Part Two: "Radio Liberation from Bolshevism"
On top of parachuting armed guerrillas into the Soviet Union, the agency's big idea was put some immigrants to use and rile up the commies with a bit of forbidden information.
This is the first installment of a short historical investigative series about the origins of America’s propaganda machine — told through the story of one Soviet emigre who worked in it. Read parts one and three.
River House, on the East River.
In January 1951, a meeting took place at the River House, an upscale private club on the East Side of Manhattan — notable for allowing its members to park their yachts out front while they dined and socialized with friends.
In attendance were a couple of CIA agents and several respectable gentlemen from the world of academia and journalism with a rep for hardcore anticommunism. Allen Grover, the vice president of Time Inc, was there. As was Eugene Lyons, a Jewish Belarus-born American journalist who had interviewed Joseph Stalin and pumped out pro-Soviet puff pieces as a reporter for TASS — only to do a hard 180 turn into paranoid red bashing as editor of outfits like Reader’s Digest and The American Mercury.
The guy who called the meeting was Frank Wisner, the potato head founding spook of the Central Intelligence Agency.
At the time Frank was in charge of running the Office of Policy Coordination, the agency’s blandly named covert operations division that was spending $100 million a year running anti-communist guerrilla and soft power ops across much of Europe — Western Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Latvia. That’s a billion in today’s dollars.
The purpose of Frank’s New York meeting was connected to that.
The CIA was in the process of setting up a fictitious non-profit in Delaware as a front for a new covert psychological warfare project. The outfit would be called “the American Committee for the Liberation of the People’s of the Russia Inc.” and would be used to funnel government money to a new “private” radio station in Germany.
What Frank needed from the men assembled in that clubroom were their names and signatures to put down on the fictitious incorporation documents.
From the meeting notes.
The plan for this radio station had been in the works for a couple of years. And the main man behind the plan was George Kennan, the morose brain bug of America’s anti-communist black ops.
George believed that it was a bad idea to launch a full-on attack against the Soviet Union — as was all the rage in London and Washington DC right after World War II. To him, it meant going to war against the Soviet people — which would require massive military commitment and then a full-scale grinding occupation, even in the event of victory. “In Russia it is certain that we cannot undertake a war of destruction or annihilation,” he wrote in 1946.
George thought that America could and should defeat the Soviet Union. But it needed to be smart and sneaky about it. “Against Russia we must wage a political war, a war of attrition for limited objectives. Our people are unused to this, and do not understand it.” So he pushed for a kind of pressure cooker approach to the war: First you isolate the country from the outside. Then you turn up the heat inside. Eventually the Soviet Union will pop from the pressure: No nukes or big bombs. No armies. No occupation. No resentful Soviet citizens waging an insurgency.
Not everyone agreed with this approach. But in the end, he would be proven right. The plan would work — a half century later.
In 1948, George Kennan helped craft the infamous National Security Council Directive 10/2, which officially authorized the CIA — with consultation and oversight from the State Department — to engage in “covert operations” in the fight against the communist menace. The directive gave the CIA carte blanche to do whatever was required: everything from economic warfare to assassinations, sabotage, propaganda, subversion, and support for armed guerrillas.
Aside from backing all sorts of “wet” covert actions — like parachuting guerrillas into Soviet territories or providing arms to insurgency group — George’s big idea was to up rile up the commies with some forbidden information: use the radio to wage a war on their minds.
In those first years after World War II, Western Europe was an anticommunist mosh pit filled with hundreds of thousands of miserable refugees. They came from all the various territories encompassed by the Soviet Union and represented all sorts of cultures, ethnicities, languages, and religions — from Ukraine, Latvia, Russia, Estonia, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan…and beyond.
How did they end up in Europe after the war?
Well, some had been taken back to Germany as slave laborers, others were Red Army soldiers who had been captured in battle and had miraculously survived Nazi POW extermination camps. Many had retreated with Germans in the face of the Red Army’s advance because they had actively collaborated with Nazis. They had volunteered for work in the death camps, administered the occupied territories, or served in the SS and other “ethnic” military formations — including those for Russians, Ukrainians, Kalmyks, Cossacks, Tatars, and Latvians.
Lots of them were very ideological. They were committed fascists with their own fascist movements back home and plenty of execution and mass grave-filling experience.
What kind of groups?
One of the better organized militant formations came out of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists — which had played a central role in the genocide of over a million Ukrainian Jews during World War II.
Members of this group and its various paramilitary offshoots were notorious for their savagery. Their goal was to create a racially pure, fascist state that was free from Poles, Jews, and Russians. To achieve their aims, their leaders pledged allegiance to Adolf Hitler and received training from Nazi Germany. Many of their members had volunteered for the Ukrainian Waffen-SS division, joined Nazi auxiliary police battalions, and helped the Nazis administer occupied Ukraine. Aside from killing Jews, they organized the slaughter entire Polish villages. Survivors of their atrocities told gut-wrenching tales. They cut babies from wombs, smashed children against walls in front of their mothers, hacked people to death with scythes, flayed their victims, and burned entire villages alive.
Fearing reprisals back at home, they refused and resisted repatriation to the Soviet Union and instead lived in UN-run displaced persons camps, scratching out a living anyway they could.
No matter how they got there — most were bitter, desperate, constantly looking for work, and had no love for commies or the Soviet Union.
George Kennan, job creator.
That’s were George Kennan’s CIA radio station came into the picture.
The plan was to put all these various anti-communist emigres and immigrants to work fomenting unrest and revolution inside the Soviet Union. As a secret State Department report described the mission, the point of was to “utilize the forces of the Soviet emigration against the Soviet regime.” Or to put it in even simpler terms: George, Frank, and the CIA wanted to weaponize the immigrants.
Of course, the CIA didn’t go about broadcasting this to the American people. This being a covert project, the agency’s role was supposed to be a closely guarded secret. That’s what Frank was doing at River House club that night in Manhattan. He was recruiting a few good men for a plausible cover story.
As far as the public was concerned, these private men would be the driving force behind the new radio station. Privately, they’d be nothing more than names on a page.
Everyone in attendance nodded in agreement. They were willing to play along.
They signed their names to the incorporation papers and, after enjoying a few drinks, left the club and went their own ways.
Continued here: “Part Three: The schizoid world of a Soviet anti-communist propagandist.”
Read the first installment and subscribe to get access to member-only notes and letters.