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The Boston Globe
Monday, January 13, 1997 (editorial)

A Lack of Intelligence

The Foreign Broadcast Information Service, known affectionately to scholars, journalists, and analysts in government and business as "Fibis," has long been the most valuable and cost-effective service provided to the public by the CIA. The overseas staff of FBIS monitors, translates and publishes press reports and broadcasts from 3,500 open sources in 55 languages, providing irreplaceable information about the world outside.

So there is something perverse about a pending decision to eliminate the FBIS translations.

Researchers, policy makers and journalists were already lamenting last summer's loss of the printed version of the FBIS reports. Recently they were chagrined to learn that even the electronic version, which cost $50 per month on the Internet, was about to be jettisoned.

Justifiably, consumers of FBIS reports are trying to persuade the Clinton administration to reconsider a cutback tht would have the effect of restricting public-source intelligence to those who can afford to have it translated. Those privileged few policy makers would then have a monopoly on crucial information and could use their monopoly to thwart critics inside and outside the government.

"As secrecy declines with the end of the Cold War, the collection of public information becomes more important," said Jeremy Stone, president of the Federation of American Scientists, in a letter to Anthony Lake, the president's national security adviser and Clinton's choice for CIA director. "FBIS is an exemplar of an intelligence contribution to the public that should be broadly replicated, not curtailed." Many eminent scholars have endorsed this stand on a World Wide Web site established for that purpose.

Secrecy requirements prevent the CIA from saying anything in public about its budget or staffing decisions. But there is little money to be saved by ending the FBIS translations, and public support for the agency can only be harmed by terminating its most useful public function. Elimination of the FBIS service would make more sense to an Iranian, Libyan or Iraqi intelligence chief who wished to keep Americans in the dark about the rest of the world.

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