soviet or
Stalinist Communism? Among the CRC’s broad patchwork of constituencies dominated by labor and antiracism activists—and lawyers advocating
Constitutional protections—some Communists indeed took part. But the
CRC’s civil rights work was effective. Gerald Horne, in his book on the Civil
Rights Congress, has written that the Congress’s vaunted ties to the Kremlin
were exaggerated. “In state and federal courts [the CRC] argued landmark
cases in areas as disparate as extradition, standing, excessive bail, the
right to be silent before a grand jury, and many more.”29 In this portrayal,
“Communist front” was too clumsy a description.
The Communist Party USA itself was hardly the demonic cabal it was
made out to be, as Paul Robeson told a group of US senators. The internationally beloved actor and singer, who was black, defended the Communist
Party USA as a legal entity that stood for “complete equality of the Negro
people” and denied that the party was “an offshoot of Russian Communism.”
In the event, he must have incensed the American Committee, as it sought
its funding to bolster efforts to ban civil rights groups for their association
with the party. The senators must have spoken for the American Committee
consensus when one argued, “surely the American people were better protected in their rights than the Russian people, who faced ‘liquidation’ if they
dissented from official policy.” “I have been threatened with death two or
three times,” Robeson replied. He added that his “sharecropping relatives”
in North Carolina were threatened with lynching on a daily basis “if they
dared assert even their minimal rights.” Deaf to the irony of answering
these depictions of threats of violence with yet another, Republican Senator
Edward Hall Moore from Oklahoma told reporters that “Robeson seem[ed]
to want to be made a martyr. Maybe we ought to make him one.” 30

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The American Committee may have been correct that former or current Communist Party members were associated with the Civil Rights
Congress. Still, for the American Committee to seek funding to study the
group played into the reaction against the group’s work. This reaction saw
the FBI breaking into its office, bugging the CRC’s phones, McCarthy’s
henchmen dragging its activists before Congressional witch hunts, their
meetings being disrupted by thugs, agents provocateurs and informants, and
their leader, Ida Rothstein, dying in mysterious circumstances.31 To do more
on racism would not have amounted to less for the American Committee
on anticommunism. On the contrary, it would have entailed a style of prosecuting the cultural Cold War that would have empowered, rather than
marginalized, American minority groups, thereby offering leadership by
example, not by bayonet.
•

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•

Another American Committee proposal from April 1954 lobbied for funding
to create a conference of magazine editors. The conference would establish a
political line that was not to be crossed, and that would essentially amount
to an explicit ban on robust criticism of the United States. It would implicitly pull The Paris Review back into the CIA’s publishing fold after its ties
had supposedly ended with Matthiessen’s resignation. The proposal begins
with a dire warning that European pessimism will have a direct effect on
the outcome of the Cold War: “Pessimism pervades every report about the
ideological climate in present-day Europe. . .” From all quarters, the proposal
warned, “the message is: ‘In Europe, America is an unknown continent. . .’”32
The proposal cites American stereotypes of Europe as problematic, too, and
goes on to call the “lack of a genuine cultural and political transatlantic discourse” nothing less than “shocking,” as well as “dangerous and frightening.”
Even worse, it was Europe’s very intellectuals “who show the latest lack of
understanding for the other partner in the transatlantic community. . .”33
At the end of all this fulmination on anti-Americanism came a plan
involving little magazines. The Committee sought to leverage these
so-called “little”—or intellectual—magazines and bring them together with
established American magazines of opinion as part of a transatlantic alliance. And it called for action “to stimulate a more effective transatlantic
discourse among opinion leaders. We cannot afford to let dissension prevail
among the members of the free world . . . . A sense of cultural cohesion is an
indispensable condition for any effective political or cultural cooperation.

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We must strive to strengthen the cultural unity of the Atlantic nations that
has been damaged by ignorance and misinformation.”34
In its calls for unity and its fear of criticism or disharmony between
Western allies, the proposal echoed one from seven or so years before, by
Melvin Lasky. Writing from Berlin, Lasky, a former City College Trotskyite
who served in World War II, also pointed to anti-Americanism in Europe as
a geostrategic problem. “The same old anti-democratic anti-American formulas on which many European generations have been fed,” Lasky wrote,
“are now being reworked. Viz., the alleged economic selfishness of the USA
(Uncle Sam as Shylock); its alleged deep political reaction (a ‘mercenary
capitalist press,’ etc.); its alleged cultural waywardness (the ‘jazz and swing
mania’; radio advertisements, Hollywood ‘inanities,’ ‘cheese-cake and
leg-art’); its alleged moral hypocrisy (the Negro question, sharecroppers,
Okies) . . . . We have not succeeded in combating the variety of factors—political, psychological, cultural—which work against US foreign policy [and] . .
. the success of the Marshall Plan in Europe. . .”35 Lasky’s plan—the Lasky
Proposal, as it was known—also sought to correct America’s failure with
intellectuals, and “to win the educated and cultured classes—which in the
long run provide moral and political leadership in the community.” What
you had above, then, were the first articulations of official taboos about the
United States, whether true or not, that were now declared beyond the pale
for associated editors to print or even debate. Here was the proposed establishment of political correctness before the kind commonly associated with
the term today.
The first such magazine launched to tackle this challenge, fittingly,
was Lasky’s own, Der Monat, which translates to The Month. Launched on
October 1, 1948 and printed in Munich, it was a concrete embodiment of this
fight against the anti-Americanism described by Lasky, and was conceived
as a means to help achieve America’s foreign policy goals by winning sympathy for its statesmen and cultural creators alike, as well as by ridiculing
the common lines of criticism against American policies and assumptions.
“Across the years, Der Monat was financed through ‘confidential funds’ from
the Marshall Plan, then from the coffers of the Central Intelligence Agency,
then with Ford Foundation money, and then again with CIA dollars,” wrote
Frances Stonor Saunders. “For its financing alone, the magazine was absolutely a product—and an exemplar of—American Cold War strategies in the
cultural field.”36
Der Monat may have been the first, but dozens more would arise
in its wake—so many, in fact, we’re still discovering them. Each new

