Often the CIA’s relationship with a journalist might begin informally with a lunch, a drink, a casual exchange of information. An Agency official might then offer a favor—for example, a trip to a country difficult to reach; in return, he would seek nothing more than the opportunity to debrief the reporter afterward. A few more lunches, a few more favors, and only then might there be a mention of a formal arrangement — “That came later,” said a CIA official, “after you had the journalist on a string.”
Another official described a typical example of the way accredited journalists (either paid or unpaid by the CIA) might be used by the Agency: “In return for our giving them information, we’d ask them to do things that fit their roles as journalists but that they wouldn’t have thought of unless we put it in their minds. For instance, a reporter in Vienna would say to our man, ‘I met an interesting second secretary at the Czech Embassy.’ We’d say, ‘Can you get to know him? And after you get to know him, can you assess him? And then, can you put him in touch with us—would you mind us using your apartment?”‘
Formal recruitment of reporters was generally handled at high levels—after the journalist had undergone a thorough background check. The actual approach might even be made by a deputy director or division chief. On some occasions, no discussion would he entered into until the journalist had signed a pledge of secrecy.
“The secrecy agreement was the sort of ritual that got you into the tabernacle,” said a former assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence. “After that you had to play by the rules.” David Attlee Phillips, former Western Hemisphere chief of clandestine services and a former journalist himself, estimated in an interview that at least 200 journalists signed secrecy agreements or employment contracts with the Agency in the past twenty‑five years. Phillips, who owned a small English‑language newspaper in Santiago, Chile, when he was recruited by the CIA in 1950, described the approach: “Somebody from the Agency says, ‘I want you to help me. 1 know you are a true‑blue American, but I want you to sign a piece of paper before I tell you what it’s about.’ I didn’t hesitate to sign, and a lot of newsmen didn’t hesitate over the next twenty years.”