"The camera, I think, is actually going to be our best inspector."
-- JOHN F. KENNEDY on television, December, 1962
"That function [inspection] can now be assumed by satellites. Maybe
I'll let you see my photographs." -- NIKITA S. KHRUSHCHEV to Paul
Henri Spaak, July, 1963
THE PRESIDENT of the United States and the Premier of the Soviet
Union were referring to one of the strangest secrets of the Cold
War, a secret which was scarcely a secret at all.
Khrushchev were alluding to a revolutionary tool of espionage, the
camera-bearing "spy in the sky" satellite. And it was clear that
neither had been fooled by the elaborate security precautions of the
The United States had been orbiting SAMOS spy satellites over the
Soviet Union since 1961, and the Russians were known to have the
capacity to track them. With similar technique and purpose the
Soviets started in 1962 to send up their COSMOS satellites under the
vigilant eye of the U.S. tracking system.
By 1963 aerial reconnaissance had become the most secretive
operation of the Pentagon. Yet, ironically, when SAMOS was first
tested in 1960, its virtues were graphically described in official
pronouncements. Indeed, the electronic and optical laws upon which
it was founded had long been the property of the scientific
community, Russian and American alike.
Until Francis Gary Powers was shot down in his U-2 over Russia on
May 1, 1960, little had been disclosed about SAMOS. But a summit
meeting in Paris was being held that month and the Eisenhower
Administration was emphasizing its determination to keep the Soviet
Union under surveillance despite the U-2 incident. Suddenly, from
the depths of the Pentagon, came a spew of previously highly
classified details. By following the official disclosures over the
next several months, a diligent Russian analyst could easily have
pieced together the following description of the remarkable
SAMOS, the name of a Greek island, was a contraction for Satellite
and Missile Observation System. The project was in an advanced state
of development and the White House had given it a "DX" rating, which
meant it was one of the handful of Pentagon programs with the
highest national priority. Still, it was to be pushed even faster on
a budget of just under $200,000,000 a year.
SAMOS was designed to be operational by 1962 and to take photographs
with detail equal to what the human eye could see from a hundred
feet. The satellite was launched
*1 by an Atlas-Agena rocket,
standing ninety-five feet high, or a Thor-Agena rocket, with a
height of seventy-eight feet.
The Agena, or second stage, was made by the Lockheed Aircraft
Corporation, designers and producers of the U-2. It was that part of
the rocket which went into orbit. The satellite weighed 4,100 pounds
and was twenty-two feet tall and five feet in diameter. It circled
the earth upright like a giant cigar, carrying a 300-to-400-pound
gold-plated instrument package.
SAMOS was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, into
a polar orbit from which it could photograph every nation in the
world as the globe rotated under it. The camera could be shut off
when the satellite was off target, thereby conserving power.
(By 1964 reliable reports indicated that a SAMOS was passing over
the Soviet Union eight to twelve times, and over Communist China two
to four times, every day.)
Orbits varied: some carried the satellite around the earth at an
equal altitude of 300 miles; others were purposely egg-shaped so
that the satellite dropped as close as 150 miles. From this height a
telescopic camera with a focal length of 120 inches could photograph
objects two and a half feet wide.
In April, 1959, Amrom H. Katz of the RAND Corporation, a
semi-official research group for the Air Force, wrote that camera
lenses with a 240-inch focal length had already been developed.
In April, 1960, Howard S. Stewart, a University of Rochester optics
expert, indicated in International Science and Technology that it
was possible to develop satellite cameras capable of "resolving two
objects three inches apart from 125 miles up."
In February, 1964, the Air Force's Aerospace Medical Division
reported that astronauts could readily spot missile bases,
encampments and troop movements from 100 miles in space.
There were four types of SAMOS satellites: one carried television
cameras for transmitting simultaneous pictures back to earth; a
second carried conventional cameras for producing more detailed
photographs that could be ejected on command and recovered in big
nets strung from aircraft;
*2 a third carried both types of cameras;
and a fourth incorporated eavesdropping equipment.
The fourth version was known as the "ferret." It could pick out
radar and communication centers, and pinpoint missile sites by their
radio guidance signals. It could also tap microwave telephone links.
The SAMOS photographs could locate enemy military targets and
provide instantaneous indications of troop or supply build-ups.
The reconnaissance satellite would be subject to some of the
limitations of the U-2. It could be frustrated by clouds which cover
60 percent of the earth at all times. But it could provide pictures
of the northern stretches of the Soviet Union that were beyond the
reach of the U-2. And it would be much less vulnerable to defensive
measures. SAMOS' orbit could readily be determined by Russian
tracking stations, and theoretically the satellite could be
destroyed by an anti-satellite missile (the United States began
experimental tests with such a system in 1963) But if it were hit by
a rocket, it would burn up on re-entry into the earth's atmosphere
and the evidence would be destroyed. And it would be a considerably
more difficult target than a U-2 flying ten times lower.
Besides, SAMOS could carry a rocket motor which, on command from the
earth, would enable it to move evasively. On the assumption that
Soviet spy satellites would incorporate similar devices for evasion,
the Air Force started work in 1960 on SAINT (Satellite Intercept).
It was to be a maneuverable satellite which would rendezvous with an
enemy vehicle in orbit and inspect it by electronic means such as
television. Ultimately, it was to have the capacity to neutralize or
destroy an enemy satellite.*3
Another reconnaissance system also came into view during this
period. It was MIDAS (Missile Defense Alarm System), designed to
detect missile launchings with infra-red sensors. MIDAS' weight and
dimensions were virtually identical to those of SAMOS. It was fired
into orbit by the same rocket and it was also produced by Lockheed.
By detecting the intense heat given off by rocket exhaust during
take-off, MIDAS was to provide a thirty-minute warning of enemy
attack. This would double the fifteen-minute alert of BMEWS
(Ballistic Missile Early Warning System), a massive radar in Thule,
Greenland, which would pick up an incoming ICBM halfway between
launch and impact.
MIDAS' infrared instruments were so sensitive
that they could detect a lighted cigarette from a distance of eight
miles. During one test launching the heat sensors sent out signals
set off by a coffee pot on the firing pad. (MIDAS encountered a
series of difficulties which ran the research and development bill
up close to $500,000,000. But in May and July of 1963 the satellite
succeeded in detecting missiles launched from Florida and
Another satellite launched with much public fanfare in 1960 was
TIROS. Its cameras were to televise cloud cover and storm conditions
in order to promote better weather prediction. Such surveillance
obviously could be of great value in timing SAMOS launches for
moments of minimum cloud cover over the Soviet Union.*4 But in Senate
testimony in July, 1961, James E. Webb, NASA's director, denied
Soviet charges that the weather satellites were for purposes of
espionage. He asserted that it was perfectly lawful for satellites
to be flown over foreign territory just as ships freely sail the
high seas. National sovereignty extends only to air space, Webb
contended, and ''as to outer space where there is no air, this is a
completely open field."
The head of NASA was betraying the fears of the administration that
U.S. satellites operating over Russia would be shot down by Soviet
When President Kennedy took office, he was faced with
(1) to continue the semi-public practices of the
(2) to shut off all official discussion
and disclosures about the espionage satellites; or
(3) to make the
program "overt" by proposing a new "open skies" plan and submitting
all satellite photographs to the United Nations.
The last recommendation was privately proposed by a group of
prominent scientists at the outset of the Kennedy Administration.
They argued that there was a presumption of guilt in surreptitious
activities and that the Soviet Union could play upon this as
justification for shooting down a SAMOS or securing a UN resolution
condemning the practice. On the other hand, they contended, if the
operation were placed under the UN, the Soviets would be
hard-pressed to destroy SAMOS either with rockets or words.
