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 intelligence agency has come to light.
Finks is a tale of two CIAs, and how they blurred the line between propaganda and literature. One CIA created literary magazines that promoted American and European writers and cultural freedom, while the other toppled governments, using assassination and censorship as political tools. Defenders of the “cultural” CIA argue that it should have been lauded for boosting interest in the arts and freedom of thought, but the two CIAs had the same undercover goals, and shared many of the same methods: deception, subterfuge and intimidation.
Finks demonstrates how the good-versus-bad CIA is a false divide, and that the cultural Cold Warriors again and again used anti-Communism as a lever to spy relentlessly on leftists, and indeed writers of all political inclinations, and thereby pushed U.S. democracy a little closer to the Soviet model of the surveillance state.
“Another odd episode steps out from the Cold War’s shadows. Riveting.” —Kirkus, Starred Review
“Listen to this book, because it talks in a very clear way about what has been silenced.”—John Berger, author of Ways of Seeing and winner of the Man Booker Prize
“It may be difficult today to believe that the American intellectual elite was once deeply embedded with the CIA. But with Finks, Joel Whitney vividly brings to life the early days of the Cold War, when the CIA’s Ivy League ties were strong, and key American literary figures were willing to secretly do the bidding of the nation’s spymasters.” —James Risen, author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War
“A deep look at that scoundrel time when America’s most sophisticated and enlightened literati eagerly collaborated with our growing national security state. Finks is a timely moral reckoning—one that compels all those who work in the academic, media and literary boiler rooms to ask some troubling questions of themselves—namely, what, if anything, have they done to resist the subversion of free thought?” —David Talbot, founder of Salon and author of The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government
“At the height of the cold war, the CIA set out to influence Americans by infiltrating our country’s literary and artistic establishment. Finks is a devastating work of investigative history that unearths the shocking reach of the Agency’s tentacles—from Baldwin and Hemingway to The Paris Review and the renowned American Studies department at Yale. Today, when cultural and literary icons seem closer than ever to elite interests, Finks is a timely reckoning of how we got here. You will never look at American literary culture the same way again.” —Anand Gopal, Pulitzer- and National Book Award-nominated author of No Good Men Among the Living
“The CIA’s covert financial support of highbrow art and fiction may seem like a quaint, even endearing, chapter in its otherwise grim history of coups, assassinations, and torture. In Finks, Joel Whitney argues otherwise and shines a discomfiting spotlight on this obscure corner of the cultural Cold War. The result is both an illuminating read and a cautionary tale about the potential costs—political and artistic—of accommodating power.” —Ben Wizner, Director of Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
About the Author
How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up
BY CARL BERNSTEIN