Cold War Broadcasting Impact

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Cold War Broadcasting Impact

Report on a Conference organized by the Hoover Institution and the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

at Stanford University, October 13-16, 2004


This publication reports the highlights of a conference on Cold War Broadcasting Impact held at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, on October 13-15, 2004. The conference was organized by the Hoover Institution and the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, with assistance from the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Stanford University, and the Open Society Archives, Central European University, Budapest. The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands and the Bernard Osher Foundation provided generous financial support. The Honorable George Shultz opened the conference, and former Czech President and communist-era dissident Vaclav Havel sent video greetings.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were, along with other Western broadcasters, effective instruments of Western policy during the Cold War. Many East European and Russian democrats have seconded the words of Vaclav Havel that “our society owes Radio Free Europe gratitude for the role that it has played.” Western studies have examined the history and organization of RFE/RL and its place in American national security strategy. Major publications include Sig Mickelson, America's Other Voice: The Story of Radio Free Europe & Radio Liberty (Praeger, 1983), Michael Nelson, War of the Black Heavens: The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War (Syracuse University Press, 1997), Gene Sosin, Sparks of Liberty: An Insider's Memoir of Radio Liberty (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (University of Kentucky Press, 2000), and Alan Heil, The Voice of America; A History (Columbia University Press, 2003).

But we have lacked studies of Western broadcasting drawing on archival material from the other side of the former Iron Curtain. We have lacked analyses of broadcasting impact - the effect on both societies and communist regimes.

In preparation for the conference, documents about Western broadcasting impact were collected from Communist-era East European, Baltic, and Russian archives. These materials include Communist Party Politburo and Central Committee discussions of broadcasting impact and propaganda countermeasures, secret police assessments and efforts to penetrate the Western broadcasters, directives on jamming, internal secret audience surveys, Party and censorship office press guidance on countering the broadcasts, and assessments of the impact on the Communist armies. Documentation was collected by the CWIHP’s network of archive scholars in the region, with assistance from the Open Society Archives. A Hoover Institution oral history project interviewed key Polish Communist officials about broadcast impact. These materials complement the extensive RFE/RL corporate records and broadcast archives now located at the Hoover Institution (described at

The conference brought together experts from the West and former Communist countries who presented papers based on this archival documentation. Veteran Western broadcasting officials and leading former Communist officials and dissidents also participated. This combination of new documentation, international expertise, and oral history provides new insights into a major Western instrument of the Cold War.
This publication contains a summary of proceedings, prepared by Gregory Mitrovich, who served as rapporteur. It also contains an analysis based on the conference discussions (“Lessons Learned”) of why Western Cold War broadcasting was effective, prepared by A. Ross Johnson and R. Eugene Parta. Selected conference papers will be published in an edited volume by the Central European Press. Key documents will be made available in the CWIHP’s Virtual Archive ( and published in English in a second volume by the Central European Press.

Elena Danielson, Associate Director, Hoover Institution

Christian Ostermann, Director, Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson Center

A. Ross Johnson (conference coordinator), Research Fellow, Hoover Institution







Gregory Mitrovich

(Conference rapporteur)
Session One: Goals and Content of Western Broadcasting: Testimony of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Officials. Panelists: Paul Henze, J. F. Brown, Gene Sosin, Mark Pomar; Commentator Istvan Rev; Moderator Norman Naimark1
When Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty began operation the world was still struggling to surmount the devastation wrought by World War II, while relations between the United States and the Soviet Union had disintegrated to the point that a third global war appeared imminent. The Soviet Union’s wartime occupation of Eastern Europe had quickly transformed into an exercise in empire-building, an empire that many feared would soon encompass the entire Eurasian continent. American and European anxieties reached their climax when hundreds of thousands of Soviet-trained and equipped North Korean troops invaded South Korea and routed the South’s defenses only days before Radio Free Europe’s first historic broadcast on July 4, 1950. This new organization had not even the time to establish itself before it was plunged into the front lines of the West’s battle against Soviet expansion.

Much was at stake in the struggle between liberalism and communism; many believed the future of the world itself. Strategic planners determined that the United States must strike at the heart of Soviet power if the West was to emerge from the Cold War victoriously. As the most significant instruments capable of penetrating the Iron Curtain, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were crucially important actors in this conflict and, ultimately, would play an invaluable role in Soviet communism’s ultimate demise. Yet, as Paul Henze warns, it would be a mistake to consider the achievements of Radio Free Europe assured. RFE was a “jerry-built operation,” in fact an “experiment”—with its success far from predestined.

