Notes on Radio Liberty
Radio Free Europe /Radio Liberty is still in existence today, broadcasting news and analysis of world events.
  • From the Mission statement:  "The mission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is to promote democratic values and institutions by disseminating factual information and ideas."
  • Technically a private enterprise but funded by the US government:  "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a private, international communications service to Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, funded by the United States Congress."
  • The brief statement about the history of RFE and RL does note the key role of the CIA in these radio broadcasts until the 1970s.

So, Radio Free Europe essentially came into existence in 1949 to broadcast news and information from Munich to countries behind the Iron Curtain.  The idea was to employ emigrés and displaced persons from Eastern Europe to man the broadcasts.  The in 1953 it was decided to set up a different radio station to broadcast to the Soviet Union.  This became Radio Liberty.

Both stations, although technically public, were, in reality, funded and controlled by the CIA which managed the news and information.  This was part of the CIA's psychological war campaign directed at the Soviet bloc.  One of the more controversial aspects of the work of RFE/RL was using balloons to drop political leaflets in Eastern Europe, especially Czechoslovakia and Hungary.  See, Richard H. Cummings, "Balloons Over East Europe:  The Cold War Leaflet Campaign of Radio Free Europe".

RFE played a controversial role in the events of 1956 in Poland and Hungary.  See Cissie Dore Hill, "Voices of Hope:  The Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty" (a publication of the Hoover Institution Archives).

"throughout the disorder, the head of RFE’s Polish desk, Jan Nowak, urged restraint and prudence, keeping the broadcasts in line with RFE’s policy of liberalization over liberation. The Hungarian desk, however, had no Jan Nowak to urge restraint. Bill Griffith, chief policy adviser in Munich, cautioned émigré broadcasters against overpraising reform leaders lest RFE provide ammunition to hard-liners preparing to counterattack. This was followed by a memo counteracting the former policy, demanding an all-out propaganda offensive from newly appointed RFE director W. J. Convery Egan in New York.
The ensuing Hungarian Revolution resulted in some 10,000–20,000 deaths. In some quarters, RFE’s Hungarian broadcasting was held responsible for encouraging Hungarian resistance, and investigations were initiated by the United Nations, the West German government, a U.S. congressional subcommittee, and the Council of Europe. Although RFE was cleared of provoking the uprising, it was criticized for giving the impression that Western aid was forthcoming. In addition, the West German report also mentioned RFE’s tone, irresponsible statements, gratuitous advice, and errors in political judgment."

It should not be surprising that the communist bloc did everything possible to try and silence the stations.  There were repeated efforts to jam the radio broadcasts; there were assassinations of some of the RFE experts; there was an attempt at poisoning everyone who worked at RFE; and then there was the explosion, set by the East Germans, that blew up part of the radio station HQ in 1981.

It is interesting that even in 2006, the Russian government is uncomfortable with the news service provided by Radio Liberty and has taken measures to shut the service down in Russia.  See Russia Curtails Radio Free Europe from the Washington Post, 7 July 2006.

Other useful websites include:

Radio Liberty:  50 Years (Hoover Institution archival exhibit with a timeline, directory of key people, organizational structure, etc.)

This page is copyright © 2006, C.T. Evans
For information contact