17. Memorandum From the Secretary of the 303 Committee (Jessup) to President Johnson1


  • The Future of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, A Summary

The future of Radio Free Europe has been under consideration for several years. McGeorge Bundy convened a special study group in 1966 which consisted of Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Dr. William Griffith of MIT, Richard Salant of CBS, and the current Ambassador to Switzerland, John S. Hayes. This paper, among other tasks, reviewed the work of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and found that the value of these assets had not diminished and would continue to have a role in an era beyond the cold war. This opinion was unanimous.

The matter became more critical after the Katzenbach Committee was forced to reach some decisions regarding covert support to various U.S. voluntary educational, philanthropic and cultural endeavours. This committee and Secretary Rusk recommended that the 303 Committee examine this problem because of its unique complexities. Since that time, Messrs. Rostow, Nitze, Kohler, and Helms, as well as Marks and [Page 57] Schultze, have given considerable time to looking at this problem from all angles.

Some nine possible solutions were examined; these included the status quo, conversion from non-profit to profit-making corporations, reincorporation abroad, relocation abroad, support by a public private mechanism, support from a public private mechanism specifically designed to foster private international broadcasting and other communications, overt funding by USIA (or another agency of the Executive Branch), transfer to VOA/USIA, and termination. All were eliminated in 303 discussions except for the three possibilities:

continued financing by CIA;
financing through a public private mechanism to be established by Congress;
transfer to USIA.

It was these three approaches that were tackled on a priority basis by William Trueheart of State and an inter-agency group. The conclusion reached in this solid study was that there were really but two realistic choices: either continuation as now constituted or termination. Some basic conclusions from this report are quoted:

“A special Radio Study Group (RSG), with representatives from State (Chairman), White House, Bureau of the Budget, Defense, USIA, and CIA, was directed to conduct this further study and make recommendations.

“The RSG has concluded that RFE operations should be continued on substantially the present scale. RFE broadcasts make and can continue to make a significant contribution to U.S. objectives in Eastern Europe in promoting and encouraging internal pressures for reform and political liberalization (de-Stalinization) and for the attenuation of Soviet influence and control. Further, we believe that the broadcasts are not incompatible with a policy of bridge-building; indeed, meaningful improvement in East-West relations is probably dependent in the long run on the kind of internal changes which RFE seeks to foster. The unique element of RFE broadcasts—detailed reporting and comment on internal developments—could not be duplicated by VOA without substantial changes in VOA operating principles and the risk of unacceptable diplomatic consequences. Nor do we believe that VOA could realistically be expected, partly but not wholly for budgetary reasons, to maintain the massive news-gathering and research operations on which effective programming of the RFE sort depends.

“The case for continuing RL is less clear because it is impossible to obtain relatively reliable data, such as we have for RFE, on the size and make-up of the RL audience. We do know that the massive Soviet jamming operation makes listening difficult at best. As against this, the RL target is incomparably more important than that of RFE, audience access [Page 58] to foreign information other than by radio is very much less, and developments in the Soviet Union could make retention of RL’s capability of substantial importance. The Soviet jamming effort (at least 160 jamming centers) itself attests to the effectiveness, at least potentially, of the broadcasts and argues against according the windfall which termination would represent. On balance, we believe that RL operations should also be continued on substantially the present scale.

Both RFE and RL represent important U.S. assets, in terms of rare talent, specialized organization and base facilities, which it has taken over 15 years and some $350 million to develop. Once dispersed, they could be recreated only with immense difficulty, if at all. We believe that this in itself is a powerful argument for continuing the operations for the time being.

On the other hand, RFE and RL should not be regarded as permanent enterprises. The situation in the target countries may over time so develop as to make the broadcasts superfluous.

If the radios are to be continued, we see no satisfactory alternative to continued CIA financing. Our judgment and that of those we have consulted—including some who have earlier advocated other solutions—is that normal Congressional appropriation procedures would almost certainly result in a fairly rapid phase-out of the operations, whether the radios were being funded through a public-private mechanism or as a line item in the USIA budget. In the process, appropriations for VOA might suffer as well. Even if this were not so, the extensive and annual public debate, in which it would be necessary inter alia to explain and defend the mission of RFE/RL as distinct from VOA, would directly jeopardize the position of the radios in certain host countries and could lead to serious diplomatic complications with the target countries. The public appropriation procedure, in short, would firmly fix the image of the radios as official instruments of the U.S. Government and, in our view, this image would not be significantly blurred by the device of the public-private mechanism, at least in foreign eyes.

