Gloria Steinem and the CIA

The New York Times, February 21, 1967

C.I.A. Subsidized Festival Trips

Hundreds of Students Were
Sent to World Gatherings

A New York freelance writer disclosed yesterday that the Central Intelligence Agency had supported a foundation that sent hundreds of Americans to World Youth Festivals in Vienna in 1959 and Helsinki, Finland, in 1962.

[Cartoon] Gloria Steinem, a 30-year-old graduate of Smith College, said the C.I.A. has been a major source of funds for the foundation, the Independence [sic -- Independent] Research Service, since its formation in 1958. Almost all of the young persons who received aid from the foundation did not know about the relationship with the intelligence agency, Miss Steinem said. Ironically, she said, many of the students who attended the festivals have been criticized as leftists. The festivals are supposed to be financed by contributions from national student unions, but are, in fact, largely supported by the Soviet Union.

Miss Steinem said she had become convinced that American students should participate in the World Youth Festivals after she spent two years in India.

"I came home in 1958 full of idealism and activism, to discover that very little was being done," she said. "Students were not taken seriously here before the civil rights movement, and private money receded at the mention of a Communist youth festival."

Hears of Funds

Miss Steinem said she had talked to some former officers of the National Student Association, who told her C.I.A. money might be available to finance American participation in the seventh postwar festival scheduled for Vienna in the summer of 1959.

The former association officers had had ties with the C.I.A. while serving the association, which last week conceded it had taken money from the intelligence agency since 1952.

"Far from being shocked by this involvement, I was happy to find some liberals in government in those days, who were far-sighted and cared enough to get Americans of all political views to the festival," Miss Steinem said. She noted that most Americans who had attended various festivals were sympathetic to Communist policies.

The Independence [sic] Research Service, originally called the Independent Service for Information on the Vienna Festival, was organized with headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. It concentrated, Miss Steinem said, on disseminating information about the festival and urging young persons who espoused flexible, but non-Communist, foreign policy views to attend.

Miss Steinem was a full-time employe of the service till following the Helsinki festival in 1962.

About 130 youths who had made contact with the foundation did attend, although few of them received significant financial help, Miss Steinem said.

Recruits for Festival

Before the Helsinki festival in 1962 the foundation again recruited young teachers, lawyers, scholars, linguists and journalists -- most of whom would consider themselves very liberal Democrats -- to attend.

The Independent Service financed a newspaper, a new [sic -- news?] bureau, cultural exhibits and two jazz clubs during the festival. However, its most important work was to convince youths from Asia, Africa and Latin America that some Americans understood their aspirations for national self-determination, Miss Steinem said.

Miss Steinem insisted that the C.I.A. had never tried to alter the policy of the foundation.

"I was never asked to report on other Americans or assess foreign nationals I had met," she said.

Miss Steinem noted that since the foundation was started in "the post-McCarthy era" the Federal Government could not openly finance the foundation. Overt government support would also have "alienated" youths from other countries who were suspicious of the United States, she said.

"The C.I.A.'s big mistake was not supplanting itself with private funds fast enough," she observed.


From Kai Bird, The Chairman: John J. McCloy and the Making of the American Establishment (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), pp. 483-84, 727.

In the summer of 1959, just before McCloy took his family for an extended trip to Europe, C.D. Jackson wrote to remind McCloy that later that summer a World Youth Festival was scheduled to take place in Vienna. Jackson asked McCloy to contribute an article, perhaps on the "benign and constructive aspects" of the U.S. occupation of Germany. The piece would appear in a daily newspaper to be published in Vienna in conjunction with the festival. McCloy agreed, and the article was published (in five languages) in a newspaper distributed by a twenty-five-year-old Smith graduate named Gloria Steinem.138

McCloy's connection to Steinem went beyond contributing an article to the propaganda operation of which she was an editor in Vienna. Late in 1958, he and Jackson had discussed how the United States should respond to the expected Soviet propaganda blitz in Vienna. Previous gatherings of this kind had always been held in Moscow, East Berlin, or other cities in Eastern Europe. These events were major propaganda circuses, and the CIA was determined, in the words of Cord Meyer, a career CIA officer, "to compete more effectively with this obviously successful Communist apparatus."139

Washington expected some twenty thousand students and young scholars from all over the world to converge on Vienna that summer for the three-week festival. Consequently, the CIA wanted an organized student presence in Vienna in order to counter Soviet propaganda.

C.D. Jackson recognized the Vienna Youth Festival as "an extremely important event in the Great Game." He explained, "This is the first time commies have held one of these shindigs on our side of the iron curtain; and what goes on, how it goes on, and what the follow-up will be is, I think, extremely important."140

By the time Jackson first approached McCloy, in the autumn of 1958, he and Cord Meyer, head of the CIA's International Organizations division (IO), had a plan. The Agency would provide discreet funding to an "informal group of activists" who would constitute themselves as an alternative American delegation to the festival. The CIA would not only pay their way but also assist them to distribute books and publish a newspaper in Vienna. Among other individuals, Jackson and Meyer hired Gloria Steinem to work with them. Steinem had recently returned from a two-year stint in India, where she had been a Chester Bowles Asian Fellow.

