Monday, 2 March 2020

Psychological radio warfare during the Troubles in Northern Ireland

I want to publicise an excellent study by Eddie Bohan of the underground radio scene in Northern Ireland during the early years of the Troubles

It would be pointless to rehash Bohan's study here, so I've simply compiled the lists below of the stations that he mentions.

Bohan says: "Their [the underground radio stations'] reputed listenership was in excess of 70% and they were often the sole outlet for news. They gave voice to the oppressed, they challenged the Government’s official positions, they provided morale boosts, they rallied their foot soldiers into action.

Radio Free Belfast (Falls Road) (1969)
Radio Free Derry (Socialist Resistance Group; Official IRA) (1969, 1971)
Radio Saoirse ("Radio Freedom") a.k.a. Voice of the Second Battalion (Derry) (Provisional IRA) (1969, 1971)
Radio Bogside (Derry) (1969)
Radio 3 Belfast (Falls Road) (October 1970)
Raidio na Phoblachta ("Radio of the Republic") (Belfast) (Marxist) 
Armagh Resistance Radio (1971)
Voice of Free Belfast (Andersonstown) (Socialist) 
Workers' Radio (Falls Road) (Official IRA) (1972)
Radio Sunshine 
Radio Free Newry (1974)

Radio Free Ulster a.k.a. Radio Ulster a.k.a. Voice of Ulster (Shankill Road, Belfast) (1969)
Radio Orange (Shankill Road) (1969, 1970)
Radio Shankill a.k.a. Radio Ulster (seems to have been a different "Radio Ulster" from the one above) (1969)
Radio Sundown (Shankill Road) (1969)
Radio Free Nick a.k.a. Voice of the UDA (Ulster Defence Association) (Belfast) (1972)
Radio Northern Ireland
Radio Ajax a.k.a. Radio Big Jim (Belfast)
Radio Woodvale (1974)

Neutral/non-sectarian/"peace" radios
Radio Peace (Springfield Park, West Belfast) (1969)
Gnomes of Ulster a.k.a GNU Radio (South Belfast) (1972)
Harmony Radio
Radio 99 a.k.a. Radio Caroline North (County Fermanagh, County Monaghan) (1971)
Radio Antrim (1973-1975)

Saturday, 29 February 2020

From my archive: Radio and the assassination of President Sadat

I wrote the article below for the October 1981 edition of Communication, the journal of the British DX Club (an association of radio enthusiasts and hobbyists). 

The key point of the article is that, for several hours after Sadat's assassination, Egyptian state radio was incapable of reacting to (or even reporting) it, while its Libyan counterpart did its best to exploit that failure. At the time, Libya was both a source and a target of psychological radio activity.

In 1981, fifteen years before the internet and pan-Arab satellite TV channels began to become the preferred source of news for Arab audiences, they often heard about developments in their own countries from foreign radio broadcasts. This included stations in other Arab countries as well as those outside the region such as the BBC Arabic service and its Paris-based competitor Radio Monte Carlo.

The article mentions Libyan radio's external Arabic-language service, Voice of the Arab Homeland. In March 1983 this was renamed Voice of the Greater Arab Homeland. In 1998 it became Voice of Africa, reflecting Colonel Gaddafi's changed foreign policy priorities.

Also mentioned is Voice of the Egyptian People. This anti-Sadat clandestine radio station broadcast from Libya.

The 1981 article:

When President Reagan was shot earlier this year [30 March 1981] television pictures of the assassination attempt were being shown around the world within minutes of the event. And when a gunman seriously wounded the Pope in St Peter's Square [on 13 May 1981] listeners to Vatican Radio were soon hearing up-to-the-minute reports on the Pope's condition broadcast for multilingual audiences worldwide on a number of shortwave channels.

It was a different matter when President Anwar Sadat was shot by a group of Egyptian soldiers at a military parade in Cairo on 6 October. Although this dramatic event was potentially an occasion when the keen shortwave listener could receive first-hand reports direct from the scene, the behaviour of the Egyptian broadcasting system precluded this.

Outside broadcast cut short

It was at 1104 GMT, 1304 Egyptian time [1], that six soldiers leapt from an army lorry which had stopped in front of the president's reviewing stand, threw grenades at Sadat and other VIPs and then opened fire, fatally wounding the Egyptian leader and seven others and causing at least 20 other casualties. [Note in 2020: There are now various figures available for the number of those killed and injured.]

Egyptian state radio and television, which had been carrying a live outside broadcast of the ceremony, abruptly cut this short without explanation, leaving listeners and viewers bewildered. For Egyptians, foreign broadcasters became the only sources of information about events in their own capital for almost seven hours. Their confusion must have been compounded as these foreign radio stations, particularly those broadcasting specifically to Egypt, gave conflicting accounts of events in Cairo.