The Kennedy Administration quickly decided that secrecy was a safer
course. When SAMOS II was successfully launched on January 31, 1961
-- eleven days after Kennedy took office -- the Pentagon prohibited
the release of any details about it. This prohibition soon developed
into an absolute ban on any discussion of the satellite, even in
areas of prior official revelation. It was thereafter impossible to
obtain official confirmation that in fact SAMOS existed.
announcements were restricted to such words as:
employing an Atlas-Agena B booster combination was launched by the
Air Force today. It is carrying a number of classified test
Since security, if any, had long since been breached by the original
SAMOS disclosures, it was clear that the administration had
international political purposes in mind in its new crackdown.
likeliest explanation was that it hoped to avoid provoking the
Russians into countermeasures against SAMOS. Khrushchev had known
for years that the U-2 was flying over Russia, but he said nothing
until his hand was forced by the Powers incident. Might he not be
inclined to maintain a similar silence on SAMOS, particularly since
his own satellites were the first to fly over the United States and
The answer was quick in coming. SAMOS II was hardly off the pad
before the Russians protested.
Their complaint, which was formally
carried to the United Nations in March, 1962, was summed up on
December 3 of that year by Platon D. Morozov, the Soviet delegate to
the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
"Such observation," he said, "is just as wrong as when intelligence
data are obtained by other means such as by photography made from
the air. The object at which such illegal surveillance is directed
constitutes a secret guarded by a sovereign state and, regardless of
the means by which such an operation is carried out, it is in all
cases an intrusion."
The standard reply of the United States was that a nation's
sovereignty extends only to the air space above it.
that in the first three years of the space age neither the United
States nor the Soviet Union had claimed its territorial sovereignty
was infringed by satellite overflights. In the absence of protest or
international agreement to the contrary, these officials maintained
that a common law had been established, giving any nation the right
to orbit satellites over another.
On January 13, 1962, the United States asserted formally that this
freedom of movement in space had been endorsed by the UN General
Assembly in its unanimous resolution the previous month on
"international cooperation and the peaceful uses of outer space."
The resolution stipulated that international law and the United
Nations Charter were to apply to outer space and that celestial
bodies were not to be subject to national appropriation. The United
States interpreted this as a contradiction of the Soviet argument
that SAMOS violated national sovereignty.
To demonstrate its sincerity in subscribing to UN supervision of
space, the United States pledged, shortly after the UN Space
Registry was established in February of 1962, that it would list all
of its satellites.
From time to time knowledgeable space watchers in the United States
and Europe noted, sometimes in print, that more objects were in
space than had been reported to the UN. Playing upon the deep
secrecy surrounding the SAMOS program, the Russians alleged that the
United States was concealing some of its launches.
These allegations imposed a nasty dilemma upon the United States
Government. If it were to dispose effectively of suggestions that it
was cheating, it would have to open up the SAMOS firings to much
greater publicity. But this would run counter to the basic policy
decision not to provoke the Russians.
Or the United States could publicly produce evidence that the
unlisted objects in space were of Soviet origin. But this would
expose the fact that the United States possessed a vast electronic
network which kept a precise watch on all Soviet space operations.
And the CIA and the Pentagon were opposed to providing the slightest
help to the Russians in compromising the network.
Their opposition was twofold. First, if it were officially admitted
that the United States was eavesdropping along the Iron Curtain,
nations providing the clandestine facilities might be subjected to
severe Russian pressure, as they were after the U-2 incident.
The second argument was expressed in a news conference on December
6, 1962, by Arthur Sylvester:
"We are trying to keep intelligence
[secret], not only what we gather but how we gather it ... We know
that lots of things that two years ago we assumed our adversaries
had, they did not have. We know this by what they're spending money
to get. What we are trying to do in this field is to make it as
difficult as possible for them. We are trying not to wrap it up, put
it on a silver platter and hand it to them. We are trying to make
them spend as much time and effort as we have to."
Defense Secretary McNamara was particularly jealous of the secrecy
He was incensed when Hanson Baldwin, the military-affairs
analyst of the New York Times, disclosed in June, 1962 -- clearIy on
the basis of SAMOS reports -- that the Soviets were erecting
concrete storage "coffins" for their ICBMs. McNamara was disturbed
that Baldwin's report might have given the Russians an indication of
the excellence of SAMOS. He apparently did not comprehend that he
himself had exposed SAMOS' effectiveness when he announced the month
before that the United States was in a position to locate and
destroy Soviet missile sites.
Arrayed against McNamara and the secrecy policy were those in the
State Department who saw great propaganda value in destroying the
myth that the Soviets could do no wrong in space and that they had
suffered fewer failures than the United States. This viewpoint
prevailed in September, 1962, when the government claimed that in
the two previous years the Russians had failed in five attempts to
reach the planets -- two to Mars and three to Venus.
In trying to substantiate the claim, the fears of the CIA and the
Pentagon were realized. A Pandora's box of black electronic arts was
opened. Out of it came revelations of a world that was unknown to
the vast majority of Americans, if not to the Soviet leaders.
The United States had detected the Russian space failures through a
surveillance system known as SPADATS (Space Detection and Tracking
System). It was a complicated network of electronic fences,
stretching across the United States, and sensitive radios and radars
hidden along the perimeter of the Soviet Union. The network was so
effective that no Soviet rocket could get off the ground without its
being known within a few minutes at the North American Air Defense
Command in Colorado Springs and at the CIA and the White House.
The first point of detection was a radar and communications system
in the Middle East. It was centered in Turkey at small Black Sea
towns such as Zonguldak, Sinop and Samsun. There, powerful radars
and listening gear monitored the countdowns and rocket launchings at
the main Soviet missile sites near the Aral Sea.
The radars, which went into operation in 1955, could reach at least
The scope of the listening gear was suggested by an
advertisement which slipped uncensored into Aviation Week on
February 25, 1963:
Modern electronic counter-measures are an important deterrent and
intelligence tool for the military services. "Ferreting" ECM systems
-- for the detection, location and analysis of foreign
electromagnetic radiation associated with radar, missile command and
communications -- are a demonstrated capability of Babcock's
military products division, where operational ferreting systems are
in production ...
Another indication of the potential of the eavesdropping equipment
got out the following month.
Senator Barry Goldwater, a general in
the Air Force Reserve, disclosed that an "electronic ear," operating
in planes off Cuba, was so sensitive that it could pick up the sound
of various machines to the point of detecting a small generator in
At the same time, the Pentagon was perfecting super-range "over the
horizon" radar and the Air Force had installed highly sensitive
atmospheric pressure gear which could provide instantaneous
indications of a Soviet missile launching.
After a rocket had been detected by the Middle East system, it would
next be picked up by the BMEWS radar in Greenland, which kept watch
over the Arctic, or by the large saucer-like radar at Shemya in the
Aleutians, which tracked Soviet test rockets as they flew out over
The third point of detection and the most precise was NAVSPASUR
(Naval Space Surveillance System), an electronic fence stretching
from Georgia to Southern California. Transmitters in Alabama, Texas
and Arizona created the fence by sending out a beam of radio signals
which were deflected back to one of four receiving stations when an
object passed through them.
By running the angles of deflection through a massive computer at
Dahlgren, Virginia, it was possible to determine a satellite's
orbit, position, size and weight (NAVSPASUR was so sensitive that a
piece of wire one-sixteenth of an inch in diameter was detected in
1960 when it separated from a U.S. satellite). It was also possible
to calculate the exact time and place of launch and predict the
future path of the satellite.
Many officials felt that too much was being revealed about these
secret electronic systems. Nevertheless, NASA continued until April,
1963, to list Soviet launchings in the Satellite Situation Reports
it issued twice a month.
Then there was an abrupt and unexplained return to the previous
practice of secrecy. The House Information Subcommittee sought an
explanation, but NASA spokesmen said all they knew was that the
tracking system was controlled by the Pentagon, which refused to
release the information.
