Saturday, August 16, 2008

How The CIA Helped Make The “Obama Nation” Smear Book A Best-Seller

When Jerome Corsi’s newest distortion-and lie-packed smear book, Obama Nation, hit the best seller lists this week, Corsi and his Republican Party hack publisher can thank a precedent established by the CIA in the early 1950s.

Obama Nation owes its hit status to what The New York Times says are “bulk purchases” of the tome. In other words, right wing groups from the Republican National Committee to 501(C)(3) organisations to who-knows-which group of wingnuts bought boxes of Corsi’s deranged musings. What they do with the volumes is anyone’s guess: Hand them out to fellow travellers, distribute them to delegates in “welcome packages” at the Republican convention in St. Paul, or just stack the boxes in closets.

This is precisely how then-CIA director Allan Dulles made a national best seller out Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s sombre, brooding, anti-Communist fictional rant, in the early 1950s. The unintended consequence was to force millions of junior and senior high school students in the US to read the monstrosity.

How the CIA came to be a factor in the book publishing business in the America is a fascinating story, a historical footnote that shows Langley was interfering in domestic politics long before the Church Commission exposed Richard Nixon’s use of the agency to spy on anti-war activists during Viet Nam. In fact, the ploy traces its roots to the end of World War II.

When William “Wild Bill” Donaldson established and ran the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the war, he worked closely with both Dulles and Koestler. Dr. Mark Levine, an English professor at the University of Toronto and noted Koestler scholar, has told me that after the war as Donaldson and Koestler shared a long boat ride home from Europe they talked about their belief that an OSS-like organisation should continue to play a role in intelligence gathering. By the time the ship docked in New York, they had conceived the structure, organization, duties and responsibilities of what would become the CIA. Donaldson presented Pres. Truman with his idea who sent a bill to Congress which quickly passed the measure into law. Dulles became its first director.

Spurred by the Soviet’s blockage of Berlin, by the late 1940s and extending into the Fifties the United States was gripped with Communist paranoia. The Red Menace everywhere: Politicians, statesmen, screenwriters and directors, maybe even grocery store bag boys all were suspected of being Commies or Communist “sympathizers” and countless Congressional committees obsessed on uprooting and exposing them.

In the middle of this national psychosis, Koestler – a long-time anti Communist who was imprisoned briefly by the French in 1941 – showed Donaldson a copy of Darkness at Noon, which he’d written in 1941. Wild Bill thought it ought to be one of those “must read” books and handed a copy on to Dulles, now ensconced as the CIA’s director. Dulles, no slouch himself in spotting the Reds In Every Bed, decided the best way to bring the 10-year old, inconsequential novel to America’s attention was to make it a best seller.

It was easy enough for Dulles to it pull off. With the CIA’s many secret operating funds, he sent agents fanning out across New York to order – it was barely in print in the States at the time – and buy up all of the copies of the book they could lay their hands on. The books were sent back to Dulles who ordered them stored in CIA vaults.

Because the CIA refused repeatedly over the years to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about its role in making Darkness at Noon a cultural phenomenon in the 1950s, it’s not known whether Koestler’s books are still collecting dust in the Company’s storage bins a half-century later. The University of Toronto’s Dr. Levine believes they remain buried at Langley.

So read the best-seller listing this week of Obama Nation with scepticism. Its sudden prominence owes a debt of gratitude to the CIA, Bill Donaldson and Allan Dulles.

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