“A Most Interesting and Complex Involvement”: Cold War Alignments between the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and the Central Intelligence Agency

by Harm Langenkamp

May 25, 2021

When temperatures on the cultural Cold War front reached boiling point in the early 1950s, both the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) solicited the cooperation of the private sector for funding activities aimed at refuting Communist claims about the United States and its allies—activities that would have suffered from inefficiency had they been openly funded by Washington. This report traces this symbiotic state-private relationship in the case of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), a worldwide CIA-funded forum for intellectuals of centrist persuasion, established at a time when the US Congress was reluctant to appropriate funding for counterpropaganda. From the very onset, the CIA tried to transfer "Operation Congress" to the philanthropic sector, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, in particular. Records of these foundations reveal an internal balancing of risks against responsibilities, which tipped in favor of the CCF by the presence of staunch advocates such as John McCloy and Shepard Stone. By the time the Ford Foundation finally decided to commit itself substantially to the CCF, fate struck and exposed its link with its secret patron. A sense of obligation, if not guilt, on the part of Ford Foundation administrators, often combined with a sincere conviction of its continued utility in the concerted endeavor of tearing down the Iron Curtain, ensured the existence of the CCF—renamed into the International Association for Cultural Freedom (IACF)—for another decade. The incapacity of the IACF to adapt itself to the political climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, ultimately led to its demise.

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