This prompted the subcommittee's chairman, John E. Moss, the
California Democrat, to observe:
"The taxpayers certainly should not
be called upon to spend billions of dollars on our space programs
without being given all the facts necessary to make an intelligent
judgment as to whether we are behind, ahead, or at least keeping
pace with, Russian space efforts."
Despite the fact that the policy of secrecy was perpetuating a false
image of United States inferiority in space, the administration held
to its practice of suppressing the truth about Soviet failures.
Despite the fact that nuclear test-ban negotiations were threatened
by public ignorance of the elaborate array of U.S. detection
devices, the administration refused to embark upon even a modest
program of education.
It was a strange anomaly, indeed. The United States was seeking to
hold its tongue about secrets that were no longer secret to the
Russians. In November, 1962, the Soviets, indicating their complete
awareness, dropped their long-standing demand for a ban on
spy-in-the-sky satellites. This opened the way to a United
States-Soviet agreement on the peaceful uses of outer space. Why the
Russian about-face? Electronic experts suggested the Russians were
developing a spy satellite of their own and did not wish to be
inhibited by international prohibitions on such devices.
Khrushchev's son-in-law, Alexei Adzhubei, the editor of Izvestia,
seemed to substantiate this theory in a speech in Helsinki, Finland,
on September 2, 1963.
"One Western paper," Adzhubei said, "has published a picture taken
of Moscow by a satellite from a height of 750 kilometers [about 465
miles] in which the Izvestia building is plainly discernible. We do
not publish pictures of this kind, but I believe that we could print
a similar picture of New York taken by one of our satellites."
*1 SAMOS I failed to achieve orbit on October 11, 1960. SAMOS II was
a success on January 31, 1961.
In July, 1963, the Outstanding Unit Award was presented to the
6593 Test Squadron at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The Air Force
said the squadron had achieved 70 percent success in its capsule
The project proved much more complicated than SAMOS, however, and
in 1962. its operational date was extended to 1967 at the earliest.
Dr. S. Fred Singer, director of the National Satellite Weather
Center at Suitland, Maryland, declared in a speech on February 20,
1963 that TIROS had been so used to plan U-2 flights over Cuba
during the missile crisis in October, 1962.
Back to Contents
THE EMERGENCE of the transistor radio in the 1950s has intensified
one of the most shadowy, elusive and least-known electronic aspects
of the Cold War. This is the war of words, conducted on the airwaves
by combatants who are thousands of miles apart -- and who will never
Daily, East and West beam hundreds of hours of propaganda broadcasts
at each other in an unrelenting babble of competition for the minds
of their listeners. The low-price transistor has given this hidden
war a new importance. Millions of people in the Middle East, Latin
America and Asia who cannot read, can nevertheless be reached by the
propaganda of both sides.
The Invisible Government is heavily engaged in "black radio"
operations of every conceivable type. So is the Communist bloc.
United States radio activities have ranged all the way from overt,
openly acknowledged and advertised programs of the Voice of America
to highly secret CIA transmitters in the Middle East and other areas
of the world. In between is a whole spectrum of black, gray, secret
and semi secret radio operations. The CIA's Radio Swan, because it
became operationally involved at the Bay of Pigs, never enjoyed more
than the thinnest of covers. But Radio Swan was a relatively small
black-radio operation. Other radio operations, financed and
controlled in whole or in part by the Invisible Government, are more
skillfully concealed and much bigger.
Some are hybrids -- broadcasting organizations that solicit funds
from business corporations and the general public but also receive
secret funds from the CIA. While allegedly "private" organizations,
they receive daily policy direction from the State Department and
take orders from the CIA.
In some cases, it is possible, indeed probable, that lower-level
employees of such an organization are unaware of the true point of
control of the particular activity. A secret CIA transmitter in
Lebanon, to take a random example, would be run directly by CIA
officers. But in a larger, hybrid operation, knowledge of financing
and control by Washington might be limited to a handful of top
For purposes of this book, it is sufficient to note that an
inevitable by-product -- as in clandestine operations generally --
is that the American public has been beguiled by some of this
allegedly "private" broadcasting work. It has contributed its gift
dollars to such "private" activity, entirely unaware that it is
already supporting the same broadcasting operation with its tax
dollars, through the CIA.
Black-radio operations fall into two categories -- transmitting and
receiving. Besides broadcasting, both sides carefully monitor each
other's broadcasts to learn what the opposition is saying.
For the United States, the task of monitoring and recording foreign
radio broadcasts, by friendly as well as unfriendly countries, is
performed by the CIA. The intelligence agency's listening posts all
over the globe capture every major broadcast of a foreign nation on
tape. Daily, this extremely valuable foreign broadcast information
is edited, correlated, mimeographed and distributed to a wide list
of consumers from a CIA office in downtown Washington.
consumers are asked not to mention the name or initials of the arm
of the CIA which performs this work. However, this broadcast
monitoring service, which is more or less openly acknowledged by the
CIA, is about the most "overt" operation the agency conducts.
Some idea of the magnitude of the CIA's task, in monitoring
Communist bloc broadcasts alone, can be gained from a speech made on
January 30, 1963, by John Richardson, Jr., the president of the Free
Europe Committee, which operates Radio Free Europe.
Radio stations of thirteen Communist countries, he said,
more than four thousand hours of radio programming abroad every week
in sixty-three languages. Leaving nothing to chance, the broadcast
languages include even Esperanto ... The Soviet Union leads this
radio propaganda parade with some thirteen hundred weekly hours of
radio propaganda directed abroad. Red China comes second, with
almost seven hundred hours weekly, followed by East Germany ... with
little Cuba in fourth place." 
Surprisingly, the fact that black-radio operations are conducted by
the United States was indirectly admitted by President Eisenhower in
his Middle East speech to the UN General Assembly on August 13,
"The United Nations Assembly has on three occasions, in 1947, 1949
and 1950, passed resolutions designed to stop the projecting of
irresponsible broadcasts from one nation into the homes of citizens
of other nations ... we all know that these resolutions have been
violated in many directions in the Near East. If we, the United
States, have been at fault, we stand ready to be corrected."
For the background to this unusual passage in the President's
speech, one must look to 1956 and Suez. In the aftermath of the
abortive Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, Nasser increased
his efforts to bring the entire Arab world under his domination. A
major weapon in this campaign was Radio Cairo.
Up until 1956, the British-controlled Near East Broadcasting Station
at Zyghi, on the south coast of Cyprus, was the most powerful
propaganda voice in the Middle East. NEBS was a British black-radio
operation, ostensibly under private ownership.
Beginning in 1956, Nasser's radio supplanted NEBS. Cairo spread the
most violent sort of propaganda against its Arab neighbors and the
United States. Its "Voice of the Arabs" was on the air from 6:30
A.M. to 1:15 A.M. the next morning, broadcasting throughout the
Middle East and as far south as the Belgian Congo from two
seventy-kilowatt transmitters on the Mokattam Hills overlooking
Cairo, and from two other transmitters on the Nile Delta.
By 1958 Radio Cairo was openly urging bloody revolution in Iraq,
Jordan and Lebanon. In February of that year Nasser had seized power
in Syria and proclaimed the United Arab Republic. Iraq's King Feisal
II countered by joining with his Hashemite cousin King Hussein of
Jordan to form the Arab Union.
On May 2, 1958, as an example, Radio Cairo broadcast to Baghdad:
"Arise, my brethren on the police force and in its army in Iraq.
Stand side by side with your brothers and your people against your
enemies! The freedom of Iraq is in your hands."
Since Iraq was the world's sixth largest oil producer and the only
Arab member of the pro Western Baghdad pact, the CIA felt this kind
of talk from Radio Cairo could not go unanswered. As a result, by
1958 the CIA had set up a series of clandestine radio stations in
the Middle East and along its fringes to counteract the influence of
Meanwhile, a crisis was brewing in Lebanon over the selection of a
successor to President Camille Chamoun, whose term was expiring. The
CIA had helped elect Chamoun, then turned against him.
