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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

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Title: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 2008 Armenian presidential election protests, Freedom of the press in Ukraine, Voice of America, Corruption in Ukraine, 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine
Collection: 1949 Establishments in New York, 1949 Establishments in the United States, Anti-Communism, Anti-Communist Organizations, Central Intelligence Agency Front Organizations, Cold War Organizations, Companies Based in Munich, External Services (Broadcasting), Prague, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Stations Established in 1949, Russian-Language Radio Stations, Soviet Union–united States Relations, State Media, United States Government Propaganda Organizations
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
RFE/RL official logo
RFE/RL Broadcast Region 2009
Abbreviation RFE/RL
Motto Free Media in Unfree Societies
Formation 1949 (Radio Free Europe), 1953 (Radio Liberty), 1976 (merger)
Type private, non-profit Sec 501(c)3 corporation
Purpose Broadcast Media
Headquarters Prague Broadcast Center
Official language English; programs are also available in Albanian, Armenian, Arabic, Avar, Azerbaijani, Bashkir, Bosnian, Belarusian, Chechen, Circassian, Crimean Tatar, Dari, Georgian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Pashto, Persian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Tajik, Tatar, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Uzbek
Interim Managers John Giambalvo, Nenad Pejic (since February 28, 2014);[1] Jeffrey Shell is Chair of RFE/RL's corporate board (since October 2013).[2]
Parent organization Broadcasting Board of Governors
Budget $92,100,000 (FY 13)
Staff 487

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a broadcasting organization that provides news, information, and analysis to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East "where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed".[3] RFE/RL is supervised by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a bi-partisan federal agency overseeing all U.S. international broadcasting services.[4]

They were founded as an anti-communist news source in 1949 by the National Committee for a Free Europe, as part of a large-scale Psychological Operation during the Cold War. RFE/RL received funds from the Central Intelligence Agency until 1972.[5] During the earliest years of Radio Free Europe's existence, the CIA and the U.S. Department of State issued broad policy directives, and a system evolved where broadcast policy was determined through negotiation among the CIA, the U.S. State Department, and RFE staff.[6]

A report by RFE/RL about the death of a student during clashes with riot police is said to have contributed to the overthrow of the communist government of Czechoslovakia in 1989.

RFE/RL was headquartered at Englischer Garten in Munich, Germany, from 1949 to 1995. In 1995, the headquarters were moved to Prague in the Czech Republic. European operations have been significantly reduced since the end of the Cold War. In addition to the headquarters, the service maintains 20 local bureaus in countries throughout their broadcast region, as well as a corporate office in Washington, D.C. RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages[7] to 21 countries[8] including Armenia, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.[9]


  • Early history 1
    • Radio Free Europe 1.1
    • Radio Liberty 1.2
  • Cold War years 2
    • Radio Free Europe 2.1
      • Hungary 2.1.1
      • Romania 2.1.2
      • 1981 RFE/RL Munich bombing 2.1.3
      • Czechoslovakia 2.1.4
    • Jamming 2.2
    • United States 2.3
      • Funding 2.3.1
  • The 1980s and the fall of communism 3
  • After the fall of communism 4
  • Comparison 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early history

Radio Free Europe

Radio Free Europe was created and grew in its early years through the efforts of the New York City in 1949. The committee was composed of an "A list" of powerful U.S. citizens including former ambassador and first NCFE chairman Joseph Grew; Reader's Digest owner Dewitt Wallace; former diplomat and the co-founder of Public Opinion Quarterly Dewitt Clinton Poole; and prominent New York investment banker Frank Altschul.[10]

Radio Free Europe received widespread public support from Eisenhower's "Crusade for Freedom" campaign.[11] In 1950, over 16 million Americans signed Eisenhower’s ‘Freedom Scrolls’ on a publicity trip to over 20 U.S. cities and contributed $1,317,000 to the expansion of RFE.[12]

The NCFE's mission was to support the refugees and provide them with a useful outlet for their opinions and creativity while increasing exposure to the modern world.[13] The NCFE divided its program into three parts: exile relations, radio, and American contacts.[10] Although exile relations were initially its first priority, Radio Free Europe (RFE) became the NCFE's greatest legacy.

