Thomas Wardell Braden, the son of an insurance agent was born in Greene, Iowa, on 22nd February, 1917. Braden graduated in Political Science from Dartmouth College in 1940. He got so excited by the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the British Army. He was assigned to the 8th Army, 7th Armoured Division and saw action in North Africa and Italy.
Braden was recruited into Special Operations Executive (SOE) and in 1944, along with Stewart Alsop he went to work with Allen Dulles at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In an interview he gave to John Ranelagh (The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA), Braden admits that in 1944 he introduced Kim Philby to Dulles. After the war Braden co-wrote with Alsop a history of the OSS called Sub Rosa: The O.S.S. and American Espionage (1946).
Braden moved to Washington where he associated with a group of journalists, politicians and government officials that became known as the Georgetown Set. This included Frank Wisner, George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Richard Bissell, Desmond FitzGerald, Joseph Alsop, Stewart Alsop, Tracy Barnes, Philip Graham, David Bruce, Clark Clifford, Walt Rostow, Eugene Rostow, Chip Bohlen, Cord Meyer, Richard Helms, Desmond FitzGerald, Frank Wisner, James Angleton, William Averill Harriman, John McCloy, Felix Frankfurter, John Sherman Cooper, James Reston, Allen W. Dulles and Paul Nitze. Most men brought their wives to these gatherings. Members of what was later called the Georgetown Ladies' Social Club included Katharine Graham, Mary Pinchot Meyer, Sally Reston, Polly Wisner, Joan Braden, Lorraine Cooper, Evangeline Bruce, Avis Bohlen, Janet Barnes, Tish Alsop, Cynthia Helms, Marietta FitzGerald, Phyllis Nitze and Annie Bissell.
Allen Dulles joined the CIA as Deputy Director of Operations in December 1950 and he brought in Braden as his assistant. As Frances Stonor Saunders points out in Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999): "Allen Dulles joined the CIA in December 1950 as Deputy Director of Operations. This was a position of immense scope, giving Dulles responsibility for collecting intelligence, and for supervising Frank Wisner's division, the Office of Policy Coordination. One of his first acts was to recruit Tom Braden, one of his most dashing OSS officers, a man who had cultivated many high-level contacts since his return to civilian life. Wiry, sandy-haired, and with a craggy, handsome visage, Braden looked like a composite of John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Frank Sinatra."
Assigned the codename "Homer D. Hoskins", Braden was initially without portfolio, nominally assigned to Frank Wisner and the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), but in reality working directly for Dulles. He was given responsibility for studying Soviet propaganda. He reported: "If the other side can use ideas that are camouflaged as being local rather than Soviet supported or stimulated, then we ought to be able to use ideas camouflaged as local ideas".
Braden suggested to Allen Dulles that he should be allowed to establish International Organizations Division (IOD) to counteract Soviet propaganda. Dulles agreed and Cord Meyer was appointed as his deputy. The IOD helped established anti-Communist front groups in Western Europe. The IOD was dedicated to infiltrating academic, trade and political associations. The objective was to control potential radicals and to steer them to the right. Braden later claimed that such measures were necessary in the early 1950s because the Soviet Union operated "immensely powerful" front groups in Europe.
Braden oversaw the funding of groups such as the National Student Association, the Congress of Cultural Freedom, Communications Workers of America, the American Newspaper Guild and the National Educational Association. According to Braden, the CIA was putting around $900,000 a year into the Congress of Cultural Freedom. Some of this money was used to publish its journal, Encounter.
Braden and the IOD also worked closely with anti-Communist leaders of the trade union movement such as George Meany of the Congress for Industrial Organization and the American Federation of Labor. This was used to fight Communism inits own ranks. As Braden said: "The CIA could do exactly as it pleased. It could buy armies. It could buy bombs. It was one of the first worldwide multinationals."
The policy of funding non-communist organisations got the IOD into trouble in 1952. Joseph McCarthy discovered what was happening but according to Roy Cohn, one of his aides, he considered the CIA as granting large subsidies to pro-Communist organisations". Frances Stonor Saunders has argued that "this was a critical moment: McCarthy's unofficial anti-Communism was on the verge of disrupting, perhaps sinking, the CIA's most elaborate and effective network of Non-Communist Left fronts." As Kai Bird has pointed out: "A lot of these covert operations ironically were placed at risk because of McCarthy, who threatened at one point to blow their cover because, from his perspective, this was an American agency, the CIA, going into cahoots with lefties."
In November, 1954, Braden left the CIA. Cord Meyer replaced him as head of International Organizations Division. Braden became the new owner of the newspaper, The Blade Tribune in California. He also became a popular newspaper columnist and worked as a political commentator on radio and television. Braden's wife, Joan Braden, as well as being the mother of eight children was a public relations executive, magazine writer, television interviewer and an aide to John F. Kennedy.
