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G U L F / 2 0 0 0 ____________________________________________

In a recent note to subscribers, World News Connection (WNC) issued a bland announcement buried in a report about Y2K compliance that said, "In addition, you will notice some changes to the sources represented. For example, we have deleted sources from the countries contained on the U.S. Department of State embargoed list and, in addition, refined the representation of sources previously provided."

Translated into English this means that materials from such countries as Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Libya will no longer be published in WNC and that previously reported materials have been deleted from the data base.

World News Connection (WNC) is the division of the US Department of Commerce that was designated as the successor to the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) for distribution of materials on countries around the world, e.g. broadcasts of full texts of speeches, editorial comment in non-English newspapers, and facts that never make it to the Western media but are crucial for understanding other countries. It is available (by subscription) on the Web at wnc.fedworld.gov and is widely used by scholars, journalists and policy analysts everywhere. Many university libraries pay a hefty sum to make it available to their students.

The embargoed countries-- now deleted-- are where WNC is most important, since their policy differences with the United States often make it difficult to get original materials, especially in good translation. They are also countries that tend to be under-reported in the Western media and that are particularly important in terms of policy developments. A recent example was the important speech by Ayatollah Khamene`i in Iran criticizing hard-line elements that threatened to take the law into their own hands. Although this speech was excerpted in the wire services and the Western press, the full text provides a context that is invaluable for those who want to get below the surface of Iranian domestic politics. The text of that speech will no longer be found on WNC.

The reason for this change of policy is a legal Catch-22. Because of sanctions, the United States cannot pay copyright fees for these materials. So, rather than risk the danger of a law suit, all such material will be tossed in the waste basket. The United States has unilaterally bombed Iraq, Sudan and Libya but we cower at the prospect of a copyright dispute? (Couldn't we just put the funds in escrow?) Iran is not even a signatory to the copyright convention, so there is no basis whatsoever for a suit.

This is merely the latest chapter in a long, steady erosion of this invaluable service. In 1997, there was a congressional attempt to severely cut funding to FBIS (which is still the source of much of this material). That move was defeated in the face of public protest. Now the Commerce Department, for reasons that are difficult to fathom, has proposed eliminating NTIS entirely (so WNC would vanish totally) and moving its archives to the Library of Congress (which has no delivery mechanism).

It is unfathomable because NTIS is financially self-supporting through subscriptions, while storage of the material at the LOC or elsewhere would not only cost taxpayer money but would make the material largely unavailable to those who have relied on it for years. More money, less service!

This information makes an irreplaceable contribution to U.S. national security. It informs us about other countries in ways that otherwise would be nearly impossible. It costs virtually nothing in comparison with almost any other national security system. But it is vulnerable in an era when the Cold War is over and such programs can be portrayed as luxuries. Several generations of policymakers can attest to the fact that this kind of information is no luxury, but it is not certain that their voices will be heard.

I encourage you to share this message as widely as possible among your friends and colleagues, and to share your views on this with the Secretary of Commerce, Mr. William M. Daley at:

Mr. Daley is responsible both for the decision to eliminate key countries from the WNC service and for the move to terminate the existence of NTIS. I suspect he has not heard from any of us who rely on this service, and he should.

Senate hearings on the fate of NTIS will be held on October 21. I understand there is (understandable) skepticism within the Congress about Daley's plan to pay more for less. You might wish to copy any comments to Mr. Daley to Senator William Frist, Chairman of the Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee of the Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation at:




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