23 April 2006

New York Times, 23 April 2006

George C. Minden, 85, Dies; Led a Cold War of Words


George C. Minden, who for 37 years ran a secret American program that put 10 million Western books and magazines in the hands of intellectuals and professionals in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, died on April 9 at his home in Manhattan. He was 85.

The cause was complications of gastric lymphoma, his son John said.

Mr. Minden was president of the International Literary Center, an organization financed by the Central Intelligence Agency, which tried to win influential friends by giving them reading material unavailable in their own countries. The material ranged from dictionaries, medical texts and novels by Joyce and Nabokov to art museum catalogs and Parisian fashion magazines.

The people who received the reading matter were generally Communists or professionals and intellectuals working for Communist regimes. They thought the books were being donated by Western publishers and cultural organizations.

The C.I.A.'s purpose was to offer an alternative, culturally engaging reality that had the implicit effect of promoting Western culture. Mr. Minden did not see a need to bluntly refute Marxist dogma, on the theory that people could use common sense and their own observations to reject Communist arguments.

The project became something of a personalized book club; files were kept on recipients' reading tastes, so as to better satisfy them in the future. It replaced earlier, frankly propagandistic programs, including mass dropping of anti-Communist leaflets from high-altitude balloons.

Mr. Minden wrote in an internal memo that the West's main obstacle was "not Marxist obstacles, but a vacuum," and that "what is needed is something against frustration and stultification, against a life full of omissions."

John P. C. Matthews wrote in 2003 [below: The West's Secret Marshal Pland for the Mind] in The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence — in one of the few public discussions of the program — that the initiative sprinkled reality into an "unnatural and ultimately irrational" system.

When Communism collapsed, in Eastern Europe in 1989 and in the Soviet Union in 1991, Mr. Matthews, who had worked in the book program, suggested that Mr. Minden had laid the foundation for a smoother relationship among opinion leaders in a post-Communist world.

"Intellectuals in the East understood intellectuals in the West because they had been reading the same books," he wrote.

George Caputineanu Minden was born on Feb. 19, 1921, in Bucharest, Romania, where he grew up in a wealthy, cosmopolitan household. He learned to speak six languages, including Latin, and at 18 he inherited an estate that included vast oil fields.

He graduated at the top of his class from the University of Bucharest's law school. In 1946, as the Communists were taking control of Romania, he fled to England with his first wife, Margarete Schmidt. His lands and fortune were confiscated.

He taught at Cambridge and studied at the London School of Economics, then left England after his marriage collapsed. He taught languages in Spain and Mexico and was a director of a small automobile company in Paris.

In Madrid, he met Marilyn Miller, an American, whom he married in 1954. They moved to New York, where Mr. Minden became head of the Romanian desk at Free Europe Press, an affiliate of Radio Free Europe.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three sons, Nicholas, of Lausanne, Switzerland, John, of Manhattan, and Paul, of Los Angeles; a daughter, Michaela Duffy of Manhattan; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

The book mailings began in July 1956, and Mr. Minden took over the program, which has had several names, that year. An early idea was to send a publisher's catalog, inviting people to make one or two choices. A note usually suggested that the recipient send a book in return to make it appear a legitimate exchange.

In 2005, Ludmilla Thorne, an employee of the program, wrote a letter to The New Yorker that noted the program's ingenuity in distributing books and acknowledged that it was financed by the C.I.A. She said that members of the Moscow Philharmonic slipped book pages into their sheet music and that a young woman flying from London to Moscow with her infant son squeezed a mini-edition of Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" into the child's diaper.

By 1991, more than 300,000 books and magazines were being distributed annually, making the overall total more than 10 million. Fully a third of the recipients in later years sent thank-you letters, which along with many other papers, Mr. Minden donated to the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace.

Perhaps 1,000 people in publishing knew about the program, because they were participants. Intellectuals in the Soviet Union and its satellites marveled at the altruism of the publishers they thought of as their benefactors. (Mr. Matthews noted that the publishers made a tidy profit.)

Mr. Minden was noticed by the Czech secret police, who wrote in their journal about a mysterious, immaculately dressed "man in a gray suit" who kept turning up at Czech exile centers, Mr. Matthews wrote.

But the police never mentioned Mr. Minden's name or gave any indication that they knew about his "Marshall Plan for the mind."


The West's Secret Marshall Plan for the Mind


Originally published in, and posted here with permission from the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, a Journal publication of the Taylor & Francis Group

John P. C. Matthews retired from the presidency of his own company, East Europe Trade Associates, to conduct research on the year 1956 in Eastern Europe. Previously, he had spent ten years with the Free Europe Committee in Munich, Germany, and New York, serving for nearly five years with Radio Free Europe, and the remainder with the Free Europe Press, eventually becoming head of its European operations. He later served as Program Director if the Foreign Policy Association's World Affairs Center, New York City. In 1968, he helped found the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), and headed its East European operations until 1981. Mr. Matthews, the author of Tinderbox: East Central Europe In the Spring, Summer, and Early Fall of 1956 (Tucson, Arizona: Fenestra Books, 2003), is currently working on a book dealing with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Original copyright © 2003 by John P.C. Matthews and as noted


In recent years the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has taken a beating from the press and public for its exposed "moles", its failures of commission -- the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade - and omission -- the events of 11 September 2001. And rightly so. Many believe it has grown so inflated and incompetent that the only solution is to scrap it and start over. It was not always thus.

