78. Memorandum From Paul Henze of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • BIB and RFE/RL Muslim-Language Broadcasts


  • Walter Roberts’ Letter to you of August 1, 1980 (U)

Walter Roberts’ letter to you of August 1, 1980 (Tab A)2 is a clever stratagem to put you over the barrel on problems which the BIB has handled badly. The main reason why the BIB has made no progress in working out an agreement with the Egyptians for transmission time and/or facilities is the leaking of our plans for expanding Muslim broadcasts. These leaks, you will recall, came immediately after SCC decisions were taken last December (Binder in NYT, December 16, 1979).3 This story, taken up and repeated over and over again in subsequent months, by Moscow among others, embarrassed the Egyptians and naturally aroused doubts in their minds about the wisdom of doing business with an organization such as the BIB. [2 lines not declassified] It is not surprising under such circumstances that the US Embassy in Cairo now concludes that BIB-sponsored broadcasts from Egypt should be given low priority because they could become controversial domestically for Sadat. If the purpose of Shub’s original leak to Binder was to frustrate the expansion plan and keep it from being implemented, it has come close to being achieved. (S)

Walter Roberts’ letter is specious in several respects. He poses the issue of broadcasting from Egypt solely in terms of building transmitters [Page 232] there. The SCC-approved plan was to investigate renting or leasing time on existing transmitters—with the issue of building new ones left open. The aim was to get added impact immediately, not to spend months/years building new transmitters before broadcasting was actually expanded. If transmitters are to be built, it is obvious that there are closer locations to the target area to build them—[2 lines not declassified]. A transmitter building scheme should be separately reviewed and approved by the SCC and the President, not dealt with in an informal letter from Walter Roberts to you. (S)

In some circles concerned with the radios (Barthelemy, Lisann, some people in congressional staffs) a great deal of opposition to building transmitters in Egypt has developed and there is a minor storm brewing on this issue. Jan Nowak has picked up a good deal on it. It is typical of the kind of acrimonious argumentation which develops around all radio issues and which the BIB Staff exacerbates instead of trying to resolve. (C)

You recall OMB’s stubborn refusal last winter to make funds available to RFE/RL for program expansion so that the radios could be ready with expanded programming as soon as more transmitter time was secured. Your efforts to get OMB to release funds did not succeed. No money has ever been allocated. The BIB Staff has colluded with OMB and congressional staffers to frustrate the large scale effort mounted by Jan Nowak and others (including the radios themselves) to circumvent OMB and the BIB by getting concerned Congressmen to include additional funds in this year’s appropriations for the radios. All these efforts have failed. OMB and the BIB have entangled themselves in an impossible bureaucratic circle: no money for programming until transmitters are available; no transmitters because leaks alarm the Egyptians; no serious effort to develop possibilities in other countries; no transmitter building program because that costs too much money; no expanded broadcasting. The KGB could not have devised a better scheme to keep us from achieving Presidentially approved action plans! (C)

Meanwhile energy has been diverted by the sordid smear campaign the BIB Staff launched against Leo Cherne, Paul Seabury, you and me—which goes on and on, as you can see from the Pravda piece of July 28, 1980 (Tab B).4 The White House announcement of intention to reappoint Gronouski in the midst of this has made a travesty of our whole effort. Domestic politicking takes priority over serious foreign policy purpose. The BIB Staff, under Gronouski, works to undermine our efforts to make the radios more effective. Both Gronouski and the [Page 233] Staff have in recent months put 25 times as much effort into harassing the radios with relocation schemes than they have put into executing plans for expanded Muslim-language broadcasts. In effect, Walter Roberts’ letter says to you: “If you want expanded Muslim broadcasts, arrange it for us; otherwise we can’t do it.” He has never sought or shown any receptivity to our advice on relocation schemes. (U)

Can anything constructive be done? I am skeptical. One approach would be to tell Atherton to tell Sadat that BIB broadcasts have high priority and we want the Egyptians to make time available. Sadat might or might not accept this argumentation. He would certainly expect us to do something about leaks [less than 1 line not declassified] has permitted us to set up. Experience offers no basis whatsoever for believing that we can keep Tony Shub from telling Binder anything we try to arrange with Sadat—successful or otherwise. Given other problems and opportunities we have in Egypt, I am not sure that the BIB aims—given their small chance of success—are not really fairly low in priority. So I recommend against making an issue of this with Sadat. (S)

