It may read like a spy novel, but the story behind operations like Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and others is all true.
An era has ended: The Berlin Wall has come down, and Communism in Europe is dead. We've won the cold war! A key element in that victory was America's "black-radio" operations. In light of that, it is a bit ironic that the future of the radio operations that enhanced U.S. policy for more than four decades is in doubt.
The success of black radio - broadcast operations that were funded clandestinely by the CIA and other intelligence organizations, whose purpose was to spread discontent, in some cases to disinform, to encourage counter-revolutionary activities, and, ultimately, to free the peoples who were under the yoke of Communist tyranny - was unprecedented. With major black-radio operations long since ended, and the survival of the broadcast organizations that succeeded them in jeopardy, it is appropriate to recall the early history of those broadcast operations, including the spying and counter-spying, dirty tricks, espionage and counter-espionage, poison plots, intelligence gathering, a bombing, and at least three assassinations. In short, to tell the story that, due to security reasons, could not be fully told before now.
Genesis. On July 4, 1950, a 7 1/2-kilo-watt, mobile shortwave-broadcast transmitter, code-named Barbara, went on the air with programs in Czech and Slovak from a secret location in the woods of southern Bavaria, near the Czech/German frontier. Calling itself Radio Free Europe (RFE), it was to become America's most successful black-radio operation. The station, which was funded by the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency, began a hard-hitting campaign intended to roll back the Iron Curtain and liberate the peoples of East Europe from Communist domination.
The decision to fund a clandestine anti-Communist radio station had been made a year and a half before, following the overthrow of the Czech government by the Communists. The CIA had come into existence during the summer of 1947, with the passage of the National Security Act. Originally envisioned as an intelligence-gathering organization, the role of the CIA quickly expanded to include other functions, one of which was the dissemination of disinformation.
In 1948 President Truman had appointed a three-man commission to evaluate the operation of the CIA. One of these men was Allen W. Dulles, a firm believer in broadly expanded operations for the CIA, including undercover political and military activities. After the presidential election of 1948, Dulles reported to President Truman, proposing the inauguration of covert radio operations beamed behind the Iron Curtain and aimed at counter-revolution within the Soviet bloc.
In February 1949, within weeks of Dulles's recommendation, preliminary discussions were held, which led to the formation, in May of that year, of the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), and its subsidiary, Radio Free Europe. Allen Dulles, who in 1951 was to become the Deputy Director of the CIA, and its Director in 1953, was the first President of the NCFE. Exiled antiCommunist nationals from East European RFE-target countries were recruited. Among its first employees were high-ranking former government officials, ex-diplomats, statesmen, authors, and other prominent individuals.
Radio Liberty. In 1951 a sister organization was formed. Calling itself the American Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of the USSR, AmComLib, as it would come to be called, was a lower profile operation from the outset. There were many reasons for keeping this service under wraps, including the vastness of the Soviet Union, the many ethnic divisions within it, and the fact that because the USSR lay at the very heart and soul of Communism, AmComLib was to be a much harder hitting organization.
Radio Liberation, the shortwave broadcasting arm of AmComLib, went on the air from a transmitter site in Germany in March 1953. Within minutes of its first broadcast, heavy jamming started, and it would not end for 35 years. Until RFE and Radio Liberation, later called Radio Liberty, then RL for short, merged in 1975, the two organizations were funded from the same CIA sources, and maintained as separate entities.
Radio Free Europe was the first secretly funded CIA political operation, and to assure adequate cover for the organization, a division of the NCFE, called the Radio Free Europe Fund, was set up to raise money from private contributions. In the almost 40 years the RFE Fund existed, private contributions never amounted to more than five percent of the total RFE budget.
The station was directed from CIA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in a division called Policy and Planning, East Europe (PPEE), and several dozen PPEE officials were transferred to RFE, both to its main office in Munich, Germany, as well as to its New York City headquarters. Radio Liberty was also directed from different locations in both Munich and New York City. The organizations maintained these headquarters for 21 years, during which period they expanded steadily. In 1971, what had been a poorly kept secret became public knowledge: CIA ties were well publicized, and pressure began to mount to terminate both RFE and RL, which were referred to by Senator William Fulbright as "relics of the cold war."
During the …