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London Sunday Telegraph

24 November 1996 (excerpt)

CIA Threatens to Pull Plug on World Service

Spy Service Cuts Hit BBC Network

by Catherine Milner

Arts Correspondent

The CIA, America's spy agency, which has contributed to the BBC World Service's news gathering operation for decades, is threatening to withdraw its support for the broadcasting organisation.

Under a little-publicised arrangement, the BBC has benefited from news copy that stems from CIA monitoring of international radio, television and news agencies.

Now CIA chiefs have concluded that with the end of the Cold War and the need to build economies, they can dispense with much of their information-gathering systems-- and the World Service is likely to be an unexpected loser.


While the BBC covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the information gathering arm of the CIA-- the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS)-- covers China, Korea and Russia from another floor at Caversham.

But the cost-cutting proposal aims to replace FBIS bureaux with local "stringers" working from home, and abandoning FBIS translations with foreign language reports on the Internet. The CIA hopes the changes will save up to 12 million a year.

"We are looking at ways we can use information technology to achieve the same or better results with cash savings," said David Christian, a CIA spokesman.

"If we can do the same thing but cheaper it will be better for US taxpayers. But there's no fixed date for when it is going to happen yet."

John Tusa, a former head of the World Service, said yesterday: "There will be large gaps in coverage if the Americans pull out of certain countries. Specialist correspondents use the material heavily-- if they want to see a speech by a foreign minister for instance-- and it will be very surprising if this cut doesn't cause problems."


"The monitoring service has been legendary for its comprehensiveness. But thanks to these cuts the general quality of analysis is going to suffer. And this will affect the government offices that rely on it to know about what's going on in places like China, for instance."


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