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


  • Radios—Seabury Memorandum to Reagan Transition Staff

Paul Seabury has sent me a copy of a brief memorandum he wrote to the Reagan Transition Staff on the evening of election day recommending an approach to the RFE/RL–BIB problem.2 Combined with the Freedom House report which should be released any day now, it gives the new Administration a good workable set of proposals for coping with this problem which has proved beyond the capacity of the present Administration.—We have at least achieved these two results from our otherwise abortive effort to draw Leo Cherne and [Page 237] Paul Seabury into radio activities last spring.3 This curiously dialectic process may in the long run turn out to be more effective than the solution we aimed at and failed to bring about.


Memorandum From Paul Seabury of the University of California, Berkeley, to Monroe Browne of the Ronald Reagan Transition Staff4



The new Administration should establish a Presidential Commission to review and report on the state of U.S. overseas broadcasting activities. Priority should be given to broadcast stations targeted on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe.

These stations play an enormously important role by conveying to people in those areas a continuous and objective view of political and social reality which their Soviet rulers seek to deny them. As an earlier Presidential Commission on this subject reported in 1973, the Radios

. . . by providing a flow of free information and interpretation, have enabled the people to whom they broadcast to remain informed and to judge for themselves which policies may contribute to . . . genuine improvement of peaceful relations.5

Such a review should focus upon three topics: budget, program content, and administrative oversight. Of the three, the latter is the most urgent and immediate.

Budget. While the stations maintain a high caliber performance, they have been seriously injured by budget cuts at a time when inflation and the declining value of the dollar on international exchange have severely constrained them. This issue is all the more acute if one assumes the need for a significant expansion of broadcast activities, [Page 238] especially in the Soviet Union and especially toward minority areas such as Muslim regions.

Program content. The popularity and credibility of RL/RFE in recent years has been due to their high caliber reportage of news from within the Soviet-dominated world, which is “looped back” in radio programs. As currently constituted, the radios are not information organs of the U.S. government in the sense that VOA is. They have a special mandate, and the operative constraint is that their programs are not incompatible with the aims of U.S. policy.

As evidence of the awesome outward thrust of Soviet power accumulates, the question now arises as to whether the program content of RL/RFE should pay greater attention than now to matters directly related to East-West relations. Soviet domestic propaganda, since the Afghanistan war began, more than ever has sought to place the blame for increased international tensions on the West, and the U.S. in particular.

Last year, for example, East-West relations were discussed only .8 percent in Russian and 4 to 10 percent in other languages. Nearly all news and discussion focusses upon intra-bloc events in the Communist world. The value of this emphasis is undeniable: the radios provide reportage on current reality in the world which the listener knows first hand; they offer a means to make an enlightened comparison between open and closed societies; they demonstrate through individual experience the hypocrisy and unreliability which are hallmarks of official communication in a communist state. In particular, they provide a crucial feedback look for Samizdat communications without which dissidents would remain hopelessly isolated.

The question now is whether these invaluable functions of the radios should be supplemented by a more vigorous exploitation of East-West relations, to countervail Moscow internal propaganda. (This question is not unrelated to the question of whether current VOA broadcasts to the U.S.S.R. have been (as Solzhenitzyn and others have charged) vapid and inconsequential.)

Oversight. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty for twenty years were separate and largely supported by the Central Intelligence Agency. Now they are funded by Congress and governed by a Board of Directors composed of private citizens. This board, in turn, has been overseen since 1973 by a five-member Presidentially appointed Board for International Broadcasting.

This clumsy structure has been an invitation to struggle for the privilege of supervising the Radios. The reason for this Rube Goldberg arrangement originally was that, on the one hand, a private board would enhance the credibility of the Radios, in assuring listeners that [Page 239] they were not CIA creatures; a Presidential supervisory board, the BIB, would serve to confirm the Radios’ accountability to Congress.

In practice, this oversight structure has led to protracted conflict between the two boards and to well-confirmed charges that the Washington-based BIB interferes constantly in day-to-day operations of the Radios. Both the chairman of the BIB and the BIB’s staff director have repeatedly made it clear that they regard such direct supervision as part of their mandate. Moreover, they have repeatedly exerted pressure, both on Capitol Hill and in the White House, to block appointments of new board members not sharing their view of their prerogatives.

This impasse cannot be permitted to continue indefinitely. It distracts the attention of Radio executive personnel from their central tasks, and has had a demoralizing effect on broadcasting personnel.

Thus a Presidential Commission should directly address the question of ways to resolve this administrative impasse. But the Commission also—by enlarging its agenda to include the Voice of America—could also chart new guidelines for U.S. informational activity overseas for the difficult years of the 1980’s.

I wish in closing to draw attention to a detailed report recently completed by Freedom House on the subject of RL/RFE. This document has been withheld from publication until after the elections. It was prepared with the assistance of Leo Cherne, John Richardson, Howland Sargeant and myself.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Horn/Special, Box 5, Chron File: 10–12/80. No classification marking. Copies were sent to Larrabee, Brement, and Griffith.
  2. Printed below. Paul Seabury was a professor of Political Science at University of California, Berkeley, and a specialist in foreign policy and intelligence.
  3. Henze and Brzezinski contacted Seabury and Cherne about serving on the BIB Board in the spring of 1980. See footnote 2, Document 76.
  4. No classification marking.
  5. Presidential Study Commission on International Radio Broadcasting Report (1973). [Footnote is in the original.]