Meanwhile, within an hour of the shooting, lunch time listeners in Britain were receiving full coverage of what was known at the time, including several eyewitness reports, on Radio 4's The World at One (at 1200 GMT). Sadat died in hospital at around 1215 GMT and his death was unofficially communicated shortly afterwards to the world's press. [2]

Libyan radio changes its schedule

The state radio in neighbouring Libya had pre-empted this information and was announcing Sadat's death within an hour of the shooting in Cairo, giving rise to suspicions that sources in Libya may have had advanced warning of the attack. 

At 1253 GMT, Tripoli radio announced that General Shazly, a former Egyptian army chief of staff now living in Libya as leader of the Egyptian National Front (an umbrella opposition group), would "be broadcasting an important announcement to the people shortly". At 1300 GMT it was broadcasting calls to the Egyptian people, urging them to take over the radio station in Cairo and, in typical polemical style, announcing that "Sadat's face has disappeared, the ugly face has disappeared with all its shame, capitulation and defeat. Sadat has died and some of his ministers have died too. Shame and treason ­died with him."

In response to events, Libyan radio discontinued its relay of its domestic service on short wave at 1415 GMT, replacing it with its Voice of the Arab Homeland external service for listeners in the Arab world. (This service does not normally start until 1800.) Later this service  using 17930, 15415, 15270 and 6185 kHz  carried a speech on the assassination by Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi. 

Meanwhile, the official Libyan news agency JANA was carrying a report claiming that a local broadcast from an Egyptian radio station had been heard carrying a "revolutionary statement in the name of the free officers".

Delayed, and limited, reporting from Cairo

Like the calm at the eye of a storm, the Radio Cairo external service, in its 1230 GMT scheduled news bulletin in English to Asia, gave no indication that the assassination had taken place. Only at 1625 GMT did it give any indication of the trouble by starting to broadcast chants from the Koran. These chants, uninterrupted by announcements, were heard on frequencies normally scheduled to relay both Egyptian radio's General Service and those of its Voice of the Arabs outlet

Finally, at 1752 GMT, the Koranic recitation was interrupted for an announcement by a solemn Vice-President Mubarak. This announcement, and the English news bulletin for Europe at 2130, gave very few details of the manner of Sadat's death but merely said he had been attacked at the parade to commemorate "the 6th October victory", the day when "dignity was restored to the entire Arab nation". ­

Clandestine radio

The anti-Sadat Voice of the Egyptian People clandestine radio station failed to appear on the evening of 6 October for its scheduled 1900-2000 GMT broadcast on 9670 kHz. [I now speculate that this was because the programme was pre-recorded, and the edition scheduled to air that evening had been prepared before the assassination. Rather than air a broadcast that made no mention of the news from Cairo, its Libyan operators decided that the station should remain silent that day.]


[1] Although the UK was still on summer time on 6 October 1981, Egypt had reverted to winter time on 1 October and so was GMT+2.

[2] The time of death as 1215 GMT was given in the following day's Times (of London). The archives of the New York Times and United Press International give the time of death as 1240 GMT, 1440 Egyptian time.

© 1981 and 2020. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and the British DX Club.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

"Clandestine", "Black", "White", "Grey" — What do these terms mean?

Clandestine, black, white and grey are terms often seen in books and articles about the use of radio in conflict, including in so-called influence operations and psychological warfare. The words are sometimes misunderstood and misused. This article attempts to explain their meanings and provide examples of each type.


Confusion can arise because there are two axes to consider:
  • The clandestine to non-clandestine axis (which refers to location)
  • The black to white axis, including shades of grey (which refers to content)

Clandestine or not?

"Clandestine broadcasting is defined as that which does not admit to, or attempts to mislead listeners about, the origin of transmission" 
The Soviet Foreign Propaganda Apparatus, CIA research paper, April 1986 (declassified in 2011) 

"Clandestine sources... are those which do not specify their location, which specify an imprecise location (e.g. 'liberated territory') or which falsely claim to emanate from a particular location"
— BBC Monitoring's Editorial Guide (December 2000)

"No such thing as a precise definition exists"
— From chapter on Clandestine Radio in Radio Power: Propaganda and International Broadcasting by Julian Hale (1975)

Black, white and grey

The following definition can often be found (in varying wording):
White propaganda is that whose origin is clearly labeled and which has a transparent purpose. 
Grey propaganda is information of questionable origin that is never sourced and whose accuracy is doubtful. 
Black propaganda is information put out by an opposing government or institution and made to look as though it comes from a friendly source.
In short:
  • White – correctly sourced (truly says who it is speaking on behalf of)
  • Grey – not sourced (doesn't say who it is speaking on behalf of)
  • Black – wrongly sourced (falsely says it is speaking on behalf of someone)

An appendix to a British PWE (Political Warfare Executive) document of November 1943 said of the three types, in the particular circumstances that the PWE was using them in the Second World War:
Both Black and Grey stations differ from White in that: 
(i) They purport to be something which they are not. 
(ii) They can be disavowed by H.M.G. [His Majesty's Government].
The differences between Black and Grey stations are as follows:
Black. They depend as much upon cover as upon content and technique to achieve their object. Their disguise, both as to location and control, must be sufficiently plausible to deceive their audience.
Grey. Their disguise need only consist of a plausible cover that they are not under British control. They depend entirely on content and technique to achieve their object.
When it comes to applying the above framework to real-life examples it's not always easy to stick to the rigid definitions of white, grey and black.

