Propaganda comes in many disguises including patriotic musical lyrics and an animated gems like the movie Animal Farm. Sometimes the spin is so subtle artists and audiences don’t even notice spies are pulling the levers behind the scenes.
Americans and British operatives aren’t the only propaganda artists around, of course. They just happen to be more talented than most. From the animated film Animal Farm to Louis Armstrong’s jazz and Jennifer Garner’s Alias, SPYSCAPE gives the intelligence agencies their close-ups.
The CIA secretly funded the classic movie Animal Farm (1954), bankrolling American film producer Louis de Rochemont with $500,000. He produced a brilliant piece of Cold War anti-communist propaganda about a barnyard revolution, an allegory recounting events of the Russian Revolution with a very different ending than George Orwell’s 1945 book. Sonia Orwell granted the rights to her late husband’s work with one condition - she wanted to meet Clark Gable. Animal Farm is among the most important works of animation in British cinema history. The film was widely praised - 'The British out-Disney Disney', reads one headline.
Modern art as a Cold War weapon
American painters Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and other abstract expressionists were unknowingly part of the Cold War effort. The CIA pulled the strings at the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a front group that promoted non-communist leftist artists - the implication being that the Soviets would throw avant-garde painters into Lubyanka's prison cells, whereas freedom-loving Americans celebrated them. Spies operated a 'long-leash' policy using galleries and museums to promote painters. The ruse allowed the CIA to sidestep artists who might object to having their exhibitions funded by the government.
The CIA has been working with Hollywood since its inception in 1947, offering advice and access to Langley HQ for productions that portray the agency favorably - Homeland, Zero Dark Thirty, and Black Hawk Down productions are among the collaborators. The CIA even had script approval during the filming of the TV series The Americans. While shooting the Tom Clancy thriller The Sum of all Fears, CIA film liaison (yes, the agency has a film liaison) Chase Brandon advised on the set and he was also frequently around during the shooting of Alias, the espionage series starring Garner. Garner even filmed a CIA recruitment video and Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo was the first movie permitted to film inside Langley.
FBI film consultants
When director Henry-Alex Rubin asked the FBI to look over a draft script for his 2012 cyber-drama Disconnect he expected a few fact-checking corrections. Instead, the FBI suggested changes to a scene where two agents aggressively question a journalist. Like the CIA, the FBI aims to polish its image by consulting on projects like the Miley Cyrus film So Undercover and the Watergate biopic Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House. The FBI has had an uneasy relationship with Hollywood. Former director J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with rooting out communists and censoring movies - even Jimmy Stewart’s holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life was considered Soviet propaganda at one stage.
Britain's secret War Propaganda Board
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t just write Sherlock Holmes’ detective stories, he wrote propaganda for the British during WWI. The government asked Conan Doyle to help with the war effort so he wrote a national appeal, To Arms! The UK also enlisted other prominent writers for His Majesty’s Government’s War Propaganda Board. More than 50 of Britain’s leading authors - including H.G. Wells and Thomas Hardy - also signed an Authors’ Declaration, a manifesto declaring that the German invasion of Belgium was a crime and that Britain could not idly stand by.