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Tinker, tailor, adman, spy

Advertising agencies are openly collaborating with the U.S. government, led by former J. Walter Thompson Chairman Charlotte Beers, who was named by George W. Bush to run the government's office of propaganda. So why not go all the way and plant CIA and FBI agents in ad shops around the world to gather intelligence for the war against terrorism? After all, JWT set the precedent during World War II when the agency opened overseas offices as cover shops for the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA, and also had an FBI agent named Harry Wilson working undercover in its Uruguay office. That's according to the 1971 book "OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency," by R. Harris Smith, a former research analyst for the CIA, which says various JWT executives wore two hats. One was chief of the OSS planning staff, another head of the morale branch in London, yet another was executive officer of OSS in Cairo and there even was a JWT adman who moonlit as a "black propaganda" specialist in Casablanca, the book says. A notorious JWT adman/spy was Gene d'Olive, who divided his time between advertising, writing a romance novel and working for U.S. intelligence out of the shop's Paris branch in the 1950s. "Advertising was a good cover for spies," an ad executive tells Adages, speaking from a very deep throat. "Admen traveled a lot, sat around in bars, and the profession was considered such a lowly one, it was a great place to hide." Indeed, a CIA agent named E. Howard Hunt, who would later move on to great fame as one of the Watergate conspirators, worked for JWT in a Washington public relations division. A JWT spokesman said the agency was not able to confirm or deny the old spy stories. "We have not been contacted by intelligence services," added the spokesman. "But we are happy to offer our top executives to Charlotte Beers and her new office." Which leaves Adages to wonder: Could Ms. Beers herself be working undercover, a real-life Felicity Shagwell? Yeah, baby.

More covert ops

Chris Ingram, chairman of Tempus Group, once told Adages that there was some confusion and suspicion when he opened up offices of his media agency in South America. His agency is Chris Ingram & Associates, which goes by the acronym CIA. Chris said he considered changing the name but backed off. The question is, considering the state of the world today, will Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group, which is acquiring the agency, drop the name? "No," Sir Martin tells Adages, emphatically.

Life's a pitch

As if life wasn't bad enough for advertising agencies these days, consultants are pitching clients, urging them to take a hard look at incumbent agencies. Select Resources International of West Hollywood, Calif., sent a letter to prospective clients touting its "low cost, below the radar" option for evaluating agency work. "It is virtually impossible to conduct a thorough review of the marketplace without attracting a lot of attention and unsettling a lot of people," writes Mike Agate, chairman-CEO. The company charges $15,500 for a "SelectScreening and Consultation Program."

If the account goes into review or enters into a "Client/Agency Relationship Enhancement Program," the fee is credited to the client, the letter says. Read the letter: QwikFIND AAM80E.

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