I sometimes use grey to describe any degree of ambiguity. 


1. Clandestine and White: Many stations operated by insurgent/rebel/guerrilla groups in the post-Second World War heyday of clandestine broadcasting were in this category. They spoke openly and authentically on behalf of their sponsoring group but sought to conceal their physical location. 

The many examples included most of the large number of stations operated by rebel groups in Ethiopia and Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s such as Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea and Radio SPLA. The former was operated by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) from territory inside Eritrea that it had seized from forces of the Ethiopian government. The latter spoke on behalf of the Sudan People's Liberation Army using the facilities of the state radio service in neighbouring Ethiopia.

2. Clandestine and Grey: These also concealed their location. But in contrast to the first category above they were silent (or not fully explicit) about their sponsors. 

Examples: Al-Quds Palestinian Arab Radio and the Argentine station during the Falklands War, Liberty. 

Many of the numerous clandestine radio stations that targeted Iran and Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s were clandestine and various shades of grey (in some cases, dark grey to black). 

Among those aimed at Iraq, one interesting group used a very powerful mediumwave (AM) transmitter in either Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. This was first heard in 1993 carrying anti-Saddam material under a variety of fancy labels such as Radio Freedom (a.k.a. the News Centre of Free Iraq), Voice of Iraq (a.k.a. the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation) and Voice of the Free People of Iraq. In 1994 the transmitter began carrying a truly black operation, Iraqi Army Radio, which targeted dissident members of the Iraqi armed forces with material that included coded personal messages. 

3. Clandestine and Black: Although many of PWE’s "Research Units" (the cover name by which their radio stations were known) in the Second World War were black, truly black outlets were in a minority in the post-war world  though there were still plenty of them.

Those that met such a definition included almost all of the many stations that beamed to China, such as Radio Spark (run by the CIA and then Taiwan) and Radio Ba Yi (operated by the USSR). 

Other clandestine+black stations from the Soviet bloc included Radio Vltava (at the time of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968  it operated from East Germany) and National Voice of Iran, which beamed into that country from Soviet Azerbaijan from the 1950s until the 1980s. 

There were also various Soviet-bloc clandestine radio operations – black, grey and white – targeting non-communist parts of Europe during the Cold War, including those aimed at France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

From the other side of the Cold War divide, the Voice of the Khmer station that attempted to undermine the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s was also black as it did not disclose its US backing. Its clandestine status came from its claim to operate from "liberated" territory inside Cambodia when in fact it was based in neighbouring Thailand.

In the 1960s, East Germany aired black broadcasts to the West German Bundeswehr under the name Deutsche Soldatensender 935.

The anti-Mugabe Radio Truth of the 1980s also fell into the black category. It posed as a voice of disaffected Zimbabweans but was in reality entirely a creation of South Africa.

4. Partially Clandestine and Light Grey: Radio Atlantico del Sur did not identify its affiliation in its broadcasts and glossed over its location (though it gave a London address for listeners' letters), though elsewhere the British government acknowledged its sponsorship of the station. Its broadcasts were therefore a good example of the PWE belief (above) that grey outlets "depend entirely on content and technique to achieve their object". (Note that the Argentine equivalent in 1982, Liberty, was not acknowledged by its government and so belongs in the clandestine+grey category.

5. Non-Clandestine and White: Almost all traditional international shortwave broadcasters fell into this category: BBC, Radio Moscow, Voice of America, Radio Netherlands, etc.

The various rebel-run stations during the Libyan civil war in 2011 also operated openly.

The same went for the various Voice of Palestine stations operated by the PLO, broadcasting from the state broadcasting organisations of Arab countries.

6. Non-Clandestine and Grey: Radio Station Peace and Progress was a good example of this. It made no secret of broadcasting from Moscow, but claimed to be the “voice of Soviet public opinion” and to be run by various "public" organisations in the USSR. In reality, it was fully controlled by the Soviet government and aimed at supporting Soviet foreign policy objectives.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), could be described as non-clandestine but grey during the period (until 1971) when they were funded covertly by the CIA. 

Voice of the Coast, the British-run station in the Gulf in the 1960s, was a light shade of grey.

7. Non-Clandestine and Black: Radio Impacto, the anti-Sandinist station that broadcast to Nicaragua in the 1980s from neighbouring Costa Rica, posed as a standard commercial radio station based in San Jose (hence the non-clandestine status) but it is widely assumed that it was covertly funded and directed by the US authorities.


The few examples given above are just a tiny fraction of the many hundreds of clandestine, subversive, insurgent and dissident radio operations in the second half of the 20th century. Their classifications along the clandestine to non-clandestine and black to white axes are in all cases my own subjective judgments.

