Furtive CIA aims to foster stronger media relations

WASHINGTON, DC - The Central Intelligence Agency, never known for its media friendliness, is making a conscious effort to justify its somewhat media-hostile image and foster better relations.

WASHINGTON, DC - The Central Intelligence Agency, never known for its media friendliness, is making a conscious effort to justify its somewhat media-hostile image and foster better relations.

Speaking before the PRSA?s National Capitol Chapter in Washington last

week, Office of Public Affairs director William Harlow acknowledged that

handling communications for the CIA - an organization that conducts a

substantial share of its business furtively - obviously presents its

share of challenges. But, he added, ?We always try to find some way to

be helpful, which we?re not usually given credit for.?

While Harlow?s boss, CIA director George Tenet, would much rather let

shapers of foreign policy such as the secretary of state do the Sunday

talk-show circuit, Harlow emphasized that the CIA endeavors to avoid

non-responses.

?We don?t have the option of saying ?no comment,?? he said. ?When it

comes from a generally secretive organization like the CIA, it can serve

as a confirmation of people?s worst suspicions.? Regardless of whether

the CIA attempts to accommodate media requests, much of its most basic

information - including budget, number of employees, operating locations

and great successes - is classified.

Harlow said that the CIA is hoping to get good PR by cooperating with

Hollywood - provided, of course, that the organization is portrayed

realistically and not as token ?bad guys.? One upcoming film, In the

Company of Spies, is due to premiere in October on the Showtime cable

network. Starring Tom Berenger and Ron Silver, the film was among the

first to receive the benefit of CIA cooperation.

As for its dealings with the hard-news media, Harlow said that stories

which lack ?legs? rarely draw a response from the organization. But

there are exceptions, such as when The San Jose Mercury News published a

story alleging CIA had helped bring crack cocaine to US inner

cities.

Shortly following its publication, the CIA?s director held a meeting to

assure residents that the charges would be examined. The office of

public affairs was not contacted by the newspaper?s staff when the

article was initially written, but it cooperated fully with news

reporters after the fact.

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