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magazine targeted intellectuals. In England and France, these magazines
were Encounter and Preuves. Between Yale’s American Studies proposal,
and “the Melvin Lasky Proposal,” sometimes called a proposal for “The
American Review,” these proposals were drafted secretly in bureaucrats’
offices and reeked of stale cigarette smoke, weak corner-office coffee, and
sour bourbon–induced glee in throwing CIA money at the wall.
In pursuit of that money, the American Committee—back in midtown
Manhattan—went on to scheme its way into a position of central control
over these magazines. It cited “over forty magazines that are serious in
tone, nontechnical in nature, and that consistently publish material that is
of intellectual interest. . .” The Committee wanted to bring together the editors of these magazines to improve the “transatlantic discourse.” But it was
predominantly what people in the magazine industry would call a business-side scheme, rather than an editorial one.37
The Committee cited the Partisan Review’s anthology, the Partisan
Review Reader, whose high sales indicated “that the circulation problem of
the ‘little’ magazines are [sic] not entirely due to the content of these magazines.” The improvement in sales came not by changing the “esoteric” content but through “a new format and entirely new distribution mechanics.
The editors of the opinion magazines in the United States will want to
examine the implications of this development in publishing technique.”38
Nevertheless, CIA control over the magazines’ editorial line would be
the proposal’s most important legacy.
•

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•

As multipliers of the right kind of media, the American Committee also had
an internal newsletter. If an article of interest came along they would select
it for reproduction. Members’ articles basked in this extra publicity through
the Committee’s elite circuits. For instance, after it was accepted to run
in French in a condensed form in Preuves, scholar Gleb Struve’s article on
Chekhov—and Soviet attempts to use the fiftieth anniversary of his death for
cultural propaganda—was sent by his “agents” at the Committee to The New
York Times Book Review, The New Leader, Book Review, and other outlets.
This was an attempt to double and triple his fees and multiply the outlets
where the work ran.39
There were other perks—though to get them you might have to agitate.
The conservative Peter Viereck was one of many Cold War writers lucky
enough to be sent to Europe by the CCF. He coordinated his trip through the

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American Committee, traveling on the US taxpayer’s dime. Viereck was the
son of a poet described by Slate as a “German propagandist” whose meddling in the United States helped spur the Espionage Act, under which Julian
Assange and many other journalists have been persecuted under the Obama
administration.40 Though Viereck disagreed with many of his father’s ideas,
and had denounced McCarthyism, propaganda was apparently in his genes.
As his trip approached, Viereck wrote to the American Committee to get his
European junket upgraded. “If a certain affluent Yeast man likes us going
in Grand Style (with better speech-typing conditions, not to mention better
dissipation conditions) it wd be good to check with the boat companies if
they can switch the cabin class reservations to 1st-class. . .”41
This was another reference to Julius Fleischmann. But beyond
Fleischmann-funded junkets, there were other ways that Viereck’s affiliation
with the American Committee helped his career. When the Hudson Review
attacked Viereck’s book Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals, the American
Committee’s Sol Stein petitioned Hudson Review to run a rebuttal.42
So the idea for a conference of magazine editors to discuss how to monetize and mass-distribute writers’ work was part of a coordinated effort to
unite intellectuals in a common cause. Already experienced at tapping its
network of friends, colleagues, and fellow board members to maximize the
benefits of participation and membership, the American Committee sought
in 1954 to formalize those benefits for magazines and their stakeholders.
And all these ideas for sharing developments in publishing techniques
came with certain responsibilities. The proposal promised to “make clear
the responsibilities assumed by the editors of the American journals and
would try to prevail upon their European counterparts to assume similar
responsibilities.”43
What sorts of responsibilities?
Combatting anti-Americanism comes up most often on the list of
goals, among other worthwhile objectives, like intercultural exchange,
and challenging American cultural insularity with international trends
and ideas. Most importantly, the proposal notes that the American
Committee wants to play the role of an editorial command center—a
patriotic literary agency—for such CCF magazines as Preuves, Encounter,
Cuadernos, Der Monat, and Forum (the CCF magazine in Austria). It also
lists non-CCF magazines in the United States and overseas for whom it has
performed this “clearinghouse” service, including The Twentieth Century
in England, and The New Leader44, Partisan Review, and Commentary in
the United States. The American Committee was essentially offering