On July 14 Brigadier General Abdul Karim el-Kassem took over Iraq in
a pre-dawn coup which had not been "clearly predicted"  by the
CIA, according to Allen Dulles. In the coup, twenty-three-year-old
King Feisal and his uncle, the crown prince, were murdered. Premier
Nuri as-Said, captured while trying to escape dressed as a woman,
was also killed.
The next day Eisenhower, in Operation Blue Bat, sent the Marines
into Lebanon to shore up the Chamoun government. Two days later the
British airlifted 1,000 troops into Jordan.
Radio Cairo exulted in the bloodshed in Baghdad and urged the people
of Jordan to rise up and butcher King Hussein. But now, as the CIA
transmitters got busy, new voices were heard on the airwaves.
This obscure dispatch appeared in American newspapers on July 23,
1958, for example:
BEIRUT, July 23 (UPI) -- A second mysterious Arab radio station went
on the air yesterday calling itself the "Voice of Justice" and
claiming to be broadcasting from Syria.
Its program heard here consisted of bitter criticism against Soviet
Russia and Soviet Premier Khrushchev. Earlier the "Voice of Iraq"
went on the air with attacks against the Iraqi revolutionary
The "Voice of Justice" called Khrushchev the "hangman of Hungary"
and warned the people of the Middle East they would suffer the same
fate as the Hungarians if the Russians get a foothold in the Middle
On August 14 Egyptian officials charged that seven secret radio
stations were operating in the Middle East, attacking the UAR and
Cairo said two stations were transmitting from
the French Riviera, and said others were in British Aden, Jordan,
Lebanon, Cyprus and Kenya. Before the revolt in Iraq, there had been
another in Baghdad, the statement said. The carefully worded
announcement stopped barely short of mentioning the CIA.
The Egyptian spokesman said the Voice of America was heard regularly
in Egypt also, but added:
"The Voice of America is not in the same
category with clandestine stations." Asked if there was any evidence
of who was behind these secret stations, the official replied
laconically: "There is no way to be certain. Certainly they are too
expensive for any small nations or groups to maintain without help."
The Egyptian official had put his finger on one of the soft spots in
black-radio operations. These operations are indeed expensive, and
one of the most nagging problems for such radio stations is to
explain the source of funds.
One short-wave radio station in the United States with an
interesting history is WRUL, with offices in Manhattan as the World
Wide Broadcasting System, Inc. In his fascinating book about Sir
William Stephenson, the head of British Intelligence in the United
States during World War II, H. Montgomery Hyde maintains that WRUL
was penetrated by British Intelligence in the war years and
subsidized by it through intermediaries.
In more recent times, WRUL has taken a more overt part in Cold War
operations. As will be described, it joined with Radio Swan in
broadcasting the programs of "Havana Rose."
In 1954 WRUL received a letter of commendation from the Castillo-Armas
government of Guatemala, thanking the station for its services
during the revolt against Arbenz. The letter was from Jose Toron,
who had operated a clandestine "Free Guatemala" radio station before
the Communist government was overthrown.
Thus, WRUL has been linked with at least two CIA operations -- the
Bay of Pigs (through Radio Swan) and the Guatemala coup in 1954.
Not long after Cairo complained about clandestine transmitters in
the Middle East, Konstantin Zinchenko, the head of the press
department of the Soviet State Committee for Foreign Cultural
Relations, told a news conference in Moscow that the United States
had set up a whole series of secret radios aimed at making trouble
for the Soviet Union. Among those he mentioned was Radio Liberation.
Radio Liberation, which changed its name to Radio Liberty in 1959,
is an avowedly private organization with offices at 30 East 42d
Street in New York. It broadcasts exclusively to the Soviet Union,
twenty-four hours a day, from seventeen transmitters in three
locations -- Lampertheim, West Germany; Pals, near Barcelona; and
Its programming center is a rebuilt former airport building near
Munich at Oberwiesenfeld, which was once Hitler's airfield. An
official of Radio Liberty said the majority of its 1,200 employees
are in Munich, but that the organization also has offices in Paris
and Rome, as well as New York, Formosa and Spain.
Radio Liberty does not go to the public for funds. It says it is
supported by foundations but does not list them anywhere.
that it receives no government funds, directly or indirectly, but
says its budget is "classified."
"We do not advocate revolution," the official said, in explaining
why Radio Liberty had changed its name from the more controversial
Radio Liberation. "When the revolution comes, it will have to come
from within. In the meantime, we can feed them ammunition."
According to its official booklet,
"Radio Liberty is supported by
the American Committee for Liberation, founded in 1951 by a group of
private Americans who formed a working partnership with the free
emigration from the USSR."
It first went on the air on March 1,
1953. The American Committee for Liberation also supports the
Institute for the Study of the USSR, Mannhardtstrasse, 6, Munich,
which describes itself as a scholarly organization that puts out a
number of publications on Russia, including Who's Who in the USSR.
Radio Liberty broadcasts a heavy diet of news to its Soviet
audience. In 1956 it broadcast the text of Khrushchev's secret
speech to the 20th Communist Party Congress. In 1961 it broadcast
the fact that the Russians had resumed nuclear tests. Neither event,
of course, had been disclosed to the Russian people by the Soviet
government. The Russians, in turn, have tried hard to jam Radio
Possibly, they have taken other steps as well. In 1954 two Radio
Liberty employees died under mysterious circumstances in Munich. In
September, Leonid Karas, a writer on the radio's Byelorussia desk
was found drowned. In November, Abo Fatalibey, head of the
Azerbaijan desk, was murdered and stuffed under the sofa in the
apartment of a Russian named Mikhail Ismailov.
Police assumed the body was that of Ismailov, a fellow emigre. At
the last moment the coffin -- which someone noticed was too short
for the six-foot Ismailov -- was opened. The body was definitely
identified as that of Fatalibey, the Radio Liberty official.
Ismailov had vanished. Radio Liberty does not discount the
possibility that the drowning and the murder were the work of the
Another interesting case was that of Anatoli Skachkov -- a Russian
emigre who joined Radio Liberty on January 1, 1957. Skachkov died on
July 22, 1959. On November 5, 1962, Izvestia carried an article
which accused Radio Liberty of being staffed by CIA men. It listed
eight alleged agents by name. In the course of the article, Izvestia
said Skachkov had fallen from favor with American intelligence:
"He was seized at his place of employment and sent to a mental
hospital. The next day two Americans, Valerio and Sanker, bearing
flowers and a bottle of cognac, visited Skachkov. After their visit,
he died. The physicians attributed his death to poisoning."
The tale of poisoned cognac is colorful, but Radio Liberty tells a
different story. According to the radio station, Skachkov was an
alcoholic who developed a persecution complex. As a result, he was
committed to the State Institute for the Mentally Disturbed. He
died, said Radio Liberty, of "a heart attack."
employed a Joseph Valerio and a Paul Sanker in its news department,
but "neither Valerio or Sanker ever visited Skachkov, so the whole
premise is a fabrication."
But the continuing Soviet attacks on Radio Liberty and its present
and former employees provide some indication that this radio station
"supported by a group of private American citizens" is reaching the
Russian people in sufficient numbers to be irritating to the Soviet
By far the biggest, and from time to time the most controversial, of
these radio operations is Radio Free Europe, which says it is a,
"private non-profit, non-government network broadcasting through the
Iron Curtain to eighty million captive people in Poland,
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria."
One distinction between Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty is that
RFE broadcasts exclusively to the five satellite nations, while
Radio Liberty broadcasts exclusively to the Soviet Union.
Radio Free Europe was born in 1949, with the formation of the
National Committee for a Free Europe. In 1950 the committee's
Crusade for Freedom fund drive was launched by General Eisenhower
and General Lucius D. Clay, the hero of the 1948-49 Berlin airlift.
