Common sense wins at CIA Monitoring: Invaluable translation service of open foreign sources is saved from budget ax.

February 10, 1997

FROM A LONE 1941 West Coast listening post, the Central Intelligence Agency monitoring of open foreign sources has exploded. Nearly 20 regional field collection sites worldwide now follow foreign radio and television programs and scan more than 3,000 newspapers and periodicals in some 60 languages.

Among annual U.S. intelligence expenditures totaling about $30 billion, the $18 million for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service is peanuts. Yet now that the Cold War is over and the U.S. no longer has constant major enemies, the CIA was threatening to discontinue these varied translations of news, political and scientific sources for budget reasons.

Last week, the CIA reversed its decision. This is good because FIBIS serves wider U.S. national interests.

In the budget cutting talk, history seemed to repeat itself: The broadcast monitoring service was slated for closure at the end of World War II. But once the Cold War flared up, it was deemed to be so essential that in 1967 its mission was broadened to include the surveying of foreign print media as well. Since 1974, the service's daily reports of news, articles and speeches have been available to anyone willing to pay a monthly subscription fee.

Despite the CIA about-face, FIBIS' long-term future has not been resolved.

Some years ago, the U.S. government's reorganized Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty stations sold their invaluable archives of Soviet and Eastern European material to George Soros, the Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist. Couldn't FIBIS find a similar angel and continue on a non-governmental basis?

FIBIS is so wide-ranging that privatization is not an option. In fact, any future monitoring service is likely to need even more resources and sophistication due to the electronic revolution. This is well understood by the Federation of American Scientists, which expressed grave concern about the possibility that FIBIS XTC might disappear. Its members -- including many American Nobel prize winners -- count on FIBIS material in their innovative work.

Pub Date: 2/10/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.