The Religious Crusades of the CIA

Among the murkier chapters in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency, the attempt to…

Among the murkier chapters in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency, the attempt to destabilize societies around the world using religion warrants attention. Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA in its early years, was responsible for using religious groups as cover for intelligence activities. He had used them for spying even when he was part of the Office of Strategic Services which was CIA’s predecessor.

After the creation of the CIA , Christian missionaries played a very important role in destabilizing various countries and in carrying out espionage activities on behalf of the CIA. The most recent high profile example of the US using religious missionaries as Trojan horses to cause disturbances in India was in the case of the agitation against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. This agitation came after a cable to the CIA from the US Consulate in Mumbai (Wikileaks cable 06MUMBAI1803_a) informed the agency that “we feel that the USG must move forward to enable our companies to compete in the next stage of India’s nuclear future. Otherwise we may have to watch bitterly as third countries become the first to benefit commercially from the environment that our diplomacy has created.”

The CIA-church connection had been one of the topics of an investigation conducted by the US Senate in 1975. Coincidentally, it came to be known as the Church Committee as it was headed by Senator Frank Church, and according to the report of this Committee, the CIA had informed them of at least “a total of 14 covert arrangements which involved direct operational use of 21 individuals” who were American clergy or missionaries. The report went on to state that a few of them “were current in August 1975, and according to the CIA, they were used only for intelligence collection, or, in one case, for a minor role in preserving the cover of another asset.”

frank church

Senator Frank Church

The following excerpt from the Church Committee report speaks for itself and highlights the dangers of allowing foreign missionaries into India.

“[T]he CIA paid salaries, bonuses, or expenses to the religious personnel, or helped to fund projects run by them. Most of the individuals were used for covert action purposes. Several were involved in large covert action projects of the mid-sixties, which were directed at “competing” with communism in the Third World….

Of the recent relationships, the most damaging would appear to be that of a U.S. priest serving the CIA as an informant on student and religious dissidence.

Of the earlier cases, one exemplifies the extent to which the CIA used confidential pastoral relationships. The CIA used the pastor of a church in a Third World country as a “principal agent” to carry out covert action projects, and as a spotter, assessor, asset developer, and recruiter. He collected information on political developments and on personalities. He passed CIA propaganda to the local press.

According to the CIA’s description of the case, the pastor’s analyses were based on his long-term friendships with the personalities, and the agents under him were “well known to him in his professional life.” At first the CIA provided only occasional gifts to the pastor in return for his services; later, for over ten years, the CIA paid him a salary that reached $11,414 annually.”

After the creation of the CIA , Christian missionaries played a very important role in destabilizing various countries and in carrying out espionage activities on behalf of the CIA.  

The figure of $11,414 in this excerpt gives us a clue that the country in question is most likely India as this amount translates to a nice round figure of one lakh rupees using the currency exchange rate of the day. In addition to being a round figure, it was also a substantial amount of money in the 1970s in India.

The CIA used opposition to communism in the Third World as the excuse to fund churches in Kerala and this interference in Indian politics came to light in 1978 when the former ambassador to India, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, published the information his book A Dangerous Place. Apart from interfering in Kerala, American churches have provided extensive support to the terrorists in Nagaland whose stated aim is “Nagalim for Christ.” These terrorists receive overt help from the American establishment in the form of so-called human rights reports and public statements of support from high profile politicians such as Jimmy Carter.



In the 1950s and 1960s, the US establishment keenly pushed their religion and Western values as the standard for the entire world. Feminism and sex were used as weapons against countries where the bond of family was strong and stood as a line of defense against the actions of those who wanted to create instability in society.

In a speech before the Fund for Peace Conference in 1974, CIA head William E. Colby admitted that the CIA had funded several groups around the world to propagate their point of view and named the famous feminist Gloria Steinem as a recipient of such funds. According to Colby, “The record is clear that the assistance given to these institutions by the CIA was to enable them to participate in foreign activities; there was no attempt to interfere in internal American domestic activities. CIA aid helped such groups as the National Students Association to articulate the views of American students abroad and meet the Communist-subsidized effort to develop a panoply of international front organizations. I might quote Ms. Gloria Steinem, one of those assisted, who commented that the CIA “wanted to do what we wanted to do – present a healthy, diverse view of the United States” – I never felt I was being dictated to at all.”