What is your inclination?5


[1 paragraph (17 lines) not declassified]

But we can’t let the BIB off on this so easily and leave them free to concentrate on relocating pieces of the radios to the U.S. and reducing their effectiveness. The need for expanded Muslim-language broadcasts is greater than when we took the decision in mid-December. The invasion of Afghanistan has generated ferment among Soviet Muslims which is going to continue indefinitely and which opens up unexpected opportunities for greater receptivity for informative news and commentary from the outside world. The spillover potential of such broadcasts in Iran and Afghanistan is also great. So why not order the BIB to proceed rapidly to lease time on transmitters in places other than Egypt and, at the same time, to develop plans for building transmitters in locations closer to the target areas? The BIB is not the best instrument for pursuing this kind of program—for the BIB Staff obviously contains subversive elements who want to frustrate, not further, American policy objectives. Moreover, the BIB members themselves have little skill or talent for pushing this kind of thing. But if we don’t do this—what do we do? The radios, which continue to function well in spite of BIB and have great unrealized potential, are largely at the mercy of the BIB. One could try to draw the radios directly into exploring expansion—they are much more likely to do an effective job than BIB. (C)

[Page 234]

How does this kind of approach strike you?6


As to more immediate tactics: I do not recommend that you answer Walter Roberts’ letter at all. He has avoided direct communication with me for nearly six months. Gronouski has likewise avoided contact and has been saying scurrilous things about you in Polish ethnic circles. I suggest I send a brief note (Tab C)7 to Roberts acknowledging his letter to you and proposing a meeting to review the problems caused by the failure of the BIB to implement the decisions on expansion of Muslim broadcasting we took eight months ago. I would not expect to accomplish much by such a meeting—Roberts may even refuse to come. But it would at least give us the opportunity to keep these people under pressure. (U)

Keep in mind the fact that anything we do—and in particular anything I do—in respect to the BIB is bound to result in further attacks in the press and through congressional staffs and further allegations [1 line not declassified]. I am not willing to enter into a new phase of this without speaking out to defend myself. (U)

In the medium to longer range we are not without allies. The commotion the BIB Staff generated against Leo Cherne, on balance, was counterproductive for it. At the moment morale in the radios and among all of us who would like to see the radios freed to maximize their potential is sagging. But if the Senate fails to8 confirm Gronouski’s reappointment (likely I suspect) the BIB Staff’s current resurgence of arrogance will be of brief duration. Meanwhile the Freedom House study of the radios will be progressing and the Reagan campaign is getting interested in them and in the BIB. Even if there is not a great deal we can accomplish now, radio jeszcze nie zginielo. (U)9

I have expended as much emotion on these problems as I intend to for the foreseeable future. If you wish to turn the problem over to someone else for independent assessment and action planning, I will not be in the least offended. In any event I will welcome advice from other concerned staff members on what might be done. (U)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Subject Chron File, Box 113, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Voice of America: 1980. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. Copies were sent to Albright, Brement, and Sick. On August 11, Brzezinski wrote in the left-hand margin of the first page: “Paul, let me know what the others say on the 3 options. OK on the letter to Roberts. ZB.”
  2. Dated August 1; attached but not printed. The letter addressed the impasse reached by RFE/RL in their negotiations for additional transmitter facilities. (See Document 73.) Roberts wrote that the delay in negotiations in Egypt meant that two transmitters initially destined to be installed in Portugal but now slated for Egypt in order to bolster transmitting power to Central Asia might end up in Portugal after all, delaying the expansion of transmitting power to Central Asia by 18 months. Brzezinski forwarded the letter to Henze on August 4, asking for a brief report on the situation. He also asked that Henze draft a response to Roberts under his own signature.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 72.
  4. Not attached.
  5. Brzezinski did not check either option, but wrote in the margin: “I basically agree, but would it be an issue?”
  6. Brzezinski did not check either option, but wrote in the margin: “I don’t get this?!”
  7. Not attached.
  8. Brzezinski underlined “fails to” and wrote in the margin: “what is the evidence?”
  9. English translation of Polish: “Radio is not dead yet.”