Only once in a while does a book come along that sheds new light on the 1960s. Karen Paget’s forthcoming Patriotic Betrayal (Yale University Press) is just such a work, telling the inside story of how the Central Intelligence Agency corrupted the natural and democratic growth of students’ rights movement by infiltrating the National Student Association (NSA) and directing it to its Cold War ends.
The story begins in the 1950s, which may leave some to wonder if it’s not a stale and useless tale by now. It’s relevant today, however, because of the cancerous growth of Big Brother surveillance and the proliferation of clandestine operations branded in the name of “democracy promotion,” from Cuba to the Ukraine. The pervasive rise of secret money in campaigns, moreover, makes it impossible to know whether operatives of our intelligence agencies have any role in harassing radicals or steering social movements, or whether such roles have been passed to private foundations. Democracy is increasingly in the dark. Any light from history can serve as high-beams to illuminate the future.
My personal involvement in this story begins in the late 1950s, when I was a student editor at The Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan’s student paper. In those fallow years, I was a developing idealist who did not know that the CIA had begun recruiting students for its secret war against the Soviet Union. In 1960, I hitchhiked to the University of California, Berkeley, to write about the new student movement there. In the Bay Area, students protesting the House Un-American Activities Committee were beaten, hosed and washed down the steps of City Hall. They were developing the first campus political party at Berkeley, known as SLATE. They were fighting for the right of student governments to take stands on “off-campus” issues like racial segregation everywhere from San Francisco’s downtown hotels to Mississippi. They were in the process of becoming the Free Speech Movement and the Vietnam Day Committee of 1964 and 1965.
I spent an exhilarating summer staying in an apartment full of Berkeley radicals. One of the many visitors I met was Donald Hoffman, who represented the National Student Association, which included members of student government and Daily editors that met every summer. He was a bit older than me, a friendly liberal fellow who wanted to make sure that Berkeley students came to that summer’s national convention. He also was a CIA agent, and remained so for many decades.
The editor of the Daily before me, Peter Eckstein, was enlisted by the CIA to direct its recruiting operations, which targeted student activists in Europe who had been attracted to Soviet-sponsored youth festivals. Peter was preceded by another Daily editor, Harry Lunn, who became a lifetime CIA operative in many postings around the world.