Another women’s group named Redstockings had uncovered Gloria Steinem’s CIA connections and included the information in their book Feminist Revolution but the publishing firm Random House removed the chapter before publication and called it an “abridged edition” as they faced immense pressure to suppress this information from several quarters including the president of Ford Foundation. The news about this suppression became public when it was published in Village Voice in May 1979.

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem

In 1957, Gloria Steinem had visited Kerala and worked with an American Protestant missionary and helped his group reach out to women. While in India, she gathered information about plantations in Kerala, and a few Wikileaks cables show that the American establishment was eager to present her in later years as a thought leader who had to be emulated and included meetings with her as part of programs organized for visiting foreign dignitaries. Gloria Steinem’s visit to India had been funded by what was called the Chester Bowles scholarship which was named after the ambassador to India, but this scholarship, which had been created in the year of Gloria Steinem’s visit to India, was curiously discontinued immediately after she and another student were funded for their trips to India.

One religious organization that has received money from USAID and has been outed as a front for the CIA is the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International) which was set up to translate the bible into various languages and distribute them around the world. Together with its sister organization, the Wycliffe Bible Translators, and its subsidiary, the Jungle Aviation and Radio Services (JAARS) which operates several aircraft and radio stations, SIL became a very powerful and destructive force in the world.

 In the 1950s and 1960s, the US establishment keenly pushed their religion and Western values as the standard for the entire world. Feminism and sex were used as weapons against countries where the bond of family was strong and stood as a line of defense against the actions of those who wanted to create instability in society.

In the 1970s, several Latin American countries including Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru held SIL responsible for advancing the interests of the American intelligence agencies (see Wikileaks cables 1975BOGOTA06132_b, 1975MEXICO05045_b, 1975LIMA08739_b and 1976LIMA01274_b) and Brazil expelled SIL’s missionaries from the country for acting as cover for geologists searching for mineral deposits in the Amazon basin. SIL’s clout in the American establishment was such that they were able to bypass the diplomats and directly seek helicopters from the military to carry out their mission in Papua New Guinea (see Wikileaks cable 1973CANBER02655_b).

SIL has been accused of drug trafficking, smuggling emeralds and uranium, and even waging germ warfare that destroyed many native tribes. In their book THY WILL BE DONE, The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, the authors Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett document the extensive connections of Wycliffe Bible Translators with Nelson and John D. Rockefeller and their takeover of the resources in the Amazon basin countries.

SIL’s partner in India is the Indian Institute of Cross Cultural Communication based in Nashik. An example of the kind of work executed by this institute can be found on the resume of Wayne Dye who is on the faculty of the Graduate Institute of Linguistics and who worked at the IICCC as a consultant for SIL. According to his own description, he conducted seminars “for Indians engaged in cross-cultural church planting” while at the IICCC.

Wayne Dye

Wayne Dye

Things take a bizarre turn in the context of SIL and its connection to drugs. When LSD was first synthesized by the Swiss drug firm Sandoz, it was clear that there was no medicinal use for it, but the CIA was interested in it as part of its mind control program and its aim of controlling of societies in general. The CIA even set up a project named MKULTRA to research “behavioral modification.” According to a Senate hearing in 1977, CIA used many unwitting persons for experimentation as part of this project.

Over the years, they infiltrated many groups and distributed narcotic and psychedelic drugs with the twin aims of observing their effects and weakening the groups they were targeting. Among the Hindu groups that were suspected of being victims of infiltration by CIA agents were Rajneesh’s ashram, ISKCON and the Ananda Marg.

