Reporters joke that the easiest job in Washington is CIA spokesman. You need only listen carefully to questions, say, “No comment,” and head to happy hour. The joke, however, is on us. The reporters pretend to see only one side of the CIA, the passive hiding of information. They meanwhile profit from the other side of the equation, active information operations designed to influence events in America. It is 2021 and the CIA is running an op against the American people.
Leon Panetta, once director of CIA, explained bluntly that the agency influenced foreign media outlets ahead of elections in order to “change attitudes within the country.” The method was to “acquire media within a country or within a region that could very well be used for being able to deliver a specific message or work to influence those that may own elements of the media to be able to cooperate, work with you in delivering that message.” The CIA has been running such ops to influence foreign elections continuously since the end of WWII.
The goal is to control information as a tool of influence. Sometimes the control is very direct, operating the media outlet yourself. The problem is this is easily exposed, destroying credibility.
A more effective strategy is to become a source for legitimate media such that your (dis)information inherits their credibility. Most effective is when one CIA plant is the initial source while a second CIA plant acts seemingly independently as a confirming source. You can push information to the mainstream media, who can then “independently” confirm it, sometimes unknowingly, through your secondary agents. You can basically write tomorrow’s headlines.
Other techniques include exclusive true information mixed with disinformation to establish credibility, using official sources like embassy spokesmen “inadvertently” confirm sub details, and covert funding of research and side gigs to promote academics and experts who can discredit counter-narratives.
From the end of WWII to the Church Committee in 1976, this was all dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Of course the U.S. would not use the CIA to influence elections, especially in fellow democracies. Except it did. Real-time reporting on intelligence is by nature based on limited information, albeit marked with the unambiguous fingerprints of established tradecraft. Always give time a chance to explain.
Through Operation Mockingbird the CIA ran over 400 American journalists as direct assets. Almost none have ever discussed their work publicly. Journalists performed these tasks for the CIA with the consent of America’s leading news organizations. The New York Times alone willingly provided cover for ten CIA officers over decades and kept quiet about it.
Long term relationships are a powerful tool, so feeding a true big story to a young reporter to get him promoted is part of the game. Don’t forget the anonymous source who drove the Watergate story was an FBI official who through his actions made the careers of cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein. Bernstein went on to champion Russiagate. Woodward became a Washington hagiographer. Ken Dilanian, formerly with the Associated Press and now working for NBC, still maintains a “collaborative relationship” with the CIA.