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Cassandra Pybus

CIA as Culture Vultures

This piece is 1800 words or about five printed pages long. It appeared in a slightly different form in Australian Book Review.

‘In spite of all that can be said against our age, what a moment it is to be alive in! What an epoch for a magazine to emerge in!’

THESE are unexpected sentiments from poet James McAuley in 1956. No-one in Australia had done more to deplore the monstrous condition of the age, yet he offered this exultant assessment in his new role as the editor of the quarterly cultural journal, Quadrant. It was a role which gave him the opportunity to combine his two greats passions: poetry and anti-communism.

The Devil and James McAuley, cover, detail
Quadrant was the brainchild of Richard Krygier, the founding secretary of the Australian branch of the Congress for Cultural Freedom which was established by the CIA in 1950 as a key element in their strategy to combat Soviet propaganda. Michael Josselson, chief of the Agency’s Berlin Office for Covert Action, was the executive director of the Paris Secretariat. He was later joined by another agent, John Hunt, and by the late fifties there were five CIA operatives working in the Secretariat. In its first year the CIA outlay on the Congress for Cultural Freedom was $200,000, close to 2 million dollars in 1999 [Australian dollar] terms. Later they set up the Fairfield Foundation as a front; one of any number of private foundations used to launder CIA money, of which the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation were especially prominent.
      Richard Krygier had approached Josselson in 1951 and offered his services as Cultural Freedom’s antipodean representative. Josselson asked Krygier to distribute Congress publications in Australia, for which he would receive a retainer. Josselson later agreed, without enthusiasm, that Krygier set up an Australian committee and publish a bulletin.
      Krygier chose the retired Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir John Latham, as the president of the Australian committee and together they invited like-minded individuals to join the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom. There was no membership fee. Financial support from Paris enabled them to publish a newsletter and run an office with Richard Krygier as administrative secretary. The initial grant from the Paris office was $84,000 in 1998/99 dollars.*

*All the amounts have been converted into 1998/99 Australian dollars according to the Consumer Price Index following the ABS catalogue 6401.0. The funding information comes from the Quadrant papers ML MSS 3570

Josselson was not happy with the make-up of the Australian committee since the CIA strategy was to court intellectuals of the non-communist left, not fund a bunch of zealous anti-communists. Alarmed by Josselson’s dissatisfaction, Krygier sought the advice of the editor of Encounter, Irving Kristol, who suggested that Krygier ask Josselson for money for an Australian literary quarterly, along the lines of Encounter. Kristol gave Krygier to understand that Encounter was an independent magazine subsidised by the Congress, though in reality Encounter was set up and funded as a joint operation by British Intelligence and the CIA.
      Just as Encounter had been established in England as a counter to The New Statesman, so Krygier sought funding from Josselson for a magazine to challenge [the Australian] Meanjin, which he insisted was pro-communist. On advice from Bob Santamaria, Australia’s most virulent anti-communist campaigner, Krygier chose James McAuley as editor. He was not an obvious choice for editor of a literary journal, since he was viewed by many in the literary world as a mediocre poet and a Catholic fanatic. This chorus of concern did not bother Krygier. He had no interest in poetry or religion: it was McAuley’s passionate anti-communism which really impressed him.

