Saturday, October 21, 2017

The C.I.A.’s Fake News Campaign (Updated, 10/21/2017)

By KENNETH OSGOOD OCT. 13, 2017, New York Times

image from article, with caption: A billboard in Denver, Colo., in 1954, encouraged contributions to Radio Free Europe

Russia’s crafty campaign to hack the 2016 election may seem unprecedented, but in
a way it’s not. Sure, secret agents and front groups have hacked email systems,
dumped documents on WikiLeaks, paid an army of internet trolls and spent
thousands buying political ads on social media. It all seems new because the
technologies are new. But it’s not the first time a government tried to mess with our
heads by manipulating our media.

In fact, for more than two decades during the Cold War, the public was
bombarded by an enormous publicity campaign to shape American views of Russia
and its foreign policy. Advertisements appeared on every TV network, on radio
stations across the country and in hundreds of newspapers. The campaign may have
been the largest and most consistent source of political advertising in American
history. And it was orchestrated by a big, powerful intelligence service: the Central
Intelligence Agency.

It all began as a cover story. As the Cold War was getting underway, the C.I.A.
wanted to take the fight into Russia’s backyard. So, in 1950, it created Radio Free
Europe, a government-sponsored broadcasting station. Ostensibly, it provided
unbiased news for Eastern Europeans, but in fact the agency used it to wage a
subversive campaign to weaken Communist governments behind the Iron Curtain.
But how to hide the agency’s hand? How to account for the millions of C.I.A.
dollars pouring into the broadcasting station? Simple: pretend that ordinary
Americans are paying the bills.

The C.I.A.’s freewheeling spymaster, Frank Wisner, created a well-heeled and
well-connected front group, the National Committee for a Free Europe. Each year it
ran an enormous fund-raising campaign called the Crusade for Freedom (later
renamed the Radio Free Europe Fund) that implored Americans to donate “freedom
dollars” to combat Kremlin lies, complete with annual appeals resembling a hybrid
of World War II war bond campaigns and contemporary NPR pledge drives.

Every president from Harry Truman to Richard Nixon endorsed the campaign. So
did hundreds of governors, mayors, celebrities, editors and executives. Entertainers
like Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Jerry Lewis and the Kingston Trio pleaded for
donations on radio and television. The Hollywood producers Darryl Zanuck and
Cecil B. DeMille amplified those messages, as did powerful media figures like Bill
Paley, the president of CBS; C. D. Jackson, the publisher of Fortune; and the media
mogul Henry Luce. Even newspaper delivery boys played a part, soliciting donations
from subscribers on their paper routes.

Then there was the Ad Council, the same industry organization that turned
Smokey Bear into a cultural icon. The council sponsored the crusade as a public
service, arranging for broadcasters to run ads without charge. The Ad Council’s
sponsorship translated into as much as $2 billion worth of free advertising over the
campaign’s history, in 2017 dollars.

The message was simple: Russia was aggressive; Communism was awful. The
enemy couldn’t be trusted. Typical ads conveyed a brutalized vision of life behind the
Iron Curtain: “a strip of Communist-controlled hell-on-earth,” one read. Donating a
few bucks would save Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and others from this tyranny. Many
thousands of Americans took the bait. They dutifully wrote checks to Radio Free
Europe, and their contributions were magnified by gifts from many of the country’s
biggest corporations, yielding, on average, about $1 million annually.

It wasn’t enough: The donations barely covered the cost of running the “fundraising
drives,” to say nothing of Radio Free Europe’s $30 million annual budgets.
But that wasn’t the point.

Declassified documents reveal that almost from the start, the C.I.A. saw that it
could exploit the fund-raising campaign as a conduit for domestic propaganda. It
was a way to rally public support for the Cold War by dramatizing Communist
repression and stoking fears of a worldwide menace. The plight of Eastern Europe
brought moral clarity to the Cold War, and it cemented the region as a vital national
interest in American domestic politics.

Its impact outlived the campaign itself. Even though the pleas for donations
ended in 1971, when the C.I.A. was exposed and stopped funding the station, they
cemented anti-Communist hostility that animated conservative opposition to
détente in the 1970s. It provided the leitmotif for Reagan’s denunciations of the “evil
empire” in the 1980s. One can even hear echoes in Donald Trump’s recent speech to
the United Nations: His long digression on the evils of socialism seems drawn from
the heated rhetoric of ads gone by.

So, too, does our post-truth media environment carry voices from this past. The
crusade blasted all information from enemy sources as lies and deceit — fake news,
we could say. This counter-propaganda sought to inoculate the public from being
receptive to anything said by the other side. It’s a tactic we’ve seen play out in real
time on the president’s Twitter feed.

