Stewart Alsop, the son of Joseph Wright Alsop (1876–1953) and his wife Corinne Douglas Robinson (1886–1971), was born in Avon, Connecticut, on 17th May, 1914. His older brother was Joseph Alsop. He attended Groton School and Harvard University. After leaving university he moved to New York City where he worked as an editor for the publishing house of Doubleday.
After the United States entered the Second World War Alsop was rejected by the United States Army because of high blood pressure. Desperate to play his part he went to England and joined the British Army. While serving in the army he met and married Patricia Hankey. Alsop eventually joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
In July 1944, and Thomas Braden went to work with Allen Dulles at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Soon afterwards he was parachuted into the Périgord region of France to aid the French Resistance. Alsop later recalled: "Going behind enemy lines, according to the rules of warfare, is not a task which one man can command another to do. Perhaps one tenth of the men who were in OSS saw service behind the lines, but all of them who did so volunteered to do so, and the volunteers knew no bounds of money or political belief." Alsop was later awarded the Croix de Guerre for his work. After the war Alsop co-wrote with Braden a history of the OSS called Sub Rosa: The O.S.S. and American Espionage (1946).
In 1945 Stewart Alsop became co-writer, with his brother Joseph Alsop, of the thrice-weekly "Matter of Fact" column for the New York Herald Tribune. Stewart concentrated on domestic politics, whereas his brother traveled the world to cover foreign affairs. In 1946 Joseph and Stewart Alsop urged militant anti-communism. They warned that "the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction." Liberals, they argued, "consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West." Unless the country addressed this problem, "In the spasm of terror which will seize this country... it is the right - the very extreme right - which is most likely to gain victory."
The Alsops lived in Washington where they 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, Thomas Braden, 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.
Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999) has pointed out: "In long exchanges, heated by intellectual passion and alcohol, their vision of a new world order began to take shape. Internationalist, abrasive, competitive, these men had an unshakeable belief in their value system, and in their duty to offer it to others. They were the patricians of the modern age, the paladins of democracy, and saw no contradiction in that. This was the elite which ran American foreign policy and shaped legislation at home. Through think-tanks to foundations, directorates to membership of gentlemen's clubs, these mandarins were interlocked by their institutional affiliations and by a shared belief in their own superiority."
The brothers's articles appeared in over 300 newspapers. Both were Cold War warriors but were critics of Joseph McCarthy. It has been argued by the historian, Arthur Schlesinger: "That paradox is the alleged contradiction between Joe's hatred of communism in the world and his hatred of McCarthyism at home, as shown by his brave and undaunted defense of dissenters with many of whose policy recommendations he vigorously disagreed. But did not his passionate advocacy of the Cold War sow the seeds from which McCarthyism sprang?"
Robert W. Merry, the author of Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop: Guardians of the American Century (1996), has pointed out that they viewed McCarthy as "a heartland populist stirring up passions against the country's foreign policy elite... They also viewed his attack on the State Department as an attack on the internationalist philosophy that had guided American foreign policy since the end of the war. Nobody was saying it explicitly, but it seemed clear to the brothers that if McCarthy succeeded in bringing down the Department's internationalists, the result would be a new wave of isolationism".
Evan Thomas, the author of The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA (1995), argues that the Alsop brothers worked very closely with Frank Wisner, the first director of the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the CIA. He points out that he "considered his friends Joe and Stewart Alsop to be reliable purveyors of the company line in their columns". In 1953 the brothers helped out Edward Lansdale and the CIA in the Philippines: "Wisner actively courted the Alsops, along with a few other newsmen he regarded as suitable outlets. When Lansdale was manipulating electoral politics in the Philippines in 1953, Wisner asked Joe Alsop to write some columns warning the Filipinos not to steal the election from Magsaysay. Alsop was happy to comply, though he doubted his columns would have much impact on the Huks. After the West German counterintelligence chief, Otto John, defected to the Soviet Union in 1954, Wisner fed Alsop a story that the West German spymaster had been kidnapped by the KGB. Alsop dutifully printed the story, which may or may not have been true."
Richard Bissell, the head of the Directorate for Plans (DPP), was also a close friend of the Alsops. He later recalled: "The Alsops were fairly discreet in what they asked, but I was not as discreet as I should have been. They could usually guess." Bissell admitted to Jonathan Lewis, who was helping him with his memoirs, that the Alsops were the only journalists who he provided with secret information. In 1955 the Alsops reported details of what had taken place in a National Security Council meeting. Allen W. Dulles was so angry that he ordered Wisner to cancel a meeting with the Alsop brothers that weekend at his farm in Maryland. On another occasion, Paul Nitze was so upset that they published the contents of a sensitive cable, that he told them, "You're not the Alsop brothers! You're the Hiss brothers!"
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, who was now working for the Saturday Evening Post, asked Thomas Braden, the former head of the International Organizations Division (IOD) 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 IOD 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.