The United States funded a long list of projects to counter the Communist appeal among intellectuals in Europe and the developing world.[14] RFE was developed out of a belief that the Cold War would eventually be fought by political rather than military means.[15] American policymakers such as John Foster Dulles acknowledged that the Cold War was essentially a war of ideas. The implementation of surrogate radio stations was a key part of the greater psychological war effort.[12]

RFE was modeled after Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) a U.S. government-sponsored radio service initially intended for Germans living in the American sector of Berlin (but more widely listened to in East Germany).[16] Staffed almost entirely by Germans with minimal U.S. supervision, the station provided free media to German listeners.

Newly constructed building of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague-Hagibor.

In January 1950 the NCFE obtained a transmitter base at

  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, official website
  • Hoover Institution Archives: Radio Liberty: 50 Years - Time Line
  • Open Society Archives: Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute
  • The Sig Mickelson papers are available at the Hoover Institution Archives
  • The Arch Puddington collection is available at the Hoover Institution Archives
  • The Ferdinand Peroutka papers are available at the Hoover Institution Archives
  • Pals Radio Station Museum/
  • The Cold War Leaflet Campaign of Radio Free Europe
  • Documentary about RFE - Tell us your story
  • Museum of the Radio Transmitter in Playa de Pals (shortwave radio Liberty station in Spain)
  • European English Language Radio Stations
  • Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, volume XII (Soviet Union, January 1969-October 1970)
  • FRUS volume XIV (Soviet Union, October 1971-May 1972)
  • United States Government Support of Covert Action Directed at the Soviet Union: Memorandum for the 303 Committee Washington, December 9, 1969 Mentions a FY 1970 budget of $13,130,000 for the Radio Liberty Committee
  • Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
  • The short film 1956 Crusade for Freedom (1956) is available for free download at the Internet Archive []
  • The short film Radio Free Europe (1960) is available for free download at the Internet Archive []
  • The short film Eagle Cage (1960) is available for free download at the Internet Archive []

External links

  • A. Ross Johnson and R. Eugene Parta (eds.), Cold War Broadcasting: Impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010.

Further reading

  • Mickelson, Sig (1983). America's Other Voice: the Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. New York: Praeger Publishers. 
  • Puddington, Arch (2003). Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Lexington:  
  • Sosin, Gene (1999). Sparks of Liberty: An Insider's Memoir of Radio Liberty. University Park:  
  • Johnson, Ian (2010). A Mosque in Munich. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
  • Cummings, Richard (2008). "'The Ether War: Hostile Intelligence Activities Directed Against Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the Émigré Community in Munich during the Cold War.'". Journal of Transatlantic Studies. Vol. 6, No. 2. 
  • Mikkonen, Simo (2010). "'Stealing The Monopoly Of Knowledge?: Soviet Reactions To U.S. Cold War Broadcasting'". Kritika: Explorations In Russian & Eurasian History. 
  1. ^ RFE/RL Appoints Interim Managers, RFE/RL, February 28, 2014
  2. ^ Resolution Regarding the Boards of Directors of BBG-Funded Grantees, BBG, October 23, 2013.
  3. ^ About RFE/RL - FAQs
  4. ^ Broadcasting Board of Governors (official site)
  5. ^ John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (Ivan R. Dee, 2012).
  6. ^ a b Mickelson 1983, p. 126
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ RFE/RL Coverage Map
  10. ^ a b Puddington 2003, p. 12
  11. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 24
  12. ^ a b c
  13. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 18
  14. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 10
  15. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 7
  16. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 14
  17. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 30
  18. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 37
  19. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 39
  20. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 40
  21. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 62
  22. ^ Johnson 2010, p. 43
  23. ^ Johnson 2010, pp. 37, 43
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 48
  26. ^ Johnson 2010, p. 37
  27. ^ Johnson 2010, pp. 49–64
  28. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 110
  29. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 80
  30. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 241
  31. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 87
  32. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 94
  33. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 101
  34. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 103
  35. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 117
  36. ^
  37. ^ "Voices of Hope" Hoover Institution exhibit on RFE/RL
  38. ^ Lipien, Ted (23 June 2007), "Old spy scandals still haunting US broadcasters?", Spero News.
  39. ^ Cummings, Richard, "The Best Spy Stories of the Cold War"
  40. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 115
  41. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 214
  42. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 310
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 83
  49. ^ "Historical dictionary of American propaganda", Martin J. Manning, Herbert Romerstein. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0-313-29605-7, ISBN 978-0-313-29605-5. p. 51
  50. ^ Broadcasting Board of Governors' Annual Congressional Budget Submission Reports
  51. ^ a b Puddington 2003, p. 196
  52. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 209
  53. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 210
  54. ^ a b Puddington 2003, p. 30
  55. ^ Mickelson 1983, p. 153
  56. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 254
  57. ^ Puddington 2003, p. 287
  58. ^ Sosin 1999, p. 209
  59. ^ Sosin 1999, p. 216
  60. ^ Sosin 1999, p. 219
  61. ^ "Unraveling the Šmid death story," RFE/RL Off-Mic blog
  62. ^ "Front Row Seat To The Revolution," RFE/RL Off-Mic Blog
  63. ^ "Interview with RFE/RL Chief Jeffrey Gedmin" World Politics Review
  64. ^ RFE/RL website Journalists in trouble
  65. ^ Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2008
  66. ^ The Prague Post, interview with RFE/RL President Thomas Dine, January 9, 2002
  67. ^ The Prague Post, July 24, 2004
  68. ^ RFE/RL Press Release February 4, 2009
  69. ^ "Azerbaijan Bans RFE/RL, Other Foreign Radio From Airwaves" (RFE/RL)
  70. ^ Kathleen Parker "Mightier than the Sword". The Washington Post, November 21, 2008
  71. ^ "Poetry from Paktia to Prague," RFE/RL Off-Mic Blog
  72. ^ "Holbrooke: Deal with Taliban Propaganda Head-On," RFE/RL Press Release
  73. ^ "RFE/RL Launching Russian-Language Show to South Ossetia & Abkhazia," RFE/RL Press Release
  74. ^ "RFE/RL Launches Radio Station in Pakistan's Pashtun Heartland".  


