An impressively detailed, eye-opening study by film producer Saunders of the CIA’s clandestine sponsorship of artists and
intellectuals during the Cold War.
Using interviews and archival data (taken mostly from sources outside the CIA, who routinely ignored her requests under
the Freedom of Information Act), Saunders pieces together an elaborate network of CIA money-laundering schemes that funded
cultural organizations opposed to communism. Starting with black accounts siphoned off from the Marshall Plan in the late 1940s,
Saunders details how the CIA created or used nonprofit organizations such as the Ford Foundation to funnel millions of dollars
to institutions like the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its affiliated programs. While few will be shocked that conservatives
like Irving Kristol participated in CIA-backed projects, laymen will be surprised at how the Boston Symphony Orchestra and
various abstract expressionist painters (via the Museum of Modern Art under Nelson Rockefeller, its president and an adviser to
Eisenhower) benefitted from this largesse. At times the high volume of data and personalities muddies the story, and one would
expect more cloak-and-dagger spy stories in such an exhaustive study, but thankfully Saunders does address the crucial issue her
subject raises—namely, the consequences of intellectuals accepting money (consciously or unconsciously) from political sources.
She pays considerable attention to old controversies, such as (CIA-backed) Encounter’s refusal to publish an article by its former
editor Dwight Macdonald, and Conor Cruise O’Brien’s attack on the same journal for its disavowed but evident American
boosterism. She can also make the CIA appear enlightened, as when she describes how the Ivy Leaguers of the Agency supported
leftist artists over the objections of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the end, however, Saunders has little tolerance for state-sponsored
thinkers. She concludes that when, in the late 1960s, the artists and writers involved in CIA projects began denying rumors of
their patrons" background, they were (in words taken from an interview) "crummy liars."
An illuminating investigation that will surprise general readers and aid scholars and students.