My Love Affair With Gloria Steinem, When We Were C.I.A. Spies

Thomas McAdam

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I didn’t go to J-School, but it is my understanding that Journalism students are advised to put a good hook in the headline, and never bury the lede.  Accordingly, I tell you now, in my first paragraph, that I had a love affair with Gloria Steinem (sort of), while we were both spies for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (sort of).  Now that I have your attention, I will explain the details.

In my youth, I was something of a liberal.  Still am, in the classical sense, but modern leftists have devolved into something I abhor.  When I was in school, at Bellarmine College (now, University) in Louisville, I was attracted to liberal causes.  I read Michael Harrington’s The Other America, Supported Lyndon Johnson, volunteered in Eastern Kentucky, and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King.  That’s what good Catholic boys did in the early 1960’s.

I also became involved with the United States National Student Association.  USNSA was founded after the Second World War, as a national union of students.  The object was to resist the spread of communist ideology on American campuses.  USNSA was a federation of college student governments, and during my Freshman year at Bellarmine, I was Junior Coordinator for “NSA” on campus.  My Sophomore year, I became Senior Coordinator, and was elected Regional Chairman for NSA in Kentucky and Tennessee,

Regional Chairman was an unpaid position, but my expenses were covered, and I travelled across Kentucky and Tennessee, speaking to student government groups.  I got Fisk and U of K to join, but bombed out at Vanderbilt, where the student government felt that NSA was too liberal, because of its stand on civil rights. 

I also served on NSA’s National Executive Committee, and got a free trip to Washington headquarters several times a year.  I remember one budget meeting, where our treasurer explained that we were about a million dollars short for the fiscal year.  I was 20 years old, and that amount of money was beyond my comprehension.

Halfway through the budget meeting, NSA President Dennis Shaul showed up late, and told us the good news that our budget shortfall had been covered by a generous gift from Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.  He opened his briefcase, and showed us a million bucks in cash.

Looking back on it, I confess it never dawned on me that Mrs. Roosevelt didn’t have that kind of money to throw around, and that charitable contributions of that magnitude are rarely made in cash.

At the NSA national convention during the Summer of 1963, at Indiana University, I was assigned the duty of escorting three student government leaders from Kenya around town.  We drank beer at Ye Olde Regulator, ate pizza, and talked politics.  Years later, these guys became big-shot politicians in their home country.

After the end of the convention, I stayed in Bloomington for National Executive Committee meetings.  One night, I met with Dennis Shaul in his dorm room to discuss my experiences with the boys from Kenya.  I remember there were a couple of “old guys” (35 or 40 years old) in the room.  They wore suits and ties, and were obviously not students.  They wanted to know if the Kenyans were Marxists, and how they felt about Jomo Kenyatta and the Mau Mau movement.  Oblivious of the fact that I was being debriefed by government agents, I ingenuously related my experiences and partook of the free beer.  I have always been a cheap date.

A couple of weeks later, when I had returned to Louisville, I received a call from Dennis Shaul.  How would I like to spend a semester at the University of Helsinki, in Finland?  Could I meet him next Saturday at the Sheraton?  Assuming he meant the Seelbach Sheraton in Louisville, I asked which room.  He explained that the meeting would take place at the Park Sheraton in New York, and that a room had been reserved for me, and an Eastern Airlines ticket would be waiting for me at Standiford Field.

When I checked in at the Park Sheraton, a message was waiting for me at the desk.  Go to my room and wait for a call.  An hour later, Dennis called and told me to take a cab to the Henry Hudson Hotel, and meet him in room 1106.  I felt like I was a character in a cheap spy novel.

I met with Dennis, and a couple of those “old guys,” and had a nice discussion of international politics.  More free beer.

Later, after returning to Louisville, Dennis called and told me that the Helsinki scholarship had been awarded to Gloria Steinem.  He thanked me for my trouble.

A word about Gloria.  She served of NSA’s Executive Committee along with me, and I had a yuge crush on her.  So did every other guy on the committee.  She was drop-dead gorgeous, in her aviator glasses, with her long blonde tresses, and, even though she was a couple of years older than me, she made my adolescent heart go pitter-pat.  Of course, my lust for her was unrequited, since she was so far above my class that I became tongue-tied whenever I attempted to speak to her. 

Years later, the proverbial cat was let out of the bag.  In its March 1967 issue,  Ramparts, a glossy West Coast muckraking periodical that strongly opposed American involvement in the war in Vietnam, published an exposé of the close relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Student Association.  USNSA was then the leading American organization representing college students, with branches on about 400 campuses. Its ties with the CIA were formed in the early years of both institutions following World War II, as the Cold War was getting under way. 

According to Ramparts, the CIA had been providing much of the funding for the USNSA through various “conduits.” NSA officers, many of them wittingly, had served the interests of the CIA by participating actively in international youth and student movements.  NSA was a front for “The Company.”

Gloria acknowledged having worked for the CIA in the early 1960s in interviews given to The New York Times and The Washington Post in 1967, in the wake of the Ramparts magazine CIA exposures.  In her book My Life on the Road, Steinem spoke openly about the relationship she had with the CIA and defended the CIA relationship, saying: "In my experience [the CIA] was completely different from its image; it was liberal, nonviolent and honorable."

When I found out that I was an agent (read, “dupe”) for the CIA, I was flabbergasted.  If only they had told me.  I would have bought a fedora and a trenchcoat, and started smoking French cigarettes.  If only I have been smart enough to realize that those “old guys” were CIA spooks, I might have talked my way into an adventure in Helsinki.  If only I had mustered up the courage to ask Gloria Steinem for a date.  For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been”.

The years have passed, and we have all sold out, to some extent.  Steinem had in the past been critical of the institution of marriage, saying that "marriage was the model for slavery law in this country".  She is famous for saying that “A woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle,”  But she eventually found the time to get married.  Twice.  

In 1985, USNSA sued the CIA in Federal Court.  The Court found:  “From 1952 to 1967 a covert relationship existed between the USNSA and the CIA. During that period, the CIA secretly funded the USNSA and made occasional ‘operational use’ of individual students. Following public disclosure of this relationship in February 1967, the CIA and the USNSA officially terminated their association.”  USNSA lost the lawsuit.

I saw a photo recently, where Gloria was receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama.  For an old broad, she is still not bad looking.  I, of course, am just as handsome as I ever was.  I no longer agree with her far-left political ideas, and I find her bragging about her abortions depressing. 

But I still fantasize about going to Helsinki with her, and maybe sneaking over to Leningrad to do some spying on the Russkies.  Champagne and caviar at the Kempinski Hotel, with my Walther PPK pistol in my pocket.  “It might have been”.  Sigh.





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