Although some expressed incredulity when Ventura first started talking about the meeting several years ago, the Agency did in fact admit that such a meeting took place. As CIA spokesman George Little admitted in a written statement after Ventura's story went viral, "on occasion CIA officers meet with senior state government officials, as they did in this case, to discuss issues of mutual interest."
The meeting came as a shock to Ventura, who didn't understand why the CIA, whose entire charter and mandate prohibits it from acting inside the borders of the USA, was grilling a state governor about his election campaign. But the other fascinating aspect of the meeting, according to Jesse, was that these people were by no means the glamorous James Bond-types of cinematic legend, but everyday people who could have been mistaken for your coworker, your neighbor, the little old lady who lives across the street.
Perhaps this should not be so surprising after all. The CIA's mammoth $14.7 billion annual budget was just revealed by one of Edward Snowden's leaks, and even that only represents the tiny sliver of on-the-record funding that the agency toys with each year, not the untold billions in off-the-budget financing available for black operations from front companies and illicit activities. Still, that's more than enough money to hire a surprising number of people to work in all sorts of roles; not just the spies we are all familiar with from movies and books, but assets, analysts, operatives and others. Together, the Agency has more people working for it in some capacity than many would think possible.
But they're not all anonymous neighborly types gracing the halls of the CIA. Over the years, some surprising celebrities, politicians, and other powerful figures have found themselves on the Company payroll, sometimes unwittingly. Let's take a look at a few of these cases.
Julia Child taste testing some torpedo-coating shark repellent
1 - Julia Child
When you think Julia Child, you probably think "soufflé" before you think "spy." But you'd be wrong.
Stirred into a patriotic fervor by Pearl Harbor, Julia McWilliams-at the time an advertising copy writer for a New York City furniture store-wanted to contribute to the war effort. At 6'2" she was too tall to join the military, so instead she applied to the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of today's CIA. One of the 4,500 women serving in the OSS, Julia started out at Washington headquarters working as a research assistant directly under OSS Director General 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 she 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 revealed for over 50 years.
Good ol' CIA Sulzberger cracking his trademark smile
2 - Arthur Sulzberger (and Henry Luce and William Paley and...)
William Paley of CBS. Henry Luce of Time Inc. Arthur Sulzberger of the New York Times. Anyone familiar with the American media landscape of the 20th century will know the names of these media kingpins. Each one reached millions of people through his broadcasts or newspapers or magazines, changing minds on key issues and shaping public opinions on the key policy debates of their day. And each one of them worked hand in hand with the CIA.
The connections were first uncovered byRamparts 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, Luce, Paley and numerous other mass media organizations-including everything from NBC, Reuters, the AP and Newsweek all the way down to the Louisville Courier-Journal-as working directly and knowingly with the CIA to help the agency achieve its propaganda objectives. According to Bernstein, the relationship with Time, CBS, and Sulzberger's New York Times was especially helpful, with one CIA source telling Bernstein that there were about ten CIA operatives working undercover at the New York Times alone in the 50s and 60s.
The whole propaganda machinery of the CIA was referred to as a "mighty Wurlitzer" by legendary CIA Deputy Director Frank Wisner, who played his grand instrument with the judicious help of his friends in the press. The CIA's operation to infiltrate the press specifically was codenamed "Mockingbird." 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 Company would never again contract with any accredited U.S. news service, newspaper, radio station, television network or journalist. (Because we all know the CIA can be trusted to keep its promises)
Jackson Pollock (self-portrait)
3 - Jackson Pollock
Do you ever get the feeling that modern abstract expressionist 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 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.
To most Americans, the question they would likely put to the CIA is: "Jackson who?" But when informed that he was that abstract painter who often did things like punch a hole in a paint can and suspend it upside-down from a string so it could randomly bleed out its contents onto a canvas, their next question would be: "But why?" After all, very few people really seem to like this art, and when the State Department had funded an exhibition of abstract art in 1947, it had prompted President Truman to famously declare "If that's art, then I'm a Hottentot."