Unlike Christian churches, Hindu outfits were not conducive to being taken over by replacing the spiritual head while retaining the followers, and hence the only option available to their opponents was to destroy such groups. Rajneesh’s followers had also gone one step further and built up a self-sustaining commune that did not depend on the government. This was sure to attract the hostility of the American establishment which has repeatedly demonstrated intolerance for independent communities and individuals regardless of their race or religion. In contrast, the centralized nature of Christianity was helpful to the American government. According to Colby and Dennet, the Summer Institute of Linguistics not only converted the local people in Latin America from their indigenous faiths to Christianity, but also ‘used the Bible to teach indigenous people to “obey the government, for all authority comes from God.”‘ The idea that all authority comes from God is part of the biblical verse Romans 13:1.

It is in CIA’s use of drugs to control others that R. Gordon Wasson and SIL come into the picture. Wasson was the author of an article titled Seeking the Magic Mushroom in Life magazine in 1957 and the article is considered a path breaking one in the ‘psychedelic movement.’ He was close to CIA’s Director Allen Dulles and had gone on an expedition to Mexico in search of the “Magic Mushroom” with funds from the CIA. Wasson has acknowledged at the end of his article that he collaborated with missionaries belonging to the Summer School of Linguistics. John Marks, a former State Department official who worked at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, discusses Wasson in his book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, but as in the case of most books authored by ex-spooks, one must expect critical information to be covered up and not hope to get the full extent of Wasson’s participation, especially as Marks sought Wasson’s feedback for the draft of the book.

R. Gordon Wasson

R. Gordon Wasson

Sometime in 1962, Gordon Wasson recruited a young lady named Mrs. Arthur Gudwin to dig out information about the source of soma from Sanskrit texts. Mrs. Gudwin, also known as Wendy Gudwin, was the daughter of Lester Doniger, a wealthy scam artist who deceived ordinary people into parting with money by threatening them that their credit rating would be affected if they did not pay him money. Among the many false representations Lester Doniger made to his victims, he created and used the fictitious name of Mail Order Credit Reporting Association along with a letterhead for this fake organization on which he sent out his threats (see p. 785 of Federal Trade Commission rulings for April-June 1964).

A fervent believer in converting people to Christianity, Lester Doniger actively helped evangelical churches achieve this goal. Together with his brother Simon Doniger, he published two journals – Pulpit Digest and Pastoral Psychology – in order to help the Christian churches become more powerful and efficient in their operations. The New York Times dated 26 February 1949 reported that Pulpit Digest honored an evangelist radio series and that Lester Doniger, before presenting the award, pointed out that “the program had 6 million listeners weekly and there were approximately 70 million without church affiliations toward whom the program was directed.”

Among the Hindu groups that were suspected of being victims of infiltration by CIA agents were Rajneesh’s ashram, ISKCON and the Ananda Marg.

There were other fronts on which Lester Doniger was involved with the activities of the American establishment. Closely tied to the feminist movement was the issue of sex education, and in 1964, the US got UNESCO to focus on disseminating information related to sex around the world. A new organization named Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) was soon set up and Lester Doniger became the president of SIECUS within a few years. Under his stewardship, SIECUS was funded by Steven Rockefeller and James Warburg of the influential banking family, two key people who have helped shape US foreign policy and bankrolled several overt and covert American government programs. The US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara also supported SIECUS and yet another source of funds for the organization was the Ford Foundation.

Robert McNamara

Robert McNamara

Other members of Lester Doniger’s family too have strange antecedents that seem like too many coincidences to dismiss them out of hand. His wife, Rita Doniger, once sold tickets for an event of the Marxist group National Council of American Soviet Friendship, putting her in a prime position to spy on who was attending the event. Gathering such information was one of the common activities carried out by the American intelligence agencies and this is the most plausible reason for a person from a family tied to the establishment volunteering to help organize the event. Yet another family member, Dennis M. O’Flaherty, another husband of Wendy Doniger, was a Russian language expert whose doctoral thesis was related to propaganda in Russia. He was sent to Moscow during the cold war with a grant from the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), a government aided organization that was set up as a public-private partnership in 1967 to take over the responsibilities of the Inter-University Committee on Travel Grants (IUCTG). The Soviet Union had accused professors and scholars sent by the IUCTG of working for the CIA and expelled a few of them over the years.