During the days of the Cold War, when the cloud of nuclear annihilation still hung over the country, the CIA, for all of its deceptions, was one of the United States's most effective lines of defense. Not only did it amass vital information with its U-2 spy planes photographing Soviet reality on the ground, it helped to fight, with its many clandestine operations around the world, both the spread of Communism and the Communists' ability to absorb the areas they had already conquered. Radio Free Europe, broadcasting to Eastern Europe, and Radio Liberty, broadcasting exclusively to the Soviet Union, are two well-known examples. Additional subtle undertakings, such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, have over time been revealed.1

But one CIA project was so subtle, because it was so natural, that it remains classified to this day. It intimately affected, and continues to affect, hundreds of thousands of educated people in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. While, over time, it consumed millions of dollars, it was probably one of the least expensive of the CIA's many secret operations. And it went on for thirty-seven years, lasting beyond the demise of the Soviet Union. Most important, well over ten million books and magazines--the best the West had to offer--were put into the hands of key individuals living in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.


One day in April 1956, on the fifth floor of the Normandy Building at 110 West 57th Street in Manhattan, a group of young Americans and East European exiles were meeting in their boss's smoke-filled office, chewing over a project they had been discussing for months. When the last person in the room had had his say, Sam Walker, who had called the meeting, took a pull on his pipe, blew out a long shaft of smoke and then, in a lisp his colleagues no longer noticed, said "O.K., Let'th do it!"

Neither Walker nor anyone else in that room had any inkling of what they were starting. The Cold War was still young. While Soviet leader Nikita S. Khruschev had recently delivered his secret speech denouncing Josef Stalin, the text had yet to reach the West. The summer and fall upheavals in Eastern Europe, resulting from that speech, had still to come. Nonetheless, it was an exhilarating time, with change and ferment in the air. One half of Europe had been unnaturally sealed off from the other half for the past eight years, and people sensed that this could not last much longer. But when it did, Americans grew so used to the division that Europe, whether referred to by diplomats or travel agents, meant only the western half. For the vast majority of Americans, the other half was now off the map.

Samuel S. Walker, Jr. was then in his late 20s. A former chairman of The Yale Daily News, he had been snatched upon graduation by Time magazine for a special training program designed to ensure the continuance of its top editorial management. But for a gap between his front teeth, he was as handsome as a movie actor, with a touch of Orson Welles's furrowed brow and poppy eyes. He laughed frequently, giving the impression that he found life as enjoyable as he found it interesting. He had tired of Time and been lured in early 1952 to the more exciting position of Director of Free Europe Press (FEP), a newly created sister organization of Radio Free Europe (RFE).

The East European employees of the Press were somewhat younger than their radio counterparts. And, thanks to Walker, the Americans, taken as a group, were not only young, but definitely left of center politically. This latter trait made for good rapport with their overseers in the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington -- Cord Meyer and Emmons Brown -- whom Walker and company, to shield their identity, referred to as "our friends down south." Only a handful of people on the Free Europe Committee and the leadership of RFE and FEP knew that the general direction and real funding for the organizations came from the Central Intelligence Agency, not the private funds noisily raised by the Crusade for Freedom. Most of the money was funneled though dummy, and possibly a few legitimate, foundations.

At its inception, Free Europe Press had established a monthly magazine with the prosaic title News from Behind the Iron Curtain. But the Press was better known for its for more dramatic program of dropping leaflets in Czech, Slovak, Polish, and Hungarian behind the Iron Curtain. Taking advantage of the prevailing west to east winds, they were dropped from high altitude by hydrogen-filled polyethylene balloons launched at night from three sites in Bavaria.

While the authors of these leaflets, and those handling the vast logistical side of this operation, were fully engaged, Walker and many of those in the New York office -- specifically those meeting that April day -- were somewhat underutilized. They spent no small amount of time scheming and speculating.

The "it" to which Walker referred when he said "Let'th do it" stood for "mailing project," something that had occurred to nearly all the East European exiles who had experimented with posting parcels to relatives back in their homelands. Free Europe mailings to individual people would be the reverse of the leaflet program. The leaflets, which were picked up randomly in fields and woods, were meant for the vast anti-Communist majority of the population. The mailings Walker and his colleagues had in mind would be special literature targeted for Communists or regime- friendly individuals for specific reasons.

Walker's decision ran counter to advice from one of the Free Europe Committee's chief consultants, Professor Hugh Seton-Watson of the University of London's School of Slavonic Studies. He said it simply wouldn't work; the Communist censorship would stop it cold. Walker's East European colleagues thought differently. Massive mailings would be more than the censors could handle.


The project envisaged postings from a few U.S., but mostly West European cities, and always to specific individuals, not from purloined East European telephone books. The messages -- according to the "Plan" published some months later by FEP's Plans and Analysis Department -- would be designed "to reduce the efficiency of the communist administration by weakening loyalty of the Party and state cadres."2

The principles which would govern selection were:

All materials must appear under "sponsorship" of a cover organization. There should be no total attacks on communism. Mailings should favor "revisionist" trends among the new elites. Practical alternatives to doctrinaire Marxist principles should receive high priority. Crossreporting (i.e., reports of what is going on in the other East European countries) should be used to demonstrate what might be possible in their country. Negative developments to weaken confidence in the bonafides of their government may be used. ...Our primary aim should be to demonstrate the superior achievements of the West.