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literary agency services at large, telling members that if you write pieces
that fit with our broader aims of fending off critiques of the United States,
and if you are a member or friend of the American Committee, we can
help you get published in multiple markets. With this, the quid pro quo
was revealed. For if the American Committee helped these magazines on
the business side, the Committee assumed that the magazines’ editorial
lines would reflect this help.
The specific editors whom the American Committee wanted to tap
to co-present the conference were Elliot Cohen of Commentary, Norman
Cousins of the Saturday Review, Gilbert Harrison of The New Republic, Sol
Levitas of The New Leader, Russell Lynes of Harper’s, Frederick Morgan of
Hudson Review, William Phillips of Partisan Review, Paul Pickerel of the Yale
Review, and Edward Skillin of Commonweal. The Yale Review agreed to host
the conference in New Haven, and the Committee planned to invite the following additional magazines to be represented: Accent, American Quarterly,
American Scholar, Antioch Review, Arizona Quarterly, Art News, Atlantic,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, California Quarterly, Christian Century,
Colorado Quarterly, Discovery, Dissent, Epoch, Foreign Affairs, Freedom and
Union, Freeman, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, New Mexico Quarterly, New
Yorker, New World Writing, Northern Review, Pacific Spectator, Perspectives
USA, Poetry, Queen’s Quarterly, Quarterly Review of Literature, Review of
Politics, Sewanee Review, South Atlantic Quarterly, Southwest Review, The
Reporter, Theatre Arts, University of Kansas City Review, Virginia Quarterly
Review, and Western Review.45
As a new and unknown magazine, The Paris Review wasn’t yet on the
American Committee’s list. But as more CCF magazines launched, it would
find itself welcome among them.
•

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The Paris Review launched the same year as the flagship magazine of the
Congress for Cultural Freedom. Encounter was the CCF’s London magazine.
But of all the Congress’s literary gems, Encounter’s reach was most global.
It was born in planning meetings between Michael Josselson, who would
covertly lead the CCF as executive secretary on behalf of the CIA for most
of its life, and Christopher Montague Woodhouse, a British intelligence
officer.46 The composer Nicolas Nabokov, who had attended the American
Committee’s Waldorf protest, also consulted over the new magazine in the
spring of 1953.47

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Somewhat resembling the living American actor Paul Giamatti,
Josselson was Estonian-Russian and described himself as apolitical at the
end of World War II. At the war’s end he worked in the US Office of Military
Government—or OMGUS—helping oversee the de-Nazification of artists
and functionaries. After spending the war interrogating German prisoners
to separate out true Nazis from those pressured into supporting the party,
he made a name for himself as a brilliant procurer and a talented fixer.48
Nicolas Nabokov was Josselson’s old friend from Berlin in the 1920s.
During the war, Nabokov worked with W.H. Auden and John Kenneth
Galbraith in the US Strategic Bombing Survey Unit’s Morale Division.
He then worked with Josselson in the Information Control Division.
After the war, given his musical talents, he was tasked with separating
actual Nazi believers from the musicians who had just kept their heads
down to avoid danger, while monitoring the “programmes of German
concerts and see[ing] to it that they would not turn into nationalist
manifestations.”49
Christopher Montague Woodhouse, the Fifth Baron Terrington, had
spent the war in Greece. He worked as a saboteur who blew up bridges and
finally became head of the British Military Mission. After the war, he was the
British Secret Intelligence Services’ Tehran station chief. In November 1952,
he traveled to Washington to float the idea of ousting Iran’s elected prime
minister (Time magazine’s Man of the Year), Mohammad Mosaddegh. After
enlisting opposition politicians, religious leaders, and journalists in his various propaganda campaigns, Woodhouse and his staff were tossed out of
Iran. While developing the scheme to launch Encounter, he simultaneously
convinced CIA men Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner that he wasn’t merely
trying to use Americans “to rescue British oil interests” in Iran (he was) but
rather emphasized “the anti-Communist element in our plans.”50
Though its first issue would launch in October 1953, Encounter was
already operational in the summer of that year. The magazine’s expenses
were covered by an initial grant of $40,000. Money was channeled via
its publishers at Secker & Warburg on the British side, and via Julius
Fleischmann on the American side. Fleischmann, the yeast and gin heir,
served as the most important “quiet channel” for the CCF. His reputation
must have been growing; The Paris Review also sought Fleischmann’s
patronage from its inception.
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“Dear Mr. Fleischmann,” wrote Peter Matthiessen on Paris Review letterhead sometime before the first issue (in Spring 1953). “Here at last is a prospectus of the fine new literary review I mentioned to you in June. I sincerely
believe . . . it