Hugh Wilford, the author of The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008) has argued: "It was a well-worn technique of the CIA to blow the cover of covert operations when they were no longer considered desirable or viable, and there were a number of reasons why, by April 1967, the Agency might have tired of its alliance with the non-communist left. For one, the NCL had become a far less reliable instrument of U.S. foreign policy than it had been a decade earlier. With their propensity for criticizing the war in Vietnam. ADA-style left-liberals such as the Reuther brothers were increasingly perceived in Washington as a hindrance rather a help in the prosecution of the Cold War."
Frances Stonor Saunders, has pointed out in Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999) that a high-level CIA official told her that Stewart Alsop was a "CIA agent". Saunders discussed this issue with Joseph Alsop. He dismissed this claim as "absolute nonsense" but admitted that both men were very close to the agency: "I was closer to the Agency than Stew was, though Stew was very close... I dare say he did perform some tasks - he did the correct thing as an American... The Founding Fathers of the CIA were close personal friends of ours... It was a social thing. I have never received a dollar, I never signed a secrecy agreement. I didn't have to... I've done things for them when I thought they were the right thing to do. I call it doing my duty as a citizen... The CIA did not open itself at all to people it did not trust... Stew and I were trusted, and I'm proud of it."
Stewart Alsop died of cancer on 26th May, 1974.
The anteroom is generally full of furtive-looking characters who look as though they might be suborned State Department men. McCarthy himself, despite a creeping baldness and a continual tremor which makes his head shake in a disconcerting fashion, is reasonably well cast as the Hollywood version of a strong-jawed private eye. A visitor is likely to find him with his heavy shoulders hunched forward, a telephone in his huge hands, shouting cryptic instructions to some mysterious ally... As Senator McCarthy talks he sometimes strikes the mouthpiece of his telephone with a pencil. As Washington folklore has it, this is supposed to jar the needle off the concealed listening device. In short, while the State Department fears that Senator McCarthy's friends are spying on it, Senator McCarthy apparently fears that the State Department's friends are spying on him.
The Dumbarton Avenue sceptics were joined by David Bruce, Averell Harriman, John McCloy, Joseph and Stewart Alsop, Richard Bissell, Walter Lippmann, and the Bundy brothers. In long exchanges, heated by intellectual passion and alcohol, their vision of a new world order began to take shape. Internationalist, abrasive, competitive, these men had an unshakeable belief in their value system, and in their duty to offer it to others. They were the patricians of the modern age, the paladins of democracy, and saw no contradiction in that. This was the elite which ran American foreign policy and shaped legislation at home. Through think-tanks to foundations, directorates to membership of gentlemen's clubs, these mandarins were interlocked by their institutional affiliations and by a shared belief in their own superiority. Their job it was to establish and then justify the post-war pax Americana. And they were staunch supporters of the CIA, which was fast being staffed by their friends from school, business or the "old show" of OSS.
It was not all frivolity, of course. Friendship did mix with policymaking; serious issues were discussed passionately, and the men who sat at the Georgetown dinner parties sometimes made use of the information they gleaned there. The subtle interplay, a mixture of trust, patriotism, and mutual manipulation, can be seen in the relationship of the CIA men to the Alsop brothers, Joe and Stewart.
The Alsops wrote a well-informed, very influential, sometimes strident column that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune as well as several hundred papers around the country. Stewart was witty and urbane, a "gent," though perhaps more complicated than he appeared. Joe made no effort to hide his opinions or strong tastes.
Joe Alsop was a kind of keeper of the gate in Georgetown. It was he who decided who should be let in - who set the standards, made the rules, and broke them when he felt like it. For a man schooled in the social graces, Alsop could be unpleasantly argumentative, and he did not disguise his arbiter's power. But Alsop had a great capacity for friendship; he made it his occupation, and his friends learned to forgive his occasional cruelties. His dinners were undeniably entertaining, though perhaps not to the meek. "They would seem relaxed," said Susan Mary Alsop, who was married to Alsop for a time in the 1960s, "the guests would be talking from right to left, but Joe hated it. He knew it had to be done, but he wanted general conversation. Halfway through dinner, after a lot of wine, Joe would scream down the table, "Wisner! Frank! What are they saying about this new movement in Cairo?" The table would silence. The women were trained for it. They would stop talking about the trouble with the new kitchen maid. Joe would go on, "That's what you think, Wisner," and he would turn to another guest, "But what about you? You were in Moscow last week. What about you?" More wine would be poured. Fights would break out. Chip would stalk out. "I'm not staying in this room another minute! Come on, Avis, we're going home. The next day, Joe would write a note to Avis, "looking forward to seeing you next Thursday." Some people were put off by Joe's outbursts, but it was really rather thrilling, if you see what I mean."
The dinners were "planned," said Mrs. Alsop. "He'd look for a subject. It was taken for granted that it was all off the record. He was careful; the information was to inform his judgment." His guests sometimes accused him of revealing more than opinion in the column he wrote with his brother Stewart. Angered that Alsop had printed the contents of a sensitive cable, Paul Nitze exploded, "You're not the Alsop brothers! You're the Hiss brothers!" This allusion to alleged treason got Nitze thrown out of Alsop's house, to be readmitted soon thereafter."
