Presstitutes: Embedded in the Pay of the CIA
Author: Udo Ulfkotte
Publisher: Progressive Press, 2019
Review by Tim Pelzer
It is well documented that the CIA uses the media to spread disinformation. After 1945, in what is known as “Operation Mockingbird,” the agency recruited journalists in major US media to promote its anti-communist Cold War perspective. According to former CIA agent turned whistleblower Philip Agee, the agency has journalists on its payroll across Latin America. In Presstitutes: Embedded in the pay of the CIA, Udo Ulfkotte, a former editor for the mass daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), reveals how the CIA and the German Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) use the German media to manipulate and shape public opinion.
The BND recruited Ulfkotte while he was in university and then placed him at FAZ. As a naive young man, he was thrilled to work for his country’s intelligence agency. “However, looking back, l was corrupt, l was manipulative and dealt in disinformation.”
The BND – which he calls “the extended arm” or “subsidiary” of the CIA – told him what news stories to write, supplying him with information that he never verified. On one occasion in 2005, former CIA Director James Woolsey called Ulfkotte and told him to write articles saying that the US did not carry out industrial espionage, to cover up American spying on German companies.
“The FAZ expressly encouraged me to strengthen my contact with the western intelligence services and was delighted when l signed my name to the pre-formulated reports, at least in outline, that l sometimes received from them.” The BND has two employees who write articles for major newspapers with the knowledge of their editors and owners. One fake story Ulfkotte signed was about former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi building a poisonous gas factory in 1993 with the help of European companies.
“Yes, looking back, l was one of the perpetrators who was fed materials from the outside and exploited. I was a lobbyist who was supposed to influence public opinion through the mass media. I just didn’t want to believe it back then.” He is critical of his fellow German journalists who continue working with the CIA and BND, spreading disinformation.
Intelligence services believe that journalists are easy to buy according to the author, quoting a CIA agent who told the Washington Post, “You can get a journalist for less than a good whore, for a few hundred dollars.”
Ulfkotte claims it is impossible for anyone in the German media to evade the clutches of BND if they want to remain employed, stating that journalists who refuse to work for the German intelligence agency can be legally fired.
The CIA and BND also utilize German journalists working abroad to collect information. While on assignment in the Middle East, Ulfkotte regularly reported to the local CIA and BND outposts. Working abroad as a foreign correspondent, he discovered that “every foreign reporter for the American and British press was also active for their intelligence services.”
Many prominent German journalists belong to right-wing US and pro-US German think tanks which have close ties to the CIA and NATO, according to Ulfkotte. While “Germans and Americans share many common values such as democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of press there are major differences. The war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay or drone executions are absolutely incompatible with German law.” When journalists associate with pro-American organizations, they “become partial advocates and/or lobbyists for a foreign value system” which helps account for German media support for participation in foreign wars alongside the US. The author charges that these journalists manufacture pro-US opinion that is pushing for war with Russia.
In meetings organized by pro-US think tanks such as the Atlantik-Brucke, German journalists take part in high level talks with NATO high command, alongside politicians and business leaders. The US embassy in Berlin even provides grant money to German think tanks that promote American propaganda.
The author provides a partial list of prominent German journalists belonging to pro-US think tanks and describes other ways they are corrupt. These include accepting expense-paid trips from foreign governments and corporations in exchange for positive stories. Ulfkotte recounts taking several such trips, including one to apartheid South Africa and another to Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Journalists also accept money from the European Union for writing supportive stories about the organization.
Ulfkotte explains how the US keeps Germany under its control. Beginning in the 1950s, US intelligence agencies established a wide range of charitable foundations in Germany. “All of them have one primary goal: the establishment of intelligence agency outposts operating under the guise of philanthropic institutions. Here, agent handlers can be accommodated as alleged employees of these foundations. Their purpose is then to exert pro-American influence on future German elites and, wherever possible, make them susceptible to blackmail.”
Ulfkotte regrets his participation in the German media, which he calls “the propaganda arm of US imperialism,” and writes, “Today, l am ashamed of having worked for these warmongers for a good portion of my former journalistic life.”
Ulfkotte, like all whistle blowers, paid a heavy price for publishing his book. Not only was he fired from his job at FAZ and banished from working in the media, but he said the German police harassed him by conducting frequent searches of his house. He died from a heart attack in 2017 at age 56.
Presstitutes is the first English translation of the book, which was a best seller in Germany for 18 months when it was first published in 2014 despite being ignored by the mainstream media. With it, Ulfkotte makes an important contribution in shedding light on the invisible role that the CIA and BND play in shaping news coverage and public opinion in Germany.
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