Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The front organization was one of the earliest and most trusted weapons in the psychological Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
These seemingly independent and high-minded anticommunist entities were often created or co-opted by the bright young spies who became the founding fathers of the Central Intelligence Agency. Together, the groups formed what one U.S. agent called a ``Mighty Wurlitzer,'' an organ for playing variations on an anticommunist fugue.
Hugh Wilford takes that phrase as the title for his superb new account of the underground combat in ideas and checkbooks that unfolded in the 1950s and early '60s. In ``The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America,'' he explains that the U.S., in bankrolling front groups, was tacitly emulating a Soviet technique for manipulating elite and popular opinion.
Aiming to thwart the appeal of communism, the CIA and its forerunners co-opted labor unions, magazines and universities. They created scores of bogus committees and phony associations -- groups of Soviet-bloc emigres, artists and intellectuals, students, blacks and women.
The galaxy of early Cold War front organizations is studded with acronyms, conferences, disputes, conspiracy, lore and still- classified information. Wilford heroically resists getting bogged down in marginalia, keeping his narrative at a relatively high altitude over the voluminous material.
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