According to Warren Hinckle and William Turner (Deadly Secrets), in 1963 Braden advised Robert Kennedy: "Why don't you just go on a crusade to find out about the murder of your brother?". Kennedy shook his head and said it was too horrible to think about and that he decided to just accept the findings of the Warren Commission.
At the end of 1966, Desmond FitzGerald, Directorate for Plans, discovered that Ramparts, a left-wing publication, were planning to publish an article that the International Organizations Division had been secretly funding the National Student Association. FitzGerald ordered Edgar Applewhite to organize a campaign against the magazine. Applewhite later told Evan Thomas for his book, The Very Best Men: "I had all sorts of dirty tricks to hurt their circulation and financing. The people running Ramparts were vulnerable to blackmail. We had awful things in mind, some of which we carried off." This dirty tricks campaign failed to stop the magazine publishing this story in March, 1967. The article, written by Sol Stern, was entitled NSA and the CIA. As well as reporting CIA funding of the National Student Association it exposed the whole system of anti-Communist front organizations in Europe, Asia, and South America.
Stewart Alsop, phoned up Braden and asked him to write an article for the Saturday Evening Post in response to what Stern had written. The article, entitled, I'm Glad the CIA is Immoral , appeared on 20th May 1967. Braden defended the activities of the International Organizations Division unit of the CIA. Braden admitted that for more than 10 years, the CIA had subsidized Encounter through the Congress for Cultural Freedom - which it also funded - and that one of its staff was a CIA agent.
According to Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999): "The effect of Braden's article was to sink the CIA's covert association with the Non-Communist Left once and for all." Another CIA agent, John Hunt, pointed out: "Tom Braden was a company man... if he was really acting independently, would have had much to fear. My belief is that he was an instrument down the line somewhere of those who wanted to get rid of the NCL (Non-Communist Left). Don't look for a lone gunman - that's mad, just as it is with the Kennedy assassination... I do believe there was an operational decision to blow the Congress and the other programs out of the water."
Braden also confessed that the activities of the CIA had to be kept secret from Congress. As he pointed out in the article: "In the early 1950s, when the cold war was really hot, the idea that Congress would have approved many of our projects was about as likely as the John Birch Society's approving Medicare."
On 5th April, 1975, Tom Braden published an article, What's Wrong with the CIA? in The Saturday Review. Braden argued: "Power, arrogance, and the inside-outside syndrome are what's wrong with the CIA, and to some extent, the faults are occupational and even necessary tools for the job. But the events of the Cold War and the coincidence of Allen Dulles' having such enormous discretionary powers enlarged occupational risks until they became faults, and the faults created a monstrosity. The inside-outside syndrome withheld the truth from Adlai Stevenson so that he was forced to make a spectacle of himself on the floor of the United Nations by denying that the United States had anything to do with the invasion of Cuba. The same syndrome has made a sad and worried man of Richard Helms. It's a shame what happened to the CIA. It could have consisted of a few hundred scholars to analyze intelligence, a few hundred spies in key positions, and a few hundred operators ready to carry out rare tasks of derring-do. Instead, it became a gargantnan monster, owning properly all over the world, running airplanes and newspapers and radio stations and banks and armies and navies, offering temptation to successive Secretaries of State, and giving at least one President a brilliant idea; Since the machinery for deceit existed, why not use it?"
Two months later Tom Braden gave a television interview to the UK television program, World in Action: The Rise and Fall of the CIA. It included the following: "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... Journalists were a target, labor unions a particular target - that was one of the activities in which the communists spent the most money."
In 1975 Braden published the autobiographical novel, Eight is Enough. The book is about a newspaper columnist, his wife and their eight children. The book was adapted into the TV series of the same name which ran 1977 to 1981.
Braden also co-hosted the Buchanan-Braden Program, a three-hour daily radio show with conservative Patrick Buchanan, and delivered daily commentary on the NBC radio network from 1978 to 1984. Later he also worked with Buchanan on the CNN program Crossfire.
Although Braden's role in the programs was promoted as representing the political left, some critics have questioned this label. Media critic Jeff Cohen argued in I'm Not a Leftist, But I Play One on TV: "Take Crossfire, started by CNN in 1982 as the only nightly forum on national TV purporting to offer an ideological battle between co-hosts of left and right. Crossfire's co-host "on the left" for the first seven years was a haplessly ineffectual centrist, Tom Braden, a guy who makes Alan Colmes look like an ultraleft firebrand. In CNN's eyes, Braden apparently earned his leftist credentials by having been a high-level CIA official - ironically enough, in charge of covert operations against the political left of Western Europe." Timothy Leary told a reporter that watching Crossfire was like "watching the left wing of the CIA debating the right wing of the CIA". Braden left the show in 1989.