It will not be feasible to deny government support of the radios, and we propose that such support (without identifying CIA explicitly as the source) be officially acknowledged. There would be certain advantages, e.g., in handling Communist protests over the broadcasts, if open acknowledgement could be avoided. We believe, however, that to take a ‘no comment’ stance in response to queries about government support would very likely undermine the credibility of the Katzenbach Report as a whole. On the other hand, official acknowledgement can be accompanied by an unambiguous assurance that RFE/RL are the only activities covered by the statement of policy in the Katzenbach Report which will continue to be subsidized in substantially the same way after December 31, 1967. There is the subsidiary advantage that future government support being acknowledged, i.e., not covert, an exception to the Katzenbach policy is not [Page 59] involved. Mr. Helms, however, is on record as follows: ‘To contend that, since government support is being openly acknowledged, no exception to the Katzenbach policy is involved, would in my opinion be construed as an evasion of the issue. It would invite questions as to source and specific amounts. The failure to answer would provoke editorial criticism and a continuing attempt to get at the whole truth … I believe our best course is to face the situation directly by making an exception under the terms of the Katzenbach report, and by admitting that it has in fact been made.’ Needless to say, the solution recommended in the report (if successful) would make life happier for the State Department and Mr. Katzenbach.

“We believe that there is no reason to expect that the press will seek to exploit the acknowledgement in a major way. Government support for these operations is not ‘news’. Moreover, neither operation has come in for serious press criticism in the past, except for charges of deception in connection with the mass-media solicitation of individual contributions by RFE. (We concur in previous recommendations that such solicitation be discontinued but we also agree that fund-raising within the business community should be continued, in part to substantiate the private nature of the organization.)

Protests from target countries will be somewhat more difficult to handle, once government support is acknowledged. However, it is believed that the United States can continue to take the position in diplomatic exchanges that RFE and RL are private operations, pointing out that many private organizations receive government financial support without thereby becoming instruments of the government. Host countries should be able to use the same line in response to target country protests or press criticism. Nevertheless, if government support is acknowledged, there will be added importance in insuring that any needlessly provocative themes are avoided.

Acknowledgement of U.S. Government support is not expected to make any substantial difference in RFE and RL credibility with their audiences. Most listeners have probably assumed such support all along and if anything acceptance of the radios may have been enhanced thereby.

Continued CIA financing is of course dependent on approval by the Senate and House ‘watch-dog’ committees. They have not been consulted and we have no basis for estimating their likely reaction.

Should continued CIA financing be ruled out, then we believe the operations should be terminated. The problems associated with normal appropriation procedures, taken with our estimate of the practical life expectancy of the operations, convince us that the game would not be worth the candle.

In the event of termination of either radio, every effort should be made to retain technical facilities, frequencies and personnel for the VOA. As the report [Page 60] of the technical subgroup indicates, certain of the technical installations and frequencies would be valuable to VOA in improving its service and in providing a backstop in the event of loss of facilities elsewhere. Important savings might also be made in future construction costs. These benefits would, of course, be contingent on satisfactory arrangements with the host countries for VOA use of the facilities. The price of such arrangements in Portugal would probably be unacceptably high: a change in our African policy, especially modification of our views on self-determination for Portuguese territories. In the case of Spain, prospects would be less bleak, but we could expect the Spanish to demand a substantial monetary quid pro quo. At this juncture, this might take the form of increased demands in the 1968 base negotiations. We believe also that the German Government, for the reasons mentioned earlier, would be reluctant to agree to additional USIA facilities on German soil. As regards personnel, any major use of RFE/RL personnel would probably be contingent on a VOA decision to expand its programs to the target areas as well as to change its broadcast policies so as to permit somewhat more freedom in dealing with internal developments. This raises much broader problems affecting the world-wide operations of VOA which are beyond the scope of this study.

“We have considered whether it would be possible to obtain a quid pro quo for the termination of RFE and RL. While the target countries would undoubtedly regard cessation of the broadcasts as a concession, we see no way of using them as direct bargaining counters in present circumstances. On the other hand, the kind of broad negotiations directed at détente, in which the question of terminating the broadcasts might indirectly play an important role, are not in the offing.