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 (more on which later), it would seem that the program was aimed more at demoralizing America itself than in scoring cultural points in the Cold War.
Ahmed Wali Karzai after consuming some opium with his CIA cash
4 - Ahmed Wali Karzai
The CIA deliver bags of cash directly to the President of Afghanistan in a transparent and openly acknowledged bid to buy influence with his government. The fact that the information in that last sentence was openly admitted and reported (even by the CIA-favorite New York Times) in May of this year and yet remains a little-known fact speaks volumes about how misinformed Americans are by their CIA-controlled media (especially when it's compared to general knowledge of "twerking" or Miley Cyrus' latest video).
But if you think that openly bribing the President of a country currently under US military occupation 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 the Kandahar area who functioned much like every other Afghan warlord. Indeed, even a 2009 State Department cable admitted that government business in Kandahar "takes place out of public sight, where Ahmed Wali Karzai operates, parallel to formal government structures, through a network of political clans that use state institutions to protect and enable licit and illicit enterprises."
What's more, Karzai was fingered by James Risen and others as being involved in the Afghan heroin and opium trade. That such a figure would be receiving US support is perhaps less surprising when it's put into its proper context. After all, the US occupation of Afghanistan has been a spectacular success for opium peddlers, who saw the poppy crop almost eliminated by the Taliban before the US invasion, but has experienced record crop after record crop ever since. In 2010 even Fox News was forced to admit that it is now the US Army's job to help the poppy farmers protect their crops. Still, it's safe to say that most Americans would be uncomfortable with their government (or at least an agency thereof) openly bribing drug dealing officials in foreign countries that they couldn't even point out on a map, much less explain why the US has troops there.
Luckily no one will have to explain any of this to the American public anyway; Karzai was killed under highly suspicious circumstances in 2011.
Ken Kesey showing exactly why you should never participate in a CIA experiment.
5 - Ken Ksey
Just like the abstract expressionists received a little help from their CIA friends back in the mid-20th century, so too is the 60s drug culture covered in the fingerprints of the Agency. The most direct and straightforward link is that between Ken Kesey, the head of the infamous "Merry Pranksters" whose acid-fueled "magic bus" ride across America helped usher in the hippy era, and the Agency.
As a student at Stanford in 1959, Kesey volunteered to take part in the CIA's infamous MKUltra experiment. Not that he knew it was a CIA experiment, of course. He was told it was a trial of a new cure for insanity. Along with his fellow "trial" participants, he was subjected to his first LSD trip. To get a sense of the story you need to hear it in his own words:
"I'd never been drunk on beer, you know, let alone done any drugs. But this is the American government. They said, come in here. We've just discovered this new spot of space, and we want somebody to go up there and look it over, and we don't want to do it. We want to hire you students. And I was one of 140 or so that eventually turned out. It was CIA-sponsored. [...] And it wasn't being done to try to cure insane people, which is what we thought. It was being done to try to make people insane - to weaken people, and to be able to put them under the control of interrogators."
Of course he didn't find out the truth of the experiment until the documents were released decades later. But by then he had already spearheaded the hippy movement and 60s counter-culture generally, all while introducing the CIA's "failed" (?) mind-control weapon of choice, LSD to an eager audience of impressionable young people.
But Kesey wasn't the only 60s counterculture icon to be under the influence of the CIA. Others who have been confirmed to have been CIA funded include feminist movement leader Gloria Steinem. "Tune in, turn on and drop out" proponent Timothy Leary is long alleged to have been on the CIA payroll. New research even indicates that Gordon Wasson, the man who "discovered" magic mushrooms and introduced them to America via (CIA-connected) Henry Luce's Life magazine was himself connected to the Company.
This list just scratches the surface of the CIA's reach, of course, but it should at least give you pause for thought. After half a century the documents are gradually coming out showing just how thoroughly popular culture was infiltrated by the still-fledgeling CIA. Imagine how much more effective it is at steering the culture now, and ask yourself again why more Americans know about "twerking" and Miley Cyrus then they do about the history of the CIA.