In 1948, Frank Wisner was appointed director of the Office of Special Projects (OSP). Soon afterwards OSP was renamed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). This became the covert action branch of the Central Intelligence Agency. Wisner was told to create an organization that concentrated on "propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world."
Later that year Wisner established Mockingbird, a program to influence foreign media. Wisner recruited Philip Graham from The Washington Post to run the project within the industry. According to Deborah Davis in Katharine the Great; "By the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of The New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles."
In 1951, Allen W. Dulles persuaded Cord Meyer to join the CIA. However, there is evidence that he was recruited several years earlier and had been spying on the liberal internationalist organizations he had been a member of in the late 1940s. According to Deborah Davis, Meyer became Mockingbird's "principal operative".
After 1953, the network was overseen by Allen W. Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. By this time Operation Mockingbird had a major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies. The usual methodology was placing reports developed from intelligence provided by the CIA to witting or unwitting reporters. Those reports would then be repeated or cited by the preceding reporters which in turn would then be cited throughout the media wire services. These networks were run by people with well-known liberal but pro-American big business and anti-Soviet views such as William Paley (CBS), Henry Luce (Time and Life Magazine), Arthur Hays Sulzberger (New York Times), Alfred Friendly (managing editor of the Washington Post), Jerry O'Leary (Washington Star), Hal Hendrix(Miami News), Barry Bingham, Sr. (Louisville Courier-Journal), James Copley (Copley News Services) and Joseph Harrison (Christian Science Monitor).
The Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was funded by siphoning of funds intended for the Marshall Plan. Some of this money was used to bribe journalists and publishers. Frank Wisner was constantly looking for ways to help convince the public of the dangers of Sovietcommunism. In 1954, Wisner arranged for the funding of the Hollywood production of Animal Farm, the animated allegory based on the book written by George Orwell.
According to Alex Constantine (Mockingbird: The Subversion Of The Free Press By The CIA), in the 1950s, "some 3,000 salaried and contract CIA employees were eventually engaged in propaganda efforts". Wisner was able to constrain newspapers from reporting about certain events, including the CIA plots to overthrow the governments of Iran (see: Operation Ajax) and Guatemala (see: Operation PBSUCCESS).
Thomas Braden, head of the International Organizations Division (IOD), played an important role in Operation Mockingbird. Many years later he revealed his role in these events:
- "If the director of CIA wanted to extend a present, say, to someone in Europe—a Labour leader—suppose he just thought, This man can use fifty thousand dollars, he's working well and doing a good job - he could hand it to him and never have to account to anybody... There was simply no limit to the money it could spend and no limit to the people it could hire and no limit to the activities it could decide were necessary to conduct the war—the secret war.... It was a multinational. Maybe it was one of the first. Journalists were a target, labor unions a particular target—that was one of the activities in which the communists spent the most money."