The Alsops knew not to inquire too hard, but they were clever, and by using public sources and their intuition, they could use their CIA friends to guide them toward scoops. "The Alsops were fairly discreet in what they asked," said Richard Bissell, "but I was not as discreet as I should have been. They could usually guess." On one famous occasion in 1955, Stewart Alsop guessed correctly that the CIA was worried about the possibility of a Soviet satellite. As it happened, a National Security Council meeting had been discussing the Soviet space threat the day before Alsop's column appeared. The White House was furious. Allen Dulles had to take the unusual step of forbidding Frank Wisner and Bissell to spend the weekend with the Alsop brothers at Wisner's farm in Maryland. Joe Alsop caused a big scene in Dulles's office, pounding on the table about freedom of the press. "It was pretty funny," said Bissell. "A tempest in a teapot." Bissell regarded the Alsops as somehow different from ordinary journalists. At the end of his life, Bissell told Jonathan Lewis, who was helping arrange his memoirs, that he disapproved of leaking to the press and never did. Lewis asked, But what about your friend Joe Alsop? "Oh well," Bissell replied, "I did talk to Joe."
Wisner actively courted the Alsops, along with a few other newsmen he regarded as suitable outlets. When Lansdale was manipulating electoral politics in the Philippines in 1953, Wisner asked Joe Alsop to write some columns warning the Filipinos not to steal the election from Magsaysay. Alsop was happy to comply, though he doubted his columns would have much impact on the Huks. After the West German counterintelligence chief, Otto John, defected to the Soviet Union in 1954, Wisner fed Alsop a story that the West German spymaster had been kidnapped by the KGB. Alsop dutifully printed the story, which may or may not have been true.
Alsop had no qualms about being used in this way: he was a believer - in the work of the agency and its anti-communist cause. To cooperate with the CIA from time to time was not cozy but rather patriotic. Alsop knew many of the station chiefs around the world; they informed and improved his reporting. Wisner was not able to help, however, when Alsop foolishly allowed himself to be caught in a honey trap by the KGB on a trip to Moscow in 1957. The Russians took photos of Alsop in the midst of a homosexual act with a KGB agent and tried to blackmail him into becoming an agent. Indomitable, Alsop refused and continued to write his anticommunist screeds, though he was haunted by the incident, especially when J. Edgar Hoover learned of it and added it to his secret FBI files.
Alsop was not the only journalist in Washington to play along with the CIA. Jean Friendly's husband, Washington Post managing editor Alfred Friendly, "never told secrets," she said. The CIA "trusted him." James Reston, the all-powerful Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, kept some distance from the Georgetown cocktail circuit, but he spent hours talking to Wisner, and his next-door neighbor, with whom he talked through a hole in the fence, was Paul Nitze. When the occasional journalist dared to cross the national security establishment, he was cut off. Drew Pearson, a muckraking columnist, was struck from the guest list of the Bankruptcy Ball because he had written something critical about Paul Nitze. Many reporters, like the Alsops, knew about CIA plots to overthrow the governments of Iran and Guatemala, but they did not print a word. It is no wonder that men like Richard Bissell believed they could try ever-more ambitious operations without fear of damaging leaks.
Braden's article had all the appearances of an unauthorized action by a famously maverick operator, even to those who had once managed him at the CIA. However, some clues point to a different interpretation of the Saturday Evening Post piece... In a memorandum from National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow to President Johnson dated April 19, 1967. "I assume you know of the forthcoming Braden article on the CIA in the Saturday Evening Post," the note reads. "Here is the story from Dick Helms." Although the attached report by the DCI is missing, Rostow's covering memo suggests that the Agency not only had sufficient advance warning of the article's appearance for it to invoke Braden's secrecy oath and thereby prevent publication, it might even have played a part in the piece's planning, along with a knowledgeable and supportive White House. Two other pieces of circumstantial evidence point to the same tentative conclusion. One is the fact that the CIA had planted stories in the Saturday Evening Post before, with the help of one of its editors, Stewart Alsop. According to Braden's later recollection, Alsop also collaborated in the drafting of the article... Second, much press coverage of the article's impact dwelled disproportionately on the embarrassment of the non-communist leftists identified as witting assets by Braden, especially Victor Reuther...
It was a well-worn technique of the CIA to blow the cover of covert operations when they were no longer considered desirable or viable, and there were a number of reasons why, by April 1967, the Agency might have tired of its alliance with the non-communist left. For one, the NCL had become a far less reliable instrument of U.S. foreign policy than it had been a decade earlier. With their propensity for criticizing the war in Vietnam. ADA-style left-liberals such as the Reuther brothers were increasingly perceived in Washington as a hindrance rather a help in the prosecution of the Cold War. This view had, of course, long been held by conservatives such as James Burnham, but it had now come to be shared by the Johnson White House, with the president himself deeply resentful of liberal anti-communists who had once supported U.S. policy in Vietnam and now opposed it.