Poland’s War on Radio Free Europe, 1950-1989

Title:                      Poland’s War on Radio Free Europe, 1950-1989

Author:                 Paweł Machcewicz

Machcewicz, Paweł (2014). Poland’s War on Radio Free Europe, 1950-1989. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

LCCN:    2014037399

HE8697.85.P7 M3313 2014


Date Posted:      December 19, 2016

Book reviewed (H-Net) http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=43341

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[2]

In his 2010 book, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: The CIA Years and Beyond[3] author A. Ross Johnson discussed the CIA-sponsored radio broadcasts to listeners behind the Iron Curtain and the reactions of various communist regimes. At one point he mentions that the Polish Interior Ministry files were being examined by Pawel Machcewicz, a history professor at the Institute for National Remembrance, the custodian of the vast records of Poland’s communist past. Poland’s War on Radio Free Europe is the result of that research.

Professor Machcewicz tells his story chronologically, beginning with the start of the Radio Free Europe (RFE) Polish service in May 1952. There are four predominant themes. The first concerns RFE operations—financial, transmitter power, program content, etc.—and the links maintained with Polish dissidents and other listeners. The second focuses on attempts by the Polish security services to disrupt programing by jamming and other means, the extensive efforts to deal with those caught listening, to monitor the broadcasts for their superiors, and to estimate the total number of listeners. The latter numbers were obtained by anonymous audience surveys—data acquisition details are skimpy—and show listenership ranged from 12-60 percent, depending on extant political tensions. (pp. 4-5)

The operations planned and mounted against RFE outside Poland is the third theme. Besides propaganda portraying RFE as a tool of the CIA, there were penetrations of RFE broadcasting staff (p. 124), the spreading of false accusations about RFE leaders—the Jan Nowak case is a good example p. 205)—and the creation of problems among RFE, Germany (the location of its headquarters), and the United States‘ (the source of its support). (pp. 195ff) The fourth theme, though somewhat understated, is the influence of the Soviet Union on Polish affairs, RFE included. The notion of “Poland’s War” on RFE in the title is somewhat misleading, since the efforts of the secret police to counter “foreign political and ideological sabotage” (p. 115) were closely linked to the KGB.

The impact of RFE on Polish listeners during the Cold War can’t be quantified, but much anecdotal evidence is provided, including the persistent efforts to silence it. Markus Wolf later observed that, “of all the various means used to influence people against the East during the Cold War, I would count [RFEJ as the most effective.”[4]

Extensively documented, Poland’s War on Radio Free Europe conveys the importance of the broadcasts to Polish listeners, the risks they took to defy their government, and the punishment they endured when caught. It is a strong argument against absolute government control of information.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, pp. 123-124). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[3] Johnson A. Ross (2010). Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: The CIA Years and Beyond. Stanford University Press. [LCCN: 2010031873]

[4] Wolf, M., & McElvoy, A. (1997). Man Without A Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster. New York: Times Books

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