“Finally, we recommend that the question of the future of RFE and RL be reviewed periodically, perhaps annually. Such reviews should take into account, as the present study has done, (a) the continuing need for the radios, (b) the outlook for retention of base facilities, and (c) the feasibility of transferring technical facilities and staff to VOA and/or of obtaining compensating concessions from the Communist countries in the event of termination.”

The Bureau of the Budget dissented from this report on the grounds that the following considerations were not adequately assessed:

The alternative of an enriched VOA should be more adequately developed …
The recommendations of the committee should be assessed in the light of (1) implicit disclosure of CIA funding; (2) attendant political repercussions at home and abroad; and (3) probable congressional reactions to funding acknowledged activities in the CIA budget.
The case for continuing Radio Liberty under acknowledged U.S. Government financing is even less convincing than the RFE case and should be decided separately.

[Page 61]

The Department answered this dissent, saying that even if the concept of an enriched VOA was not “developed“, it was thoroughly considered and the program review groups for the following areas had reported as follows:

“The Polish Program Review Group reported as follows:

‘Within the present charter of VOA it could not duplicate the type of reporting on internal policy affairs broadcast by RFE.’

“The Czechoslovak PRG reported:

‘We do not see how the official U.S. Government radio station can ever take over some of the specific objectives of RFE—unless we were at war with the country being broadcast to … The U.S. objective, like RFE’s, is awakening and creating political consciousness among the citizens of Czechoslovakia. As it stands now, it does not appear that VOA could effectively absorb RFE.’

“The Hungarian PRG reported:

‘Department of State and USIA guidances, as well as the USIA mission document and the VOA charter would have to be specifically amended and changed to permit VOA direct approach to Hungarian internal affairs … We do not believe that such an overall policy change is either advisable or desirable.’

“The Rumanian PRG reported:

‘The key difference—and the principal RFE function which VOA cannot and should not undertake—is RFE’s open criticism of the domestic situation in Romania and suggestions for improvement.’

“The Radio Liberty PRG reported:

‘Theoretically, it would not be impossible for VOA to duplicate most of the objectives and themes of RL, using the same facilities and personnel … The U.S. would be giving up a current asset—and one with considerable potential value for years to come—without receiving a quid pro quo from the Soviet government.’

“The second way in which the Study Group addressed the possibility of an ‘enriched country-oriented VOA’ was through inquiries to our missions in target countries. In a relevant comment from Embassy Moscow, Ambassador Thompson concluded that status quo should be maintained for the time being and that ‘public disclosure (of U.S. Government support) would be unfortunate but believe risk must be taken.’

“The third approach to the ‘enriched VOA’ alternative was technical … The subgroup report brings out that ‘the entire shortwave system of the VOA is being used at maximum capacity for broadcasting to the European area at the present time during reasonable listening hours.’ [Page 62] Hence additional broadcasting during such hours would require additional transmitters.

“A fourth consideration is that enrichment of VOA programs would also require VOA to absorb at least some substantial part of the RFE/RL news-gathering, research, and program personnel and facilities. Embassy Bonn believes that ‘if the RFE/RL executive and professional staffs became U.S. Government employees, the FRG would certainly view the status of the organizations as having basically changed.’

“More basic than any of the foregoing is the question whether VOA world-wide broadcasting policies, evolved over the years, should be changed—quite apart from the practicality of doing so. The Study Group thought this question went well beyond its mandate.

“Apart from the question of the ‘enriched, country-oriented VOA’, the BOB dissent boils down to a questioning of the majority view on the public reaction to acknowledging U.S. Government support and Congressional reaction to continued CIA funding. The former is a matter of judgment; the latter can only be assessed by consultation with the Congress—which the Study Group assumed would be the first order of business if the basic recommendation is approved.”