American staff members thought there was no shortage of suitable material, in the form of articles and pamphlets, to fit within these guidelines, but the Hungarian editor, Robert Gabor, had his doubts. He preferred to stress the positive and begin with an original document of unchallengeable quality. Gabor was a close friend of Adolph Berle, then a vice president of the Free Europe Committee. He persuaded Berle to write an essay, "The 20th Century Capitalist Revolution." Gabor then had his fellow editor, Imre Kovacs, a left-wing Peasant Party writer of considerable renown in Hungary, translate it into good Hungarian.

The first mailings to Eastern Europe, begun in July 1956, were a hodgepodge of articles and cross-reporting, some translated, others simple reproductions of the originals in English, French, or German. They were sent from New York and a half-dozen West European cities in batches of anywhere from 200 to 2,000 per item. Almost all were from bogus "cover" organizations. In reality, the addresses were those of the persons mailing them. The volume nearly doubled in August, with mailings from Athens, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, New York, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and West Berlin.3

The first responses took several months to trickle back to the senders or, in some cases, the legitimate organizations that had allowed their names and addresses to be used. But, with one exception, they were disappointing. That exception was Poland. After four months of mailings, the third "Summary of Responses to Mailing Operations," dated 13 November 1956, reported no responses whatsoever from Bulgaria, a mere 13 from Czechoslovakia, 7 from Hungary, 1 from Romania, and 69 from Poland.

The Hungarian Revolution of October 1956, though a major setback for U.S. foreign policy, was disastrous for Free Europe, completely disrupting Free Europe Press operations. All balloon-leaflet flights were suspended -- forever, as it turned out -- and all mailings to Hungary were suspended for eight months. As it became clear that the balloons would never fly again, Free Europe Press's Munich office gradually became the headquarters for printing operations all over Western Europe.

Both the contents of the mailing campaign and the easily discernible bogus "cover" organizations soon alerted the Eastern European Communist authorities to the true origin of the mailings. Professor Seton-Watson's prediction that the Communist censors would defeat any mailing project began to look accurate. But, a surprising number of items did reach their targets, as the Hungarian newspaper Esti Hirlap (Evening Journal) indicated on 5 September 1957:

The Budapest telephone directory was the source of names and addresses of people who were accorded the great honor of receiving various products of the so-called Free Europe Committee. Week after week orange and blue colored envelopes came to Budapest, containing roughly translated, mimeographed newspaper articles and lectures mostly addressed to intellectuals.


But books--and there had been a few, such as George Orwell's 1984 and Albert Camus's The Rebel, particularly when mailed from the actual publisher--were a different matter. If they were not too political, they sometimes received acknowledgements and occasionally even a letter of thanks asking for more of the same.


An internal reorganization which took place at the Free Europe Press after the Hungarian Revolution was the decision to put the mailing project under one man. The person selected was not an American, but a Romanian exile, George Minden, who had entered the country in March 1955 only weeks before being appointed head of Free Europe Press’s Romanian section. Then in his early 30s, Minden’s handsome, longish Latin face featured dark, sad eyes every bit as arresting as those in a Byzantine mosaic.

He actually had left Romania with his wife and two children in 1946, a year after graduating in the top one percent of his class at the University of Bucharest’s School of Law. After two months in Paris, he moved his family to London, where the following year his Romanian law degree was validated. He used the intervening time to earn a Teaching Diploma from Cambridge University. But, the collapse of his marriage led him to seek work outside of England. He served as Director of the Cartagena School of Foreign Languages in Spain from the fall of 1948 to June 1950. In 1952 he was made director of two language schools in Madrid. Then, in 1954, he moved to Mexico City, where he became Director of Studies for the Central School in the Paseo de la Reforma district. By the time he entered the U.S. the following year, he spoke flawless British English, Parisian French and Castilian Spanish, and was also well-versed in the literature of these three cultures.

Minden needed time to get full control. For most of 1957 the selection of articles, pamphlets, and occasional books continued to follow the heavily political “plan” and the whims of the editors of the country departments. The monthly report for May 1957, for instance, lists ninety-nine items mailed in April, fifty-five of which are clearly political, and others, such as the magazines Preuves, Der Monat and the Economist, could certainly be considered political by Communist censors. But, in the following month, when a total of 105 different items were dispatched, only 44 could be considered blatantly political.


A new type of mailing introduced at this time consisted of a publisher’s catalogue and the offer, on the publisher’s stationary, of one or two books of the recipient’s choice to be sent him free of charge. The note usually suggested that the recipient might send some books in return to make it appear a legitimate exchange, when in fact, the Western publisher had no use for books published in East European languages. This greatly increased the number of responses, as well as varying the type of books now being mailed in, albeit the volume of these requested books was much smaller.

Gradually, more and more books, such as Maurois’s La France Change de Visage, and subscription offers to women’s magazines like Marie Claire (French) and Madame (German) crept into the program. Though they could not have been justified under the original “plan,” these diversions from the basic intent were nonetheless justified in the “Summary of Activities” with which Minden began each monthly report.

All policy direction came from the New York office. The Munich office of Free Europe Press, led by Howard S. Weaver, a somewhat older Yale friend of Sam Walker, had had the balloon-leaflet operation as its raison d’être. Nonetheless, it supplied many suggestions for the mailings, was instrumental in setting up the mailers around Western Europe, and recruited the agents who were to deal with publishers.