© 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Soviet "active measures" against China — the story of Radio Ba Yi

This is a companion article to one I wrote in September 2019 about various clandestine radio stations that targeted communist China between the 1960s and the 1980s and were presumed to have been operated first by the CIA and then by Taiwan. 

The article below looks at other subversive broadcasts to China, this time from the USSR. 

"Active measures"

A document circulated within Nato in 1981 looked at "active measures" carried out by the Soviet Union "to complement its traditional diplomacy and weaken governments which are not subservient to direction from Moscow". It said: 
The Soviets use the term “active measures” (aktivnyye meropriyatiya) to refer to operations intended to provoke a policy effect, as distinct from espionage and counterintelligence. Soviet “active measures” include: written or oral disinformation; efforts to control the media in foreign countries; use of foreign communist parties and front organizations; clandestine radio broadcasting; economic coercion; political influence operations. 
On clandestine broadcasting, the document said: 
Presently the Soviet Union operates two clandestine radio stations: the National Voice of Iran and Radio Ba Yi, which broadcast on a regular basis from the Soviet Union to Iran and China. Soviet sponsorship of these stations has never been publicly acknowledged by Moscow, and the stations represent themselves as organs of authentic local “progressive” forces. The broadcasts of both stations are illustrative of the use of “active measures” activities in support of Soviet foreign policy goals. 
(In addition to the two stations named, elsewhere in the Soviet bloc East Germany was at that time, 1981, providing facilities for two clandestine radios broadcasting to Turkey. In earlier years there had been other stations engaged in subversive "active measures" targeting Nato various countries and transmitting from East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.)

The document gave no further details of Radio Ba Yi, so here's my investigation into the station: 

Radio Ba Yi — one name, several translations

Radio Ba Yi (八一 电台  Ba Yi Diantai) was active between between 1979 and 1986. It was a fully "black" operation, seeking to hide completely its origin in the USSR. Its existence was never mentioned by the Soviet media. 

"Ba Yi" literally means "Eight One". It refers to 1st August, the official birthday (in 1927) of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). 

Radio Ba Yi is therefore referred to in various sources by its Chinese name, and as Radio Eight One, Radio 8.1, August First Radio and First August Radio

Start of broadcasts

Radio Ba Yi is an example of a clandestine broadcasting operation that began in reaction to a specific event. This was the Chinese invasion of Vietnam on 17 February 1979. 

The USSR was Vietnam's main political and military ally, and the launch of Radio Ba Yi was part of the Soviet response to the Chinese attack. 

Radio Ba Yi was first heard by radio monitors on 3 March, exactly a fortnight after the invasion. [1] 

The station's launch might have been hastily organised by the USSR after its Vietnamese ally was attacked, or there might already have been plans for such broadcasts just waiting to be implemented if and when the opportunity or necessity arose. 

Coordination with Vietnam?

While Moscow always kept silent about Radio Ba Yi, Hanoi did not. The state radio, Voice of Vietnam, reported on 10 March 1979 that Ba Yi had been heard the previous day and that it was operated by the PLA. [2] 

Voice of Vietnam also on subsequent occasions publicised Radio Ba Yi and quoted from it. 

Vietnam and the USSR may have coordinated over the launch. The Far Eastern Economic Review said in its edition of 4 May 1979: 
Since April 12, a monitoring station in Seoul has been picking up Mandarin language broadcasts believed to be originating from the Vladivostok area. But the broadcasters have pronounced Southeast Asian accents, leading to speculation that the Vietnamese may be cooperating with Soviets in operating the station, known as Ba Yi (August 1) Radio. 
Objectives and propaganda themes

In line with its "black" status, Radio Ba Yi posed as being run by the PLA as an underground outlet within China. It purported to speak on behalf of dissident members of the PLA. References to "our army" were frequent. 

The objective of the broadcasts was to stimulate dissent among members of the military and encourage ill feeling towards China's senior leadership. 

The New York Times reported in May 1984
The August First Radio and its companion stations try to sound patriotic, staunchly Communist, anti-Western and sympathetic to army gripes. They charge that Peking insulted the armed forces by giving the military last priority in the four modernizations, after industry, agriculture and science. 
Although it never declared its Soviet origins, Radio Ba Yi never contradicted official Soviet policies. It was strongly anti-American, also criticising US allies Japan and Taiwan. On occasions it called for improved Sino-Soviet relations. 

US analysts noted, however, that Ba Yi tried to avoid the appearance of close tactical coordination with official Soviet media. [3]

Targeting Deng Xiaoping 

A particular focus of the broadcasts was Deng Xiaoping, who emerged after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 to become China's paramount leader. 

