Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World's Best Writers

Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World's Best Writers

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 intelligen...

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Title:Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World's Best Writers
Author:Joel Whitney
Rating:
ISBN:1682190242
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:348 pages

Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World's Best Writers Reviews

  • Joel Whitney
    Jun 21, 2016
  • Julia Allen
    Jan 27, 2017

    A very enlightening book. If you a) have any interest in American or international literary history, b) would like to know more about the details of Cold War American behavior, or c) still entertain warm & fuzzy feelings about the CIA, this book is a must-read.

    I'm not sure I agree with the way the subtitle is worded, because clearly not all the writers involved were tricked. But some were--and it helps to know which were bamboozled and which were happily working for the CIA, doing the bambo

    A very enlightening book. If you a) have any interest in American or international literary history, b) would like to know more about the details of Cold War American behavior, or c) still entertain warm & fuzzy feelings about the CIA, this book is a must-read.

    I'm not sure I agree with the way the subtitle is worded, because clearly not all the writers involved were tricked. But some were--and it helps to know which were bamboozled and which were happily working for the CIA, doing the bamboozling.

  • Alison
    Jan 14, 2017

    "I do not want anybody to go around anymore being unwittingly a tool."--Keith Botsford, CCF man, CIA culture wrangler

    As someone who earns her money writing for The Paris Review, I should say upfront that I feel kind of implicated by the revelations in this book, even as a freelancer who doesn't make much and, honestly, didn't know who George Plimpton was till about two years ago. What I don't really understand is how anybody might not feel that way, not only about writing for TPR, but about all

    "I do not want anybody to go around anymore being unwittingly a tool."--Keith Botsford, CCF man, CIA culture wrangler

    As someone who earns her money writing for The Paris Review, I should say upfront that I feel kind of implicated by the revelations in this book, even as a freelancer who doesn't make much and, honestly, didn't know who George Plimpton was till about two years ago. What I don't really understand is how anybody might not feel that way, not only about writing for TPR, but about all the institutions--largely unseen--that back writing and publishing. And while there's a kind of passive feeling of discontent about this among writers I know, the fact that we're also working through a time of rampant attacks on the fourth estate makes it easy, in the name of political solidarity-building and supporting the press, to say that we shouldn't focus on the little things (like, oh, literary magazine transparency and accountability). But if justice and truth are in jeopardy--and they ARE--now, more than ever, is precisely the time for us to seek greater transparency and accountability, to ourselves and to our public--not as virtue signaling, not because we don't have other important work to do, but as the best and only way to do our jobs, to keep serving truth and justice AND beauty.

    As Whitney writes in the last and, I think, best chapter, about the network of social and media organizations he surveys, "The role these organs played put them at odds with the traditional adversarial role of media, a role that at least theoretically checked government power and guarded against overreach and corruption. It had gone nearly absent for the prior three decades, if it had existed with any solidity before that. Indeed, these operators, despite their patriotism, put the United States at odds with its own founding vision, the insistence upon freedom of expression that the nation advocates for its international friends and adversaries. In the name of cultural and political freedom, these media, labor, student, charity, academic, and legal organizations linked here through John Train and elsewhere through the magazine clearinghouse and the Congress for Cultural Freedom--and IILR, and FEC and son on--behaved slavishly toward a perverse mission of state."

    What was at stake in that mission of state was lives. As he shows throughout the book (which ranges through several Cold War conflicts), but here regarding US media involvement in Afghanistan, "If the United States could precipitate such Soviet violence, then the violence could be used as propaganda to discredit them. This seemed to take propaganda to a whole new level that completely dehumanized the victims of the violence in the service of some apocalyptic bet between angels and demons."

    Even those of us who are poets and fiction writers have stakes in that bet, and we need books that force us to reveal our hands.

    ----

    Some additional thoughts: the book's got an overall scholarly/historical/archival quality that's appropriate to the subject, the burden of proof and all that, but there are moments when it lifts into something extra. Like, in the Hemingway section, the way he captures the excruciating quality of fan love for writers (when fandom turns into desire). Or the capturing of the minute shifts in Baldwin's thinking. Or the controlled fury that's really what he's best at, in the discussions of war. Plus, he's got a real gift for interviews (the Immy Humes section), as he used to do at Guernica, which is why I'd like to see him do a book where he gets to work with more living people.