See also

  1. Does not broadcast on shortwave as of 2014.
  2. 1996 figures as at June; all other years as at December.
  3. Before 1991, broadcasting for the former USSR.
  4. Before 1996, broadcasting for the former Czechoslovakia.


The list includes about a quarter of the world's external broadcasters whose output is both publicly funded and worldwide. Among those excluded are Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and various international commercial and religious stations.

Source: International Broadcast Audience Research, June 1996

Estimated total direct programme hours per week of some external radio broadcasters for 1996
Broadcaster 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 1996[2]
VOA, RFE/RL & Radio Martí 497 1,495 1,907 1,901 2,611 1,821
China Radio International 66 687 1,267 1,350 1,515 1,620
BBC World Service 643 589 723 719 796 1,036
Radio Moscow / Voice of Russia[1][3] 533 1,015 1,908 2,094 1,876 726
Deutsche Welle 0 315 779 804 848 655
Radio Cairo (ERTU) 0 301 540 546 605 604
IRIB World Service / Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran 12 24 155 175 400 575
All India Radio 116 157 271 389 456 500
NHK World Radio Japan 0 203 259 259 343 468
Radio France Internationale 198 326 200 125 379 459
Radio Netherlands Worldwide[1] 127 178 335 289 323 392
Israel Radio International[1] 0 91 158 210 253 365
Voice of Turkey 40 77 88 199 322 364
Radio Pyongyang / Voice of Korea 0 159 330 597 534 364
Radio Bulgaria[1] 30 117 164 236 320 338
Radio Australia 181 257 350 333 330 307
Radio Tirana (RTSH) 26 63 487 560 451 303
Radio Romania International 30 159 185 198 199 298
Radio Exterior de España 68 202 251 239 403 270
RDP Internacional[1] 46 133 295 214 203 226
Radio Havana Cuba 0 0 320 424 352 203
Rai Italia Radio[1] 170 205 165 169 181 203
Radio Canada International[1] 85 80 98 134 195 175
Radio Polonia[1] 131 232 334 337 292 171
Radio RSA / Channel Africa 0 63 150 183 156 159
Sveriges Radio International[1] 28 114 140 155 167 149
Magyar Rádió[1] 76 120 105 127 102 144
Radio Prague[4] 119 196 202 255 131 131
Voice of Nigeria 0 0 62 170 120 127
Radio Belgrade / International Radio of Serbia 80 70 76 72 96 68


Radio Mashaal says that it broadcasts local and international news with in-depth reports on terrorism, politics, women's issues, and health care (with an emphasis on preventive medicine). The station broadcasts roundtable discussions and interviews with tribal leaders and local policymakers, in addition to regular call-in programs.[74]

On January 15, 2010, RFE/RL began broadcasting to the Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan in Pashto. The service, known as Radio Mashaal, was created in an attempt to counter the growing number of "pirate" Islamic extremist radio stations broadcasting in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. These pirate stations broadcast pro-Taliban messages as well as fatwas (religious edicts) by radical, pro-Taliban clerics.