Deng Xiaoping, pictured while visiting President Jimmy Carter in January 1979, shortly before Radio Ba Yi was launched. The station made Deng its primary target for criticism

Deng began the reforms that led to the China we see today. And it was Deng's reforms, which threatened many established officials, that were a particular target of Radio Ba Yi

The New York Times article quoted above noted what it called the radio's "anti-Deng campaign": 
The broadcasts also articulate the resentments of hard-liners who have had to yield to Mr Deng's policies. They have accused him of creating a personality cult and letting degenerate Western values into China. The broadcasts have also attacked the party consolidation drive to weed out leftists and criminals from the rank-and-file. 
Similarly, an earlier analysis of the station's output by the US State Department said Deng was "a primary target of criticism": 
Radio Ba Yi's commentaries have condemned Deng for usurping power, violating the principles of collective leadership, damaging the army by transferring military leaders for his own selfish ends, and selling out China's national interests to the United States and Japan... For example, a January 14, 1980, commentary following US Secretary of Defense Harold Brown's visit to China declared that Sino-US relations had embarked on a path that encroached on Chinese sovereignty, damaged national pride, and threatened national security. It accused Deng of deciding "all by himself" to allow the United States to install and operate, with US intelligence personnel, an electronic "spy network" that would allow the United States to collect "secret intelligence" on China's economy and national defense. The people who agreed to such demands, the commentary concluded, if they did not deliberately wish to turn China into a US military base, were "suffering from senile decay". [4]
Propaganda techniques

The following are extracts from Radio Ba Yi broadcasts in 1982 that illustrate some of the techniques used to convey the station's propaganda: 

Hinting at, and stimulating, grievances among Communist Party officials (broadcast on 2 May 1982): 
In the past few months, facts have proved that the principle of reorganising the cadre component, insisted on by Comrade Deng Xiaoping, is incorrect. The principle of consolidating the party and reorganising the cadre component has not only damaged the situation of stability and unity which had emerged, but also dampened the enthusiasm of the broad masses of cadres in carrying out their work. What is worse is that many cadres, who are not veteran senior cadres, have openly expressed their lack of confidence in the party Central Committee. In past years, many cadres worked assiduously and conscientiously without giving a thought to personal gain. However, they have now gone so far as to study the "science of relationship". They have become anxious about making job arrangements for their own children and preparations for their own retirement. This is partly due to the wrong workstyle of these cadres. But on the other hand, isn't it the typical realistic attitude held by cadres towards the party Central Committee and leading comrades of the central authorities? Many veteran cadres, in particular, have become more and more dissatisfied with individual leaders of the central authorities.
Driving a wedge between army commanders and political leaders (broadcast on 1 November 1982): 
Particularly since the end of the 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of China [held in September 1982], some central leaders have again begun to transfer army leaders and purge army cadres. Moreover, they again treat army cadres with the tricks of those political movements, such as labelling people and using the big stick. They even use various excuses to remove army cadres from military command. What upsets the party cadres the most is that they are accused of being remnants of the Lin Biao clique. 
[Marshal Lin Biao died in a plane crash in 1971. The Chinese authorities said he had been attempting to flee the country after mounting an abortive coup against Chairman Mao.] 
Praise for the army, encouraging its resentment against the party leadership (broadcast on 4 November 1982): 
We can say that the army is second to none in contributing to the founding and construction of New China. However, over the past 30 years and more, many heroes and outstanding generals have been killed because of suspicion and jealousy. This reminds us of the ruthless first emperors of the Song and Ming Dynasties. High-ranking cadres such as Comrades Rao Shushi, Peng Dehuai and Huang Kecheng [see below] were brutally persecuted. Every few years, large numbers of marshals, ministers of national defence and leaders of various departments of the armed forces have been removed and replaced. Instead of improving, the situation actually worsened after the smashing of the Gang of Four [in October 1976]. 
[Rao Shushi was a senior communist leader, jailed in 1955. Peng Dehuai was a pro-Soviet defence minister, sacked in 1959. Huang Kecheng was an ally of Peng Dehuai.] 
Transmission techniques

Radio Ba Yi made a series of brief transmissions (sometimes as short as four minutes) each evening from 8 p.m. (Chinese time). The same tape was repeated several times in each evening's transmission. The number and duration of the transmissions varied from day to day. 

Initially, the exact transmission times varied, though later in 1979 they settled down to start on the hour and half-hour. 

From April 1981 the transmissions were made at 27 and 57 minutes past every hour during the evening. 

The brevity of the transmissions lent credibility to the idea that this was an underground station forced to keep its transmissions short to avoid detection by the Chinese authorities.

The station had two announcers. It seems that they sometimes took their annual leave at the same time, as the station was absent from the airwaves for a month or more in the summers of 1981, 1982 and 1985. Thus the Soviet habit, which persists in Russia today, of government activity coming to a halt in August, also affected its "active measures". 

(A CIA report, however, suggested that the interruption to broadcasts in the summer of 1985 was for political reasons as it coincided with "a period when negative commentary on the PRC in the Soviet media was substantially reduced".)

Transmission frequency: Throughout its life, Radio Ba Yi used a single shortwave frequency, 12120 kHz.

Evidence of Soviet origin

Direction-finding indicated that the transmitter was located in the Soviet Far East, possibly the Vladivostok area.

