Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Family Firm 1958

Dad was a Cadet 1st Lieutenant enrolled in the R.O.T.C. program at Yale University when he filled out his application to work at the CIA. He was hoping to edit or interpret written data "in a field pertaining to Army matters". His previous job experience included the 1955 summer he spent as a roustabout with Barnum and Bailey Circus and two summers as a handyman at the Block S dude ranch in Elk, Wyoming. Still Dad had reason to hope he'd get the job because both his uncle and father had worked at The Agency.

His uncle was Tracy Barnes, a former war hero who four years earlier managed the covert overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatamala. In 1961 he was still the "golden boy" of the CIA when he helped plan and oversee the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, an attempt to oust Fidel Castro.

My grandfather ran the Psychological Warfare Workshop at the agency. He hired a bright group, but as Evan Thomas writes in his book The Very Best Men "he seems to have recruited from the Princeton Tiger, his college humor magazine." He brought on board the writer Finis Farr and the legendary practical joker Hugh Troy. One propaganda stunt they come up with was to drop extra large condoms --labeled "medium" in English--on the Soviet Union.

The psywar staff did carry out one memorable propaganda stunt, funding the animated version of George Orwell's Animal Farm (1954). They managed to change the ending of the story to give it a distinctly anti-pig ( and therefore anti Communist) ending. My grandfather helped the CIA buy the rights to Animal Farm by introducing Orwell's widow to Clark Gable.

But if Dad thought he'd have an easy time getting accepted into the family firm, he was sadly mistaken. In P.S. Wilkinson his alter ego takes a lie detector test and "fails" questions about his sexuality. It ends with a physical by a lisping physician.

"You look very young. How old are you?"

P.S. felt the hair rising on the back of his neck. There was something horrible about the man's voice. It's tone. "Twenty-four," P.S. said.

You don't look that old."

A shiver ran through him, and P.S. started to sit down.

No, no!" the doctor protested. "Don't sit down yet. Let me look at you."

P.S. remained standing where he was. His skin felt cold and damp.

"My, you're tall?" the doctor said. "Are you long all over?"

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