The Advertising Agency: How the CIA Flouted the Law Using Madison Avenue Techniques to Arm-Twist for the Contras
Parry, Robert, The Washington Monthly
One muggy August day in 1983, five advertising executives entered the stately Old Executive Office Building next to the White House and walked to the security checkpoint where uniformed officers handed them temporary clearance badges. The executives were then led to a briefing room where a young military aide explained why the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William J. Casey, had invited them to the National Security Council offices. Casey, the aide explained, wanted these ad men to devise tactics for selling the American people on the strategic threat posed by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua and by Marxist rebels in El Salvador. After lunch, the executives met with Casey and in a brainstorming session more likely on Madison Avenue than Pennsylvania Avenue, the group sketched some ideas for pitching the Central American threat to the public.
The story of the PR campaign inspired by this meeting is one of the lesser known aspects of Iran-contra; it was overlooked again when the Reagan administration's biggest scandal crept back into the news in September to rehaunt George Bush with "what-did-he-know" questions. But in 1983, Casey set up a highly unusual propaganda machine that for three years ran "private" fundraising fronts, spread unseemly lies about the Sandinistas, and bullied journalists and editors, all in an effort to encourage the media and Congress to be more pro-contra. It didn't entirely work; most Americans never believed the contras were the Godfearing boy scouts Reagan said they were any more than they thought the Sandinistas were the devil's diplomats. But it did influence the congressional debate and discourage reporting about the contras in the nation's press. Casey's campaign was also extraordinary because it helped shield a secret White House contra aid program that was explicitly against the law. And it was a flagrant violation of the historic and legal barrier against the CIA's interference in U.S. political …
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Publication information: Article title: The Advertising Agency: How the CIA Flouted the Law Using Madison Avenue Techniques to Arm-Twist for the Contras. Contributors: Parry, Robert - Author. Magazine title: The Washington Monthly. Volume: 24. Issue: 11 Publication date: November 1992. Page number: 15+. © 2009 Washington Monthly Company. COPYRIGHT 1992 Gale Group.
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