“Write what you know,” goes the dictum. Thus from Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn we have among many other works the following:
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—forced labor camps
First Circle (i.e., of Hell)—forced labor camps for scientists
Cancer Ward—malady as social metaphor
August 1914—blunders in warfare
Gulag Archipelago—the definitive guide to Soviet forced labor camps.
With such a pronounced critical voice, we can surmise that Solzhenitsyn’s writing was unlikely to win him lasting friends in the Soviet government. Before his first major work, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), could be published, none other than Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev needed to give his permission. The timing was right; Khrushchev was still intent on denouncing the excesses of Stalinism, and Solzhenitsyn’s writing gained his favor in that political climate. But the thaw didn’t last.
When Khrushchev was deposed in 1964, Solzhenitsyn experienced a similar downturn in his fate. By 1970 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, he didn’t dare leave the country and so had to wait until he was sent into exile in the West in 1974 before he could actually collect the prize.
From 1941 to 1996 the U.S. government published the Daily Report of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). FBIS was begun in 1941 as a means of letting the government know what propaganda was being broadcast into the U.S. by the shortwave radio services of the foreign governments involved in the European war.
Broadcasts deemed of potential interest to U.S. government officials were selected for translation into English. Political, economic and war news dominated the first years of FBIS. Broadcasts were either transcribed in their entirety, in part, or were briefly summarized. Every day a Daily Report was published and delivered. After World War II the number of FBIS sources grew, and the size of the Daily Report ballooned. In the early 1970s FBIS Daily Reports began to be delivered in Regional Reports whose names changed over time. Sources now included newspapers and television news shows as well as radio broadcasts.
Graham E. Fuller, a former C.I.A. official, wrote about FBIS Reports in a Consortium News piece entitled, “Value in Reading Others’ Propaganda,” which was published online on September 29, 2015. In this piece Fuller writes:
Indeed there was an entire branch of CIA which monitored and published on a daily basis a thick booklet of selected broadcast items from around the world—available by subscription. The Foreign Broadcast Information Service provided an invaluable service. It is now sadly defunct, the victim of short-sighted budget cutting—an operation which probably cost less annually than one fighter aircraft and offered much more.
It was January 1990, and I looked out my dorm window at the snow falling, yet again. Forecasters were calling for nine more inches, adding to the foot already on the ground. Winter in upstate New York can be brutal, and the thought of trudging across campus to the library to research my Modern History thesis wasn't appealing. But following a recent class discussion about why so many Germans blindly followed Hitler's insane directives, I wanted to explore why so many Chinese citizens blindly followed the Red Guards and Mao Zedong during the infamous Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1978. In 1990, China was still reeling from the horrors of the Tiananmen Square massacre the year before, and I wanted to understand these questions, “How did Mao build such a cult of personality and incite mass imprisonment, torture and public humiliation of its citizens, and was China headed back towards a new kind of revolution?“
Readex provides digital access to the principal historical record of open-source intelligence gathered by the United States for more than half a century. Spanning Africa, Asia and the Pacific, China, Eastern and Western Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and the Soviet Union, this intelligence—obtained from publicly available media and translated into English—includes reports from radio and television broadcasts, journals and newspapers, monographs, reports and other sources.
Readex Product Director Brett Kolcun will offer a live presentation on March 28 for librarians, faculty and students. This in-depth webinar will explore the content, features and functionality of these two Readex collections:
Nearly a quarter century ago, Glenda J. Pearson, University of Washington, wrote:
“The definition between government document and nongovernment document blurs, particularly as the intelligence tentacles of the United States government seek every shred of information, news, detail—and bring it home for contemplation, digestion and eventual redistribution....
“Prime examples of the ‘documentization’ of information are the United States Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) and its equally acquisitive partner, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS)....Of interest here are the transforming effect these services have on the information they amass and the research and societal value that results.
“The significance of information collected by JPRS and FBIS is enormous. Of greatest importance is the diversity of viewpoints suddenly made accessible by subject and in English. To be able to understand these resources in relation to their special provenances is especially critical in appraising their informational value.
Readex provides digital access to the principal historical record of open-source intelligence gathered by the United States from World War II through the end of the Cold War. Spanning Africa, Asia and the Pacific, China, Eastern and Western Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and the Soviet Union, this intelligence, obtained from publicly available media, includes reports from radio and television broadcasts, journals and newspapers, monographs, reports and other sources. Together, these uniquely valuable reports—available in Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports, 1941-1996 and the Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995—provide millions of pages of English-language information.
In “Just Browsing: Cool Items from the Past,” I shared several unexpected items I recently stumbled upon in America’s Historical Newspapers. I don’t however expect to find such wonderful things in Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Reports. What’s cool there comes more from the benefits of hindsight than sheer surprise. And that backward look lets the propagandistic nature of some of the documents shine through. One I recently read is the somewhat hagiographic interview with Kim Philby, the former high-ranking member of British intelligence agent who spied for and later defected to the Soviet Union. The interview, first published in the Russian daily newspaper Izvestiya on Dec. 19, 1967, was translated into English for publication in FBIS supplement “MATERIALS ON 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF SOVIET STATE SECURITY ORGANS, FBIS-FRB-68-007-S on 1968-01-10. Supplement number 2” Titled “Hello, Comrade Philby,” the article starts with a street scene in chilly Moscow:
Since 1941 the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) has been recording, transcribing and translating intercepted radio broadcasts from foreign governments, official news services, and clandestine broadcasts from occupied territories. Now a comprehensive digital edition of this unique archive is available for students and scholars of world history and political science.
The historical precedents to topics in today's headlines from Libya, Egypt and the Middle East