[73] The following month RFE/RL introduced a daily, one-hour Russian-language, US backed propaganda outlet, broadcasting to the breakaway regions of

In September 2009 RFE/RL announced that it would begin new Pashto-language broadcasting to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.[72]

In 2008 Afghan president Hamid Karzai urged his government to provide assistance to a rape victim after listening to her story on Radio Azadi, RFE/RL's Afghan service.[70] According to REF/RL in 2009, Radio Azadi was the most popular radio station in Afghanistan, and Afghan listeners mailed hundreds of hand-written letters to the station each month.[71]

RFE/RL says that it continues to struggle with authoritarian regimes for permission to broadcast freely within their countries. On January 1, 2009, Azerbaijan imposed a ban on all foreign media in the country, including RFE/RL.[69] Kyrgyzstan suspended broadcasts of Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz language service, requesting that the government be able to pre-approve its programming. Other states such as Belarus, Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan prohibit re-broadcasting to local stations, making programming difficult for average listeners to access.

A reporter for RFE/RL's Afghan Service interviews a citizen in Helmand, Afghanistan.

RFE/RL says that its journalists and freelancers often risk their lives to broadcast information, and their safety has always been a major issue, with reporters frequently threatened and persecuted.[64] RFE/RL also faces a number of central security concerns including cyberterrorist attacks[65] and general terrorist threats.[66] After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, American and Czech authorities agreed to move RFE/RL's Prague headquarters away from the city center in order to make it less vulnerable to terrorist attack.[67] On February 19, 2009, RFE/RL began broadcasting from its modern new headquarters east of the city center.[68]

RFE/RL states that its mission is to serve as a surrogate free press in countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. It maintains 20 local bureaus, but governments criticised often attempt to obstruct the radios' activities through a range of tactics, including extensive jamming, shutting down local re-broadcasting affiliates, or finding legal excuses to close down offices.[63] In many of these countries, RFE/RL and similar broadcasters provide more reliable domestic news than local sources.

1994–2008, RFE/RL used the former Federal Parliament building of the abolished Czechoslovakia in Prague New Town. For many years past 2001, security concrete barriers reduced capacity of the most frequented roads in Prague center.

After the fall of communism

RFE/RL ended broadcasts to Hungary in 1993 and stopped broadcasts to Poland in 1997. Broadcast to the Czech Republic proceed for three more years under the agreement with Czech Radio. In 2004 RFE/RL stopped broadcasting to Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Romania.

On January 31, 2004, RFE/RL launched broadcasts to the former Yugoslavia in Serbo-Croatian (Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian-Montenegrin). In the late 1990s RFE/RL launched broadcast to Kosovo in Albanian and to Macedonia in Macedonian. In 1995, RFE/RL moved its headquarters from Munich to Prague. The Clinton Administration reduced funding significantly and placed the radios under the United States Information Agency's oversight.[54]

In addition, Pavel Pechacek, the director of RFE/RL's Czechoslovak service at the time, was mistakenly granted a visa to enter the country by the Czechoslovak authorities prior to the demonstrations. He reported live from the demonstrations in Wenceslas Square, and was virtually the only reporter covering the events fully and openly in the Czech language for a Czech audience.[62]

Upon hearing about the story, RFE/RL did not run it immediately, but attempted to find a second corroborating source for the story, as per official RFE/RL policy. While a second source was never found, RFE/RL eventually decided to run the story of Šmid's death after it was reported by several major news organizations, including Reuters, the Associated Press, and the Voice of America.[61]

RFE/RL also played a significant role in the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which brought an end to the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Following the November 17 demonstrations and brutal crackdown by Czechoslovak riot police, RFE/RL's Czechoslovak service reported that a student, Martin Šmid, had been killed during the clashes. Although the report later turned out to be false – Šmid was alive and well – the story is credited by many sources with inspiring Czechoslovak citizens to join the subsequent (larger) demonstrations which eventually brought down the communist government.

