January 30, 2015

In Memory of a Man they Just Couldn’t Gag: Vladimir-Georg Karassev-Orgusaar (1931-2015), RIP

Below is a tribute written by Jüri Estam in Tallinn, Estonia, to Vladimir-Georg Karassev-Orgusaar, who died this week in Paris.

In Memory of a Man they Just Couldn’t Gag: Vladimir-Georg Karassev-Orgusaar (1931-2015), RIP

Vladimir-Georg Karassev-Orgusaar – a talented stringer for RFE-RL in Paris from 1981 to 2000 – passed away on January 27, 2015, in the French capital. 

After his birth on December 14, 1931, in independent Estonia, he was taken to Russia by his mother. As a result he was fluent in both Russian and Estonian.
Karassev-Orgusaar studied history and literature at Tomsk University, and filmmaking at the famed Moscow All-Union State Institute of Cinematography, under the tutelage of Sergei Gerasimov.

He returned to Estonia in the 1960s and made a number of documentary films about Estonian revolutionaries and various turning points in Estonian history.

Karassev-Orgusaar soon ran into trouble with the authorities, because his scripts tended to stray from the official “party line”. His 1968 documentary “Solstice" ("Pööripäev”) included scenes of Soviet tanks and armed Soviet soldiers on the streets of the Estonian capital in 1940, implying fairly clearly that Estonia’s incorporation into the USSR hadn’t been voluntary. His feature film "The Outlaws" ("Lindpriid”) was banned by the Soviet authorities, before it could be shown to the public.

While at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976, Karassev-Orgusaar requested political asylum. He then worked as a freelancer for both the Russian and Estonian services of RFE-RL.

Because of his training as an actor, and thanks to the timbre of his voice, his gift for diction and his erudition, the man was a natural for radio work. He was one of the top assets the Estonian Service of RFE-RL had at its disposal, and did superb work that Estonian audiences continue to praise to this day.

He was presented with the Order of the White Star, 4th Class on behalf of the Republic of Estonia at the Embassy in Paris in 2011 in recognition of his contributions to the restoration of Estonian national independence.

Karassev-Orgusaar endured the cruel cuts of fate for many years as an exile and an outcast, and still hasn’t fully gained the attention or gotten the credit he may otherwise well have earned.

We pause to remember a man who never ceased applying his considerable cinematographic talents to the perpetual tug of war between justice and injustice, more through the airwaves then than at the movies.

A collection may possibly be arranged in order to find a final resting place for Karassev-Orgusaar at the Père-Lachaise cemetery.

Jüri Estam has been employed as a journalist and communicator in many capacities. Born into an Estonian refugee family in the West, he worked as a broadcaster at Radio Free Europe from 1979 until 1989 and was a correspondent in Northern Europe in English and Estonian for the next two years. He moved to Estonia during the week that national independence was reclaimed in August of 1991, and did a stint with ERR at Estonian Television in the 90s as a current affairs program host and documentary filmmaker. Today he’s engaged in various communications activities as a consultant.

January 23, 2015

"Cold War Broadcasting" e-Dossier

For anyone interested in how the governments of Central/East Europe and Soviet Union viewed, acted, and reported about Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, this "e-dossier" is a treasure trove of information:


This e-Dossier contains translations of documents from Central/East European and Soviet archives concerning Western broadcasting during the Cold War. The documents show that the Communist regimes perceived "enemy" broadcasts as a serious threat to the systems they ruled and were prepared to take extensive countermeasures to limit the impact of the broadcasts.

The original documents were located in the national archives of Central/Eastern Europe and the former USSR, the Berlin repository for East German internal security files, the Hoover Institution Archives, and the National Security Archive. Michael Nelson kindly made available for publication documents he obtained from Russian Federation archives in preparing his book, War of the Black Heavens. Translations, some excerpts of longer documents that deal only in part with Western broadcasts, were made at CWIHP and the Hoover Archives.

Many of the translated documents were prepared for a Wilson Center-Hoover Institution conference on Impact of Cold War Broadcasting held at the Hoover Institution in 2004. All documents in this e-Dossier were originally published, along with revised conference papers, in Cold War Broadcasting; Impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, A. Ross Johnson and R. Eugene Parta, eds., New York and Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010.