The purpose of the fund drive was to raise money for RFE.
"We need powerful radio stations abroad," Eisenhower said in
launching the crusade, "operated without government restrictions."
Clay struck the same theme. He praised the Voice of America but
"There seemed to me to be needed another voice -- a voice less
tempered perhaps by the very dignity of government; a tough,
slugging voice, if you please."
In 1950-51, the directors of the National Committee for a Free
*3 included Clay, Allen Dulles, C. D. Jackson, who became
Eisenhower's psychological warfare adviser, and A. A. Berle, Jr.,
who participated in the Bay of Pigs operation a decade later.
RFE has twenty-eight transmitters at three sites. Two locations are
in West Germany, at Biblis, near Frankfurt, and at Holzkirchen, near
Munich. The third site is at Gloria, near Lisbon. RFE headquarters,
like Radio Liberty, is at Munich. The organization employs about
"We're supported by contributions from the American people, mainly
from the Radio Free Europe Fund," a spokesman said. He added that
RFE is "privately managed and privately financed." However, he said
"we work within the published policy of the United States
Asked how it went about making sure that its broadcasts were
consistent with United States foreign policy, he rep1ied: "We read
the New York Times."
Are any government funds behind RFE? "No," was the reply, "but I
prefer to put it positively -- we are supported by voluntary
contributions." RFE's budget figures, however, are not published
For a time, RFE dabbled in some intriguing balloon operations. In
1953 it set up something called the Free Europe Press, which began
wafting rubber and plastic balloons filled with propaganda materials
to Eastern Europe. For a time the balloon barrage went under the
code name "Operation Prospero."
In February, 1956, the Czech Government charged that a balloon
released by RFE had caused the crash of a Czech airliner on January
18 of that year in the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia. The crash killed
twenty-two and injured four.
Moscow also protested the balloons, and Hungary chimed in that
American balloons had caused three Hungarian air crashes. RFE
replied that the balloons were not dangerous, that the "captive
nations" had "attempted to shoot down balloons by aircraft and
ground fire" and that Czech intelligence had tried twice "to blow up
our balloon sites in Western Germany."
RFE called in its balloons during the Hungarian revolt. The program
was not revived.
RFE figured in another cloak-and-dagger episode in December, 1959,
when it charged that "a Communist diplomat" had put lethal amounts
of atropine in the salt shakers of the radio station's cafeteria in
If taken in sufficient quantity, atropine can cause delirium,
convulsions, coma or death. The U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps
investigated and charged that Jaroslav Nemec, the vice-consul of the
Czech consulate in Salzburg, Austria, had given the spiked salt
shakers to a Communist agent "for placement in the Radio Free Europe
cafeteria in Munich." The case was quietly dropped the next month,
when the Munich public prosecutor said the amount of poison in the
salt cellars had not been sufficient to cause serious harm.
At times, RFE has come under critical attack for the content of its
broadcasts to Eastern Europe. On July 9, 1959, for example, there
were news reports from Warsaw that the United States Ambassador to
Poland, Jacob D. Beam, had protested RFE's broadcasts because he
felt they contained misinformation and too blatant a propaganda
line. At his press conference the same day, Secretary of State
Christian A. Herter appeared to confirm the reports; he said any
recommendations from Beam "will be very carefully studied."
But it was RFE's role in the Hungarian revolt of 1956 that brought
the most criticism and controversy upon it. At the heart of the
issue was the extremely touchy question of whether United States
foreign policy should be aimed at the "liberation" of Eastern
"In thirteen years," an RFE executive explained, "Radio Free Europe
has incurred a heavy moral responsibility. We must be extremely
careful that what we say cannot lead to an ineffective uprising."
Obviously, he had Hungary in mind.
Nevertheless, a recent RFE fund-appeal booklet, Your Money's Worth,
illustrates that the radio station still speaks with a militant
'The captive people," the appeal said, "desire freedom and do
everything reasonable in their power to obtain it ... Radio Free
Europe helps the East Europeans resist Communism ... helps them keep
alive their faith in freedom ... Support Radio Free Europe ... it is
one of the few ways you as a private citizen can take an active part
in the fight against Communism ... bring the battle to the Kremlin's
The Soviet role in Hungary was a sickening spectacle to civilized
men everywhere. In the first phase, Moscow seemed willing to grant
Hungary a measure of freedom. Then Russian tanks rolled into
Budapest and brutally crushed the Hungarian patriots.
In the aftermath of the blood bath, questions were widely raised
about RFE's role. Had it incited the Hungarians to revolt? Had it
held out false promises of Western aid, knowing that this aid would
not come? Was RFE, to put it bluntly, partly responsible for the
carnage in Budapest?
Various tribunals examined this question, but little was said
publicly about some more subtle and basic under lying questions.
These questions began with the Voice of America, the official voice
of the United States Government. It is an organ of the United States
Information Agency, and it broadcasts around the globe in thirty-six
The Voice spends $22,000,000 a year. Forty percent of its
programming is aimed at Communist countries. (In West Berlin, a huge
300,000-watt station called RIAS -- Radio in the American Sector- --
broadcasts around the clock to East Berlin and East Germany. It is
said to be under the USIA.) In 1963 work was completed on a gigantic
transmitter complex at Greenville, North Carolina, giving the Voice
the most powerful long-range broadcasting station in the world.
From all this, it should be obvious that news and propaganda
broadcasts across national boundaries to other nations, particularly
behind the Iron Curtain, are among the mechanisms of United States
foreign policy. On the face of it, therefore, it would seem logical
that the United States Government could scarcely allow a competing
organization to broadcast, as it pleased, material that might affect
relations between governments, incite to revolt, or even involve the
United States in military action. It did not seem likely, in other
words, that it could allow a "private" broadcasting organization to
conduct the foreign policy of the United States.
Consequently, lying ominously just below the surface of the various
inquiries into RFE's role in the Hungarian revolt was the larger
question of whether the United States Government had erred in
permitting RFE to broadcast any degree of encouragement to the
Hungarians that could not be backed up by U.S. military assistance.
However, the post-Hungary inquiries were not conducted in these
terms. To do so would have opened up the entire sensitive question
of whether and/or to what extent RFE received policy guidance, funds
and direction from the CIA and the State Department.*4
The charges against Radio Free Europe began in Moscow and soon
spread to the free world, where they were picked up by Freies Wort,
the organ of West Germany's Free Democratic Party. They were aired
further when three revolutionary leaders who had escaped from
Hungary said at a press conference in Bonn, on November 19, that RFE
had broadcast "more than the troth." On November 29 Anna Kethly, the
Hungarian Social Democratic leader who had escaped to the West,
dealt RFE another blow when she said of its broadcasts: "The
intentions were good but the results were not always happy."
In New York, RFE countered by calling Miss Kethly's statement
"utterly without foundation and wholly incorrect." A spokesman said
broadcasts promising Western military aid to Hungary were the work
of a "Communist radio located in East Germany. These Communist
programs were broadcast in the name of Radio Free Europe."
There were then three inquiries into RFE's role. The West German
Government set up a commission to study the charges (since RFE was
headquartered in Munich on West German soil) RFE turned over to it
three miles of tape containing all its broadcasts to Hungary before,
during and after the revolt.
On January 25, 1957, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer reported the results
of this inquiry at a press conference. Charges that RFE had promised
the Hungarians armed assistance by the West "do not correspond with
the facts," he said.
"Remarks, however, were made that were subject
to misinterpretation. The matter has been discussed and personnel
changes have resulted. I believe we can consider the matter closed
for the time being."
Adenauer's report seemed internally contradictory. On the one hand,
it found the charges to be incorrect. On the other hand, it said
there had been a shake-up at Radio Free Europe.
