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Academia Mounts Fight to Save a CIA Program

By NORMAN KEMPSTER, Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Times, 14 January 1997 (excerpt)

WASHINGTON--For the last three decades or more, about the only time "CIA" and "college" were used in the same sentence was when professors and students were trying to expel the spy agency's recruiters from campus. But now, the academic community has found a CIA program worth fighting for.

With budget cutters taking aim at the CIA service that monitors and translates foreign broadcasts and newspaper reports, the Federation of American Scientists, which counts many of the nation's top academic and theoretical scientists as its members and is usually among the agency's severest critics, has mounted a campaign to save the program.

"We want this program restored and expanded," said FAS President Jeremy Stone. "Throw something else--anything else--from the CIA's budget."

At issue is a plan by some of the CIA's budget writers to cut by 25% or more the funding for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which retransmits a welter of dispatches from obscure radio broadcasts and newspapers to customers ranging from the White House National Security Council to academics and U.S. news organizations.

Since rumors of the cuts surfaced last summer, a growing list of professors and other academics has protested what is called a false economy.

Lyman Miller, director of the China studies program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, said the cuts will "cripple our curriculum."

During some periods, such as the chaotic Cultural Revolution, FBIS was virtually the only reliable source of information for China scholars and government agencies, Miller said. "FBIS has . . . always supplied the biggest bang for the buck in the American intelligence community," he said.

Steven Aftergood, an official of the FAS, said the budget-cutting plan would close many of the service's overseas bureaus, sharply reduce the number of monitored foreign news reports and end the translation of dispatches into English. [...]

Although the amount spent on FBIS is classified--like all aspects of the CIA budget--backers say it is about $18 million a year.

CIA officials insist no final decision has been made on whether a large cut in FBIS funding will become part of the Clinton administration's budget proposal. The service's academic supporters, meanwhile, say that if they lose in the budget deliberations, they will continue the fight, urging Congress to restore the funds.


Copyright Los Angeles Times

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