"I came home in 1958," Steinem later explained, "full of idealism and activism, to discover that very little was being done.... Private money receded at the mention of a Communist youth festival."141 Convinced that a contingent of liberal but anticommunist American students should go to Vienna, she heard through her contacts at the National Student Association that there might be funding available to finance American participation in the festival. Working through C.D. Jackson and Cord Meyer, Steinem then set up an organization in Cambridge, Massachusetts called the Independent Service for Information on the Vienna Youth Festival. She obtained tax-exempt status, and Jackson helped her raise contributions from various American corporations, including the American Express Company. But most of the money came from the CIA, to be managed by Jackson in a "special account." The entire operation cost in the range of $85,000, a not inconsiderable sum in those years.142 (Steinem's organization, later renamed the Independent Research Service, continued to receive support from the CIA through 1962, when it financed an American delegation to the Helsinki Youth Festival.143)

Steinem ended up working closely with Samuel S. Walker, Jr., vice-president of the CIA-funded Free Europe Committee. Because the Austrians did not want to be associated with the Free Europe Committee, the Agency set up a commercial front called the Publications Development Corporation (PDC). Walker was made president of this dummy corporation, funded in part by "a confidential one-year contract" worth $273,000 from the Free Europe Committee.144 His job was to supervise the book-and-newspaper operation at the Youth Festival.145


138.   C.D. Jackson to McCloy, 6/12/59, DDE [Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene KS]; Cord Meyer, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 103.

139.   Meyer, Facing Reality, p. 102.

140.   C.D. Jackson to Frank Stanton, 7/13/59, DDE.

141.   NYT, Feb. 21, 1967.

142.   C.D. Jackson to Cord Meyer, 12/16/58; Samuel S. Walker, Jr., to C.D. Jackson, 2/2/59; Gloria Steinem to C.D. Jackson, 3/19/59, DDE.

143.   When this covert operation was revealed by Ramparts magazine in 1967, Steinem told The New York Times that she approved the Agency's role. "Far from being shocked by this involvement, I was happy to find some liberals in government in those days who were far-sighted and cared enough to get Americans of all political views to the Festival." (NYT, Feb. 21, 1967). Steinem's definition of a liberal then included such young men as Zbigniew Brzezinski, an assistant professor at Harvard, and Tom Garrity, a lawyer with Donovan & Leisure. She arranged through Jackson funding for both men to attend the festival. (She also tried to get Michael Harrington to attend, but he dropped out at the last minute.) Steinem's politics then appeared to be typical of many 1950s anticommunist liberals. She told the Times in 1967, "I was never asked to report on other Americans or assess foreign nationals I had met." But in fact, in response to a query from C.D. Jackson, Steinem wrote Jackson in great detail on the left-wing affiliations of various Americans associated with the allegedly Soviet-backed U.S. Festival Committee. (Gloria Steinem to C.D. Jackson, 3/19/59, DDE; NYT, Feb. 21, 1967.)

144.   S.S. Walker to C.D. Jackson, "Status Report," DDE.

145.   Samuel Walker eventually made a career out of publishing, becoming president of Walker & Co., a New York City publishing firm founded in the same year as the CIA funded Publications Development Corporation. In Vienna, he and Steinem worked well together. Their organizing efforts led to a split in the official American delegation. Their propaganda machine pumped out four hundred thousand copies of a daily newspaper for three weeks with articles by McCloy, Irving Kristol, Czeslav Milosz, Hubert Humphrey, Willy Brandt, Isaac Deutscher, and a broad range of other intellectuals and politicians. They also distributed some thirty-six thousand books by such left-of-center but anti-Soviet writers as George Orwell and Milovan Djilas. In the midst of it all, Walker reported back to Jackson, "Gloria's group continues to do yeoman service, distributing books etc. to the point where the cry has gone up 'Never before have so many Young Republicans distributed so much Socialist literature with such zeal.'" Walker praised Steinem's "female intuition" and wrote, "Gloria is all you said she was, and then some. She is operating on 16 synchronized cylinders and has charmed the natives...." (C.D. Jackson to Cord Meyer, 7/14/59, with attached Walker diary; Walker to Jackson, 7/31/59, DDE.)



In 1975, a radical feminist group called Redstockings published their research on Steinem and Ms. magazine. Four years later, Random House was preparing an edition of Redstockings' Feminist Revolution. Steinem, Clay Felker (who launched Ms. and once worked for Steinem's CIA front), Katharine Graham, Warner Communications (Graham and Warner were major Ms. stockholders), and Ford Foundation president Franklin A. Thomas complained to Random House. The offending chapters were deleted and an "Abridged Edition" was published.

See also: Gloria Steinem Spies on Students for the CIA

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