A second inquiry was conducted by a special committee of the Council
of Europe, an organization of Western governments formed in 1949 to
deal mainly with social problems. In its report on April 27, 1957,
the committee said the charge that RFE had promised "military aid
from the West was proved to be without ground." But it said one RFE
news broadcast "could easily have led to misunderstandings."
The report added it was,
"regrettable that Radio Free Europe is still
entirely financed by the U.S.A. ... Radio Free Europe depends
entirely on American funds and is consequently a purely American
affair ... actual political leadership and the last word rest with
the American management."
In June, 1957, a United Nations special committee on Hungary came in
with its verdict on RFE:
"Listeners had the feeling that Radio Free Europe promised help ...
the general tone of these broadcasts aroused an expectation of
support ... In a tense atmosphere such as that prevailing in Hungary
during these critical weeks ... the generally hopeful tone of such
broadcasts may well have been overemphasized in the process of
passing from mouth to mouth ...
"The attitude of the Hungarian people towards foreign broadcasting
was perhaps best summed up by the student ...who said: 'It was our
only hope, and we tried to console ourselves with it.' It would
appear that certain broadcasts by Radio Free Europe helped to create
an impression that support might be forthcoming for the Hungarians.
The Committee feels that in such circumstances the greatest
restraint and circumspection are called for in international
The three cautiously phrased reports, in other words, found in
varying degree that RFE's broadcasts, while they did not promise aid
in so many words, "helped to create an impression," as the UN put
it, that assistance might be on the way.
One RFE broadcast that might have contributed to this was a news
report of Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge's words in the UN. Lodge said
the Hungarian resistance had given the UN "a brief moment in which
to mobilize the conscience of the world on your behalf. We are
seizing that moment and we will not fail you."
Another RFE broadcast during the revolt gave instructions on how to
blow up attacking Soviet tanks.
While none of the inquiries produced any evidence that RFE actually
promised military aid, there is no doubt that it encouraged the
revolutionary fighters. For example, one script broadcast to Hungary
by RFE on November 3, as Soviet tanks ringed Budapest, said:
"The Soviet monster stands at our gates ... the eight days'
victorious revolution have turned Hungary into a free land ...
Neither Khrushchev nor the whole of the Soviet army have the power
to oppress this new liberty ... What can you do against Hungary, you
Soviet legions? It is in vain to pierce Hungarian souls with your
bayonets. You can destroy and shoot and kill: our freedom will now
forevermore defy you ..." 
In his book The Bridge at Andau, James A. Michener said that RFE did
not incite the uprising,
"but this radio did broadcast messages of
freedom and is presumably still doing so. Are we now prepared to
assume direct responsibility for these messages? How long can we
broadcast such messages without assuming direct responsibility for
our words?" 
Michener's question is well worth pondering. The effect of RFE's
words is nowhere more heartbreakingly recorded than in the
broadcasts from inside Hungary in the dying hours of the revolt.
Better than any UN or other investigation, they reflect how the men
and women inside Hungary, whether rightly or wrongly, regarded the
role of RFE.
On the afternoon of November 5, Radio Free Rakoczi broadcast this
message from inside Hungary at 13:48 hours: 
"Attention, Radio Free Europe, hello attention. This is Roka
speaking. The radio of revolutionary youth ... continual bombing ...
Help, help, help ... Radio Free Europe ... forward our request.
Forward our news. Help! Help!"
November 6, 13:52 hours:
"We appeal to the conscience of the world. ...Why cannot you hear
the call for help of our murdered women and children? Peoples of the
world! Hear the call for help of a small nation! ... This is Radio
Rakoczi, Hungary ... Radio Free Europe, Munich! Radio Free Europe,
Munich! Answer! Have you received our transmission?"
"... Attention, attention, Munich! Munich! Take immediate action. In
the Dunapentele area we urgently need medicine, bandages, arms, food
and ammunition! Drop them for us by parachute."
And, finally, on November 7 at 09:35 hours:
"Must we appeal once again?
"Do you love liberty? ... So do we.
"Do you have wives and children? ... So have we.
"We have wounded ... who have given their blood for the sacred cause
of liberty, but we have no bandages ... no medicine ... And what
shall we give to our children who are asking for bread? The last
piece of bread has been eaten.
"In the name of all that is dear to you ... we ask you to help ...
Those who have died for liberty ... accuse you who are able to help
and who have not helped ... We have read an appeal to the UN and
every honest man ...
"Radio Free Europe, Munich! Free Europe, Munich!"
*1 To intelligence officers, the term "black radio" can have a
specialized meaning, to describe a radio that is captured and then
operated as if all were normal in order to deceive the opposition.
The Germans successfully undermined the British Operation Northpole
during World War II by using this technique. Parachutists dropped by
British Intelligence were lured into traps by Dutch underground
radios that had been captured by the Nazis. In this chapter,
however, the term is used in its broader sense, to describe radio
operations in general where they are controlled directly or
indirectly by an intelligence apparatus.
Less well known are the CIA's mimeographed summaries of the
The committee is now known as the Free Europe Committee, Inc., 2
Park Avenue, New York. The Crusade for Freedom is now the Radio Free
Europe Fund. The Committee engages in a multitude of other
activities. It publishes East Europe magazine (22.,000 copies a
month) and works with Eastern European exile groups "engaged in the
struggle for eventual freedom of their countries." The Committee has
five operating divisions: RFE, Communist Bloc Operations, Exile
Political Organizations, Free World Operations and West European
About the furthest anyone went was Edwin A. Lahey, a veteran
Washington correspondent, who said in a December 15, 1956. dispatch
from Munich in the Chicago Daily News: "The United States Government
probably supports RFE with 'unvouchered funds' but this has never
been officially established."
Back to Contents
"There are three coconut palm trees on Great Swan Island at the
present time," the State Department brochure discouragingly told
Americans who inquired about retiring to an island paradise in the
Caribbean. "There are no poisonous snakes, but the islands are
infested with hordes of lizards ranging in size from only an inch to
over three feet."
The vision of thirty-six-inch lizards slithering underfoot would
likely deter any potential visitor who had written to the State
Department for travel information about the little-known Swan
Islands, which, on the map, beckon attractively as a speck in the
western Caribbean near Honduras.
But the department's brochure, prepared for just such inquiries, had
even more hideously disenchanting news.
"It has been necessary," it
said, "to construct the few houses on the island on piers and to
take other steps to keep the lizards from overrunning them."
The water, the brochure added,
"is exceptionally clear and blue and
abounding in different types of fish. Ocean bathing is considered
dangerous as a constant watch must be kept for shark and barracuda."
The State Department's disheartening travel folder might, just
possibly, have been prompted by the fact that Great Swan Island, as
late as 1964. was the site of a covert CIA radio station
broadcasting to Cuba, Mexico, Central America and the northern tier
of South America.
Not that any prospective tourist would have been likely to stumble
on the island. There is, naturally, no commercial airline service to
the CIA's airstrip. The only boat takes five days to ply between
Tampa and the island and carries a pungent cargo of bananas and
fertilizer.*1 And normally anyone visiting the island must have a
Despite these precautions, the story of the bedeviled efforts to
conceal the CIA's hand on Swan Island provides an episode of comic
The Swan Islands are really two islands, Great Swan (usually known
simply as Swan Island), which is a mile and a half long and half a
mile wide, and Little Swan. There is also a reef, called Bobby Cay.
The islands are due south of the western tip of Cuba, and
ninety-seven miles north of Punte Patuca, Honduras. They are said to
have been named for a seventeenth-century pirate who used them as a
Like the lair of Ian Fleming's nefarious Doctor No, the CIA's
Caribbean isle is made entirely of guano, the accumulated droppings
of sea fowl. The United States has claimed the islands since 1863,
but then, so has Honduras.
When the CIA received approval to mount the operation against Cuba
that grew into the Bay of Pigs, it was decided first to soften up
Castro's island psychologically by means of radio broadcasts.
