August 4, 1999
Democrats' Dilemma: Deeper than Al Gore
With Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, the conservative movement gained a powerful new momentum. The fledgling conservative magazines and expanding think tanks also had a new clear-cut goal: to advance the interests of the Reagan presidency.
On one level, the conservative infrastructure supplied an intellectual veneer to many of Reagan's policies. Other times, conservatives harassed mainstream journalists who created difficulties.
In early 1982, when the New York Times Raymond Bonner revealed the Salvadoran army's massacre of nearly 1,000 men, women and children at El Mozote, Irvine's Accuracy in Media -- along with the Wall Street Journal's editorial page -- led a harsh counterattack against Bonner.
The Reagan administration also rewarded its friends by pumping money into the conservative infrastructure. Inside the National Security Council, former CIA propagandist Walter Raymond Jr. coordinated plans for enlisting private organizations into wide-ranging "public diplomacy" operations.
Raymond's operation -- initially called "Project Truth" and later Project Democracy -- enlisted foundations in a novel public-private strategy. Typical was a planning paper prepared for Raymond that I discovered in his declassified files at the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Dated June 14, 1982, and entitled "Project Democracy: Proposals for Action," a draft proposal spelled out plans for drawing non-governmental organizations into the process. The plan also called for harnessing financial resources from a "coalition of wealthy individuals"; U.S. defense contractors; and private foundations, such as the Twentieth Century Fund.
"Hold a White House meeting of top U.S. business and philanthropic figures to elucidate need and stimulate will to give urgently," stated the proposal. The paper recommended reaching out beyond the base of conservative funders to include more moderate and even liberal foundations, such as the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
The administration also earmarked $200 million in federal money for "political action proposals," ranging from expanded broadcasting to the development of new magazines and the sponsoring of international conferences.
A chart, marked Appendix A and also dated June 14, 1982, identified Freedom House and the Atlantic Institute as important "instruments" for research and contacts with universities.
The chart also included boxes for "elite groups" that would be drawn into the operation, including the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group and the Chamber of Commerce. The Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group are secretive organizations that sponsor closed-door policy discussions involving leading international businessmen, bankers, politicians and media moguls.
The Project Democracy proposal enjoyed the discreet support, too, of CIA director William J. Casey, who wrote an undated letter to then-White House counsel Edwin Meese III. Casey stated that the plan "has significant merit" and offered to make "suggestions" about who might serve on a working group "to refine the proposal."
Casey added, however, that "obviously, we here should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor do we wish to appear to be a sponsor or advocate. Nevertheless, the needs appear real and I believe our national fabric for dealing with many issues and problems would be well served by such an institute."
Like several other documents in Raymond's file, the Casey letter had been torn in half as if Raymond were planning to discard it but later changed his mind. An archivist at the library said she pieced a number of Raymond's torn letters back together and put them in plastic casing for their protection.
On other occasions, the Reagan administration directly solicited support for its political allies.
According to one National Security Council memo dated May 20, 1983, U.S. Information Agency director Charles Z. Wick brought private donors to the White House Situation Room for a fund-raiser. The event collected $400,000 for Accuracy in Media, Freedom House and other groups assisting the public diplomacy operations.
As the domestic side of the program moved forward, one of Raymond's recurring concerns was Casey's insistence that he keep his oar in the water. Given its clear goal of influencing U.S. politics and policies, Raymond fretted about the legality of Casey's continued involvement in what amounted to domestic propaganda.
Raymond confided in one memo that it was important "to get [Casey] out of the loop." But Casey would not back off.
During this same period, another major source of conservative media money came on line. In 1982, drawing on his shadowy resources in Asia and apparently South America, Rev. Moon launched a daily newspaper, The Washington Times. The right-wing paper soon became President Reagan's favorite as it promoted his policies and denounced his opponents.
As the years wore on, Raymond sought more resources for public diplomacy. On Dec. 20, 1984, Raymond submitted a secret action proposal to national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane. It urged an even greater commitment of manpower in all areas.
I have attempted to proceed forward with a whole range of political and information activities, Raymond wrote. There are a raft of ties to private organizations which are working in tandem with the government in a number of areas ranging from the American Security Council to the Atlantic Council, to the nascent idea of a Peace Institute.
Among the examples of his "specific activities," Raymond listed significant expansion of our ability to utilize book publication and distribution as a public diplomacy tool. (This is based on an integrated public-private strategy). The development of an active PSYOP strategy. Regular meetings with the German political foundations concerning programming. Meetings (ad hoc) with selected CIA operational people to coordinate and clarify lines between overt/covert political operations on key areas. Examples: Afghanistan, Central America, USSR-EE [Eastern Europe] and Grenada.
To reinforce Reagans "war of ideas," the administration even assigned real warriors. The Pentagon cut transfer orders for a half dozen psychological warfare experts from U.S. Special Forces.
One, Lt. Col. Daniel "Jake" Jacobowitz, served as executive officer inside the chief public diplomacy office located at the State Department. Later, the White House transferred in another five psychological warfare specialists from the 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The main job of the psy-ops specialists was to pick out incidents in Central America that would rile the U.S. public. In a memo dated May 30, 1985, Jacobowitz explained that the military men were scouring embassy cables "looking for exploitable themes and trends, and [would] inform us of possible areas for our exploitation."
Raymond's public diplomacy teams also exacted a high price from mainstream reporters whose work challenged the administration's assertions about Central America and other international hot spots. By 1986, a chastened Washington press corps was falling into line on the contra war and other controversial issues.
In March 1986, Otto Reich, a senior public diplomacy official, reported that his office was taking "a very aggressive posture vis-à-vis a sometimes hostile press" and "did not give the critics of the policy any quarter in the debate."