Its coverage of the 1991 August coup enriched sparse domestic coverage of the event and drew in a wide audience from throughout the region.[59] The broadcasts allowed Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin to stay in touch with the Russian people during this turbulent period. Boris Yeltsin later expressed his gratitude through a presidential decree allowing Radio Liberty to open a permanent bureau in Moscow.[60]

During the Mikhail Gorbachev era in the Soviet Union, the radios worked hand in hand with Glasnost and benefited significantly from the Soviet regime's new openness. Gorbachev stopped the practice of jamming the radios' broadcasts, and dissident politicians and officials could be freely interviewed by the radios for the first time without fearing persecution or imprisonment.[57] By 1990 Radio Liberty had become the most listened-to Western radio station broadcasting to the Soviet Union.[58]

Funding for RFE/RL increased during the Reagan Administration. President Ronald Reagan, a fervent opponent of Communism, urged the stations to be more critical of the communist regimes. This presented a challenge to RFE/RL's broadcast strategy, which had been very cautious since the controversy over its alleged role in the Hungarian Revolution.[56]

The 1980s and the fall of communism

The CIA stopped funding Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in 1972.[51] In 1974 they came under the control of an organization called the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB). The BIB was designed to receive appropriations from Congress, give them to radio managements, and oversee the appropriation of funds.[55] In 1976, the two radios merged to form Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and added the three Baltic language services to their repertoire.

Although both radio stations initially received most of their funding from the CIA, RFE maintained a strong sense of autonomy. Under Cord Meyer, the CIA officer in charge of overseeing broadcast services from 1954 to 1971, the CIA took a position of minimal government interference in radio affairs and programming.[54]

In May 1972 President Board for International Broadcasting (BIB) would simultaneously link the stations and the federal government, and serve as an editorial buffer between them.[53]

In 1971 the radio stations came under public spotlight once again when prominent U.S. Senator Clifford Case introduced Senate Bill 18, which would have removed funding for RFE and RL from the CIA's budget, appropriated $30 million to pay for fiscal year 1972 activities, and required the State Department to temporarily oversee the radio stations.[51] This was only a temporary solution, however, as the State Department was reluctant to take on such a significant long-term responsibility.

[6] RFE/RL received funds from the


[49] During the Cold War RFE was often criticized in the United States as not being sufficiently anti-communist. Although its non-governmental status spared it from full scale

United States

Jamming was controlled by the KGB, which in turn reported to the Central Committee. Jamming was an expensive and arduous procedure, and its efficacy is still debated. In 1958, the Central Committee mentioned that the sum spent on jamming was greater than the sum spent on domestic and international broadcasting combined.[44] The Central Committee has admitted that circumventing jamming was both possible and practised in the Soviet Union. Due to limited resources, authorities prioritized jamming based on the location, language, time, and theme of Western transmissions.[45] Highly political programs in Russian, broadcast at prime time to urban centers, were perceived as the most dangerous. Seen as less politically threatening, Western music such as jazz was often transmitted unjammed.[46] The intensity of jamming fluctuated over time. During and after the Cuban missile crisis in late 1962, jamming was intensified. The Cuban crisis, however, was followed by a five-year period when the jamming of most foreign broadcasters ceased, only to intensify again with the Prague Spring in 1968. It ceased again in 1973, when Kissinger became secretary of state. Jamming was completely and irreversibly stopped only after Gorbachev came to power by a decree to that effect on 29 September 1986.[47]

After failed attempts to out-compete Western media, the Soviet government turned its efforts towards blocking reception of Western programs. To limit access to foreign broadcasts, the Central Committee decreed that factories should remove all components allowing short wave reception from USSR made radio receivers. However, consumers easily found out that the necessary spare parts were available on the black market while electronics engineers opposing the idea would gladly convert radios back to being able to receive short wave transmissions.[43] The most aggressive and extensive form of reception obstruction was radio jamming.

During the Cold War, Radio Liberty gained a reputation as one of the most reliable sources of international and internal news in the Soviet Union. Radio Liberty’s audience expanded significantly during the Cold War, despite Soviet attempts to compete with Western media.


Broadcasts were often banned in Eastern Europe and Communist authorities used sophisticated jamming techniques in an attempt to prevent citizens from listening to them.[41] Polish Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa and Russian reformer Grigory Yavlinsky would later recall secretly listening to the broadcasts despite the heavy jamming.[42]

[40] In late 1960, an upheaval in the Czechoslovak service led to a number of dramatic changes in the organization's structure. RFE's New York headquarters could no longer effectively manage their

Other espionage incidents also included a failed attempt by a Czechoslovak Intelligence Service (StB) agent in 1959 to poison the salt shakers in the organization's cafeteria.[39]

