Project Info

The Least Covert Action: How the CIA Mobilized Midcentury America

Kenneth Osgood

Project Goals and Description:

The largest propaganda campaign in American history was secretly orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency, and it illegally targeted the American people. For two crucial decades, it was everywhere — projected in movie houses, posted on street cars, and plastered along highways. The campaign saturated all forms of media and entangled the most notable figures in politics and entertainment, a who’s who of the mid-twentieth century. It captivated many millions of ordinary folks on Main Street, too. It shaped what people believed, what they read, what they purchased, how they voted. It even helped elect presidents. But then it faded from memory, almost as if it never happened at all. Such is the subject of my next book, which I've been researching for more than a decade.  It traces the history and impact of the CIA's "Crusade for Freedom," which served two purposes. First, it provided cover for the agency's black propaganda radio station, Radio Free Europe, which targeted communist Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  Second, it sought to mobilize Americans, to "sell" them on the import of the Cold War against communism.  From 1950 to 1971 it permeated the country’s media and popular culture. This project has been supported by Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  

More Information:

Grand Challenge: Not applicable.
I summarized this project, with a political twist, in an Opinion piece I wrote for the New York Times a few years.  It gives you an idea of what the topic is.  

Primary Contacts:


Student Preparation


I'm seeking a researcher to help me find online sources and documents in support of this project. Detailed historical knowledge isn't required, but the best fit would be someone who is interested in politics and history, and who is able to read fairly quickly.  You'll need to skim or scan sources to determine their relevance.  The student will be searching online databases of declassified documents (mostly from the CIA's FOIA page: and from databases of historical newspapers, such as: ( Really: anyone who is competent online and interested in the world will have a good deal of fun in this project.  For example, we will even be researching UFOs!  (Yes, it's related to my project, oddly enough: some of the CIA's activities stimulated the UFO scare of the 1950s....)




The student will develop information literacy and critical thinking skills.  Finding and evaluating original sources.  Enhanced knowledge of US political and diplomatic history.  An insight into intelligence and propaganda, as well as disinformation.


I'll teach the student everything they need to know to do this kind of research, and I'll be interacting with them regularly.  They will learn a lot!


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