The translated documents published here are indicative of Soviet and East European Communist regime assessments of and counter-measures to Western broadcasters, but they are not exhaustive. The Wilson Center holds several hundred analogous documents not yet translated. And thousands of related documents doubtless still lie in the archives, especially in the Russian Federation. See also CWIHP's collection of declassified U.S. government documents on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

A. Ross Johnson is a Woodrow Wilson Center Senior Scholar and author of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; the CIA Years and Beyond.

R. Eugene Parta is the retired director of Audience Research and Program Evaluation for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague and author of Discovering the Hidden Listener: An Assessment of Radio Liberty and Western Broadcasting to the USSR during the Cold War.

January 19, 2015

Ph.D. Dissertation "Communities of Journalists and Journalism Practice at Radio Free Europe during the Cold War

Ph.D. dissertation of Susan D. Haas is available on line for viewing or downloading:

Communities of Journalists and Journalism Practice at Radio Free Europe during the Cold War (1950-1995)


This study describes the construction, maintenance and defense of news practices by journalists at Radio Free Europe (RFE), an experimental U.S. government-sponsored organization whose mission was to act as a "surrogate free press", in effect, to disrupt state media-controlled public spheres of totalitarian states during the West's Cold War with communism. At RFE from 1950-1995, two groups of journalists cooperated to produce content: politically activist, exiled citizens - self-trained journalists -- from East-Central Europe working in semi-autonomous language services (radios) broadcasting through the Iron Curtain to the people of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, and, experienced journalists from Western democracies working in the Central Newsroom, an internal news agency serving the broadcast desks. 

This study outlines aspects of RFE and its Cold War context -- including journalists' knowledge of the human rights and informational deficits of audiences -- critical to understanding these groups of journalists. It differentiates group conceptions of roles at RFE and means of constructing practice despite the paradox of doing news work from a position aberrant to Western journalism. Research includes 100 interviews and correspondence with 70 former RFE employees gathered from 2004-2012; and, for the first time in scholarship, the voices of RFE's Western journalists. 

It incorporates documents collected from and created by participants. It places these data in conversation with memoirs and histories by RFE insiders, and with corporate documents from archives opened to researchers during the past decade. It describes both groups of journalists as "exiles" practicing in the absence of legitimacy in the contexts of both Western journalism and communist states. It describes organizational challenges and group negotiations of news work. It posits emigres as constructing national imaginaries available only in RFE broadcasts, and Western journalists as constructing a hyper-vigilant practice that modeled journalism for broadcasters and served as a credibility anchor for broadcasts. Translating different conceptions of the mission - modeling a free press -- into practice, absent legitimacy and in view of listener needs and risks, produced two different journalisms, each unique and hyper-vigilant. The study suggests that the RFE historical case presaged challenges facing contemporary journalism and journalists

January 02, 2015

John and Thelma Richardson: Democracy Advocate, and Activist, RIP

John Richardson
John Richardson, Jr., was president of the Free Europe Committee (Free Europe, Inc), from 1961 to 1968. He died on December 26, 2014. His wife had died in November 2014. Below is the obituary notice for both of them.

Democracy Advocate, and Activist, Pass.

John and Thelma "Bonnie" Richardson died on December 26, 2014, and November 29, 2014 respectively, in Bethesda, Maryland. 

John Richardson was born February 4, 1921, in Milton, Massachusetts to John and Hope (Hemenway) Richardson. He had four sisters, Hope, Hetty, Louisa and Faith, attended Noble and Greenough School, Harvard University and Harvard Law School. 

Thelma Eulalia Ingram Richardson was born August 10, 1925 to Dr. Ben and Thelma (Reynolds) Ingram in Louisiana. She earned a BA from Coker College, an MA from George Washington, and is survived by her sister, Dr. Clara Gandy.  

John and Thelma married in 1945 (see photo). John distinguished himself as an officer and paratrooper during WWII. 

A Wall Street lawyer (Sullivan and Cromwell) and investment banker (Paine Webber), Richardson changed direction in 1956 through personally organizing airlifts of medical supplies during the Hungarian Revolution. 

John Richardson was CEO of Radio Free Europe (1961-68), Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs (1969-77) (see photo), and CEO of of Youth for Understanding (1978 – 86). 

He was a founding staff member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, founding board member and chair of the National Endowment of Democracy, president of the International Rescue Committee, on the boards of the American Forum for Global Education, the Council on Foreign Relations, University of Denver Foundation, River Road Unitarian Church. 

