A secret package arrived at CIA headquarters in January 1958. Inside were two rolls of film from British intelligence — pictures of the pages of a Russian-language novel titled “Doctor Zhivago.”
The book, by poet Boris Pasternak, had been banned from publication in the Soviet Union. The British were suggesting that the CIA get copies of the novel behind the Iron Curtain. The idea immediately gained traction in Washington.
“This book has great propaganda value,” a CIA memo to all branch chiefs of the agency’s Soviet Russia Division stated, “not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”