I had joined Free Europe Press as Editorial Advisor for the balloon-leaflet operations in April 1956 after two years in RFE’s Central Newsroom. In June 1957, for instance, I noted that the Munich FEP office had suggested 40 of the 114 items mailed out that month. The Munich office also handled mailing from all West German cities, including West Berlin, and dealt directly with West German printers and publishers.

Warner Wolfe, an American of German extraction on the FEP Munich staff, was chiefly responsible for setting up the mailing network. In early 1957, he was also responsible for finding two highly intelligent, motivated young women to handle relations with publishers in France and England. His choices were brilliant. Martine Servot was a well-off, socially prominent young Parisian who worked full-time at the Louvre. Her small, deep-set blue eyes, high cheekbones and blond, bobbed hair made her look more Dutch or Danish than French. She had a university degree in library work and publishing. The fact that her husband, Jean, was a rising civil servant who would eventually become Director General of the French National Association of Employers, and that her uncle, Francois-Poncet, had been the French High Commissioner for French-occupied Germany, gave her entrée where she needed it.

Daisy Veszy, a young upper class émigré from Hungary, whose Oxbridge English, together with her soon-to-be acquired name, Finney, disguised her foreign origin, was a person whom Free Europe had earlier tried to recruit. She had luxuriant dark hair surrounding a pale and pretty face, from which flowed a mellifluent contralto voice. She married Jarlath Finney, a young English barrister, very shortly after she was hired. In the all-male bastion of British publishing, she found her femininity raising eyebrows, but the fact that she was charming, attractive and had a law degree of her own, invariably broke the ice. When a special connection was needed, her father-in-law was usually able to provide it.

And this was important. Both young women insisted on starting at the top. Both were also careful to deal with only one, or at the most two people in any one publishing firm. When Martine Servot first approached top publishing executives they assumed she was a society lady seeking free books for some charity benefit. They were “astonished” when they found she wanted to buy their books, and in considerable quantities. Mrs., Finney went first to the head of the Oxford University Press. In a letter to FEP’s Warner Wolfe, dated 7 June 1957, she wrote:

I must say, it is a tremendous advantage to have Oxford University Press giving us a trade discount, because when dealing with any new publisher their name appears to be magic and they are immediately willing to give us a discount, e.g. Routledge.


As more publishers came aboard, and more catalogues were dispatched, an increasing number of responses was received, especially from Poland. By mid-summer 1957, the total had reached 1,489, with 1,377 of these from Poland. 4

Being so much closer to Eastern Europe than our colleagues in New York, we in Munich felt much more aware of the realities of life in the Communist sector. Western journalists almost always visited RFE immediately before taking up their assignments behind the Iron Curtain. And RFE was usually the first place they visited for debriefing when the reemerged. The FEP shared in the resulting reports, and we even commissioned some snooping of our own.

A report in my files from that time addressed to me came from Judith Friedberg (“J.F.”), a freelance journalist who, because she visited Poland frequently, did not care to have her name appear on Free Europe stationary. Dated 9 October 1957, this report must have been passed immediately to Sam Walker, who passed it on to Minden.

Friedberg had just spent four months in Poland. With her nearly colloquial Polish she had talked to everybody who was anybody in Polish literary circles. She wrote:

The situation today is far different from what it was when overt propaganda was required …What is required now is intelligent “ammunition handling,” and by that I mean regular transmission of basic tools to the Poles who will use them and see to it that they are used … “One O.E.D. [Oxford English Dictionary] is worth 10,000 pamphlets,” said a friend of mine recently. “You have no idea how a really good reference work can be to you,” …

Most Polish reviewers today write their reviews from the book section of the London Times or the New York Times – when they can get them …In the ultimate they dream of getting a few review copies.

Everywhere one goes in Poland one finds a tremendous hunger to catch up with the main literary and political trends abroad … People want to be filled in on the last two decades. Remember the Nazi occupation left plenty of holes which the Reds have not bothered to plug.

I have handed out dozens of copies of “The God that Failed” and “Darkness at Noon,” but the one that people most wanted was “The Portable Faulkner.”


After five pages of this, Judy suggested six ways we might “cushion” Polish intellectuals, “either for greater democracy … or for renewal of the Dark Ages,”:

Arrange for key Polish reviewers to get review copies of a dozen books monthly from the U.S. and the U.K.; provide a reading shelf of the latest books for the Polish Writers’ Union; forget the spatter technique of intermittent mailings to great numbers, it is ineffectual; instead provide a lifeline of periodicals; stop sending clippings and tearsheets which are not good in any language since they smack of organized activity; concentrate on intellectuals and professionals; send parcels the way CARE does, perhaps a “dictionary parcel” or a “war memoirs” parcel to be sent to libraries.


This scarcely fit the original FEP “plan.” That document had even gone so far as to say “the purpose of the mailings is never mere spite.” 5


Yet many of the earlier mailings were spiteful, designed to damage rather than enlighten.

I was delighted, therefore, when “mailing operations Monthly Report #14,” dated 25 October 1957, reached the Munich office in early November. By that date, the balloon-leaflet operations had been shut down for a year, all the U.S. personnel but me were back in the States, and I had become the Director of the Munich FEP office. The mailing project was an important part of our many operations. I did not know that Minden had written the report, but my faded copy is heavily underlined. Here is what it said:

Little by little we are finding out what our addressees are interested in, and we have come to the conclusion,… that the main thing we are up against is not Marxist obstacles, but a vacuum.

