As many people are aware, the Church currently employees a New York based PR firm. The topic has come up from time to time in press accounts about the Church, and journalists have labored mightily to make this into an interesting fact. I am doubtful. However, there are some interesting Church PR stories, including the one about how CIA agents distributed Church materials in Europe during the Cold War.
Robert Mullen was Eisenhower’s press secretary during World War II, and later worked in the Eisenhower administration. Upon leaving government he founded a public relations firm in Washington DC — The Mullen Company — which eventually had branch offices all over the world. At some point in time, the Church retained the Mullen Company as its PR firm. (I assume that Elder Benson came to know Mullen through the Eisenhower administration, but I don’t know the details.) As part of his employment by the Church, Mullen wrote a book The Latter-day Saints: The Mormons, Yesterday and Today
(Christopher Lasch actually reviewed the book in the New York Review of Books in 1967, making the memorable observation that “As long as the Mormons were different from their neighbors, their neighbors hounded them mercilessly. Only when they gave up the chief distinguishing features of their faith did the Latter-day Saints establish themselves as a fixture of the eccliastical scene, another tolerated minority. This is the lesson, if you like, of Mormon history.”)
The Church then had Mullen place copies of the book in public libraries through out Western Europe so that when people went to look up something on the Mormons they would find something more than some frayed anti-Mormon pamphlets from the turn of the century. And this, of course, is where the CIA comes in.
Through the Eisenhower administration, Mullen had come to know folks at the CIA. As a way of assisting American espionage, he worked out a deal whereby CIA agents would use the Mullen Company as a cover. The company was a legitimate business with legitimate clients. CIA agents working in Europe or Asia would be carried on the Mullen Company books, would be equipped with Mullen Company business cards, given a Mullen Company office, and would then go about merrily fighting the Cold War . . . and doing some legitimate Mullen Company business to keep up appearances.
And so it happened that undercover CIA agents went about Europe distributing books about the Mormons to public libraries.