And almost certainly, Radio Free Europe itself — which continues to operate out
of its headquarters in Prague — has shaped Vladimir Putin’s worldview. Russia has
long tried to claim Eastern Europe as its sphere of influence. Moscow hated the
station for its meddling. As a K.G.B. officer, Mr. Putin no doubt spent many hours
fretting over its activities in the Soviet bloc. It was a major irritant. He may even see
the 2016 election hack as a way to even the score. If so, it’s payback indeed.

Kenneth Osgood is a professor of history at the Colorado School of Mines.


Radio Free Europe’s Mission, OCT. 20, 2017, New York Times

To the Editor:

We object to Kenneth Osgood’s suggestion (“The C.I.A.’s Fake News,” Op-Ed,
Oct. 14) of a relationship between the “fake news” aimed at the United States today
and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s reporting in Eastern and Central Europe
during the Cold War.

Radio Free Europe’s mission was to report the truth in societies subject to Soviet
censorship. The assertion that “ostensibly” — my italics — “it provided unbiased
news for Eastern Europeans” doesn’t acknowledge the very real journalism that we
produced and ignores the documented, state-sponsored persecution of those who
contributed to or listened to our broadcasts.

Our broadcast news and information used a radio signal that audiences went to
great lengths, at great risk, to find. Our intentions were transparent, and our
audiences were under no illusion about what was behind our programs: the United
States, its people and its founding commitments to democracy and human rights.
We have come a long way from our radio days, now also reporting on dozens of
social networks and TV, and connecting with 26 million users weekly in Afghanistan,
Pakistan and Iran, in addition to the countries of the former Soviet Union and
Eastern Europe.

But truth remains the truth. Our mission of providing accurate and independent
journalism remains as important as ever.

The writer is president and chief executive of Radio Free Europe/Radio


A Look Back …

The National Committee for Free Europe, 1949

News & Information, Central Intelligence Agency

On June 1, 1949, a group of prominent American businessmen, lawyers, and philanthropists – including Allen Dulles, who would become Director of Central Intelligence in 1953 – launched the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE) at a press release in New York. Only a handful of people knew that NCFE was actually the public face of an innovative "psychological warfare" project undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). That operation – which soon gave rise to Radio Free Europe – would become one of the longest running and successful covert action campaigns ever mounted by the United States.

Radio Free Europe George Kennan of the Department of State could be considered the godfather of NCFE. He – more than any other official – pressed the National Security Council to reorganize covert action planning and management. This resulted in the creation of the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) at the CIA in September 1948 and the appointment of the visionary OSS veteran Frank G. Wisner as its chief.

Kennan proposed that OPC work through an "American freedom committee" in dealing with anti-Communist émigré groups in the United States to develop operations abroad. The idea was to fund selected émigrés in their activities to demonstrate that the newly imposed Soviet-style dictatorships in Eastern Europe oppressed the aspirations of their people. NCFE was the American umbrella for these exiled European figures in the United States, raising private funds through Crusade for Freedom to supplement CIA funding and organizing exile activities to reach back to their occupied homelands.

From the start, Wisner and OPC regarded NCFE as one of their signature operations. As the Cold War reached perhaps its most dangerous phase, NCFE and other projects (such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1950, and Radio Liberty, which began broadcasts to the Soviet Union in 1953) rallied anti-Communist intellectuals, politicians, and activists to fight the Soviets in a contest for the peoples' "minds and loyalties."

NCFE soon gave rise to its more famous progeny, Radio Free Europe, which began broadcasting behind the Iron Curtain on July 4, 1950. Radio Free Europe aired programs to Eastern Europe in six languages. For decades, it was a beacon of hope to people who had otherwise lost access to the outside world.

CIA subsidies to the Free Europe Committee (NCFE's later name) ended in 1971, after Sen. Clifford P. Case (R-NJ) revealed that it received covert assistance. After that date, all CIA involvement ended, and Radio Free Europe was publicly funded by Congressional appropriation through the presidentially appointed Board for International Broadcasting. RFE merged with Radio Liberty (RL) in 1976 in a new non-profit corporation, RFE/RL, Inc. Oversight was assumed in 1995 by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, responsible for all non-military U.S. international broadcasting.

Today the programs of RFE/RL – radio, internet, television, and mobile – reach 27 million people in 26 languages and 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Balkans, as well as the Baltic states.

Historical Document
Posted: May 29, 2007 04:10 PM
Last Updated: May 25, 2017 03:14 PM

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