By 1960 Radio Swan was on the air. Initially, its mission was
confined to propaganda broadcasts designed to undermine the Castro
regime. Gradually, as the Bay of Pigs invasion planning progressed,
the radio station was assigned a more militant role. During the
invasion, as has been seen, Radio Swan broadcast coded messages,
appeals for uprisings among the Cuban populace and armed forces, and
instructions in the art of sabotage. But back in May of 1960, there
had to be some public explanation for the mysterious new
fifty-kilowatt station that suddenly began to broadcast from Swan
And so it was that something called the Gibraltar Steamship
Corporation, then of 437 Fifth Avenue, New York, announced publicly
that it had leased land on Swan Island to operate a radio station.
(Officials of the line said that the Gibraltar Steamship Corporation
had not owned a steamship for ten years.)
Horton H. Heath, who described himself as "commercial manager" of
the station, explained that Radio Swan would broadcast music, soap
operas and news.
"It is strictly a commercial venture," he announced
to the press. "We plan to get advertisers. We haven't got any yet,
but are negotiating."
But who owned Gibraltar Steamship?
Walter G. Lohr, of Baltimore, who said he was a stockholder,
identified the president of Gibraltar as Thomas Dudley Cabot, of
Weston, Massachusetts, a banker and the former president of the
United Fruit Company, and the director, in 1951, of the State
Department Office of International Security Affairs. Appropriately,
considering his new capacity, Cabot was also president and director
of Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc., the world's largest producer of carbon
Another stockholder was publicly identified at the time as Sumner
Smith, a Boston businessman who claimed that his family owned Swan
Island. Horton Heath explained that the Gibraltar Steamship
Corporation was leasing the land for the radio station from Sumner
Smith, who was chairman of the board of Abington Textile Machinery
Works, 19 Congress Street, Boston.
When a reporter for the Miami Herald reached Smith in Boston in
June, 1960, he fended off questions about Radio Swan by saying:
"Speak to the government."
But the government professed ignorance of the radio station. In
answer to a question at the time, a State Department spokesman had
replied: "The only station that I know anything about on Swan Island
is a United States Weather Bureau station." (And it was true that
the United States had operated such a station on Swan Island
intermittently since 1914.)
The United States Information Agency did go so far as to say it had
planned a project similar to Radio Swan but had abandoned the idea
because of "interference and licensing problems."
Peculiarly, the Federal Communications Commission, which is required
by law to license all radio stations operating from United States
territory, did not license Radio Swan or the Gibraltar Steamship
"We don't know who owns the island," an FCC spokesman explained
The State Department suffered no such doubts. It firmly listed
Swan Island as a "possession," and had consistently rejected
And so Gibraltar Steamship and Radio Swan were in operation. It did
not take long for Havana, stung by the propaganda broadcasts, to
bark back. As early as June 21, 1960, Castro's Radio Mambi, in
Havana, complained that "a counterrevolutionary radio station,
supported by U.S. dollars, is now active on Swan."
Things were going reasonably smoothly for the CIA, however, until
the Hondurans began to get fidgety over the funny business taking
place on what they insisted was their mound of guano.
The trouble had its roots in the fact that a 1960 U.S. census had
been taken on Swan Island. In March of that year, a two-star admiral
had been piped ashore to count noses on Great Swan. (Only birds
lived on Little Swan). Rear Admiral H. Arnold Karo, the director of
the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, stopped off to take the
census during a voyage of the survey ship Explorer.
In April, with much fanfare, it was announced in Washington that the
population of Swan Island was twenty-eight, a drop of four since
1950. In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, a group of students reacted
indignantly to the claim of sovereignty implied by the taking of the
1960 census. They announced plans to organize an expedition to plant
their country's flag on Swan Island. And in July, thirteen armed
Hondurans arrived off Swan Island. The invaders were repulsed
single-handedly by John Hamilton, a Cayman Islander who was the
Weather Bureau's native cook.
From their boat, the Hondurans shouted that they were coming ashore
to place a marker on the beach claiming Swan Island as their own.
"Leave your guns in the boat," the intrepid cook ordered. The
Hondurans meekly complied. They came ashore, unarmed, sang the
Honduran national anthem, took their own census and planted their
In Washington, the State Department announced solemnly that the
government was awaiting a report from its embassy in Tegucigalpa on
the illegal landing by the Hondurans.
On Swan Island, the CIA took direct action to smooth things over. It
invited the Hondurans to lunch. Horton Heath announced that all was
But in October the dispute got into the United Nations. Francisco
Milla Bermudez, the permanent Honduran representative to the UN,
told the General Assembly, on October 3, that the United States had
occupied Swan Island "against the right and will" of his government.
"Historically, geographically and juridically," he declared, "the
Swan Islands are and always will be Honduran territory."
But the United States claim to the islands was solidly based on
guano, specifically the Guano Act of 1856. Under it, the President
could issue a certificate when an American citizen discovered guano
on an unclaimed island. This gave the discoverer the right to
collect and sell the guano, a valuable fertilizer rich in
phosphates. The President, at his discretion, could then designate
the island as United States territory.
In 1863 such a certificate was issued for Swan Island to the New
York Guano Company by Secretary of State Seward, who acted for
President Lincoln. Shortly after the turn of the century, the
company abandoned the islands. They were claimed in 1904 by Captain
Alonzo Adams, an old salt who sailed out of Mobile, Alabama.
In the 1920s Honduras made several passes at the islands, but
Washington warned Tegucigalpa to keep off and sent along a copy of
Seward's Guano Certificate to back up its territorial claim.
For a time the United Fruit Company harvested coconuts on the
island, but the 1955 hurricane swept away all but the three trees
alluded to in the State Department travel brochure.
The CIA shared Swan Island with two other branches of the Federal
Government: the Weather Bureau and the Federal Aviation Agency. The
Weather Bureau maintained a station, staffed by eight men, to take
wind direction, wind speed, temperature and humidity pressure. The
FAA maintained a high-powered radio beacon as a navigational aid to
The Weather Bureau people were rotated every three to six months,
since they were not allowed to bring their wives and children to
Swan Island. A favorite pastime of gourmets among the government men
was clonking lobsters over the head with stones in the shallow
The CIA set up shop in lizard-proof Quonset huts half a mile from
the Weather Bureau compound. They installed their radio equipment in
big trailers slung with awnings to protect the delicate electronic
gear from the broiling Caribbean sun. The Cayman Islanders, imported
as a labor force, lived nearby with their families in a compound
In September, 1960, Walter S. Lemmon, the president of the World
Wide Broadcasting System, announced that his station, WRUL, would
co-operate with Radio Swan in broadcasts to Cuba. World Wide,
besides its Manhattan office, had a short-wave station at Scituate,
Massachusetts. Since April, WRUL had been broadcasting to Cuba. The
programs featured Miss Pepita Riera, a Cuban exile billed as "Havana
Rose." Lemmon said Radio Swan would tape and rebroadcast WRUL's
At the same time, Representative Roman C. Pucinski, Chicago Democrat
and sponsor of an organization called Radio Free Cuba, announced
that his group would also cooperate with World Wide and Radio Swan.
Pucinski described Radio Free Cuba as a privately owned group that
had six radio stations in Florida, including the Florida Keys, and
During this period, Radio Swan's programs were for the most part
recorded in the New York office of the Gibraltar Steamship
Corporation. Some prominent Cuban exiles taped programs for the CIA
station, including Luis Conte Aguero, a former Havana radio and
Havana Radio kept up its counter-barrage. On October 24 Castro's
radio attacked the "miserable curs who speak over Radio Swan." In
January, 1961, it said:
"Radio Swan is not a radio station but a
cage of hysterical parrots."
During the invasion, the CIA station was on the air twenty-four
hours a day, transmitting romantic- sounding messages in code. At
10:57 P.M. on April 18, for example, the CIA broadcast this cryptic
message in Spanish over Radio Swan:
"Attention, Stanislaus, the moon
is red 19 April."
