Hugh Wilford

Wilford, Hugh. America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East. New York: Basic Books, 2013.

Goulden, Washington Times, 22 Jan. 2014, and Intelligencer 20.3 (Spring-Summer 2014), finds that "[d]espite the richness of his material,.... Wilford's book is not an easy read. His sentences tend to wrap themselves into serpentine snarls.... Another shortcoming is all too common among people writing about 20th-century intelligence. The subtitle suggests that the CIA, on its own, worked in secret to shape American policy in an important region, but ... Wilford skirts around an important link in the chain of command; namely, that the agency was acting on White House orders to execute national security policy."


Wilford, Hugh. "American Labour Diplomacy and Cold War Britain." Journal of Contemporary History 37 (2002): 45-65.

[CA/Eur; UK/Postwar/Gen]

Wilford, Hugh. "Calling the Tune? The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War, 1945-1960." Intelligence and National Security 18, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 41-50.

"[T]he tendency has been to portray the CIA as fatally compromising the independence of the British left.... [However,] the British response to the cultural campaigns of the CIA was more complex..., involving ... resistance, appropriation and complicity."

[CA/Eur; UK/Postwar/Gen]

Wilford, Hugh. The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune. London: Frank Cass, 2003.

Peake, Studies 48.4 (2004), finds that the author "presents a well-documented account of the origins of the [CIA's] program" of support for anti-communist artists, writers, and publications, "and assesses its overall impact on communist-infiltrated trade unions and cultural organizations."

[CA/Eur; UK/Postwar/Gen]

Wilford, Hugh. "The Information Research Department: Britain's Secret Cold War Weapon Revealed." Review of International Studies 24, no. 3 (Jul. 1998): 353-369.


Wilford, Hugh. The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Clark comment: If you can overlook some ill-supported flights of rhetorical fancy, this is a very good rendition of the tunes played on the "mighty Wurlitzer." It is also an easy -- and even fun -- read. The front-end of Wilford's conclusion is judicious: "[T]he CIA's state-private network was built to a great extent on shared values and involved a surprising amount of self-assertion on the part of the private citizens who belonged to it. Nevertheless, no matter how much one dwells on the consensual and voluntarist aspects of the relationship, the fact remains that the front tactic was based on secrecy and deception, making it all the more problematic when undertaken in a nation avowedly dedicated to the principles of freedom and openness." He follows that, however, with a statement that is in no way supported by his narrative: "Cultural diplomacy, the winning of hearts and minds, should be left to overt government agencies and genuine, nongovernmental organizations."

Kazin, Washington Post, 27 Jan. 2008, calls this a "brisk yet thorough narrative" of the CIA's "creation and funding of front organizations.... [N]o one has written a more comprehensive or sophisticated account of the pro-American fronts from their creation in the late 1940s to the investigative report 20 years later in Ramparts magazine that first exposed the CIA's cultural offensive.... Few of the CIA fronts reliably behaved as the agency desired. Many of the subsidized individuals and groups had a moderately leftist inclination; they were determined to fight communism in their own ways and resisted direction from above."

To Goulden, Washington Times, 20 Jan. 2008, the author "shares the prevalent mindset of liberal 'scholars' that any operation carrying the CIA imprimatur was ipso bad and misguided.... Wilford vents much spleen on CIA programs to finance intellectual, labor and student groups who contested Soviet-supported fronts worldwide."

Glazer, NYT, 20 Jan. 2008, finds this to be a "remarkably detailed and researched book." The story the author tells is "fascinating, involving a surprising collection of well-known figures in American life." The reviewer notes "Wilford’s somewhat cool attitude toward what many saw, with some legitimacy, as a worldwide conflict between tyranny and freedom." Despite a few slips, "[t]here is a great deal to be learned from this book."

For Radosh, New York Sun, 6 Feb. 2008, the author "carefully shows that in almost all the cases, those funded [by the CIA] understood the high stakes of the Cold War with the Soviets. Rather than following CIA orders, most used whatever funds they received to carry on the work they had already started, and often discarded the advice of the Agency handlers." Despite some "politically motivated cheap shots," Wilford has "written a scholarly, mostly readable, and first-rate book.... One can differ with his own conclusion that covert funding 'stained the reputation' of America and still find the book of immeasurable merit."

Warner, Studies 52.2 (Jun. 2008), believes that the author has "given us the best history of the covert political action campaign to date." That is, this is a better treatment than earlier works on the subject (specifically Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy [1989], and Frances Stonor Saunders, Cultural Cold War [2000]). Wilford's "judicious approach should set the standard" for works that may come later. After suggesting that Frank Wisner would have commended this work, Pinck, Intelligencer 16.1 (Spring 2008), terms The Mighty Wurlitzer an "insightful, well-written and modestly-told accounting of an important segment of Wisner's professional career."

[CA/00s; CIA/60s/Subsidies]

Wilford, Hugh. "'Unwitting Assets?' British Intellectuals and the Congress for Cultural Freedom." Twentieth Century British History 11 (2000): 42-60.

[CA/Eur; UK/Postwar/Gen]

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