Extracted from Lara Prescott's The Secrets We Kept, dated December 1956:
They had their [redacted under classification code Z], but we had their books. Back then, we believed books could be weapons—that literature could change the course of history. The Agency knew it would take time to change the hearts and minds of men, but they were in it for the long game. Since its OSS roots, the Agency had double-downed on [redacted]—using art, music, and literature to advance its objectives. The goal: [redacted]. The tactic: [redacted].
We started out stuffing pamphlets into weather [redacted] and sent them over borders [redacted], their contents [redacted]. Then we mailed Soviet-banned books back behind enemy lines. At first, the men had the bright idea [redacted], crossing their fingers and hoping at least a few would make it across unmolested. But during one of their book meetings, Linda piped up, suggesting the idea of [redacted]. A few of us gathered every copy we could find of less-controversial titles, like [redacted], removed their dust jackets, and glued them to the contraband before dropping them in the mail. Naturally, the men took the credit.
And it was around that time that the Agency decided we ought to dive even deeper into the war of the words, graduating several men within [redacted].
[redacted] became a bit of a book club with a black budget. It was more appealing to poets and writers than book readings with free wine. We had our hands so deep in publishing you’d have thought we got a cut of the royalties.
We’d sit in on the men’s meetings and take notes while they talked about the novels they wanted to exploit next. They’d debate the merits of making [redacted] subject of their next mission versus Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. They’d talk books as if their critiques would be printed in [redacted]. So serious, and yet we’d joke that their conversations felt like ones we’d had back in our undergrad lit classes.
So there were the balloons, the false covers, the publishing companies, the lit mags, all the other books we’d smuggled into the USSR.
Then there was Zhivago.
Classified under codename [redacted], it was the mission that would change everything.
[redacted]—a name more than one of us had trouble spelling at first—was written by the Soviet’s most famous living writer, Boris Pasternak, and banned in the Eastern Bloc due to its critiques of the October Revolution and its so-called subversive nature.
On first glance, it wasn’t evident how a sweeping epic about the [redacted] could be used as a weapon, but the Agency was always creative.
Lara Prescott's dazzling debut The Secrets We Kept (Hutchinson) is about the women in the CIA’s typing pool, the fate of a banned masterpiece and much more. Publishing Autumn 2019.
To reveal the full article and to secure your exclusive bound proof, visit booksarepower.co.uk.