The CIA and John Ford’s Oscars

Published February 16th 2015 | Tags: , , ,

This is one of the stranger items in my collection of CIA materials on popular culture, but is thoroughly interesting nonetheless. The US filmmaker John Ford was, during WW2 at least, intimately involved in making films with both the US Navy and the OSS, the forerunner to the CIA.  Just like the US Army Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit, the Navy and the OSS co-opted Hollywood filmmakers to produce training and propaganda movies.  Ford was so successful that he rose to become head of the OSS’s film unit and a personal advisor to Bill Donovan.

Among the footage shot by John Ford while in the OSS were a series of videos of their training camp in Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, known as ‘Area B’.  This was where future CIA directors William Colby and William Casey were trained as they were inducted into the OSS.  Ford’s footage showed recruits arriving at ‘Area B’:

OSS-RecruitsArriving

Working on the ‘trainazium’:

OSS-Trainazium

In the ‘House of Horrors’ – a ghost house/shooting range:

OSS-HouseofHorrors

Learning hand to hand combat:

OSS-Combat

And in their final exam, blowing up houses at night:

OSS-FinalExam

The CIA are clearly quite proud of this bit of their pre-history because they memorialise Ford on their website.  Also, and this is the strange bit, they also featured an article in their in house magazine What’s News at CIA about two of John Ford’s Oscars being on display in the CIA Exhibit Center in the US Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis.

CIA-WhatsNews-JohnFordOscars

The article is oddly boastful given that (as far as we know) Ford never worked for the CIA.  For example, the CIA’s magazine says that Ford received these two of his seven Oscars ‘as head of the OSS Film Photo Unit’ when in reality the two films had little or nothing to do with the OSS, and nothing whatsoever to do with the CIA.  December 7th was produced by the US Army Air Forces and distributed by the Office of War Information and The Battle of Midway was produced by the US Navy and distributed by the War Activities Committee.  So why were these Oscars on display in the CIA Exhibit Center?  Why were the CIA promoting this fact in their magazine?  Did John Ford continue his work for US intelligence after the war?  Or is this just another case of the CIA trying to rewrite history?

You can download the article from What’s News at CIA here (PDF).

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