16 April 2011
CIA National Committee for Free Europe and Tor
A Look Back
The National Committee for Free Europe, 1949
On June 1, 1949, a group of prominent American businessmen, lawyers, and philanthropists called the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE) filed incorporation papers in New York City. The event drew little notice at the time. 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.
The late 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, ostensibly raising private funds and organizing their 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) rallied anti-Communist intellectuals, politicians, and activists to fight the Soviets on the plane of ideas and what was later called "public diplomacy."
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 for the Communist Bloc in several 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. Radio Free Europe was re-chartered as a public corporation (receiving Congressionally appropriated funds). All funding and oversight responsibilities were transferred to the presidentially appointed Board for International Broadcasting [Broadcasting Board of Governors].
Radio Free Europe still broadcasts today.
A Look Back ... The National Security Act of 1947
International Broadcasting Bureau
The BBG also oversees the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which provides program placement and transmission services for all the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) broadcast organizations and manages a global network of transmitting sites and an extensive system of leased satellite and fiber optic circuits, along with a rapidly growing Internet delivery system.
A CIA spin-off, The Broadcasting Board of Governors through its International Broadcasting Bureau, funded the Tor Project for several years.
Tor Project Tax Filing 2007:
Tor Project Tax Filing 2009:
Internet and New Media
IBB facilitates the online availability of nearly every BBG program including new media components such as podcasts and audience comments or questions via text messages. Over 100,000 gigabytes of live or on-demand audio and video were streamed each month in 2009.
Pages on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter fuel increased engagement with audiences, as do blogs hosted internally or on external platforms like Blogger or LiveJournal.
IBB sites optimized for mobile devices are now available. In addition, agreements with mobile providers are enabling delivery of news headlines, breaking news alerts and multimedia content via SMS.
The IBB works to combat signal jamming and other forms of interference with program delivery. For example, the Office of Engineering has aggressively countered satellite jamming by the government of Iran since May 2009. Other methods to combat increasing Internet censorship include:
- Daily e-mails with news summaries, instructions for bypassing government filters, and links to proxy or shadow sites.
- Multimedia-capable client-side proxy software customized for the BBG. Freegate software has proven successful in cases such as Iran, where it was used heavily in the days following the controversial 2009 election.
- SMS delivery of proxy information, news and multimedia. Headline delivery via SMS has been used successfully in parts of Africa, including in Zimbabwe during the contentious 2008 presidential election.