IREX scholars too were accused of espionage activities (for example, by Yugoslavia) and IREX continued to be part of the American national security plans after the Soviet-Eastern European Research and Training Act of 1983 was passed. During the Congressional hearings before the act was passed, one of the supporters of the act who taught at Columbia University made the point that research in universities on the Soviet bloc countries should be treated as “utmost importance to the national security of the United States.” More recently, Jim Leach, former Congressman and former Chairperson of the National Endowment of the Humanities, admitted in a speech that there were “connections between the humanities and national security.”

The “research” of Mrs. Wendy Gudwin nee Doniger who is now a professor at the University of Chicago must be viewed in the light of this background combined with her work with Gordon Wasson. None of her so-called research is original, and as a pliant assistant, she has merely propagated the views of those for whom she has worked. Perhaps this explains the inconsistency in her writings and the shallowness in her scholarship. For example, she has claimed that the authors of the Rigveda were “invading Indo-Aryans” but has also written elsewhere against the Aryan Invasion Theory. She treats the myth of a conversation between Jesus and Thomas as a historical fact and even assigns a date to the purported event. It is in the understanding of Indian religious traditions that she demonstrates a clear lack of depth when she claims that Hindu and Buddhist mendicants abandon their material lives because they are driven by Wanderlust.

Even the idea of mixing up sex and religion did not originate with her. Her uncle Simon Doniger had published a book titled Sex and Religion Today. After helping Gordon Wasson buttress his claims on soma, Wendy Doniger continued where Simon Doniger had left off and her work was aligned with the message of Christian missionaries and SIECUS packaged in academic verbiage and style.

Christian missionaries routinely attack Hindu beliefs by attacking Krishna and this behavior is accurately depicted in RK Narayan’s novel Swami and Friends in which the teacher of the scripture class attempts to foist Christianity on the students by preaching,“Oh, wretched idiots! …Did our Jesus go gadding about with dancing girls like your Krishna? Did our Jesus go about stealing butter like that arch-scoundrel Krishna? Did our Jesus practise dark tricks on those around him?”

Swami and Friends

Swami and Friends

In the works of Lester Doniger’s daughter and other American professors, the same kind of attack on Hindus can be found in a more sophisticated form complete with footnotes and citations in order to appear pedantic. After working for Gordon Wasson, Lester Doniger’s daughter was placed at Harvard University where her guide, Daniel Ingalls, was a known intelligence agent who had spied against Indian freedom fighters. She then spent time in Oxford, and strangely, her adviser RC Zaehner too was an intelligence agent. Zaehner, who was also a racist, had headed the failed British attempt in 1951 to overthrow the Mossadegh government in Iran and put the Iranian oilfields in the control of the British.

Earlier, in 1963-64, Wendy Doniger had been sent to India for a year on a $6000 fellowship (this was thirty percent more than the median annual income in the US) to the American Institute of Indian Studies which would eventually come to be known as a CIA front. The US had set up many front organizations in the academia as part of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and AIIS was one such institution.

The links of AIIS to the intelligence community was very strong during the days of Wendy Doniger’s association with the organization. Its Director in 1964 was Richard D. Lambert who had been stationed in India as part of the counterintelligence department during the second world war. He was succeeded by Thomas Simons who was also part of the intelligence community and who had headed the South Asian branch of the Office of Intelligence Research in the US Department of State. A key member of the founding group of AIIS was Richard Park who went on to become the India scholar at AIIS. Park was also part of the infamous Asia Foundation.

Christian missionaries routinely attack Hindu beliefs by attacking Krishna and this behavior is accurately depicted in RK Narayan’s novel Swami and Friends

Despite earlier denials, it was revealed in 1967 that the Asia Foundation had received funds from the CIA and it had in turn funneled money to Indian groups in the guise of funding cultural and educational programs. This revelation led to an outcry in the Indian parliament on the role of AIIS and other groups. Even the journal Seminar which was published by the brother of the Marxist professor Romila Thapar devoted an entire issue to the topic of “Academic Colonialism,” but that was before Romila Thapar received money and titles from the American establishment and started supporting them.

Indira Gandhi’s government asked Asia Foundation to cease its operations and leave India. One of the projects that was terminated by the Indian government was based in the Himalayan foothills and its personnel collected information on land ownership and the political situation in both India and Nepal. This project had received funds from multiple sources including the AIIS and the Department of Defense.

Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi

By 1972, the situation had become so severe that Indira Gandhi had to keep out foreign scholars from India. The New York Times dated 5 August 1972 carried an editorial headlined ‘India Closes its Doors’ in which it stated, “India no doubt has been victimized by some sloppy and even malicious scholarship. On that basis alone New Delhi has some justification for seeking a measure of control over the hordes of scholars and would-be scholars who descend on the subcontinent annually, attracted by India’s rich cultural diversity and historic fascination.”

Even before the National Defense Education Act, the first program that focused on India had been set up at the University of Pennsylvania to serve the military during the second world war. In the following years, similar centers were set up at other universities with the faculty members carefully chosen so that they believed in the superiority of Western Christianity. The fact that most American programs related to studying India grew out of the intelligence and military departments which sought to shape public opinion in other countries through the media and academia explains the strange phenomenon of American faculty members hating their own area of research and expressing hostility towards the culture they claim to study. This behavior is at complete odds with that of of real researchers who pursue an academic field, not out of hate, but out of love for the chosen subject.

The intertwining of the academia with CIA’s operations manifested itself in the 1990s during the process that resulted in the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act leading to the setting up of the Office of International Religious Freedom and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Although the Office of International Religious Freedom now operates behind the thin veil of ‘religious freedom,’ which is really an euphemism for the propagation of Christianity using government resources, the veil was off before the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act. Contrary to commonly held views, this law was not the brainchild of any Congress member.

In 1996, the then Secretary of State Warren Christopher created the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad in order to “facilitate effective partnerships between the U.S. Government and a broad range of religious communities, academic institutions, and advocacy groups to advance religious freedom.” That the Committee was packed with Christians and had Jewish and Muslim representation while having no Hindu on it was a clear message that its purpose was to facilitate effective partnerships to propagate Christianity around the world by primarily targeting India. The following year, the State Department also came out with a report titled “United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians,” a title that clearly underscores the religious bias of the State Department’s agenda.

The fact that most American programs related to studying India grew out of the intelligence and military departments which sought to shape public opinion in other countries through the media and academia explains the strange phenomenon of American faculty members hating their own area of research and expressing hostility towards the culture they claim to study.

Not long after the publication of the report portraying Christians as victims of violence around the world, the advisory committee made interim recommendations, and in their own words a few years later, “The Advisory Committee is pleased to acknowledge that several of these recommendations have been implemented. Among the most important recommendations to have been achieved was the creation of a new Office on International Religious Freedom within the Department of State.” Before the advisory committee came up with its recommendations, it went through the motions and appeared to take public input, but that such hearings were merely part of a charade for public consumption can be gauged from the fact that members of the advisory committee as well as some of those who made presentations before the committee went on to become Commissioners of the USCIRF.

Among those on the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad was Barnett Richard Rubin of the highly influential Council on Foreign Relations which has had many CIA Directors and Secretaries of State as its members. Rubin’s focus area in policy related issues was the Indian subcontinent and this should have set off alarm bells ringing in India.

Diana Eck

Diana Eck


Another member of the committee was an anti-Hindu Harvard Professor and a Christian named Diana Eck who at one time worked for the World Council of Churches which openly calls for evangelism. This group is an umbrella organization for church groups and a key person in its creation was John Foster Dulles who went on to become the US Secretary of State and who was also the brother of Allen Dulles. In 1967, the organization’s American affiliate, the National Council of Churches, admitted that they had received money from the CIA. Ramparts magazine had broken a story on NSA and CIA front groups leaving them with little choice but admit their relationship with the CIA. The World Council of Churches also works with the Summer Institute of Linguistics. The World Council of Churches was not Diana Eck’s only connection to a front group of intelligence agencies. She had also obtained her Master’s degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, an institution with a reputation of being infested with British intelligence agents.

