18. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to President Johnson1

You will recall that at lunch on 17 October2 we discussed the future of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. At that time, you expressed a willingness for me to consult those leaders of Congress having to do with appropriations in an effort to establish whether or not they would be willing to continue appropriating money for these radios on the understanding that this would not constitute a request by you for this money or a charge against your congressional program.
As a result, I visited individually with five members of Congress: Representatives Mahon of Texas, Bow of Ohio, Lipscomb of California, and Senators Russell of Georgia and Milton Young of North Dakota. All five of these individuals expressed a willingness to support the radios financially in the round amount of $30,000,000 per annum for at least the next fiscal year and possibly longer.
At my visit with each of these five individuals, I explained in detail the problem we have had in finding alternative means of financing these radios. I made it clear that a public relations problem still exists in terms of how the Administration explains the continuance of the present financial arrangements. On the other hand, if there is no firm assurance of congressional support for the radios, there is no need to waste time on devising the right tactical approach to the press. I carefully underlined that I was there on my own since you wanted it clearly understood that you did not want to make a personal appeal for the money involved nor did you feel that you should be asked to plead for these radios as against other projects which you felt to be more essential. It was my distinct impression that each individual understood the terms of the discussion quite clearly.
Congressman Mahon reacted to my presentation by saying that he had felt it had been a mistake to include the radios in the Katzenbach report and that he had always preferred to have them continue to operate as they had in the past. He recognized the public relations problems but stated that it did not concern him unduly even if there were some criticism. (At this point, he made a disparaging reference to the influence of The New York Times and told me “I never read Reston.”) He then remarked that he thought the radios should be continued and that he was prepared to help provide the necessary funds. He pointed out, however, [Page 66] that Mr. Bow would have to agree and asked me to see both Mr. Bow and Mr. Lipscomb, the two Republican members of his CIA Appropriations Subcommittee.
Representative Bow told me that he thought the radios were doing a good job and that they should be continued. He promised to help provide the money. In the course of our conversation, he pointed out that he was on the Appropriations Subcommittee which deals with USIA and that in his opinion it would make no sense to try to meld Radio Free Europe and/or Radio Liberty into the Voice of America organization. He indicated that he clearly understood the difference in the program content of the Voice of America on the one hand and the two “private” radios on the other. He concluded by opining that this was no time in history to reduce our efforts to bring about change behind the Iron Curtain.
Representative Lipscomb said that he was in favor of the radios and did not want to see them terminated. He volunteered to do what he could to have the money appropriated and asked a few questions about the amounts involved and how they were allocated. He accepted the fact that some admission of government support might have to be made. He stated that this would present “a tricky problem” in dealing with the press but did not anticipate widespread newspaper criticism.
Senator Russell expressed his support of the radios and said that he thought they ought to be continued at least for a time. He repeated what he has said before that he never could understand what all the ruckus had been about. He pointed out that criticism over these subsidies had died out quickly after the initial flurry last winter. He indicated his willingness to help secure the money involved and asked me to go see Senator Young and put the matter to him. He authorized me to tell Senator Young that he favored continuing the radios.
When I met with Senator Young, I told him that Senator Russell had asked me to see him, but I did not attempt to influence his decision by telling him in advance what Senator Russell’s position was. He did not even inquire. He simply stated that he thought the radios should continue to operate and that he would do what he could to help as far as appropriations are concerned. He expressed the opinion that the state of the world being what it was, no useful efforts to deal with Communism or Communist ideology should be reduced. He voiced concern that possibly not enough was being done in this area.
I have reported the above to Secretary Rusk. We will again raise with you shortly how we should proceed on this problem of handling Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 51. Secret.
  2. No further record of this conversation has been found.