July 18, 1996
Over the period of the Cold War, the CIA developed a program in which it subscribed to publications around the world and, in addition, listened in to radio broadcasts, and translated the material for itself-- and for others.
Scholars, activists, journalists and policymakers of all description came to rely on this invaluable source, which was put out under the name Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). Without it, they would have to rely on subscribing to the publications, from Iran or Peru or wherever, waiting for them to arrive and then translating them. Few could do this. And none could listen in to radio broadcasts.
Because the CIA did it for everyone at once, the program was immensely cost-effective. Imagine, by contrast, the costs to our society of having everyone who subscribed to this service, separately, doing their own translations.
This service is becoming more, not less, important in the evolving world. As secrecy declines, with the end of the Cold War, the accumulation of public information becomes more important. And as the power of Governments declines, the importance of keeping their citizens, their media, their NGOs and their scholars well informed rises.
For all these reasons, it was intensely disturbing to many to find that CIA first eliminated, as an economy move, the hard-copy version of FBIS. Reading all this material on a computer poses many difficulties, even if it has some advantages.
And now we find that CIA is cutting back on the publications and broadcasts that it will cover.
FBIS is an extremely important CIA program. And, certainly, it is the most important program from the public's point of view.
We want this program restored and expanded. Throw out something else, anything else, from CIA's budget. But leave FBIS alone. This is, we think, a cry from the heart from many, many different organizations.
We urge public hearings on Capitol Hill. The issue of FBIS is intimately tied up with the question of the future of CIA. Is it going to provide more of its analysis to the public or less? Is it going to help the society generally or just the President? FBIS is an important test case of whether and how we need a CIA.
We call on the media to address this issue and we urge everyone who shares this view to so indicate by sending us your name and organization to be added to this call.
Jeremy J. Stone
Federation of American Scientists