However, Budget Director Schultze has expressed serious doubts, both orally at the 303 Committee meeting on 20 September 1967 and later on paper, about the proposal to acknowledge government support and continue CIA financing of both RFE and RL, with or without a public exception to the policy developed by the Katzenbach Committee. He believes the principal disadvantages of this course of action are:

  • —The CIA funding will be obvious; it is the only source of covert funding for this type of activity.
  • —Continued CIA funding of an acknowledged activity will create serious problems in Congress:
    • —Congress has already eliminated all funding for RFE and RL after December 31, 1967, except termination costs.
    • —Russell and Mahon are strongly opposed to CIA funding of activities that are not wholly covert. (On these grounds, Congress cut out CIA funding of the Vietnam Revolutionary Development Worker program.)
    • —We should be very careful not to start the practice of having CIA finance activities simply because Congress won’t provide funds otherwise.
  • —Public acknowledgement of continued covert U.S. Government financing will cast doubt on the credibility of the whole Katzenbach policy.
  • —Though there has been considerable speculation about CIA funding, the acknowledgement of support would be given a big play in the press and will provide ammunition to attack the Administration.

[Page 63]

There are two alternatives to the proposed course of action which would avoid the dangers cited above and keep open our options on Radio Free Europe. The options are:

Terminate Radio Liberty and, before December 31, pre-fund RFE for an 18–21 month period. Mr. Schultze believes the case for RL is weak and termination would simplify the problem. Pre-funding RFE would require the approval of Russell and Mahon, but they are more likely to agree to this one-shot action than to continued CIA funding. No exception to the Katzenbach policy would be required. We would have time to develop a plan either to provide alternative means of overt support or to fold the valuable RFE activities into USIA in connection with the 1970 budget.
Terminate RL and seek an open appropriation to USIA to support RFE. The main disadvantages of this lie in the risk of congressional turndown, the inevitable congressional comparisons between VOA and RFE and the effect of open support on the target countries and the countries where the transmitters are located.

The 303 Committee, in discussing these opinions on 20 September 1967, recommended that Secretaries Rusk’s and McNamara’s views be sought and the matter brought to your attention.

As I see it, this is basically a political decision with some far-ranging repercussions regardless of the way the issue is decided. We have built up a $350,000,000 asset; it has been and is a useful instrument; by terminating, we will indeed lose something. By continuing as is, with CIA funding, certain credibility risks exist.

As we see it, the risks of termination are as follows:

We would be surrendering without any quid pro quo a proven instrument for affecting the rate of change in Soviet and Eastern European societies.
We would, in other words, be making a unilateral concession to the other side.
There could be a Western European reaction in which they could construe the termination of RFE/RL as an acceptance of Communist domination of Eastern Europe after 17 years of opposition.
Within the United States, certain blocs within both Democratic and Republican parties would consider the termination as outright appeasement. Certain ethnic minority groups of Eastern European origin with powerful regional strength in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Detroit, etc., and a political voice through such Congressmen as Pucinski and Zablocki could be both vociferous and intemperate.
There is more than a possibility that Richard Nixon or another Republican candidate, in casting about for issues, could go flat-out against bridge-building. The liquidation of RFE/RL could provide some gunpowder for such an attack.
Last but not least, a decision to liquidate might well be taken quite personally by such individuals as Michael Haider of Standard Oil, Crawford Greenewalt, Frank Stanton, Roy Larsen, and Roger Blough. These men have had long association with this effort and, we have reason to believe, feel strongly about it.

Continuation as recommended with continued CIA financing entails the following hazards:

If the State Department scenario is followed in which the United States Government admits covert funding, it is definitely open to the charge: How can you call this an open subsidy if you won’t reveal how much and from where? Both the press and Congress may find this unpalatable.
If it is claimed by the government that, yes, this is an exception to the Katzenbach ruling, the press could lean heavily on this and the only truthful answer is that no other solution has been found.
Any large-scale press play—something very difficult to forecast—may directly affect the present satisfactory attitudes of the Portuguese, Spanish and Germans, who control as host governments the leasing and transmitting site facilities. An open disclosure by itself could adversely affect the attitudes of these governments.

We have desisted from initial feelers among members of Congress because we felt this issue was sufficiently subtle so that you would prefer to design the strategy and name the strategists yourself.

Secretaries Rusk and McNamara have been briefed on this problem by Mr. Kohler and Mr. Nitze and are presumed ready to discuss the matter with you.

A decision is needed sooner rather than later because of the size of the enterprises, the interested parties, the money involved, and the deadline of December 31, 1967.

Peter Jessup
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 43. Secret; Eyes Only.