When you think of a CIA agent, you probably think of the Hollywood stereotypes: a tall, athletic man in a black suit with dark sunglasses, walking around with one hand on his gun and the other on his ear piece.
But that’s stupid. Spies are meant to blend in, not stick out, and the best spies are the ones you’re least likely to expect. So I bet you never knew these people were secretly working for the CIA.
1 – JULIA CHILD
When you think Julia Child, you probably think “soufflé” before you think “spy.” But you’d be wrong.
Julia McWilliams was an advertising copy writer for a New York City furniture store when Pearl Harbor changed her life. Wanting to join the war effort, she applied to the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of today’s CIA, and started work as a research assistant directly under OSS Director William “Wild Bill” Donovan.
From there her career took several surprising turns. She helped develop a shark repellent to coat marine explosives for the U-boat warfare effort. She spent time in Ceylon helping to coordinate the invasion of the Malay Peninsula. She ran the OSS Registry in China during the final crucial months of the war in the Pacific.
She also met her husband, Paul Child, who was also working for the OSS, and the two were married in 1946. He joined the US Information Agency and was assigned to Paris in 1948 where Julia studied French cooking at one of France’s most prestigious cooking schools, Le Cordon Bleu. And the rest as they say, is history. The officially-sanctioned history with all the spy bits left out, that is. Julia’s role in the OSS wasn’t declassified for over 50 years.
2 – ARTHUR SULZBERGER
As publisher of The New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger Sr. was one of the most influential men in the news media from the early 1960s to the late 1990s. And he worked hand in hand with the CIA.
The connection was first uncovered by Ramparts Magazine in 1966, investigated by Congress in the mid-70s and documented in detail by Carl Bernstein in his landmark 1977 Rolling Stone article, “The CIA and the Media.” In the report, Bernstein identifies Sulzberger (along with Henry Luce of Time Inc., William Paley of CBS and numerous other mass media organizations) as working directly and knowingly with the CIA to help the agency achieve its propaganda objectives. There were ten CIA operatives working at the New York Times in the 50s and 60s alone.
The CIA’s drive to infiltrate the news media was codenamed “Operation Mockingbird” and included everything from Sulzberger’s New York Times and Paley’s CBS down to AP, Newsweek, Reuters and even the Louisville Courier-Journal. The program formally came to an end in February 1976 when then-Director George. H.W. Bush created a new agency policy promising that the CIA would never again contract with any accredited U.S. news service, newspaper, radio station, television network or journalist. Because we all know the CIA would never lie about something like that, right?
3 – JACKSON POLLOCK
Do you ever get the feeling that modern art can only exist because it’s being funded by the CIA in a vast conspiracy to confuse and disorient the public? Because if you do, you’d be exactly right.
At least, such was the case throughout much of the 50s and 60s. In 1950, Tom Braden set up the CIA’s International Organizations Division specifically to pay for such diverse artistic endeavors as the touring program of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the animation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (complete with an altered ending that made it more palatable for American propaganda purposes). As we now know (thanks to the 1995 admission of former case officer Donald Jameson) they also funded abstract expressionist painters, from Jackson Pollack to Mark Rothko to Willem de Kooning.
So why would the CIA be interested in promoting an artist who hung paint cans upside down and let them drizzle on to the canvas randomly? The official explanation is that it was all part of a cunning plan to convince the Soviets of the vibrant creativity of American culture…Or something like that. Given that it probably just made the Russkies cock an eyebrow or laugh at American silliness, one has to wonder what the real purpose of the program was. Especially when it’s discovered that other counter-cultural movements of the period were funded by the Agency, it would seem that the program was aimed more at demoralizing America itself than in scoring cultural points in the Cold War.
4 – KEN KESEY
Speaking of CIA-funded cultural movements, it turns out the 1960s drug culture was helped along by everyone’s favourite spy agency.
In 1959, Ken Kesey, Alan Ginsberg and 140 other young men and women volunteered to take part in an experiment at Stanford University. The experiment, run by two researchers who were secretly working for the CIA, involved giving the subjects their first hit of LSD. Five years later, Kesey was “Captain Flag” of the “Merry Panksters” taking their Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test across the country and Ginsberg was spearheading the budding counterculture movement along with fellow suspected CIA operative, Timothy Leary.
But Kesey and Ginsberg weren’t the only 60s counterculture icons to be under the influence of the CIA. Others who have been confirmed to have been CIA funded include feminist movement leader Gloria Steinem. Even Gordon Wasson’s research into magic mushrooms (introduced to the public via CIA associate Henry Luce’s Life magazine) was funded by the CIA as part of their MKUltra mind control program.
5 – AHMED WALI KARZAI
In 2013 the then-President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzei, admitted that the CIA deliver bags of cash directly to his office as part of an ongoing campaign to control the Afghan government. But if you think that openly bribing the president of a foreign country is something, wait until you get a load of this: In 2009 it was revealed that the CIA was also openly bribing his drug dealing brother.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai, was a powerful politician in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province who functioned much like every other warlord in the war-ravaged country; namely, using his government position to protect his business. And do you want to guess what that business was? If you guessed heroin and opium, you’d be correct!
So yes, the CIA was not only openly bribing the president of a foreign country, but his drug-dealing brother, too! Given the long history of the CIA’s drug running with Air America, their participation in Iran-Contra, their association with Pablo Escobar and dozens of other stories, is this really a surprise?
This list just scratches the surface of the CIA’s reach, of course, but it should at least give you pause for thought. Not all CIA agents, operatives, associates and useful idiots look like Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan.