Do you remember the song Wind Of Change?
Or, knowing my audience’s typical age, do you know that song your older sibling or parent or wine aunt or board game uncle liked, Wind Of Change, by 80s metal band Scorpions?
What if I told you that that song was not by Scorpions, but was, in fact, a CIA op designed to undermine the Soviet Union?
Okay, there are four broad responses to that idea and it depends on how you see media and how you see the CIA. If, for example, you think media is a completely powerless element of our reality, just a reflection that people partake of with no effect, and CIA as a sensible wing of the US government that largely spends its time listening to ambassadors and definitely not doing anything weird or unreliable with an enormous black budget, this probably sounds completely silly.
But if you see media as powerful, or you see the CIA as a pack of unaccountable weirdoes who occasionally destabilise governments ‘just in case we need that coup later’, then suddenly every part of it gets a little more believable.
And if you think that the media helps us shape our reality, especially as it pertains to political movements and popular uprising and that the CIA are the kind of organisation that spent thousands of dollars on developing cats that explode and dog poop radios, and then the whole thing sounds very believable.
This idea doesn’t come out of nowhere, mind you.
It comes from the CIA.
This is the proposition at the heart of the podcast Wind Of Change, a multi-episode deep dive into the question, Did the CIA Write The Song Wind Of Change And Give It To The Scorpions To Undermine The Soviet Union? It’s a wonderfully wild kickoff for a podcast, and it’s a story told interestingly by a journalist named Patrick Radden Keefe. The podcast is expensively and lavishly produced, involves travel and sources and translation and talks to a variety of people, including roadies and GI Joe toy kitbashers, multiple CIA spies, and eventually, with no other resort, they talk to the man who is credited with writing the song, who you think might have come up earlier, but anyway.
I liked the podcast, I enjoyed my experience listening to it. It’s a fun story, a wicked little narrative about the ways that shadowy organisations may see or treat other people. There’s the mystery to it, the question of what layer of this story is ‘true.’ Is the narrative all true, all the way down, the song made by the CIA and distributed by their tools as part of a culture-wide psyop that destroyed an empire that was already teetering? Or the whole story, top to bottom, complete bullshit? Was there, in fact, no greybeard old man sharing this story, but instead a simple zero-effort CIA psyop on one journalist, where they got to make themselves look cool and connected and wily in a way that doesn’t involve committing any monstrous crimes against people’s rights?
It does ultimately end without what you might consider a definitive conclusion. All the sources and information and possibilities are brought together, laid out on a table, and then the author shrugs and goes ‘well, I dunno.’ And it’s a bit cowardly-feeling to get there, but that’s because this is a journalist who didn’t want to bring up, you know, that other stuff the CIA was doing to disrupt economies and countries.
I don’t think they wrote the song. They wouldn’t need to. Bands were doing this stuff already, and it’s not like the hollowing out of the Soviet Union by corruption and plunder and theft needed a super-spy to understand. I tend to think in terms of what kind of work would this take to get done?
Writing a song, making sure it could have the impact they wanted, getting a band to play it, making sure those band members could make a reasonable cover story, all that stuff? That’s hard. That’s complex. Not super hard – but it is complex, and there are lots of ways that might not work. It’d cost money, and then there are people who know what’s going on, and they might say something, or share some story somewhere that they half-remember. There’s so many ways it can go wrong, if you have to make the song, and then make it ‘legitimately’ part of the Band’s playlist. You need to pay people, there’s a lot of material and labor time involved, if you want to make it good.
Making one intern generate thousands of copies of tapes, so they could be cheap as dirt and scattered throughout the Soviet Union, at almost no cost to anyone involved…?
Well, that’s easy.
You can listen to Wind Of Change on all your typical podcast services.