Our public doesn’t need to be told how to fight back the shaky arguments of their mentors. This could safely be left to their common sense, to the vivid leçons de chose provided by the daily contact with Communist practice, and the hatred accumulated throughout years of oppression. What is needed is something which could compensate for the sterility of satellite cultural life, for the artificial type of existence which in that part of the world has displaced real life … in short … something against frustration and stultification, against a life full of omissions.

The Free World has, as a whole … a style of life which does not stifle our spiritual and intellectual being. Due to our freedom to move from country to country, and from means of information to means of information, we are in a position to live our independent, self-made destinies. The ideas, forms of entertainment, works of art, fashions, sources of varied information, and our general welfare – all these things that will help us feel independent and fill our lives – have a real fascination for our targets. It is common knowledge that the Russians have completely failed in substituting anything for the banned Western sources of intellectual, spiritual or aesthetic life, not to mentions sources of information.

This constitutes our great challenge, and we must use it to beat back the Russian stultification offensive in East Europe. We can make a modest beginning – with tact and perseverance we might even do more than that – and others could continue our work on a larger scale and push this offensive of free, honest thinking and information further. After all, truth is contagious, and the Russian masters themselves could be made to feel its impact from our starting point in the satellites.


Little did Minden know that he would soon be approached by Radio Liberty’s jack-of-all-trades, Isaac Patch, who wanted to know how to set up a similar mailing project into the Soviet Union. Nor did Minden know that he would eventually inherit this new program upon their 1974 merger under his exclusive supervision.

Minden concluded his inspirational essay to has staff by recommending that

[W]e should concentrate on:

  1. Correct thinking, from intelligent speculation about the meaning of ultimate things to simple logic ...and down to factual information.

  2. Providing a minimum basis for spiritual understanding of Western values, which we hope to supply through psychology, literature, the theatre, and the visual arts.This will take the place of political and other directly antagonizing material (emphasis added).

  3. Sheer linguistic understanding, which we will try to achieve by increasing the proportion of French and German material and translations or anthologies in native languages, as well as sending the means to learn English.

  4. Putting at their disposal certain publications of current paramount interest, unavailable in their countries.

… Our aim: to give proofs of continual Western interest, … not arguments for fighting communism … but the feeling of communion in this world, integration into the spiritual life of our age, and the knowledge that they have not been abandoned.


Minden’s change of emphasis did not take long to bear fruit. During the month of November 1957 he had New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art dispatch 300 copies of a just published book, Three Hundred Years of American Painting, to art departments, museums, and individual artists in Eastern Europe. The author, Alexander Eliot, an associate editor of TIME magazine, brought the responses the museum was receiving to the attention of TIME’s publisher, James A. Linen. Linen was so impressed he thought it worth devoting his entire weekly “Letter from the Publisher” to this response. In the 24 March 1958 issue of TIME, he wrote:

The surging popularity of U.S. painting in the art centers of Western Europe apparently does not stop short at the Iron Curtain. Proof of this is arriving at Manhattan’s Whitney Museum of American Art in the form of scores of warm letters of appreciation from painters, sculptors, critics, curators and librarians – many of them speaking out to the West for the first time – from the muted lands of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania.

What triggered this spontaneous outpouring of sentiment was a single book: Three Hundred Years of American Painting … Hopeful of opening direct channels of communication with the art movements in the satellite countries, the Whitney Museum had sent some 300 copies of the book overseas addressed to museums and individual artists. From Warsaw and Cracow, Budapest and Szeged, Prague, Zatec, and Bucharest came streams of letters, catalogues, books and even original drawings and engravings from artists who wished to reciprocate the Whitney’s gesture.

The letters were scrupulously non-political. Nearly all had two points in common: 1) unstinting praise for the book, and 2) surprise that American painting was so good…

Even the weekly Literarni Noviny, published by the Union of Czechoslovak Writers, was moved to mix praise of the TIME volume with big-brotherly caution. It ran a reproduction of Richard Florsheim’s Night City from the book and commented:

“This is a step in the right direction. It is certainly better than mailing to our cultural workers various revisionist scribblings dealing with national communism and earmarked solely for export. While we reject such malicious tricks, it is with the greatest pleasure that we become acquainted, through Three Hundred Years of American Painting,, with the true national culture of the American people.”


The reaction at FEP and in the CIA was mixed: exultation at the success of this particular mailing, but also fear that such publicity might lead to exposure. Never again would any of the project’s postings receive publicity in the United States media. But Minden’s boss, Walker, and his boss, Emmons Brown in the CIA, were so won over by Minden’s change of direction that they decided to give him virtually free rein.

By 1969, Minden had completely forgotten the negative, regime-harassing origin of the mailing project, and was claiming that “the purpose of the operation was from the start and still is:

To help prevent … a communications breakdown like the one which happened in the 20s and 30s with Russia ...