On 13 October 1982, presumably because of a switching error, the transmitter on Radio Ba Yi's frequency was heard at the relevant times relaying Soviet domestic radio's entertainment service Mayak.

End of broadcasts 

Radio Ba Yi was last heard in December 1986, a time when Moscow-Beijing relations were improving.

Another Soviet outlet - Red Flag Broadcasting Station

Another Soviet-operated station, Red Flag Broadcasting Station (红旗 广播电台  Hongqi Guangbo Diantai), was first heard in September 1971 and then rather intermittently over the next 15 years. It was inactive for much of 1974, for a time in 1977-78, and again in mid-1981, after which it returned with a stronger signal. 

Like Radio Ba Yi, it disappeared for good in late 1986. 

Red Flag was notable for broadcasting on the mediumwave (AM) band (on 995 kHz) rather than shortwave, which was the waveband used by nearly all other clandestine broadcasts to China. 

Like Ba Yi, it aired short transmissions (around 10 minutes) during the evening. 

Its transmissions were confirmed by direction-finding to originate from the Soviet Far East, possibly the Khabarovsk area. In 1988, a Japanese radio enthusiast recognised one of the presenters of the Chinese service of the Moscow-based Radio Station Peace and Progress as having previously been an announcer on the Red Flag Broadcasting Station

The Peace and Progress station was itself a "light-grey" example of Soviet "active measures". It was not a clandestine operation, as it routinely announced itself as "the voice of Soviet public opinion", but its broadcasts were more outspoken than those of the "official" Soviet external radio services.

Notes and sources

[1] The date of first reception is given in a detailed report on clandestine broadcasting to China by the Japan-based Asian Broadcasting Institute (ABI). Other information from that report has been used in this article. 

[2] As reported at the time by BBC Monitoring (whose archives have also supplied other details for this article). 

[3] and [4] Foreign Affairs Note (Communist Clandestine Broadcasting) issued by the US State Department in December 1982. 

© 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

An Oriental PsyOps Mystery — the story of Radio Spark

If you enjoy reading this article, you may also be interested in another on Soviet "active measures" against China — the story of Radio Ba Yi. 

The self-deception of an intelligence organisation by counterfeit material deliberately faked by its own staff or agents always makes for an intriguing story.

In fiction, such deceptions are the basis of Graham Greene's comic novel Our Man in Havana and John le Carré's The Tailor of Panama.

My story below is, however, not fictional.

Cover of British paperback edition of the book that broke the secret of CIA's psyops during China's Cultural Revolution. The CIA obtained a court order to redact more than a page worth of the six pages devoted to the subject, likely containing key operational details, before publication

The Cultural Revolution and the CIA

The story begins in May 1966 with the start of the Cultural Revolution in China.

Detecting signs of resistance to the revolution and its Red Guards, particularly in southern China, the CIA sought to encourage such opposition through the distribution of printed matter by balloons launched from Taiwan.

The balloons carried bogus leaflets, pamphlets and newspapers purporting to be from counterrevolutionary groups within China. In fact, they were written by CIA propagandists.

The story is taken up by Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks in their 1974 book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence [1]: 
Almost immediately after it began, the balloon project was a success. The CIA's China watchers soon saw evidence of increased resistance to the Red Guards in the southern provinces... Within weeks, refugees and travellers from the mainland began arriving in Hong Kong with copies of the leaflets and pamphlets that the agency's propagandists had manufactured – a clear indication of the credence being given [to] the false literature by the Chinese masses.
 Encouraged by this success, the CIA looked for ways to expand its propaganda operation: 
A decision was therefore made to install on Taiwan a pair of clandestine radio transmitters which would broadcast propaganda – and disinformation – of the same nature as that disseminated by the balloon drops. If the Chinese people accepted the radio broadcasts as genuine, the CIA reasoned, then they might be convinced that the countermovement to the Cultural Revolution was gaining strength and perhaps think that the time had come to resist the Red Guards and their supporters still more openly. 
The left hand and the right hand

The CIA's radio stations in Taiwan duly began their bogus broadcasts. But a problem arose.

The part of the CIA (the Directorate of Plans) that was running the secret balloon drops and black radio transmissions to China did not inform the separate CIA division (the Directorate of Intelligence) that was, as its name suggests, collecting and analysing information about what was happening inside China. [2]

Among the Intelligence Directorate's subdivisions was one responsible for monitoring foreign radio stations: the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).

FBIS's daily reports on the content of public radio broadcasts from and to China were circulated within the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon, and to others both inside and outside the US government.