Hindus are constantly under attack by the US State Department today, but have been the main target of Americans ever since they started their evangelical activities. The first evangelical missionaries from USA went to India and it was to India that one of America’s earliest missionaries Adoniram Judson led a group of evangelists in 1812. When Jimmy Carter wanted to open his charity group Habitat for Humanity in India, his intentions were clearly to proselytize Hindus. That is why Rajiv Gandhi forced him to sign an agreement not to indulge in religious conversions. That kind of vigilance is required at all levels of government and society. After all, in the words of the Church Committee, “Agency-funded foundations serve as conduits of funds for a variety of purposes, including clandestine activities and contributions to scholars conducting research which supports United States foreign policy positions.”

Another angle covered by the Church Committee was the use of journalists and media organizations by the CIA. According to their report, “approximately 50 U.S. journalists” and “more than a dozen United States news organizations and commercial publishing houses” worked for the CIA. In one case, according to the report, the New York Times carried a book review written by a CIA writer for a book brought out by the CIA. The relationship of the New York Times with the CIA runs very deep. In an in-depth cover story that appeared in the Rolling Stone in 1977, Carl Bernstein pointed out that Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, had even signed a formal agreement with the CIA. His nephew, C.L. Sulzberger, too maintained extensive contacts with the CIA and even published a briefing paper given to him by the CIA almost verbatim under his byline. Carl Bernstein’s story quotes a CIA official as saying, “We gave it to Cy as a background piece and Cy gave it to the printers and put his name on it.”

It is also not uncommon for the CIA to instruct the editors of the newspaper on which stories they had to publish and which stories they had to suppress. In 1975, A.M. Rosenthal, the managing editor of the New York Times who had also served as their foreign correspondent based in India, acted on orders from the CIA and suppressed a story related to the raising of a sunken Soviet submarine. According to Wayne Biddle, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who worked as a reporter under A.M. Rosenthal and who is now a visiting faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, Rosenthal used to refer to the CIA as “the Company,” a term used by CIA insiders.

A.M. Rosenthal

A.M. Rosenthal

With the debate on religious conversions in India picking up steam, certain journalists and foreign media outlets are now outing themselves as messengers of the American establishment. In a display of truly bizarre behavior indicating that their ideas were not original but had been handed down to them, at least three Western media outlets had nothing to say on the topic of religious conversions for three weeks after several Muslims embraced Hinduism at Agra in early December, but they have now suddenly made the same point at the same time. They have all demanded that Narendra Modi not remain silent on the issue of religious conversions even though the topic is under the jurisdiction of the state governments.

While Andrew Rosenthal, an India baiter and the son of the late A.M. Rosenthal, made the demand along with other editors in an editorial in the New York Times, an identical demand appeared in an article written by a writer for Bloomberg. A similar criticism of Modi also appeared in a piece by Amy Kazmin of the Financial Times whose former Washington bureau chief worked for a senior official in the Bill Clinton administration. The crudest of the three demands was by Amy Kazmin who has described conversions by Christians as “freedom of conscience” and conversions by Hindus as “ugly.” Her position is consistent with the tradition of many American journalists who support fellow white Americans like Billy Graham in their proselytizing activities in India.

Interestingly, some of the language used in the American press against India constitutes verbatim repetition of the language used by the US State Department. For example, the dishonest phrase “1,000 people, mostly Muslims” that is repeatedly used by the New York Times staff to suppress the deaths of Hindus during the riots in Gujarat in 2002 was coined and first used by the US State Department in their Human Rights report of 1998 to describe the victims of riots that occurred after the events at Ayodhya in 1992.

It is extremely important that the American media, academia, think-tanks and grant making foundations be viewed in the context of the Church Committee report. Their twisted view of India as the American version of Dar-al-Harb must not be taken lightly. Instead of collaborating with them and giving them a free run to create American agitprop with Indian money and support, India should curb their activities. Whether Narendra Modi is capable of the strong action taken by Indira Gandhi remains to be seen, but what is clear is that any attempt by foreign forces to either shape public opinion in India or change the religious demographics of the country must be resisted. If India follows the example of South America where the Summer Institute of Linguistics was successful in its efforts, India too will become a Christian nation with the people taught to obey a government that is permanently subservient to foreign powers.

[The author can be reached at [email protected].]