When the Truman administration planned the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE) in 1948, radio broadcasting was not considered one of its primary missions. Henze observes that the NCFE was primarily envisaged as a device for taking care of East European political leaders who had established exile governments during World War II and were barred from returning by the Soviet occupation of their countries. These exiles needed a livelihood that would provide an outlet for them to help their fellow countrymen. Initially, their mandate was to form “national committees” that would inspire those under communist domination to resist. Some exiles had previously served as radio broadcasters during World War II, encouraging resistance to the Nazis; it was an obvious leap to use these same skills to battle Soviet communism. The North Korean attack shattered any misgivings as to whether such broadcasts were necessary; few now questioned the scope of the Soviet threat. Yet it remained to be determined how radio broadcasting could successfully influence the internal developments of communist societies.

RFE needed to compete directly with indigenous, regime radio stations through round-the-clock radio transmissions. The basic principles of such broadcasts were: saturation home-service broadcasting encompassing all fields of interest to audiences, including news and information, religion, sports, culture, and entertainment; concentration on subjects important for people in the homeland; avoidance of preoccupation with exile concerns and polemics about rivalries in earlier periods; avoidance of preaching, invective, incitement to violence, and no promise of imminent liberation; detailed reporting on problems of communism and analysis of the actual workings of the Soviet system, and reporting on contradictions and disagreements within communist hierarchies; and programs describing the operation of open, democratic societies of the West to sustain the aspirations of East Europeans to rejoin Europe.

While all this may seem apparent in retrospect, Henze noted that it was far from obvious to officials at the time. Almost all planning that went into the creation of RFE was an improvised response to the sense of urgency that prevailed in the early 1950s. The notion that has become widespread today that RFE resulted from a coherent concept of what needed to be done remains an illusion.

J. F. Brown underscored Henze’s judgments, stressing that from the beginning RFE was a decentralized operation. While basic policy guidance came from Washington it was implemented by five national broadcast services—the Bulgarian, Czechoslovak, Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian. There was no central scripting, and these national services enjoyed a unique degree of autonomy; indeed, their political programming was usually checked after a broadcast aired, not before, and this provided for greater vibrancy and closer interaction with RFE audiences that would have been impossible under central scripting. Supporting the broadcasting efforts were the highly respected Central News Department and the Research and Analysis Department.

For Brown the purpose of RFE can be reduced to one fundamental premise: to serve the peoples of Eastern Europe by keeping them company, upholding their dignity, bolstering their confidence, strengthening their “European-ness” and their historic ties to America, while giving them hope that “this too would pass.” RFE was needed because of the contradictions between state and society in communist Eastern Europe that involved repression by regimes forcibly maintained by a foreign power.

To succeed, RFE broadcasters had to resist two “seductive temptations.” First, they needed to avoid overrating their own importance while underrating the intelligence and common sense of their audience. While many RFE listeners were uneducated, they were far from gullible, and lived in a system that bred suspicion of everyone and everything. Only through accurate and judicious broadcasting could RFE overcome these reservations and build a reputation for honesty and accuracy. Second, RFE broadcasters needed to recognize that East European audiences were not as interested in RFE as RFE was in them. East European citizens had more urgent problems in their lives, like ensuring their own survival, and RFE played an adjunct—but not integral—part in their day to day living.

The arrival of détente put the future of RFE in question. Had it become a superfluous organization, a relic of the old Cold War, as Senator William Fulbright insisted? Brown argued to the contrary that détente signified that it was the communist states, not the West, that were getting weaker, something RFE recognized and encouraged with success through its broadcasting throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. An encounter between Brown and Czech dissident and later President Vaclav Havel punctuated the respect and good name RFE had achieved. Upon being introduced as a former director of RFE, Havel looked at Brown and exclaimed “Jim! We were colleagues!” That bond, more than anything, demonstrated the impact of Radio Free Europe.

For Gene Sosin, Radio Liberty (the name was changed from the original Radio Liberation in 1959) was the fulfillment of Aleksandr Herzen’s mission a century earlier to provide from abroad freedom of speech denied fellow countrymen in the homeland. RL started its broadcast service on a most auspicious date, March 1, 1953—the day Soviet leader Joseph Stalin suffered his fatal stroke.