  • Socraticgadfly
    Dec 16, 2016

    A great book on how the CIA was running Paris Review (in part via third-party funding) and other "culture" magazines like Encounter, most of them more directly, as a string of polo ponies to push forward the idea of American culture as a counterweight to Soviet culture (and the Soviets pointing out things such as racism).

    Those on the take, as far as individuals included George Plimpton (known today by a fair number) and Peter Matthiessen (known by fewer). Whitney shows just how defensive Matthie

    A great book on how the CIA was running Paris Review (in part via third-party funding) and other "culture" magazines like Encounter, most of them more directly, as a string of polo ponies to push forward the idea of American culture as a counterweight to Soviet culture (and the Soviets pointing out things such as racism).

    Those on the take, as far as individuals included George Plimpton (known today by a fair number) and Peter Matthiessen (known by fewer). Whitney shows just how defensive Matthiessen was about this, claiming the CIA wasn't that bad back then, and citing his later support for American Indians as exculpation.

    Beyond that, the CIA's "if you're not for us, you're against us" was applied to non-communist socialist writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. And, used to hound and spy on Papa Hemingway.

    Must read, with the additional irony that Whitley has had poetry published in Paris Review!

  • Lee Bob Black
    Jan 23, 2017

    The CIA is no stranger to sticking it’s nose into the affairs of other countries. Assassinations. Coups. National building. You name it. But cultural propaganda in the form of poems and book reviews? Who knew?

    In Joel Whitney’s

    , apparently numerous literary powerhouses — from

    to

    magazine (India) to

    (Costa Rica) to

    (Lebanon) and many others — had been infiltrated b

    The CIA is no stranger to sticking it’s nose into the affairs of other countries. Assassinations. Coups. National building. You name it. But cultural propaganda in the form of poems and book reviews? Who knew?

    In Joel Whitney’s

    , apparently numerous literary powerhouses — from

    to

    magazine (India) to

    (Costa Rica) to

    (Lebanon) and many others — had been infiltrated by spooks.

    But why? To promulgate anti-communist sentiment? To uphold American values? To help win the Cold War? To each of these questions, it seems the answer was a resounding yes, at least in the beginning. In the end, it didn’t take long for it all to go off the rails, civil rights be damned.

    In my opinion, one particularly cogent quote will prepare a reader for the broad scope of this important book. Mr. Whitney writes that

    is his “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?”

  • Matěj Bregant
    Feb 09, 2017

    The single most impressive thing about Whitney's book is the amount of research needed for this book. It is merely 270 pages of text sans notes but it is apparent that it took a lot of time. There is an interesting contradiction - at first glance

    seems almost scholarly with up to a hundred notes per chapter but then Whitney drops words like shitstorm and snitch which seem curiously out of place in a book of this nature. Maybe I'm being too conservative but it hits you. Overall it is a good

    The single most impressive thing about Whitney's book is the amount of research needed for this book. It is merely 270 pages of text sans notes but it is apparent that it took a lot of time. There is an interesting contradiction - at first glance

    seems almost scholarly with up to a hundred notes per chapter but then Whitney drops words like shitstorm and snitch which seem curiously out of place in a book of this nature. Maybe I'm being too conservative but it hits you. Overall it is a good read but there are way too many names and organizations mentioned - at least include a list of rudimentary connections or something. David Simon had a short list of "main players" in his

    and it sure helped.

  • Carl
    Mar 23, 2017

    An excellent synthesis of the pernicious history of the CIA's attempts to win the cultural cold war through creating pro-American literary magazines to supporting other institutions through 3rd party payouts to outright censorship and suppression.

    Whitney chops through letters, unclassified documents and interviews to expose the agency sad record of coercion murder espionage and back dealings to win a Culture war with the Soviet Union by any means necessary. What unfolds is a tragic run towards t

    An excellent synthesis of the pernicious history of the CIA's attempts to win the cultural cold war through creating pro-American literary magazines to supporting other institutions through 3rd party payouts to outright censorship and suppression.

    Whitney chops through letters, unclassified documents and interviews to expose the agency sad record of coercion murder espionage and back dealings to win a Culture war with the Soviet Union by any means necessary. What unfolds is a tragic run towards the bottom of the moral abyss between two superpowers where innocents are used as fodder to push the soviets to react with brutal affect as well as influence peddling coercion and corruption to affect nearly every developing country to fit our "Democratic" ideals usually by backing a brutal autocrat who will once in power will kill vast numbers of those in opposition to his views.

    A cogent all too necessary reminder that our government agencies will thwart any law to achieve their aims and how we must always resist.