Communist governments also sent agents to infiltrate RFE's headquarters. Although some remained on staff for extended periods of time, government authorities discouraged their agents from interfering with broadcast activity, fearing that this could arouse suspicions and detract from their original purpose of gathering information on the radios' activities. From 1965 to 1971 an agent of the Służba Bezpieczeństwa (Communist Poland's security service) successfully infiltrated the station with an operative, Captain Andrzej Czechowicz. According to former Voice of America Polish service director Ted Lipien, "Czechowicz is perhaps the most well known communist-era Polish spy who was still an active agent while working at RFE in the late 1960s. Technically, he was not a journalist. As a historian by training, he worked in the RFE’s media analysis service in Munich. After more than five years, Czechowicz returned to Poland in 1971 and participated in programs aimed at embarrassing Radio Free Europe and the United States government."[38]


On February 21, 1981, RFE/RL's headquarters in Munich was struck by a massive bomb, causing $2 million in damage. Several employees were injured, but there were no fatalities. Stasi files opened after 1989 indicated that the bombing was carried out by a group under the direction of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (AKA Carlos the Jackal), and paid for by Nicolae Ceaușescu, president of Romania.[37]

1981 RFE/RL Munich bombing

RFE was seen as a serious threat by Romanian president Nicolae Ceaușescu. From the mid-1970s to his overthrow and execution in December 1989, Ceaușescu waged a vengeful war against the RFE/RL under the program “Ether”. Ether operations include physical attacks on other Romanian journalists working for RFE/RL, including the controversial circumstances surrounding the deaths of three directors of RFE/RL’s Romanian Service.[36]


RFE's Hungarian service was accused of precipitating the 1956 Hungarian revolution by giving its Hungarian listeners false hope of Western military assistance.[33] However, later investigations of RFE's involvement in the Hungarian revolution cleared the organization of these accusations, while also urging more caution in its broadcasts.[34] RFE's Broadcast Analysis Division was established to ensure that broadcasts were accurate and professional while maintaining the journalists' autonomy.[35]


RFE played a critical role in Cold War era Eastern Europe. Unlike government censored programs, RFE publicized anti-Soviet protests and nationalist movements. Its audience increased substantially following the failed Berlin riots of 1953 and the highly publicized defection of Józef Światło.[31] Its Hungarian service's coverage of Poland's Poznań riots in 1956 arguably served as an inspiration for the Hungarian revolution.[32]

Radio Free Europe

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty transmitter site, Biblis, Germany

Cold War years

Radio Liberty expanded its audience by broadcasting programs in numerous non-Russian languages. By March, 1954 Radio Liberty was broadcasting six to seven hours daily in eleven languages.[30] By December 1954, Radio Liberty was broadcasting in 17 languages including Ukrainian, Caucasus and Central Asia.[24]

Radio Liberty began broadcasting from Lampertheim on March 1, 1953, gaining a substantial audience when it covered the death of Joseph Stalin four days later. In order to better service a greater geographic area, RFE supplemented itsshortwave transmissions from Lampertheim with broadcasts from a transmitter base at Glória in 1951.[25] It also had a base at Oberwiesenfeld Airport on the outskirts of Munich,[26] employing several former Nazi agents who had been involved in the Ostministerium under Gerhard von Mende during World War II.[27] In 1955 Radio Liberty began airing programs to Russia's eastern provinces from shortwave transmitters located on Taiwan,[28] while in 1959 Radio Liberty commenced broadcasts from a base at Platja de Pals, Spain.[29]

Whereas Radio Free Europe targeted satellite countries, Radio Liberty targeted the Soviet Union.[22] Radio Liberty was formed by American Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Amcomlib) in 1951.[23] Originally named Radio Liberation, the station was renamed in 1959 after a policy statement emphasizing 'liberalization' rather than "liberation".[24]

Radio Liberty

In addition to its regular broadcasts, RFE spread broadcasts through a series of balloon operations codenamed Prospero, Veto, Focus, and Spotlight. "Using Balloons To Breach The Iron Curtain", RFE/RL Off-Mic Blog From October 1951 to November 1956, the skies of Central Europe were filled with more than 350,000 balloons carrying over 300,000,000 leaflets, posters, books, and other printed matter.[12] The nature of the leaflets varied, and included messages of support and encouragement to citizens suffering under communist oppression, satirical criticisms of communist regimes and leaders, information about dissident movements and human rights campaigns, and messages expressing the solidarity of the American people with the residents of Eastern European nations. The project served as a publicity tool to solidify RFE's reputation as an unbiased broadcaster.[21]


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