Sir Freddie






Q: Going back to the 19 - the early 1950s, how important was the propaganda war and thinking of the kind of military confrontation which wasn't wanted on both sides in Europe? How important was the radio?

A: Well, the '50s, you say (cough)

Q: Early '50s.

A: Radio was after all by that time, sure there was some television, but for instance the West German stations did not yet have relay stations for television along the interzonal boundary between the two parts of Germany. So radio was the main source. And for all we know, even up to practically the day the wall collapsed, radio news was more important by way of information to the East Germans because television was not as easy to receive and secondly, in general the radio news was more serious than the television news and RIAS, as I said, gave so much more background information. Now since in East Germany of course, up to the day the wall came down they were not allowed to subscribe to or in any way from visitors or so receive West German publications, it's obvious that the electronic media were up till the last day the principal source of information for the East Germans.

Q: And how important was the RIAS in that propaganda war between the Soviet Union and the East and West?

A: I would flatly say RIAS was the main source of information for East Germans. In the information field. On the other hand, people so often overlook that after the four power agreement of 1971, which was the big turning point in the Cold War, because the four power agreement basically amounted to the US and the Soviet Union agreeing not to bicker over Berlin any more, each side (cough) had seen that it could not win out and so this was kind of an armistice. And after that things eased up very much for the West Berliners. There was no more harassment along the access routes and so on. So that was the big turning point in the Cold War. And after that literally millions of West Germans and now also West Berliners could visit their relatives and friends in East Germany. So this in a sense made less important the electronic media, because people by the millions received unvarnished pictures of what went on in West Germany from their relatives. So the efforts by the GDR media which were up to the last day as crude propaganda instruments as you could imagine, were to me always singularly unrealistic because they overlooked the millions of personal impressions from relatives and friends which the East Germans, who of course on their side were not allowed to travel to West Germany, but these visitors after '71 were millions every year, so it made so ludicrous to me the crude propaganda of the GDR media up to the end.

Q: You would think that played the same role in the early '50s? Where people could still visit each other.

A: People were too poor then to travel the way they did their Mercedes and so on. At the time there wasn't people were too occupied with building their new lives, so there wasn't terribly much travel going on. There certainly the East Germans were far too poor to visit. And even then it was kind of looked at by the regime as politically not correct to visit West Germans. It was not forbidden but they were even then spying on people who had West German visitors. In each house in the city there was some so-called block warden who was constantly snooping whether for instance people were listening to RIAS, so they had to be rather careful, sometimes put a pillow over the receiver and so on. So there was this effective and excessive, as we now know Communist spy system which militated against people travelling freely and even in the early days speaking very openly to visitors. All this in fairness one must say relaxed very much after the four power a, and in the years after '71 East Berliners and other East Germans were not reluctanif you met them, say in a restaurant, to openly criticise the regime. So there was a big difference between the harsh dictatorship of the early period and the somewhat more benign Communist regime in the later years of the GDR.

Q: How influential would you think was the RIAS influencing German politics, internal politics?

A: That's going too high it had one specific job, to keep the East Germans informed. But what they did about it, RIAS did not try - we did not have political commentaries advising them what to do. That would have been totally beyond - it's job was information and what the East Germans did with it was another matter. So I wouldn't describe a particularly strong political role in that sense. But just keeping people under a Communist regime informed is to add to their resistance, because totally uninformed people are obviously not as critical toward even their Communist government as if they're well informed.

Q: Did General Clay have a relationship with the RIAS and what kind of relationship did he have?

A: Nothing special. I mean, to him it was a station who fulfilled its function just as much as the earlier efforts in only a half year difference, because RIAS started in February of '46. I've never heard of General Clay taking any particular specific influence, nor did he for instance during all the years I was interpreter ever ask me about my work at the radio station. He simply took it for granted that we were doing what he said we should do.

Q: And how independent would you think the RIAS was politically?

A: As much as the West German stations. We had a job, I repeat, all the news that's fit to be broadcast. During my seven and a half years as RIAS director I received no instruction concerning the treatment of any particular political problem. I never received a reprimand for anything we did. So our own supervisors relied on our doing the job, and of course the complaints came only from the Communist side and they certainly didn't hurt us. Top German politicians, for instance, like Brandt would on various occasions say that the two pillars of the American presence in Berlin were the troops and RIAS. That if you wish is the best kind of assignment I give how important RIAS was to the Germans.

Q: Did you ever know of any CIA involvement in the RIAS? Or what.

A: Right after I started as RIAS director in March '61, some of my top Germans came to me and complained that one low level employee, a woman had reported to them that there had been an approach by - she worked in the mail section, an approach by an American who wouldn't identify himself, which of course immediately made known who it was, to act as an informant for him. And I immediately went to the US mission chief and complained about it and he said he would put a stop to it and that was the end of it. So we did not permit RIAS to be used for any other purposes.