A Documentary Film the CIA Tried to Ban

It was May 1965. Word got out that NBC was about to air a television documentary about the various covert activities of the CIA. What we now call “the Deep State” grew very, very nervous. Every effort was made to make sure the film did not air; even its sponsor, B.F. Goodrich pulled its cash. In the words of Frank Wisner, former head of the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination: “unless checked or restrained in some manner their program will do very serious additional damage to the reputation and standing of the Agency [the CIA].”

But NBC stood its ground—The Science of Spying aired on May 4, 1965. It had a huge audience…

The film meticulously laid bare the CIA involvement in Iran, with the overthrow of the elected government of Iran (Operation Ajax, handled by Allen Dulles); the overthrowing of President Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala in 1954; the deep involvement of the CIA in Vietnam; the infamous Bay of Pigs and the attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro; and the various actions in the Congo, which culminated in the execution of President Patrice Lumumba in 1961.

The Science of Spying followed a straightforward method: it laid out the CIA actions in each of these regions, followed by their confirmation from Allen Dulles (who headed the CIA from 1953 to 1961) and Richard M. Bissell Jr. (the Agency’s Director of Plans and architect of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, as well as the U-2 Spy Plane disaster). However, both men insisted that covert CIA action was directed by the President of the United States.

In the words of Bassell: “There just come moments and, unfortunately, quite a lot of them, in world affairs, where power has to be exerted.”

As the leader of the Revolutionary Movement 13th November, in Guatemala, Marco Antonio Yon Sosa (born in 1929; shot and killed in 1970) observed: “Well, we have to study very carefully the word ‘terrorist.’ We attack [the American military] not because they are Americans, but because of what they are doing. We oppose United States policy in Guatemala because it is an interventionist policy: the Americans come here and put presidents in office and remove them.”

John Chancellor (1927-1996), who narrates the documentary, observes: “the dagger is replacing the cloak.”

Chancellor was a pioneering journalist and longtime anchor for NBC Nightly News Famously, it was he who first associated the blue and red colors to the two main US parties (Democratic and Republican).

After the film aired, the CIA had a meeting (May 19, 1965), where it was decided to carefully study The Science of Spying. Consequently, a transcript of the entire documentary film was produced.

The Science of Spying was made by Ted Yates (Frederick Langdon Yates, Jr.), the legendary and widely-respected documentary filmmaker, who just two years later would be killed in Jerusalem, on June 5, 1967, by an Israeli soldier who shot him in the head, where he was covering the Six-Day War.

In 1964, there appeared the now-famous book, The Invisible Government, written by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross. The book begins with these words: “There are two governments in the United States today. One is visible. The other is invisible…. The second, invisible government gathers intelligence, conducts espionage, and plans and executes secret operations all over the globe.”

The Science of Spying is a window that opens onto the invisible government of the United States of America.