During its initial broadcast, RL announced that it represented the free voice of Soviet compatriots abroad, with its objectives being freedom of choice for Soviet nationalities, freedom of conscience and religion, elimination of the system of terror and forced labor, freedom for Soviet agriculture, an end to Party control of the arts and sciences, and, finally, the end of aggressive Soviet foreign policy by the overthrow of the regime. Yet RL broadcasters stressed that they could not provide the peoples of the USSR with the “recipe” to achieve this ambitious agenda. It was RL’s goal to provide the type of truthful information that Soviet censors would never allow within the USSR but was necessary if democracy were one day to prevail.

During its first years of operation, RL broadcasts were influenced by the émigré “Coordinating Center for the anti-Bolshevik Struggle,” which sought to use this new station to articulate its implacable opposition to the Soviet regime. Many of RL’s original broadcasters exploited this opportunity to vent their hatred of the communist regime; one broadcaster even made it a point to pronounce Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s name with a sneer.

Under the guidance of Boris Shub, prominent anti-Bolshevik publicist and formerly political advisor at RIAS (Radio in the American Sector, Berlin), this approach was changed. Shub understood that in order to succeed, RL needed to recognize and appreciate the sensitivities of the average Soviet listener, who was proud of his country’s victory over Nazi Germany, was loyal to ideals expressed by Lenin and his compatriots, and remained skeptical towards messages from the émigré community. Shub stressed that blatant propaganda would merely repulse the average Soviet citizen. Instead, RL needed to speak candidly about the difficulties of daily life in the Soviet Union while articulating hope for a better future. RL broadcasters sought to bridge the gap with the listener by identifying themselves with their audience, using “our country” or “our homeland.” Under the leadership of Howland Sargeant, president of RL from 1954 to 1975, the station was able to avoid micromanaging of its broadcasts from Washington while enlisting the advice of many of the nation’s top academic specialists on the USSR, including Walt W. Rostow, Merle Fainsod, Alex Inkeles, Marshall Shulman, and Richard Pipes.

According to Sosin, initially RL’s sources of news from the Soviet Union were extremely sparse; however, RL overcame this problem by developing a sophisticated network of monitoring posts that scrutinized radio broadcasts across the USSR. Of particular interest were local radios, which carried stories that RL would broadcast nationally. This led to an improvement in RL’s image of authenticity while filling in the “white spots” in Soviet news reporting.

Khrushchev’s secret speech of 1956 denouncing Stalin’s crimes was a monumental event in RL’s history. The speech was soon smuggled abroad and beamed back into the USSR so that the entire country could hear the indictments leveled by Khrushchev against Stalin, accusations that legitimated much of RL’s programming. Furthermore, RL made sure that its listeners understood the implications of the mass uprisings in Poland and Hungary, which in the latter case escalated to a full-scale revolt that left thousands dead, discrediting the notion of a harmonious Soviet bloc.

RL frequently broadcast readings of famous Russian writers like Boris Pasternak, whose novel Doctor Zhivago was banned within the USSR, as well as samizdat (self-published) literature disseminated by Andrei Sakharov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and others of the increasing dissident population within the Soviet Union. RL often invited famous Americans such as Eleanor Roosevelt, leading congressmen, and labor leaders to speak directly to the Soviet populace to assure them that the West cared about their plight.

RL’s importance continued to grow following the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 1975 Helsinki accords, and the rise of glasnost in the 1980s, and most auspiciously, during the failed Soviet coup of 1991, when both Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin relied on RL for news concerning conditions throughout the country vital to their efforts to resist the coup plotters, news that the state media were not broadcasting. Declared Elena Bonner, RL was “not only figuratively, but literally, on the barricades with us.”

Mark Pomar recounted that during a recent visit to Armenia he happened upon a detective program about a Soviet KGB agent’s investigations into corruption surrounding the daughter of former leader Leonid Brezhnev. In one scene the KGB agent and his subordinates were examining national media reports in Pravda, Izvestia, and other state-sponsored organizations. The agent announced that “today on Radio Liberty it said that . . . [therefore] all these other media are junk” and swept them from the table. This, Pomar contends, was exactly what RL had hoped to achieve as it sought to influence Soviet society. This example from a detective drama in 2004 demonstrates how RL had become part of Soviet life.