He was decorated by the Governments of Germany and Japan for his international youth exchange work and in 1988 by Poland for his ‘contribution to the struggle for freedom and democracy during the Cold War period’. 

"Bonnie" Richardson’s involvement in the 1965 Bronxville (NY) Hospital strike, in support of worker unionization (1099), earned the Richardsons the appreciation of Dr. Martin Luther King. 

They leave daughters Eva Selek-Teleki, Teren de Cossy, Lee Taylor, Hope Gravelly, Catherine Munch and Hetty Richardson, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren. 

A memorial service will be held at Cane Creek, Hillsborough, North Carolina in the spring of 2015.  Details will be available from Mr. T Dixon, Walkers Funeral Home, (919-732-2121). 

The Free Europe Committee was the parent organization of Radio Free Europe. Click here to view or download a comprehensive interview with John Richardson, Jr., including details how he was recruited to become President of Free Europe Committee. 

He devoted one chapter to his experiences with the Free Europe Committee in his book A New Version for America: Toward Human Solidarity through Global Democracy.

Photo of John Richardson, courtesy of RFE/RL.

December 30, 2014

Lessons Learned from the Cold War -- Revisited

In view of recent events in Russia and Azerbaijan, let's look again at some lessons learned from the Cold War: 

I had the privilege of being the Director of Security for RFE/RL in Munich from 1980-1995 and then the "security and safety consultant" to RFE/RL in Prague until 1998. 

At conferences and meetings over the years since 1998, I have been asked, "What was it like being in charge of security for RFE/RL?" It is not an easy question to answer in a few words as most of my activities were transparent to the staff and management. That was the "security philosophy" that began in the 1950s at Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. It is perhaps the nature of the beast of the security profession: be transparent -- "security doesn't need to be obtrusive, obvious, or restrictive to be effective."

Specifically, I was responsible for classical physical security not only at the headquarters building in Munich, but also the transmitting sites in Germany, Spain, and Portugal. In addition, after 1989, was then responsible for security at news bureaus in Moscow and other locations in the former Soviet Union, as well as in Prague, Bucharest, Sofia, Warsaw, and Budapest.

The 1987 Board for International Broadcasting (RFE/RL's oversight board) Annual Report best summed up security for over 40 years in Munich: 

The vice-President for Management directs the Administrative Division, which undertakes a variety of critical tasks associated with the running of a large and complex international broadcasting corporation. These tasks include recruiting and retaining personnel, administering personnel benefits, providing for the physical security of RFE/RL facilities and personnel, purchasing office equipment and supplies, administering the library and archives, and operating the Computer Center, the switchboard and mailroom. Some of these functions—such as security and personnel—are considerably more difficult than in most corporations due to the unique nature of the organization. Maintaining security at an organization with hundreds of employees who emigrated from Communist countries is a sensitive and demanding task.

I think there are lessons to be learned from the "battles" in Munich and list a few below. Here is a quick look at security at RFE/RL in the Cold War.

Famed Cold War novelist John Le Carre best captured the émigré community and intelligence activity in Munich, when he wrote in his class Cold War novel The Secret Pilgrim:

For anybody who has lived in Hamburg, Munich is not Germany at all. It is another country. I never felt the remotest connection between the two cities, but when it came to spying, Munich like Hamburg was one of the unsung capitals of Europe. Even Berlin ran a poor second when it came to the size and visibility of Munich's invisible community … And now and then frightful scandals broke, usually when one or other of this company of clowns literally forgot which side he was working for, or made a tearful confession in his cups, or shot his mistress or his boyfriend or himself, or popped up drunk on the other side of the Curtain to declare his loyalty to whomever he had not been loyal to far. I never in my life knew such an intelligence bordello.

Munich, Germany is where the Cold War was in reality a 'Hot War'. The émigré staff at both RFE and RL faced intimidation, murder, threats and attempts of murder and kidnapping. Families of the staff in the broadcast countries suffered loss of jobs and worse because their relatives were working for RFE and RL. Intelligence agents penetrated the stations, and some employees became intelligence collaborators. In today’s parlance, the latter would be referred to as “insider threats.”