Marchetti and Marks continue the story: 
Even though the FBIS editors are members of the CIA's Intelligence Directorate, the operators in the Clandestine Services are reluctant to reveal their propaganda operations to them. As a result, for its Far East daily report the FBIS frequently monitored and distributed the texts of programs actually originating from the agency's secret stations on Taiwan.
"Highly successful" CIA radio operation

In short, FBIS was unaware of the provenance of the CIA's broadcasts, and published transcripts of them in the belief that they had been aired by genuine dissident stations inside China. Marchetti and Marks noted: 
CIA operators seemed untroubled by this development and the accompanying fact that the agency's own China analysts back at headquarters in Washington (along with their colleagues in the State and Defence Departments) were being somewhat misled. Nor did they appear to mind that unwitting scholars and newsmen were publishing articles based to some extent on the phony information being reported by the FBIS [...]
Communist China was an enemy, and the writings of recognised journalists and professors publicising its state of near collapse and potential rebellion helped to discredit Peking in the eyes of the world  which was after all in keeping with the CIA's interpretation of American foreign policy at the time. 
The CIA's secret radios therefore proved to be highly successful. 
What were the stations in question?

The identity of the CIA's radio stations (though not their origin) was revealed as early as January 1967 by the respected Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

In a dispatch from Hong Kong it said that two pro-communist but anti-Mao clandestine stations, Spark (火花  Huohua) and Voice of the Liberation Army (解放之声  Jiefangjun zhi Sheng), had been heard since the middle of the previous month.

Such a start of broadcasts in December 1966 fits well with the narrative by Marchetti and Marks.

Asahi Shimbun noted speculation by China watchers that the two stations originated from mainland China. The ruse by their CIA operators – to pose as genuine underground radios broadcasting from within the People's Republic – had therefore been successful.

More than a year later the deception was continuing to be successful. In July 1968 the New York Times said in an article on the Voice of the Liberation Army's broadcasts: 
It is a mark of the turmoil in China that the broadcasts have commanded the attention of political analysts and led to speculation that a clandestine station may be operating there.
In these early years the two stations made several short broadcasts (just five to 10 minutes) each day on shortwave starting in the late afternoon, Chinese time, and then at intervals throughout the evening. The brevity of the programmes lent credibility to the idea that these were underground stations forced to keep their transmissions short to avoid detection by the Chinese authorities.

In late 1968 a third station thought to be part of the "Radio Spark group", calling itself Contingent of Proletarian Fighters (斗士  Wuchanzhe Zhandoushi), was heard. (Between May 1971 and April 1974, it would simply call itself Fighters.)

Handover to Taiwan?

After Richard Nixon made his ground-breaking visit to China in February 1972, all three stations became inactive, possibly as part of Washington's moves to improve relations with the Chinese.

Sheila O'Brien of the University of Michigan says in a chapter of Clandestine Broadcasting, published in 1987, that the CIA may have handed over its Chinese black broadcasting operations to Taiwan's own intelligence services at some time between 1972 and 1978. [3]

According to a prominent US writer on shortwave broadcasting, Lawrence (Larry) E. Magne, the Fighters and Liberation Army stations disappeared in June 1972, reappeared briefly later that year and then began new phase of broadcasting, in conjunction with Sparks, in April 1974. (This information is from a global survey by Magne, "Clandestine Broadcasting 1975", in the 1976 edition of the annual World Radio TV Handbook.)

An alternative theory

The interruption in 1972 and the 1974 relaunch reported by Magne could be the period identified by O'Brien as when the stations of the "Radio Spark group" were transferred from CIA to Taiwanese control after Nixon's visit.

However, Magne says they were under Soviet control, and had been so ever since the original launch in 1966.

Magne's labelling of the stations as originating in the USSR is at odds with several pieces of evidence that point to the CIA/Taiwanese connection, although this was not the first time that he had made such a claim of Soviet backing.

In the 1973 edition of How to Listen to the World, Magne said Radio Spark was operated by the KGB and staffed by Chinese exiles associated with the so-called "28 Bolsheviks" faction (a group of Chinese who had studied in Moscow in the 1920s and 1930s), although he gave no source for that information.

Questions of provenance

Magne's assertion was repeated in Julian Hale's 1975 book Radio Power, which became a standard work on international broadcasting and radio propaganda. Hale also said in relation to Sparks:
A similar operation, sharing transmission facilities with Sparks, calls itself Radio of the Chinese People's Communist Party, thus rubbing in their refusal to identify Mao Tse-tung's clique and his less-than-authentic party with the true followers of Marxism-Leninism.
Evidence of the provenance of Radio of the Chinese People's Communist Party (中国共 广播台  Zhongguo Gongchangdang Guangbo Diantai), which was heard between 1968 and 1971, is scant. It made transmissions of just 10 minutes in length, like the outlets of the Spark group, and like them favoured transmission times in the late afternoon and evening. It also used similar slogans to those of Voice of the Liberation Army (one of the Spark group), and like that station used two separate frequencies to carry the same programme, though not synchronously.

However, a detailed report on clandestine broadcasting to China by the Japan-based Asian Broadcasting Institute (ABI) noted evidence that the Communist Party station was not in the Radio Spark group but was part of a separate, but also Taiwan-sponsored, group of outlets.

Known Soviet clandestine broadcasts to China 

While I disagree with the claims by Magne and Hale that the Radio Spark group of stations came from the USSR, there were undoubtedly other clandestine radios targeting China that were Soviet in origin notably one calling itself Radio Ba Yi (八一   Ba Yi Diantai).