Even after the invasion had collapsed, Radio Swan continued to
broadcast mysterious orders to nonexistent battalions. On April 22
three days after the end of the invasion, Radio Swan ordered various
detachments not to surrender -- help was on the way. Orders went out
over the air to "Battalion Three" to advance.
"Battalion Four and
Seven" were told to "proceed to Point Z."
"Mission Alborada," which means reveille in Spanish, was ordered to
commence, and Squadrons Four and Five were told to protect it. At
the same time, "Air Group Pluto Norte" was told to cover position
"Nino Three N/S."
In the swamps and forests around the Bahia de Cochinos, some of the
weary brigade survivors who heard the broadcasts as they tried to
evade capture by the militia were bitter at what they felt was false
encouragement by Radio Swan.
By this time, Radio Swan's cover as a private station owned by the
Gibraltar Steamship Corporation had worn perilously thin. A private
station that had broadcast messages in code and instructions to
troops during a clandestine invasion -- well, it seemed to be time
to get out of town.
And that is just what Gibraltar did. It kept an office in Manhattan,
but moved the entire operation to Miami in September, 1961. The
"steamship" executives moved into rooms 910, 911 and 912 of the
Langford Building in downtown Miami. Fred Fazakerley, a spokesman
for the Gibraltar line, told a newsman that Horton Heath would be
moving to Miami to take over the office. Several pieces of luggage
being moved into the suite were marked with the name "George Wass,"
who was identified as an official of Radio Swan. Gibraltar took this
listing in the Miami telephone book:
Gibraltar SS Corp. Langfrd B1 371-8098.
Then, silently, by a process akin to alchemy, Gibraltar Steamship
faded away and was metamorphosed into a brand-new identity -- the
Vanguard Service Corporation, "consultants." Radio Swan fluttered
into a CIA Valhalla, only to emerge as "Radio Americas."
Oddly, the Vanguard Service Corporation did not bother to move out
of Gibraltar's quarters or to change its telephone number. The
1963-64 Miami telephone book still carried the same listing for
Gibraltar, but it also carried this listing:
Vanguard Serv Corp consltnts Langfrd B1 371-8098.
With a whole new dramatis personae, Radio Americas, now managed by
one Roger Butts, continued to broadcast from Swan Island.
In 1962 an elderly New England couple, Mr. and Mrs. Prince S.
Crowell, decided to visit Swan Island. Mr. Crowell's father had been
a chemist for a guano company, and the adventurous couple occupied
their leisure time with visits far and wide to the scene of bygone
"Mr. Crowell had set his heart on going to Swan to continue the
guano investigation," Mrs. Crowell wrote later in the Falmouth
(Massachusetts) Enterprise. 
The couple would not be put off. They contacted Sumner Smith, who
agreed to write to "his caretaker, Captain Donald E. Glidden, to
make plans for us ... The captain had given us into the care of Mr.
Roger Butts, an executive of Vanguard Service Corporation, which
manages the commercial station, Radio Americas, on the island."
The Crowells were, apparently. innocently unaware of what they had
Once a week, a CIA plane would leave Miami for Swan Island, and it
was the only air link with the United States.
"At last arrangements were made for us to be among the few recent
visitors to Swan," Mrs. Crowell wrote. "We flew from Miami in a
DC-3, twenty-four-passenger plane with two pilots, the mail, medical
supplies, weekly food, several wares for the store, etc. We learned
later that we presented some problem. About one half-hour before we
were to land, the island found out that no preparation in the line
of ramp or ladder had been made to get two aged passengers from the
high door of the plane. After much scurrying around and various
suggestions, a solution was found. They drove a tractor with a scoop
up to the door, raised the scoop, led us onto it, backed away a bit
and lowered us. Every available man, woman and child was down to
greet us. I was a curiosity indeed, the only female citizen of the
United States on the Island."
What happened next was like a scene straight out of a Margaret
Rutherford-Alistair Sim film comedy, as the charming couple was
turned loose on the CIA's guano island.
"Mr. Butts gave up his home for us, a Quonset hut, five rooms and a
bath with hot and cold water," Mrs. Crowell continued.
"The radio station and weather bureau were carefully explained to
us, but not comprehended. We were taken swimming in the loveliest
water I ever saw ... my especial joy on that trip was the birds; at
least one hundred frigate birds, one hundred brown boobies, and
twelve red-footed boobies ... Palm warblers ... were around our
house all the time and I had an excellent view of a vittelina
warbler, Nelson's (denolroica vittelina nelsoni) named for Mr.
George Nelson and found only on Swan, I believe. On the runway we
enjoyed daily a flock of twenty little blue herons in all stages of
color, a few white ibis and one cattle egret. It seemed like home to
hear and see one catbird, also one tree swallow.
"One of the technicians led us to a young white booby in its nest.
We had to pick our way several hundred yards over jagged sharp coral
with great cracks to be crossed."
There was no question that the CIA had gone above and beyond the
call of duty to be hospitable to the delightful Massachusetts
"When we reluctantly left for home," Mrs. Crowell concluded,
"the pilot flew low over and around the islands as a farewell treat.
We realized with grateful appreciation that no stone had been left
unturned to make our unusual adventure a reality."
A year later, Radio Americas was still on the air from Swan. It
called on Cubans to burn cane fields, and to carry matches to be
ready for sabotage at all times. It instructed them to go into
offices and telephone booths and take the receivers off the hooks to
tie up communications. And it urged the people of Cuba to smash as
many bottles as possible. The CIA's reported plan was to curtail the
island's beer supply by creating a bottle shortage.
In Boston, Sumner Smith maintained he was not sure whether or not he
was still a director of the Gibraltar Steamship Corporation. Smith,
explaining his family's ownership claim, said that he had foreclosed
a mortgage on the island that had been acquired years ago by his
father, the late Charles Sumner Smith. Smith said he had since
transferred ownership of the island to his four children, and that
they in turn had leased the land to Gibraltar for operation of the
A telephone call was placed to the Vanguard Service Corporation
consultants, in Miami late in 1963. "Vanguard Service," said the
girl who answered. Roger Butts then came on the line. Mr. Butts
explained that Radio Swan was now Radio Americas and was "currently
"It is a privately owned commercial station operating on Swan
Island," he said.
"What happened to the Gibraltar Steamship Corporation?"
"Vanguard is leasing from Gibraltar Steamship on a profit basis.
Gibraltar leases from Sumner Smith."
Mr. Butts identified himself as the "vice-president" of Vanguard.
"The president and treasurer is Mr. William H. West, Jr., Mr. James
Hollingsworth of Palm Beach is the vice-president and Richard S.
Greenlee is the secretary."
Mr. Butts was asked how the station was supported. After a long
pause he replied: "By income from sponsors."
A call to George O. Gillingham, the public information chief for the
Federal Communications Commission, brought this response to an
inquiry about the Swan Island station:
"It's still operating. We do
not license this station. Try the State Department."
Gillingham said yes, the FCC does license stations broadcasting from
the United States or its possessions. That is the law of the land.
"We don't license government stations," he added.
Was he saying that this was a government station then?
"No, no, no!" the FCC man said. "We don't know what it is. All we
know is that it's operating."
*1The boat service is operated by Hamilton Bras., Inc., a Honduran
company, according to the State Department brochure.
Most recently in Geographic Report, No. 4, February 7, 1963, The
Geographer, Department of State. It should be understood that the
State Department claimed U.S. sovereignty over the Swan Islands;
this did not mean private individuals could not own property on the
island, as the Smith family claimed it did. The State Department
brochure on the islands said that a letter from Sumner Smith, dated
February 19, 1956, "states that he, as agent, represents certain
There was no listing for Radio Swan.
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CIA - The Central Intelligence Agency