Cord Meyer, former CIA liaison officer with both RFE and RL, has written in his memoirs, Facing Reality, about security in the early years of RFE and RL: 

Finally, there was the problem posed for the radios by the continuing attempts of the Soviet and Eastern European secret police to intimidate the exile staffs, to sabotage the installations, and to exacerbate frictions between the radios and the West German host government. This campaign of harassment ranged from the macabre to the ridiculous.

Security officers were trained to ensure prompt investigation of every incident or allegation. It was a never-ending task, but we managed to keep the level of intimidation within tolerable limits.

I would argue that the same could be said for the 1980s, long after the CIA stopped sponsoring both RFE and RL: all of the intelligence services of the Warsaw Pact operated against RFE and RL. Sometimes this was centrally coordinated activity and sometimes the countries ran their own operations. Actions (in this case, hostile actions) did speak louder than words in the battle of ideas fought by East and West.

Various intelligence services proposed plans to bomb the headquarters of RFE/RL in Munich, but there was only one physical attack: the bombing of 21 February 1981 led by the terrorist known as "Carlos the Jackal" – perhaps the ultimate “denial of service attack.“

Today’s communication and information technology is not immune to hostile attacks. Witness the “cyber jamming” of RFE/RL, which started on 26, April 2008. RFE/RL received up to 50,000 fake hits every second in a “denial of service attack,” which, initially targeted the website of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, but quickly spread to other sites. Within hours, eight RFE/RL websites (Belarus, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Tatar-Bashkir, Radio Farda, South Slavic, Russian, and Tajik) were knocked out or otherwise affected.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal summed up the everlasting problems:

The medium and the means may have changed from days when this legendary U.S. -funded station set up shop to beam news behind the Iron Curtain. But the conflict is no less pitched. Despots live in fear of accurate information and go to extraordinary means to stop it.

Welcome to the front lines of the 21st century's information wars.

Journalist Bill Keller wrote in the New York Times on March 1, 2011:

The regimes that have sent their thugs against the press and tried to unplug the Internet are right to fear the media. I’ve cringed under the truncheons of Iran’s official vigilantes, and I worry every day for the safety of the journalists we’ve deployed in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere. But I understand why journalists are targets.

Watching how the seep of information stirred ordinary Russians from a paralyzing fear was one of the true joys of covering Moscow’s spring. The Cold War voice of Radio Liberty, the underground copies of Solzhenitsyn and especially Gorbachev’s own attempts to deputize the Russian press by letting it expose corruption and incompetence — they all chipped away at the invincibility of the Soviet Union.

From a RFE/RL press release on March 4, 2011:

On the eve of Kazakhstan's Presidential election campaign, RFE/RL's websites in the country continue to be blocked. All RFE/RL websites, including its Kazakh, Russian and English language sites, have been inaccessible via connections through the country's largest Internet service providers KazTelecom and Nursat since February 21.

In an unofficial conversation with RFE/RL's Kazakh service, a member of Nursat's technical department admitted that the company is 'blocking' RFE/RL and that they 'have to obey their bosses.' Nursat and KazTelecom are closely associated with the Kazakh government. ... RFE/RL has set up a proxy link that enables users from Kazakhstan to connect to the Internet and RFE/RL's websites despite the blockage. There seems to be no interference with Radio Azattyq's radio transmissions at this point.

Later that day access to all RFE/RL websites were restored. 

In my opinion, if programming/information is perceived by the regime to be interfering in its internal politics, and thus a threat to the regime's existence, there is a good probability that the government/secret services would try to affect programming/information in three separate and distinct phases:

Direct Action against staff 
  •  Coercion, i.e. Threats and Intimidation
  •  Blackmail,
  •  Physical attack, kidnapping, murder.
Infiltration of Institution (Insider Threat)

Physical attack on institution (Denial of Service):
  •  Headquarters building,
  •  Broadcast center and/or Transmitting site.
  •  Data Center.
The list of my predecessors is too long to include here, but I do pay homage to their years of dedication in protecting the staff and institution of the Cold War radios – a sensitive and demanding task. I cannot possible individually acknowledge thanks to all those, with whom I had contact and support in my years at RFE/RL. There are simply too many to list and to exclude anyone would be unnecessarily unfair. 

Security at RFE/RL, in its truest sense, was a "team effort" from both management and staff, which is the basis for a successful "security culture" in any organization facing external and internal threats.