By the end of World War II, most of Europe was devastated, along with its economy. The United States of America and Canada were the only major Allied countries whose infrastructures were unscathed. With the Truman administration's announcement of the Marshall Plan in June 1947, and the signing of the European Recovery Act on April 3, 1948, America stepped in to help Europe regain its footing.
Most European countries eagerly participate. However, the Marshall Plan intensified Moscow's efforts to influence public opinion in Western Europe and subvert the program. The National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency took up the challenge for the hearts and minds of Europeans and launched operations to counter Soviet propaganda.
Marshall and His Plan
Although the United States provided nearly $11 billion in aid to several European countries between 1945 and 1947 through the United Nations Relief and Recovery Administration, funds were haphazardly distributed and failed to deal with European-wide economic needs. On June 5, 1947, at a Harvard commencement, Secretary of State George C. Marshall set forth the basic principles of American policy in rebuilding Europe.
"It is logical," stated Marshall, "that the United States do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy," continued Marshall, "is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos."
Marshall suggested that European countries in need of aid should join in drawing up a program for presentation to the United States. Great Britain and France invited twenty-two countries to participate in a conference to draft a blueprint for European reconstruction. Sixteen nations responded, forming a Committee for European Economic Cooperation. A report outlining general aid for the next four years was submitted to the United States on September 23, 1947 and reached Congress on December 19 as the European Recovery Act (ERA).
The Cold War and Creation of the CIA
The Soviet Union took an increasingly hostile view of the Marshall Plan, refused East Bloc participation, and called it an "imperialist ploy" for the enslavement of Europe. In September 1947, the Soviets founded the Communist Information Bureau (COMINFORM), which ordered party members to mobilize against the Marshall Plan. French and Italian Communists, in particular, responded by staging strikes and intensive propaganda campaigns.
Washington's increasing concern over Soviet behavior was one of several factors that lead to passage of the National Security Act of 1947, creating the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in September. One of the NSC’s first acts was to grant CIA authority to conduct covert action and to assign the Agency the task of countering Soviet activities, especially those hindering Marshall Plan programs.
CIA’s European Mission
By September 1948, as aid began arriving in Europe, CIA's Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) under Frank G. Wisner began funding anti-Communist labor, student, and intellectual organizations through a variety of front groups. Émigrés from Eastern Europe joined the national committee for Free Europe, an organization created by OPC to oppose Soviet occupation and propaganda in the East Bloc countries. Radio Free Europe—a source of news and information from the outside world broadcast into Eastern Europe—served as part of this initiative.
In addition to the growing operations of Radio Free Europe, CIA efforts through OPC included funding groups such as the Americans for Intellectual Freedom and the Congress for Cultural Freedom, both composed of authors, intellectuals, and, eventually, labor leaders. The Agency gave financial support to the National Student Association and other youth groups to counter Soviet-sponsored organizations, while later branching out beyond funding existing groups and publications to establishing its own, complete with regular journals, conferences, and generous aid grants.
CIA's efforts had helped the Marshall Plan succeed, countering Soviet propaganda, and funding Western European organizations in their bids to organize anti-Soviet activities. The European Recovery Act, inaugurated in mid-1948, achieved its objectives at far less cost and in far less time than ever anticipated. When the program ended in 1952, production in ERA was 200 percent over that of 1938. Strong and free, western Europe became a dedicated partner of the United States during the Cold War.
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