RL served as a detailed source of information in the Soviet Union when domestic sources were not available. The use of “we” and “us” spoke to the audience and made the audience feel that RL was involved in their daily lives—it spoke the language that was understandable to the people of the country and related to them. RL helped the Soviet listener to vet domestic media sources, and most important, it publicly discussed what was only talked about privately, something that served to help liberate the Soviet listener. That such programming existed inspired Soviet citizens by letting them know that the people of the West cared about their plight, a point underscored during a trip Pomar made to Kazan. There a man who reported to him that while jamming had prevented him from ever hearing RL’s Tatar language service, the very fact that RL actually broadcast in Tatar demonstrated to him that the West had recognized the existence of their land, language, and culture even though it lay isolated in the Russian heartland.

How did this happen? It was the result of broadcasting insightful and relevant programming. RL had the flexibility, however, to be very creative, allowing it to engage in programming that employed humor and spoofs regarding Lenin and other Soviet leaders. In addition, RL had a Board led by Malcolm (Steve) Forbes that protected it from interference from the State Department, Congress, and elsewhere. By contrast, according to Pomar, in the 1980s Voice of America (VOA) Russian programming was not particularly exciting and was not generating a large audience. Pomar sought to bring ideas from RL to revitalize the service and developed programming that would speak to the average Russian and place the political issues of the day in the American context. One successful method was to broadcast Russian dissidents who were able read their works—banned in the USSR—over the air, while explaining their experiences in the West in order to rebut the claims of Soviet propagandists that dissidents were marginalized. By demonstrating that dissidents like Rostropovich and Solzhenitsyn were important cultural icons in the West, VOA enhanced the average Soviet citizen’s view of the United States. These interviews especially resonated with Russian listeners, generating excitement that raised morale within the VOA service.

To understand the impact that RFE/RL had on communist society, Istvan Rev stressed the interactive essence of the Cold War conflict. The Cold War was a war of ideas and the victor would be the side that successfully implanted its vision in “the other’s” populace. Thus the struggle over radio broadcasting was a struggle for control of the hearts and minds of the population, and the target regimes attempted to prevent its “enemy” from undermining that control. The Cold War was, according to Rev, built upon a series of “mutual fantasies” over the alleged capabilities that one or both sides had to control “the other.” Soviet leaders recognized that RFE/RL was indeed designed to challenge their control over both the populations of the satellite regimes and of the USSR.
Session Two: Goals and Content of Western Broadcasting: VOA, BBC, RIAS. Panelists: Alan Heil, Eugeniusz Smolar, and Christian Ostermann; Moderator Ken Jowitt
“Western broadcasts opened an alternative channel for the flow of information and ideas, putting an end to the monopoly of official Soviet Party propaganda. Tyranny abhors new ideas and truth. These broadcasts marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet Party and Soviet ideology.” Alan Heil said that this quote, taken from a roundtable discussion with Ludmilla Alexeyeva, demonstrates the impact that Western radio had on the communist world and in particular the average citizen living in these countries.

Voice of America (VOA) broadcast its first message on February 25, 1942, just seventy-nine days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II. VOA’s cornerstone principle was: “The news may be good. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth.” According to Heil, VOA’s mission as defined in its charter is “to serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news... accurate, objective and comprehensive.”  It also “must win the attention and respect of listeners.”  In order to fulfill these mandates it has, over the years, not only enlightened the world about America but also engaged in “cross reporting,” that is, provided in-depth news and information about one region to another, as well as “in country” reporting to specific audiences, particularly in times of crisis.

VOA faced a great challenge as it emerged from World War II to face the new reality of the Cold War. Indeed, Radio Moscow’s postwar broadcasting to Western Europe demonstrated the continuing need for VOA broadcasts to the entire European theater. The onset of the Korean War further galvanized support for VOA. Under the direction of Foy Kohler, VOA expanded its language services from twenty-five languages to forty-five languages, many to the USSR and Eastern Europe. In the early 1950s, the McCarthy hearings and unproven allegations of communist sympathizers within the State Department and VOA nearly destroyed the Voice, even though it broadcast a number of official statements during President Truman’s Campaign of Truth.

Nevertheless, VOA survived the McCarthy years, and under President Dwight Eisenhower experienced substantial growth in its overall technical infrastructure. The U.S. Information Agency was created in 1953, and the Voice was transferred from the State Department to the new independent agency, theoretically buffering it from political pressures and enabling it to develop what University of Leicester scholar Nicholas J. Cull called “a journalistic culture” in the years ahead. President Eisenhower insisted that Voice broadcasts follow the BBC standard, and saw its role and that of its more hard-edged surrogate cousins as complementary. This greatly improved VOA’s efforts to report on an increasingly restless world, particularly the Hungarian revolution, Suez crisis, Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Vietnam War. VOA’s governing charter was issued as an executive order in 1960.

During the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War, VOA’s journalistic independence suffered significant challenges. The USIA even stationed a senior officer in the VOA newsroom to clear all copy on Cuba before broadcast. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, the Johnson administration pressured VOA to clear news analyses through the director of USIA. This was after an analysis critical of the Soviet Union was aired during Soviet Premier Kosygin’s visit to Hanoi as American planes began air strikes on North Vietnam. Subsequently, subtle edits were made to VOA roundups of the U.S. press excising commentary critical of the administration. Despite these pressures, VOA continued to broadcast the increasingly troubled news from Vietnam and the rise of the anti-war protest movement both within the U.S. and around the world.

In the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s VOA broadcast comprehensive coverage of the Apollo moon landings, détente, the fall of Saigon, the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the imposition of martial law in Poland. During the détente years, however, pressures were exerted by the Nixon administration to prevent the Voice from broadcasting excerpts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago as it was deemed too polemical; similarly, a planned series on corruption within communist system was cancelled. This quickly changed under President Reagan, as a senior USIA political appointee recommended in 1981 that VOA characterize the Soviet Union as the “last great predatory empire on Earth”—contrary to the accurate, objective, and comprehensive news programming envisioned in the charter. The appointee soon resigned and pressures subsided after several years. In 1984, VOA’s worldwide audience was estimated in USIA surveys at close to one hundred and thirty million, nearly half the listeners residing in the USSR and former Warsaw Pact countries. VOA’s performance during the Chernobyl disaster, providing invaluable information to East European, Russian, and Ukrainian audiences about the dangers of radiation and the steps they needed to take to avoid radiation poisoning, represented one of its greatest triumphs, and inspired Secretary of State George Shultz to commend the station for playing an “essential role in promoting democratic values and undermining the monopoly of information” that allowed the communist system to survive as long as it did.

Eugeniusz Smolar cautioned that in developing our histories of Cold War radio broadcasting we not overstate its success, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. Smolar challenged the premise, “prevalent in RFE editorial policy,” that Polish society was divided between the “brave, heroic, resisting anti-communist nation” and a “relatively small group of Moscow-led traitors.” The reality was far more complex, particularly in the 1960s as the population had become depoliticized by regime oppression and was nearly as suspicious of RFE as they were of the state media. Indeed, the populace adopted as its maxim: RFE says this and our propaganda says that—but I, in the middle, I have my own truth and that lies somewhere in between. This Smolar considered one of the most important elements in any consideration of RFE’s broadcasting impact, requiring further study. A further caveat identified by Smolar was that although RFE enjoyed high listenership rates during periods of crisis, these rates dropped significantly during the years in between.

Smolar contended that the broadcasting approaches for RFE and the BBC were almost diametrically opposed to each other. RFE was considered both in the East and the West as a political tool, always “on the warpath,” always willing to challenge the regime even to the point of debating minute points of history. On the other hand, BBC policy was to avoid considering itself as part of the local milieu, emphasizing objective, detached news analysis in its global reports rather than emotional language of “ideological name calling.” It did not idealize the past, did not relate to the Polish government in exile as a source of moral authority, and did not concentrate on active resistance—which for many years was limited to a celebration in a church or an annual meeting of Warsaw Uprising fighters at a cemetery, surrounded and photographed by secret police agents. The BBC seldom referred to the censored local media and tried to develop independent argument. Consequently, Soviet bloc audiences considered the BBC the most trustworthy Western media, often listening to BBC broadcasts to confirm RFE news, which led to a de facto division of labor between the two stations. This dedication to objectivity, however, made the BBC an ineffective agent of change behind the Iron Curtain.

It was BBC policy to avoid being seen as following any government line—even that of the British government. This led to a number of struggles between the BBC and the British authorities that nearly resulted in the BBC’s dissolution. Furthermore, the BBC sought at all costs to prevent its World Service from degenerating into a partisan radio station championing local causes—BBC executives stressed that there “was only one BBC.” Consequently, it was policy for the BBC to change correspondents’ assignments every few years to prevent them from “going native.”