The Devil and James McAuley cover

      Clem Christesen, the editor of Meanjin, was well aware of the hostility toward him from the new journal and deeply suspicious of its financial backing. In 1954 he claimed in a Meanjin editorial that the Congress for Cultural Freedom was funded by the CIA, a view he had privately expressed in concerned letters to Sir John Latham. Outraged Krygier intensified his determination to destroy Meanjin. On Krygier’s behalf Bill Wentworth made persistent requests of ASIO [the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] for the file on Christesen during 1955, and demanded that ASIO do an analysis of Meanjin’s contributors to assess their left-wing connections. In Krygier’s report to Josselson in July 1956, he passed on documents which Colonel Spry from ASIO had pushed under his door one night, naming communists and fellow-travellers at Melbourne University, notably Christesen and his wife, Nina.
      In 1956 Josselson agreed to additional funding of $16,100 for an Australian magazine (that is $310 a week) which brought the grant for that year to $94,000. The anticommunist thrust in Quadrant was seen as its selling point, but the magazine did not fare well. By the end of the second year it was $27,000 in debt and in May 1959 Josselson agreed to cover this debt and henceforth he raised the annual subsidy to $33,000. ($635 a week) In 1960, in addition to the increased grant for Quadrant, the Paris office provided  $150,000  in grants which included $67,000 for a seminar on Constitutionalism in Asia and the publication of book by the same name, ostensibly by ANU [the Australian National University] Press. Nearly $10,000 was provided to underwrite covert activity against the 1959 Peace Congress in Melbourne.
      Quadrant was one of twenty magazines the Congress for Cultural Freedom established in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Within the Secretariat there was an editorial committee to articulate the policy for the magazines. The key players were two CIA agents: John Hunt and Robbie Macauley, editor of the prestigious US literary journal Keynon Review. In correspondence with Hunt and Macauley in 1962, Donald Horne floated the idea of a seminar in Sydney for the editors of all the Congress magazines outside Europe, hosted by Quadrant. Hunt agreed to provide $25,000 in addition to the annual grant of $98,000 for this purpose. Robbie Macauley and William Phillips of Partisan Review (also subsidised by the CIA) came from America, as well as editors from Indonesia, Nigeria, India, Korea and Japan to mingle with an assortment of Australian intellectuals and magazine editors. Clem Christesen declined his invitation.
The Devil and James McAuley, cover, detail
      In 1965 Josselson was persuaded to increase the Quadrant grant to $52,000 per annum ($1000 a week) so that the magazine could become bi-monthly. He agreed to the increase in the hope that McAuley’s anti-communism could be dampened down by the more liberal influence of Donald Horne as co-editor. As Krygier reported to McAuley, Josselson thought Quadrant was ‘too right wing’ and wanted to distance the magazine from regular contributors, such as Bob Santamaria. ‘I intend to ignore all of this’, he wrote from Paris. Donald Horne lasted barely two years before he quit in frustration and was replaced by Peter Coleman.
      Seminars on New Guinea, funded to the tune of $76,500, and a Sunday Seminars series organised by Quadrant co-editor Donald Horne, were among several other initiatives that the Paris Secretariat agreed to fund in addition to salaries, office rental, overseas trips and visits from international heavyweights. They also agreed to underwrite a book on the Communist Party of Australia, once again ostensibly published by ANU Press, and they provided a small grant to the magazine Dissent.
      By the mid 1960s the CIA was alive to fostering an anti-communism in Asia and so too was Quadrant. In 1964 the magazine began publishing ‘Reports from Vietnam’ which were strongly supportive of the American puppet regime in South Vietnam which was installed by and advised by the CIA. In 1965 McAuley reprinted an article ‘The Real Revolution in South Vietnam’ written by CIA agent, George Carver. At this time McAuley began to work on plans to expand into South East Asia, with Josselson’s support. The Congress for Cultural Freedom provided over $200,000 to its Australian affiliate for various South East Asian projects in 1966: a trip to Vietnam in February for Jim McAuley and half a dozen others. Donald Horne was funded for a trip the following year. A conference on ‘Democracy and Development in South East Asia’, held at the University of Kuala Lumpur and funded by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, followed immediately on the heels of the first Vietnamese visit. Josselson wrote to McAuley to say that he wanted to consolidate the conference by establishing some kind of South East Asian Institute, along the lines of the international institute the Congress funded in Latin America. With less enthusiasm he also agreed to fund a seminar in support of American intervention in Vietnam at Melbourne University and underwrote the publishing cost of the book Vietnam: Seen From East and West nominally published by Thomas Nelson.

James McAuley (left) and Cardinal Freeman

James McAuley (left) and Roman Catholic Cardinal James Freeman

      Even as they continued to shell out the money, the CIA paymasters remained unhappy with the Quadrant’s refusal to court left-liberal intellectuals. The whole point of the covert operation was subtlety; to win over the left-leaning intellectuals to the American position, not further alienate them. The fierce prosecution of the US position in Vietnam was disturbing to both Josselson and Hunt. Like many in the CIA, they were appalled by the US engagement in Vietnam and wished to keep the Congress for Cultural Freedom clear of this political minefield. A difference of opinion between the Paris office and the Krygier about Vietnam was a complication in getting the funding to establish a South East Asian Institute. The greater complication was an exposé in the New York Times in April 1966 which pinpointed a funding link between the CIA and the Congress for Cultural Freedom.
      After a series of exposes and repudiations of the CIA connection, in 1967 McAuley published a careful response in Quadrant admitting the funding from the CIA was ‘deplorable’, but no more than ‘a well-intentioned blunder’. His defence that he had been an unwitting recipient of CIA largesse has been restated by the new editor of Quadrant and by its previous editors. Yet how was McAuley so unaware when Clem Christesen knew the money came from the CIA as far back as 1956? How was it that the editor of Quadrant had shown so little curiosity as to the source of money being so liberally handed out? A quick perusal of McAuley’s editorials give the flavour of the invective he would employ should the editor of a left-wing magazine discover he had ‘unwittingly’ been receiving 40% of his income from the KGB.
      As an observer at the General Assembly of the Congress of Cultural Freedom where Josselson and Hunt offered their resignations in May 1967, McAuley wrote to Krygier that he found the stance of ‘outraged innocence’ among Congress members was totally hypocritical, since ‘none of them had been really much deceived’. Himself included, it would seem. He knew all along that Quadrant was on the American government payroll in the service of American foreign policy. It didn’t really matter to him where the money came from. ‘I had assumed it was probably State Department funds and that didn’t give me any worries’, he admitted in an interview with Catherine Santamaria. ‘None of it caused me any internal distress’.

Cassandra Pybus

HistorianCassandra Pybus is the author of seven books of non fiction. Her highly controversial book The Devil and James McAuley was awarded the Adelaide Festival Award for Non-fiction in 2000. Her website is

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