Bay Yi literally means Eight One and is a reference to 1 August, China's Army Day. 

Radio Ba Yi was launched during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War (in which the USSR backed Vietnam) and was last heard in late 1986 when Moscow-Beijing relations were improving.

Another Soviet-operated station, Red Flag (  Hongqi), was first heard in 1971 and then rather intermittently. Like Radio Eight One, it disappeared in late 1986. There was ample evidence that both transmitted from the USSR. Red Flag was notable for broadcasting on the mediumwave (AM) band rather than shortwave.

Although I disagree with Magne about the origin of the Radio Spark group, the description in his 1976 article of the modus operandi of the Radio Spark group is valid, whatever their provenance:
A variety of techniques besides aired statements is used to create the impression that there are rebel army units "on the run" within China itself. The transmissions are brief and often erratic, with station names and schedules changing often enough to create a guerrilla flavour.
Similarly, whatever my doubts about Julian Hale's attribution of Spark and the Communist Party station to a Soviet origin, his book Radio Power is an excellent study of the world of international shortwave radio in its heyday. 

More outlets

In 1978, a fourth station of the Radio Spark group was heard, calling itself October Storm (十月暴  Shiyue Fengbao).

Radio Spark targeted a youth audience, while Contingent of Proletarian Fighters and Voice of the Liberation Army were aimed at workers and members of the armed forces respectively.

Reporting the operations of the Radio Spark group, the New York Times said in May 1984 that "some references to Nationalist ideology led to speculation that they come from Taiwan".

Another station that may have been associated with the Radio Spark group was a fake version of China's main state radio network, the Central People's Broadcasting Station. [4]

This phony CPBS was certainly in operation by May 1974 and a similar station had been heard in February 1972. It operated on frequencies close to that of the genuine station, and played recordings of the latter, interspersed with bogus commentaries.

All five of the above stations continued into the 1980s. BBC Monitoring reported in January 1984 that only one of the four members of the Radio Spark group was heard on any given day. The first 10-minute transmission of the day was heard at 1700 Chinese local time and was then repeated up to seven further times over the course of the next two and a half hours.

The fifth station, the impostor version of the Central People's Broadcasting Station was reported by BBC Monitoring to have been heard again in May 1987 after a break since 1985, airing two daily transmissions of around 30 minutes each at 1900 and 2100 Chinese times.

From land or sea?

Were the clandestine broadcasts from a ship in the Taiwan Strait?
Map © CNN

In 1984-1985, various Western publications reported that Radio Spark and its sister stations were broadcasting from a ship in waters off China. The Los Angeles Times said in May 1984 that Western monitors believed the ship was in the South China Sea. 

The same suggestion was reported by Jane's Defence Weekly in July and October 1985, while Asiaweek said in April 1985 that the transmitting ship was in the East China Sea (Taiwan lies between the East China Sea and the South China Sea).

As early as 1970, David W. Conde had said in his book CIA: Core of the Cancer that in the summer of 1966 a fleet of pirate ships had been deployed by the CIA off the Chinese coast in a black propaganda campaign intended to cause China to collapse from within. (Though note that Marchetti and Marks said that the CIA's transmitters were installed "on Taiwan", rather than on a ship.)

Further support for the idea of the broadcasts coming from a ship came from an observation in 1982 by a member of the Asian Broadcasting Institute who noted that whenever a typhoon appeared in the Taiwan Strait, broadcasts of the stations of the Radio Spark group appeared to be suspended.

The ABI member also used direction-finding equipment of Japan's public service broadcaster NHK to track the Radio Spark group, with results that were consistent with the signals coming from waters off Taiwan.

The ABI's observation does not, however, necessarily mean that the Radio Spark group was using a shipborne transmitter. Land-based transmitters in Taiwan might also have had to shut down during typhoons, for example to lower their transmitting aerials.

End of the broadcasts

Contingent of Proletarian Fighters was last heard in 1984, Radio Spark in 1985, while the Voice of the Liberation Army, October Storm Broadcasting Station and the phony Central People's Broadcasting Station went silent in 1989.

Notes and sources

[1] Victor Marchetti was a member of the CIA between 1955 and 1969. For the last three years of his service (i.e. covering the early period of the Cultural Revolution in China) he worked in the office of the CIA director. John D. Marks joined the US State Department in 1966, resigning in 1970 after the US invasion of Cambodia.

[2] After 1973, the Directorate of Plans was known as the Directorate of Operations. Marchetti and Marks say that within the CIA the directorate was generally referred to as the "Clandestine Services".

[3] O'Brien's comments are quoted in the report by the Asian Broadcasting Institute (ABI) mentioned elsewhere. I have drawn extensively on the ABI's report in writing this article.

[4] Although its Chinese name (中央人民广播  Zhongyang Renmin Guangbo Diantai) is unchanged, Beijing now refers to the Central People's Broadcasting Station in English as China National Radio.

© 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.