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
?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
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.