To interpret the West to east Europeans

To fight boredom, irrationality, mediocrity and provincialism

To help create an open society

To show in a concrete manner the continued interest of the free world in the intellectual and spiritual life of east Europeans.6


Minden soon felt confident of the program’s efficacy and was able, in the years ahead, to beat back all bureaucratic attempts to curtail or eliminate it on grounds of its growing costs. These were not great in the early years, probably not exceeding $500,000 per annum. And when he was forced to justify the program he could always trundle out wagonloads of responses pouring in from Eastern Europe:

“What you do is a brilliant example of cultural politics. You help keep the principles of Western European culture in the minds of the people” – a young Czech writing from southern Bohemia. “Now more than ever your cultural exchanges mean more than personal gifts … your work allows us to hope that our country is not without the sympathy of the world.” – Frantisek Hanus writing from Prague. And “the books you send are of tremendous help.” – Z.K. Nowakowski writing from Poznan, Poland.7



Through a fortunate accident of timing, cost was not a factor when Minden first took change. Free Europe’s budget ran from July through June. The 1956-57 budget anticipated a full year of balloon-leaflet operations, by far the biggest item. (The original mailing project was probably not more than one hundredth of the total, or $50,000 out of a budget of approximately $5,000,000.) But the balloon-leaflet program was shut down in early November, with eight months remaining. With approval from Washington, much of the money went into beefing up the mailing project.

In Munich we were able to salvage some of the paper stock and convert printing contracts by printing East European language versions of Milovan Djilas’ The New Class as well as a number of books and pamphlets in West European languages. We were already printing a German version of our monthly magazine; we now added an Italian edition, L’Altra Europa (The Other Europe) and a French edition Temoignages (Witnesses), while carrying out many small printing operations in England, France, Belgium, Italy, and Sweden. New York ran the mailing project and the agents we had recruited; Munich cooperated and supplemented the program. And being closer to our target countries, we were able to take advantage of opportunities as they arose. The biggest of these, in 1957-58, was the new phenomenon of Polish travelers.

Poles in the Lead

Poland, which had undergone a huge transformation known as “the Polish October,” while the world’s attention was riveted on the Hungarian Revolution and is suppression, not only greatly loosened its censorship, it began to allow its citizens to travel to the West. The Munich office established a network of already existing Polish exile cultural institutions throughout Western Europe where books were passed to Polish travelers according to a single rule: to friends, to friends of friends, but never to friends of friends of friends, who might be agents of the regime’s secret police. Minden later emulated this program for the other Communist countries when their citizens began to travel to the West.

No wonder, with the altered situation in Poland, that the “sponsors,” now many of them legitimate publishers, received so many more responses from Poland in the first few yeas than they did from all the other countries combined. Still, wrote Minden in a later report. “all we had to show for our efforts was a disappointing 6,000 letters acknowledging receipt of as many books out of a total of roughly a quarter of a million sent in 1957 and 1958.”


The figure 6,000 may have been disappointing, but not the content of these letters. The monthly ”Response Reports” for those first two years bulge with heartening evidence of the program’s success. Here is a small sampling:

Bulgaria The Medical Emergency Institute in Sofia writes: “It was with great surprise that we received your precious Blakiston’s Medical Dictionary… so useful in our practical and scientific work…”
Czechoslovakia     A graphic artist, gratefully accepting a renewal of his subscription to the German magazine Graphis, writes “You cannot imagine what this means to me, and I hope that some day I will be able to pay you.”
Estonia A woman thanks the sender of the Estonian Book Catalogue for the offer of free books: “It is a great joy to all of us!” She requests 21 books for herself and 20 more for friends and colleagues.
Hungary The Director of the State Building and Planning Office writes to thank the German publisher of Europaische Architektur to express “great thanks.” “The book is a masterpiece of content, print and reproduction …”
Latvia An official of the Board of Fine Arts of the Council of Ministers writes to the publisher in German to thank him for Malerei im 20, Jahrhundert, adding that already “the teaching staff and the students of the Academy have read it with great interest.”
Poland The Department of Romance Languages of the University of Lodz is ecstatic to suddenly receive a subscription to Presences Contemporaines, since “after a five year interval, the Department is renewing its activities and welcomes with joy each contact with French literature...”

By 1961 the annual number of responses – now often full letters – had risen to 20,218, and in 1962 to 40,063.8 In later years, after the East European and Soviet programs had become merged under Minden, this figure rose to nearly 100,000 letters per year, or close to one-third of the number of books and periodicals sent annually.

With the high volume of requests for books contained in these responses, “We stopped thinking in terms of mailing lists and sending books to people who were mere names and professions,” wrote Minden in one of his last reports to Free Europe in July 1969:

Our targets became correspondents known to us from their letters or even from discussions with our field representatives. We opened a file for each target, with his letters and requests, the titles of books already received, relevant information on his languages and interests, clippings from local publications on his work and activities, notes on the impressions made on people met while traveling abroad … To take care of the visitors, a new person-to-person distribution system parallel to the mailing operation was organized in Europe and this country …Thus two modest pilot projects -– the sending of requested books and the person-to-person distribution – became, little by little, serious rivals to the mother project. Currently the approximately 330,000 books distributed by our division (i.e. FEP) yearly are about evenly divided among the three programs.



“The number of publishers, institutions, and individuals associated with us in the sending of books,” wrote Minden, “was growing –- there were over 300 in Europe and some 200 in this country by the end of 1962 …”

The domestic “sponsors” included: The American Council of Learned Societies, the AFL-CIO, Architectural Forum, Barnes and Noble, Brookings Institution, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Daedalus, Doubleday, Ebony magazine, Encyclopedia Britannica, Farmer’s Digest, Funk and Wagnalls, Grove Press, Harper and Row, Harvard University Press, to cite just a few. British sponsors included Allen and Unwin, Cassel and Co., Chatto and Windus, Clarendon Press, Faber and Faber, Gollancz, and Macmillan and Co., and on the continent from German-speaking countries: Athenaeum Verlag, C. Bertelsmann, Braumueller (Vienna), Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Auswaertige Politik, and Fischer Verlag. From French-speaking areas, sponsors included Architecture Française, Centre de Documentation Universitaires, Figaro, Hachette, and Mercure de France.9

Possibly a thousand people in these publishing houses have known about the program for years (they were, after all, participants), and possibly hundreds of thousands in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union remember it because they were the happy and willing recipients of these free books and magazines.

During the 37 years of the project, and even today, intellectuals throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are convinced that Western publishers are the most magnanimous and enlightened institutions. Some are even convinced that these publishers must have banded together and pooled some of their profits to fund this one-way flow of books. For years, Western publishers have basked in the glow of that supposed altruism. The truth, of course, was quite different. Yet these publishing firms did absorb certain costs of the program – particularly in selling their books at a very large discount. In most cases, they also handled packing, labeling and mailing, as well as forwarding the resulting mail to Minden and company, and sending out all approved requests. Quite apart from the increased profit these steady sales provided, these publishers had a vested interest in reaching this carefully target audience – to recapture pre-war markets, and to insure markets for the day when the Iron Curtain would fall.

The average cost per distributed book in 1969 was an astoundingly low $3.87. Twenty-two years later this cost had risen to $8.60, but the expense was justified by the fact that each book and periodical had more than one reader.10


Of course, attempts were made to economize. The 1979 removal of Minden and his staff from Free Europe to another CIA front organization, the International Advisory Council, undoubtedly led to certain savings. But the real reason the CIA transferred the program was to reduce its visibility to the Communists. Certainly its funding, which now came through Liberia, became less visible, And yet the program was already well-hidden, even within the Free Europe organization. Few outside of FEP were aware of it. Almost from the beginning, the CIA urged FEP to mask its role by funneling all business through the International Advisory Council, a dummy organization established earlier, which now needed a new task. The IAC, with offices at 45 East 65th St, Manhattan, was run by an old Office of Strategic Services (OSS) hand, Ethel Schroeder. Many of the U.S, publishers and sponsors must have known that the funds came from either Free Europe or some government agency. But the fact that all purchase orders, billings and correspondence was with Schroeder, allowed the publishers to maintain that they were unaware of Free Europe’s involvement. The same was true of Radio Liberty’s program, run by Bedford Publications, Inc., an equally bogus company.

The Continental Ladies

The record shows, however that this buffer arrangement did not pertain to Europe, where the Munich office was dealing openly with Continental publishers. Aside from the few people in each European publishing firm who were aware that Free Europe was the source of the funding, though, no one else knew. Mme. Servot and Mrs. Finney never revealed for whom they worked. When Servot’s socialite friends said “You are always so busy, Martine, what are you doing?”, she told them that she worked for an American philanthropic organization that sent books to needy people, but she never mentioned the organization’s name nor the books’ destination, and no further questions were asked.

Martine Servot was indeed very busy. Working full-time in the Louvre, she had to visit publishers during her lunch hour. Until French publishers were shamed into themselves addressing the mailing labels, she had to stay up late each night doing so. Mme. Servot admitted to me in November 2001, “I was very pleased … and very sad when it stopped. I would have done it without pay, you see.” Sending books “was so intelligent, so much better than sending money.” And Mrs. Finney said that the whole business was so satisfying that she loved all eighteen years of it. “And most publishers,” she added, “were quite sympathetic to the program, particularly when they saw with what rapture their publications were received.” Both women admitted they could have used a full-time secretary. Frau Erna Dobler, the FEP agent for Germany, had the advantage of working in our Munich office until 1959; then, when the office closed, she simply moved her filing cabinets to her apartment and carried on.

“I don’t know what the Americans were paying my mother,” e-mailed Daisy Finney’s daughter, Patricia, in mid-2002. “But I do know they got full value for [their] money … She would work throughout the mornings when we were in school, have a rest after lunch, collect offspring [there were four] , feed offspring, bathe and put offspring to bed, and then do some more in the evening, often until late, especially if she was struggling with invoices … As my father used to say, if she’d been in an office she would have had a secretary and quite possibly an assistant to do all she did.”


While the program on both sides of the Atlantic continued to get “good value” for its money, the CIA still was not satisfied. In 1974, it proposed the merger of the two organizations ICA and Bedford Publications, Ltd, into a new organization, the International Literary Centre, with George Minden as its president and operating with a reduced staff. This new organization set up its office at 475 Park Avenue South. It soon notified its agents – Finney, Servot and Dobler – that their services were no longer needed. No reasons were given, and Finney was convinced that the program had simply ended. In fact, the program had been going so smoothly that the Agency now considered these European agents an unneeded expense. Everything could be run from New York.

Once again, that was only half the story. By terminating these agents without explanation, the CIA had given the impression to those few individuals in the exile world who had by this time come to know about them, that the program was indeed closing up shop – the exact impression the Agency had hoped to achieve.

Minden traveled to Europe twice each year to visit his agents and his ever-increasing number of person-to-person outlets, located in London, Paris, Vienna, Munich, Karlsruhe. Copenhagen, Geneva and Rome. Most of the cultural centers and bookstores existed on their own resources. The only money they made from the program was by sharing one-half of the discount allowed by each publisher: a pittance for the CIA to pay.

