A Look Back …
The National Committee for Free Europe, 1949
On June 1, 1949, a group of prominent American businessmen, lawyers, and philanthropists – including Allen Dulles, who would become Director of Central Intelligence in 1953 – launched the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE) at a press release in New York. 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.
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, raising private funds through Crusade for Freedom to supplement CIA funding and organizing exile 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, and Radio Liberty, which began broadcasts to the Soviet Union in 1953) rallied anti-Communist intellectuals, politicians, and activists to fight the Soviets in a contest for the peoples' "minds and loyalties."
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 to Eastern Europe in six 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. After that date, Radio Free Europe was publicly funded by Congressional appropriation through the presidentially appointed Board for International Broadcasting. RFE merged with Radio Liberty (RL) in 1976 in a new non-profit corporation, RFE/RL, INc. Oversight was assumed in 1995 by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, responsible for all non-military U.S. international broadcasting.
RFE/RL broadcasts today to 21 countries in 28 languages, including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia.