Old spy scandals still haunting US broadcasters?

world | Jun 23, 2007 | By Ted Lipien

Communist spy services efforts to recruit journalists in Poland and abroad had been so vigorous and massive that a number of secret police and intelligence informants, both active and inactive, ended up working as journalists for U.S. government funded radio stations which were broadcasting across the Iron Curtain.

From the early 1950s until the middle of the 1980s, the Voice of America (VOA), based in Washington, D.C, and Radio Free Europe (RFE), which during the Cold War was based in Munich, Germany and is now in the Czech Republic, hired a number of asylum seeking Polish journalists who had previously agreed to spy for the communist regime in Warsaw. While most of these journalists were most likely victims of intimidation, ceased to be agents once they fled to the West and, with perhaps one exception at Radio Free Europe, did not have control over program content at VOA and RFE, their secret past raises concern about their ability to be fully independent as journalists. This episode also shows how successfully the communist regimes in East Central Europe penetrated and subverted the journalistic community.

Andrzej Czechowicz is perhaps the most well known communist-era Polish spy who was still an active agent while working at RFE in the late 1960s. Technically, he was not a journalist. As a historian by training, he worked in the RFE’s media analysis service in Munich. After more than five years, Czechowicz returned to Poland in 1971 and participated in propaganda programs aimed at embarrassing Radio Free Europe and the United States government.

Several other journalists hired by VOA and RFE had also worked as informants for the communist regime at some point of their university studies or during their journalistic careers, but it is unclear how many of them did it willingly and whether any of them were still active agents while employed by U.S. government funded news organizations. This can only be determined by a painstaking examination of their communist-era files, although some of the material in them may be missing, incomplete or containing exaggerated claims made by overambitious police and intelligence officers. The extent of their cooperation is open to wide interpretations and the full truth may never be known.

Until recently, almost all of the former agents and informants kept this aspect of their past life secret from other journalists who were working with them in Washington, D.C. and in Munich. Their possible links with the communist secret police and intelligence services came to light only after the publication in Poland in 2005 of the so-called “Wildstein's List” and other information leaked to the Polish media from the communist-era files.

During the 1980s, I was in charge of VOA Polish broadcasts to Poland. At the time, I hired more than a dozen journalists, most of whom had been asylum seekers in the United States. VOA Polish service urgently needed new broadcasters to produce additional radio programs which we launched in response to the imposition of martial law in Poland by General Jaruzelski’s regime. We knew that some of these journalists had worked before for the communist media. None of them was seen, however, as being among the regime's active political supporters. (We rejected a few with such a background as well as at least one other person whom we knew to be a former Polish intelligence officer.) Those whom we hired all claimed to be opposed to the communist dictatorship, and no one suspected them of spying.

During that period, both VOA and RFE had a routine security clearance process for new hires. It is possible that some of these candidates for employment had revealed to the FBI their past collaboration with the communist security services, but such information would not have been shared with mid-level managers at VOA. A high-level VOA official at the time also told me that U.S. govern



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