Minden’s grand tours ultimately caught the attention of the Czech military’s secret police and they, in turn, wrote in their journal about a mysterious, immaculately dressed “man in a gray suit” who kept turning up at Czechoslovak exile centers. But they never mentioned his name and never gave any indication that they knew what he was up to.

The program would continue under Minden for another nineteen years. By 1991, his annual expenditures for books and handling reached $1,850,900.11 Most important, by then the total number of Western books and magazines which had been infiltrated into the Communist half of Europe had reached the ten million mark.


At 83, George Minden is alive and in good health. His slim, erect figure in well-fitting clothes conveys more the air of a diplomat than an intellectual. Since this is his story, he should be the one telling it. But, for all his years as a U.S. citizen, George Minden remains at heart a sophisticated, well-educated European and a man of honor. Early on he must have signed a confidentiality agreement with the Central Intelligence Agency never to divulge what he had been up to. Even though the Cold War is now history, he feels duty-bound to keep his word.

As an early participant in the program, I, who deliberately kept many reports and my Munich files from the shredder 40 years ago – sensing they would some day have historical significance – made no such commitment. I recently came across a number of internal memos and reports written by Minden. I also rediscovered my own files, and thought: it’s time the story was told. Additional encouragement came in May 2001 when I dined with an unwell and recently widowed Daisy Finney in London. Would she cooperate in telling me details of her involvement if I were to write about the project for public consumption? “Of course,” she replied with enthusiasm, “That’s about the best thing you Americans ever did. It’s time you got credit for it!”

When the program came to an end in 1993, Minden was ordered to send all the files to Washington. These must have been extensive, for nothing had been discarded since the program’s inception at Free Europe.

Reporting from the field was detailed and precise. “All books distributed in New York to visitors, “ wrote Minden in his final report, “are reported daily in writing with the names and addresses of people who get them. The distribution of our agents abroad is reported each month … The corporate distributors report their distribution and the names of targets on their invoices … We have on file the titles of all the books distributed and the names of practically all the people who have taken them.”

That is a lot of precise information. But, in addition to all of these reports, there are approximately 100,000 files on former Soviet and East European individuals, containing their letters, articles and pertinent information on them. These constitute the real, living residue of the program. Many of these East European and ex-Soviet citizens are still alive. How much more rewarding it would be for them to see these files than the files the secret police in their respective lands kept on them.

And what a gold mine for scholars! The first two years of mailings to Poland, for instance, contain so many medical books and English language dictionaries that this cannot have failed to influence medical practice and the teaching of English in Poland. It is time for those who are alive to speak for themselves. Most are intellectuals and leaders in their fields; they must have many fascinating stories to tell.

All these files, still marked “classified,” must still be somewhere in Washington or in some country warehouse. What would have been the point in shredding them? And what is to be gained by keeping them under wraps? Scholars from both sides of the former divide deserve to see them.

But on a larger scale, this massive “Marshall plan” for the mind must have had a significant influence on professional people in the Soviet orbit as they waited out those nearly four decades of the Cold War.

At the start of 1989, no one in the West imagined that the Iron Curtain would fall by the end of the year, or that the Soviet Union would disappear two years later. Still more miraculous, it all happened with so little bloodshed. Though taking long years of erosion, the chasm between East and West had finally disappeared. All that was left at the end of the Soviet empire was its outer shell. Reality, filtering through that Iron Curtain in a hundred ways, replaced the unnatural and ultimately irrational Communist system. Intellectuals in the East understood intellectuals in the West because they had been reading the same books. Surely Minden and his CIA-funded mailing project played no small role in bringing this about. How large a part, only historians will be able to tell.

And in an age of “war on terror” and a seeming clash of cultures, it is comforting to look back and consider that precedents for the solution of our problems do exist, that what seem like intractable problems do get solved, and implacable foes can be turned into people who understand and respect one another when communication is genuine, avoids propaganda and is conducted on a truly cultural level.



1 Works on the Congress for Cultural Freedom include Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe (New York: The Free Press, 1989) and Volker R. Berghan, America and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe: Shepard Stone Between Philanthropy, Academy, and Diplomacy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001). A largely negative assessment is Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (New York: The New Press, 1999). On Radio Free Europe, see George R. Urban, Radio Free Europe and the Pursuit of Democracy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, l997), and Gene Sosin, Sparks of Liberty: An Insider's Memoir of Radio Liberty (University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999). For specific information on the Free Europe Committee, see Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000). Saunders also briefly deals with the FEC.

2 Free Europe Press plans & Analysis Department's "Confidential Mailing Plan," 6 September l956, p. 5, under "Function of Mailings."

3 Free Europe Press Confidential Report of 20 September 1956, "Mailing Project Activities," Monthly Report No. 2, August 1956.

4 Free Europe Press, "Strictly Confidential," Summary of Responses to Mailing Operations, Report No. 10, 1 September to 30 September 1957.

5 Free Europe Press Plans & Analysis Department "Confidential Mailing Plan," 6 September 1956, last sentence on p. 4.

6 "The Book Project, A Presentation," prepared by George C. Minden, Director, Publications and Special Projects Division, Free Europe, Inc., l8 July 1969, p. l.

7 Ibid., pp. 6--9.

8 Ibid., p. 2.

9 "Domestic Sponsors" and "Sponsors in Europe" lists typed in 1 March 1968 for internal use.

10 "The Book Project, A Presentation," p. 5.

11 Memorandum by George Minden, 30 January l991, "ILC: A Short Description of Its Structure and Activities," p. 2.