The Georgetown Set

After the Second World War a small group of people began meeting on a regular basis. The group. living in Washington, became known as the Georgetown Set or the Wisner Gang. At the first the key members of the group were former members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). This included Frank Wisner, Philip Graham, David Bruce, Tom Braden, Stewart Alsop and Walt Rostow. Over the next few years others like George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Richard Bissell, Joseph Alsop, Eugene Rostow, Chip Bohlen, Desmond FitzGerald, Tracy Barnes, Cord Meyer, James Angleton, William Averill Harriman, John McCloy, Felix Frankfurter, John Sherman Cooper, James Reston, Allen W. Dulles and Paul Nitze joined their regular parties. Some like Bruce, Braden, Bohlen, McCloy, Meyer and Harriman spent a lot of their time working in other countries. However, they would always attend these parties when in Georgetown.

Most men brought their wives to these gatherings. Members of what was later called the Georgetown Ladies' Social Club included Katharine Graham, Mary Pinchot Meyer, Sally Reston, Polly Wisner, Joan Braden, Lorraine Cooper, Evangeline Bruce, Avis Bohlen, Janet Barnes, Tish Alsop, Cynthia Helms, Marietta FitzGerald, Phyllis Nitze and Annie Bissell.

The men shared similar political views. They tended to hold liberal views on domestic issues. These attitudes were developed while they were students in the 1930s. They were also passionate anti-communists. This was the result of the men's experiences during the was and the events in Europe that followed the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945. The vast majority were members of the Democratic Party but John Sherman Cooper and Desmond FitzGerald were both left-wing Republicans. As Sally Reston pointed out: "We were liberal anti-Communist, intellectuals, precisely the class and breed that Joe McCarthy hated and whose careers he wanted to ruin. It was the same old battle: the Republican right versus the Democratic left."

It was members of the Georgetown Set that began lobbying for a new intelligence agency. The main figure in this was Frank Wisner. With the help of another member, George Kennan, the Office of Special Projects was created in 1948. Wisner was appointed director of the organization. Soon afterwards it was renamed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). This later became the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Frank Wisner used his position to recruit other members into the CIA. This included Tom Braden, Richard Bissell, Desmond FitzGerald, Tracy Barnes, and Cord Meyer. Other leading officials in the CIA including Allen W. Dulles, James Angleton and Richard Helms attended these parties.

The OPC concentrated on "propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world."

Wisner also established Operation Mockingbird, a program to influence the American media. Wisner persuaded Philip Graham (Washington Post) to run the project within the industry. Graham himself recruited others who had worked for military intelligence during the war. This included James Truitt, Russell Wiggins, Phil Geyelin, John Hayes and Alan Barth. Others like Stewart Alsop, Joseph Alsop and James Reston, were recruited from within the Georgetown Set. According to Deborah Davis (Katharine the Great): "By the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles."

J. Edgar Hoover became jealous of the CIA's growing power. He described the OPC as "Wisner's gang of weirdos" and began carrying out investigations into their past. It did not take him long to discover that some of them had been active in left-wing politics in the 1930s. This information was passed to who started making attacks on members of the OPC. Hoover also gave McCarthy details of an affair that Frank Wisner had with Princess Caradja in Romania during the war. Hoover, claimed that Caradja was a Soviet agent. Another members of the Georgetown Set, including Dean Acheson, George Kennan,, and Chip Bohlen, were also targeted.

Joseph McCarthy also began accusing other senior members of the CIA as being security risks. McCarthy claimed that the CIA was a "sinkhole of communists" and claimed he intended to root out a hundred of them. One of his first targets was Cord Meyer, who was still working for Operation Mockingbird. In August, 1953, Richard Helms, Wisner's deputy at the OPC, told Meyer that Joseph McCarthy had accused him of being a communist. The Federal Bureau of Investigation added to the smear by announcing it was unwilling to give Meyer "security clearance". However, the FBI refused to explain what evidence they had against Meyer. Allen W. Dulles and both came to his defence and refused to permit a FBI interrogation of Meyer.

Joseph McCarthy did not realise what he was taking on. Wisner unleashed Mockingbird on McCarthy. Drew Pearson, Joe Alsop, Jack Anderson, Walter Lippmann and Ed Murrow all went into attack mode and McCarthy was permanently damaged by the press coverage orchestrated by Wisner.

The Georgetown set was made up of journalists, politicians and diplomats. Most significantly they also included senior figures in the CIA. As Sally Reston pointed out: "James Angleton turned up at almost every Georgetown party... I used to see him all the time at the homes of Evangeline Bruce and Lorraine Cooper, busily assaying the lay of the land, taking mental notes, listening in on conversations, issuing directives, gathering intelligence. It was no different for Frank Wisner, Dick Bissell, Allen Dulles, or any of the other CIA bigwigs." Cord Meyer, who regularly accompanied James Angleton to these parties, admitted that they provided a perfect opportunity to gain valuable information: "If we could get something out of somebody, we'd do it. That's why we were there."

The Georgetown Set mainly supported the Democratic Party candidates Harry Truman (1948) and Adlai Stevenson (1952 and 1956). In 1960 they had a preference for Lyndon B. Johnson. When John F. Kennedy got the nomination Philip Graham and Joseph Alsop played an important role in persuading him to accept Johnson as his running-mate.

After his election John F. Kennedy was persuaded by Philip Graham to appoint his friend, Douglas Dillon as Secretary of the Treasury. He also influenced Kennedy's decision to appoint Arthur Schlesinger, his former OSS buddy, as his adviser and David Bruce, as ambassador to London.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon B. Johnson appointed three members of his seven man Warren Commission from the Georgetown Set: Allen W. Dulles, John J. McCloy and John S. Cooper. Although a member of the Republican Party, Cooper was extremely close to the Kennedy family.

Cooper later admitted that he did not agree with the findings of the commission. He told Jackie Kennedy that he was convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. She replied: "What difference does it make? Knowing who killed him won't bring Jack back." "No, I won't," responded Cooper. "But it's important for this nation that we bring the true murderers to justice."

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources