76. Memorandum From Leo Cherne to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Board for International Broadcasting

Public Law 93–129 which created the Board for International Broadcasting in 1973 did so because Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty had been reconstituted as a privately organized Delaware Corporation with its own corporate board of directors, corporate chief executive and professional and engineering staff. Since the work of the Radios [Page 226] was to be openly funded by the U.S. Government, it appeared essential that a presidentially-appointed board of five members, assisted by a small professional staff, assure the Congress and the President that the mission was properly performed; the moneys properly spent; the engineering equipment and technology be equal to the task; and that the RFE/RL broadcasts meet the highest standards of “quality, effectiveness and integrity”.

The request that I consider nomination to the BIB as its Chairman,2 led to a short but intensive assessment of the reality which presently prevails, as well as the contribution, in character and magnitude, such a responsibility would entail.

The conclusions reflected in this memorandum owe much to considerable detail, candor, and important judgments which I received from able and distinguished people who presently or previously have carried substantial responsibility in the areas this memorandum discusses. My study was partial and too brief but, in my opinion, sufficient for me to form certain judgments about the problems which confront the Radios and particularly the private and public boards, their officers and staffs.

Though I suspect there are such instances, I’ve been unable to identify a noteworthy occasion when the BIB adversely affected the operation of the Radios. Nor have I found an occasion when that Board was of any significant assistance to the operation of the Radios. It may be that advocacy needed for the large increase in transmitters or their location in recent years is such an instance. This is only one of a number of many such questions time and propriety did not permit adequate inquiry. On those questions for which I sought answers, my conclusions are as follows.

The BIB and its staff are essentially incapable of performing their assigned mission. The factors involved in this negative conclusion include the following:

No board of five advisory members, meeting four times a year, or twice that often, can more than casually assess operations of the magnitude performed by RFE/RL.

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The membership of BIB has at no time contained more than one or two people with special or recognized capacity to perform such complex studies.

The Board’s present and projected membership is not of the stature which would compel high respect by RFE/RL, its staff and, especially, its corporate board and officers.

The exceptional stature and experience of the RFE/RL Board further intensifies the disparity in quality, depth, and competence, between the two Boards and virtually assures reluctant and minimal cooperation.

Although it is intended that BIB concentrate on certain defined areas of “oversight” and the Board of RFE/RL concentrate on “operations”, these distinctions are largely artificial. More importantly, one purpose cannot be pursued without “invading” the other.

Since the part-time membership of BIB is clearly inadequate to its task, more than normal or desirable authority resides in its staff.

That staff, especially its chief members, has become the most significant part of the problem. Of five professionals, two appear to have a potential for useful contribution. The Executive Director of BIB’s staff and at least one of the staff assessing program content and quality maximize the friction (inherent in the present arrangement) between the two Boards and unnecessarily burden both.

The distance of both Boards from the main sites of broadcasting operations further complicates the oversight functions.

It is difficult to imagine a laboratory more suited than is the BIB to the proof of several of Parkinson’s propositions.

Quite presumptuously, but with deep conviction, the following steps (not easy to accomplish quickly) are recommended:

The next Chairman of BIB must, whatever the resistance from his colleagues who may cherish their distinction and tasks, move to bring the existence of the Board for International Broadcasting to an end. In the interim, in order to improve cooperation between the Boards and assist the Chairman of BIB to perform the responsibilities assigned by law to BIB, all or a large part of the Board’s present staff must be replaced promptly. It may not be necessary to fill more than two of the five positions if this diagnosis is correct—the position of executive secretary and the staff member concerned with financial oversight. To fill the other vacant positions risks creating a greater number of people with a vested interest in perpetuating their positions.

The most important purpose which should be pursued by the chairman and executive director, should be the designing of the means to terminate the Board’s existence, with the approval of Congress and in such a way as to satisfy the Congress that its serious purpose will, [Page 228] in fact, be better performed by the existence of one Board—the Board of RFE/RL.

The difficulty which flows from the fact that the RFE/RL Board is a “private” Board must be overcome. I offer several not carefully thought out alternatives.

1) Can the RFE/RL structure, and especially its officers and Board, be made quasi-public with the responsibility to report to Congress and the President? The present operation is, in fact though not in form, quasi-public.

2) Should the RFE/RL Board elect a five-member committee of its members with those members appointed to the BIB by the President subject to Congressional approval? Redundancy of membership is vital if this approach is to work so long as the BIB continues to exist.

The formation of such a five-member committee of the Board of RFE/RL has an additional virtue. The present full Board of RFE/RL has exceptional experience, competence and stature. It is, however, too large to function as an effective board of directors. The present size and range are suggestive of an aggregation of consultants covering the very wide scope of the expertise required to guide the Radios.

3) Should the GAO and OMB assume a large part of the necessary oversight and accounting?

This memo closes with several questions. My inquiry was insufficient to examine them.

1) Does the present arrangement and the present functioning of RFE/RL provide a broadcasting capability sufficiently responsive to U.S. needs in a radically changed world?

2) Are we still over-reacting to the sensitivity about government abuse of the Radios which flowed from the period of intense concern with our intelligence activities?

3) Do the Radios fill the new target needs—ethnic, religious, geographic and political—so large a part of present and future foreign policy concerns?

4) Can our national needs be fully served by ably run broadcasting instruments, staffed by gifted journalists seeking to preserve a reputation for accuracy, objectivity and independence? Each makes an important contribution to credibility. At what cost, in a very new time?

Leo Cherne
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Horn/Special, Box 4, Chron File: 4/80. No classification marking.
  2. Leo Cherne served under Presidents Nixon and Ford on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, first as a member and then as chairman. After Carter’s election, PFIAB was disbanded, and Cherne became President of the International Rescue Committee in New York. His name was considered for the chairmanship of the BIB, but Cherne turned down the offer. On May 15, Schultzberg published an article in The New York Times discussing the approach by Henze and Brzezinski to Cherne and Paul Seabury to join the BIB Board as well as the opposition from Senate Foreign Relations Committee members. (A.O. Sulzberger, Jr., “U.S. Overseas Radio Stirs Dispute Again,” The New York Times, May 15, 1980, p. A17).