New events produced a gradual, but nevertheless revolutionary change in BBC policy: the Helsinki accords in 1975, the dependence of regimes on Western capital and good will, the Polish workers revolt in 1976 followed by activities of the Workers’ Defense Committee (KOR) in Poland and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia (i.e., emergence of modern democratic opposition), the birth of the Solidarity trade union in 1980, the impact of the Polish Pope’s sermons in Poland, and a generational change in BBC broadcasters. Information from KOR and Charter 77 sources came to be seen as a new and important source that the BBC could not ignore. A new broadcasting philosophy emerged: according to its charter, the BBC does not take sides; however, in its broadcasts to non-democratic, oppressive states it should be seen as an emanation of a free, pluralistic, and democratic society that upholds and publicizes its values.

The BBC responded to the ferment in Eastern Europe by decentralizing its editorial operations, forming partly independent news services for each target country, then, after the fall of communism, relocating their operations to the countries in question.

RIAS (Radio in the American Sector, Berlin) was, according to Christian Ostermann, a model upon which U.S. policymakers based the original concept for RFE and RL. RIAS started operation in February of 1946, focused locally on the U.S. occupation sector in Berlin, and served as the mouthpiece of the occupation. Originally seen as a tool for the democratization of a defeated Germany, RIAS did not engage in anti-Soviet broadcasting. That policy changed with the onset of the Cold War.

As disagreements between General Lucius Clay, head of U.S. occupation forces, and the Soviet occupation command erupted with greater intensity, RIAS’s role began to expand and it became a key instrument in the battle for the hearts and minds of the German people. Criticisms of Soviet policy became more common as RIAS challenged the Soviet Union’s monopolistic control over the German media seized in Berlin in the aftermath of the war. The Berlin Blockade Crisis of 1948–1949 placed RIAS in the forefront of the struggle to maintain German morale during the long year of the blockade and, with the U.S. airlift, offered the only hope for the citizens of West Berlin. It was this crisis that would solidify the relationship between the Germans and their occupiers. The growing Cold War struggle led to a shift in RIAS broadcasting strategy to focus on undermining Soviet control in East Germany, which quickly became the most important audience for its broadcasts.

As the Cold War escalated, the Truman administration intensified its use of informational programs to strike at the Soviet bloc, shifting from a defensive containment strategy to an offensive rollback strategy; indeed, in 1950 the National Security Council approved a rapid escalation in the use of psychological warfare and covert action to destabilize the Soviet bloc. Germany had became an important theater for psychological warfare operations and, in December 1950, psychological warfare specialist Wallace Carroll and RAND Corporation scholar Hans Speier submitted to John McCloy, the High Commissioner of Germany, a report urging the development and use of aggressive psychological warfare and covert operations, including the creation of centrally organized resistance movements to challenge Soviet control in the East.

These efforts continued into the Eisenhower administration. However, RIAS and the other stations were caught in a contradiction between broad policy calling for destabilization and rollback, and special guidance ordering broadcasters to avoid inciting mass uprisings. The U.S. wanted the radios to “walk the fine line between stimulating uprisings and nourishing the spirit of resistance,” or as U.S. High Commissioner James Conant declared, “Keeping the pot boiling.” These tensions were evident in the East German uprising of 1953. RIAS successfully maintained this “fine line” during the crisis and East German intelligence services admitted that RIAS broadcasts did not incite the riot. However, RIAS was able to spread word of the strikes in Berlin throughout the country, accelerating the spread of popular demonstrations. East German intelligence documents attest that during the crisis East Germans listened to RIAS openly as an act of defiance to the regime. The Eisenhower administration had hoped to use RIAS to expand the unrest to other East European regions, but RIAS resisted efforts to take a more activist role, hoping to avoid placing the East German population in harm’s way.

A discussant related the story of Wolfgang Leonhard, an avid Moscow trained and raised German communist, who returned to Germany along with Walter Ulbricht on the first plane to Berlin from Moscow. Upon his arrival he came into contact with RIAS broadcasting, which succeeded in completely disillusioning him in his belief in Soviet communism to the extent that he eventually defected to Yugoslavia after Stalin’s break with Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and spent years denouncing the Soviet system.

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