US Shutting Down a Key News Source

Exclusive: The U.S. intelligence community vacuums up vast amounts of data, but it has one agency, World News Connection, that gives back information to the public except that the service is getting shut down at year’s end, notes ex-intelligence analyst Elizabeth Murray.

By Elizabeth Murray

This New Year’s Eve, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will quietly deliver a devastating blow to the American public’s access to accurate, unbiased information that is unparalleled in quality and comprehensiveness by shutting off access to the World News Connection.

WNC is a valuable trove of U.S. government-sponsored media translations and analyses that has informed the work of American scholars, journalists, writers and historians for the past six decades. It is one of the few offices in the U.S. intelligence community that regularly shares information with the people, rather than simply extracting metadata about them.

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.

Since 1941, the Open Source Center (OSC) which was known by its earlier moniker, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) until 2005 has produced timely, mainly unclassified products based on foreign media that provide valuable strategic insights to the U.S. intelligence community, including military and diplomatic developments. Previously administered by the CIA, it now comes under the purview of the ODNI.

The Open Source Center has long made a substantial amount of this material available to public subscribers, such as university libraries, think tanks and other institutions – as the “World News Connection” via the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), a government information clearinghouse.

However, on Oct. 7, NTIS announced the termination of the WNC service as of Dec. 31, saying it lacked the authority to rescind the decision though without explaining the reasons for the shutdown. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has not been observed to comment either, though one might think that the ODNI and the entire U.S. intelligence community would be looking for ways to burnish their tarnished images rather than sullying them further by shutting down a valuable public service.

This past year, the revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden shocked many Americans and others around the world with evidence about how intrusive U.S. electronic surveillance has become. Those disclosures also forced Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to admit to Congress that he had provided misleading testimony on the subject.

Informing the Public

The World News Connection has been one area in which the U.S. intelligence community serves to inform the public, not just the policymakers. The translations of foreign news articles and broadcasts can shed important light on the activities and motivations of governments and political movements around the world.

There is no shortage of support or demand for the Open Source Center’s high-quality products, both inside and outside the intelligence community. In 1997, when post-Cold War budget cuts threatened to curtail or eliminate OSC products altogether, the Open Source Center was deluged with letters of support attesting to its invaluable role in the academic, research, and intelligence fields. The campaign, championed by Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, succeeded in saving the OSC from draconian budget cuts.

During that campaign to save the Open Source Center, Dr. Gary Sick, an Iran expert who served on the National Security Council during the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, wrote that the World News Connection “informs us about other countries in ways that otherwise would be nearly impossible.

“It costs virtually nothing in comparison with almost any other national security system. It is not as sexy as a bomber or a missile, but its contributions to national security can be attested to by generations of policy-makers. I was in the White House during the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis, and my respect for the power of this information was born at that time. I often found it more helpful than the reams of classified material that came across my desk at the NSC.”

The value of these open-source reports was underscored too by journalist Robert Parry, who recalled that in 1984 when he was piecing together the facts surrounding the CIA’s mining of Nicaraguan harbors, he had government sources describing a clash between CIA helicopter-borne special forces and the Sandinista military, but FBIS translations of Nicaraguan news reports proved crucial in fleshing out the story.

Nicaraguan radio broadcasts reported details of a clash but without knowing who the attackers were. By overlaying the intelligence source material and the FBIS translations, Parry was able to provide a more complete account as published by the Associated Press and available to the American public.

If the ODNI goes ahead with its decision to turn off the World News Connection, U.S. citizens will have lost — perhaps irreparably — a vital window into foreign media perceptions of U.S. policy, untainted by government- and corporate-controlled media.

That has dark implications for the public’s right to know, not to mention diminished international understanding and increased reliance on non-primary sources of information. Ironically, the ODNI’s move to end public access to the Open Source Center’s products also could have the effect of making whistleblowers even more valuable and necessary for an informed public.

At a time when the U.S. government is facing unprecedented public skepticism about its dual obsessions, secrecy (for itself) and surveillance (of everyone else,), DNI Clapper could help reverse those troubling patterns by reversing his decision to close World News Connection.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government – 20 of those years as an editor and media analyst in the Open Source Center (OSC). She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

8 comments for “US Shutting Down a Key News Source

  1. Kevin Schmidt
    December 4, 2013 at 19:47

    In the sovereignty destroying TPP Treaty parlance, this despicable act is called “managing transparency.” In non Orwellian language, this term means “managing nationwide censorship, propaganda and brainwashing for the benefit of the global corporate elite fascist sociopaths.”

  2. Dam Spahn
    December 4, 2013 at 14:33

    The memory hole awakens, and must be fed. @damspahn

  3. December 4, 2013 at 12:04

    Feinstein out of touch with atrocities committed by intel.
    Overthrown government of usa now controlled by very dangerous and murderous thugs (beasts) of fbi/homeland security.’Veterans Today’, Dr. Preston James on usa corruption & fbi murderous evil:

    overthrown gov:

    high tech torture by low minded thugs of fbi:

  4. rosemerry
    December 4, 2013 at 02:49

    Another nail in the coffin of freedom in the “land of the free”. Along with the destruction of decent public education for the majority of USans, this will further entrench the ignorance of the general public about the world and the USA’s place in it, leading to more conflicts. Very sad.

  5. Jon Shafer
    December 4, 2013 at 01:38

    Please forgive my ignorance, this is the first time I have heard of World News Connection. I’m a retirement age journalist from Indiana, now in California. Anything run by our government I simply have to be very skeptical, and not that perhaps this service hasn’t been helpful….but is it totally reliable? Did it report CIA and Mossad involvement in the US ambassador killing in Benghazi? Did it report the fabricated “yellow cake” intelligence that got us into Iraq? Has it ever reported what many foreign sources reported on bin Laden’s death by kidney related disease many years before the Navy seals operation? Did it report interlocking corporate connections with a company manufacturing nanothermite found in the dust at the World Trade Center following 9/11, clearly indicating controlled demolition, or that presidential brother Marvin Bush and cousin Wirt Walker were principles of the firm in charge of security at the WTC? Did it report contrary evidence of rebels (al Qaeda and/or others) using chemical weapons on Aug 21 and blamed on Assad’s Syrian regime which had requested UN inspectors, the very ones we were arming? Or the US arming al Qaeda fighters through NATO (aren’t they our “enemy”?) to remove and murder Gaddafi? Or while Mr. Netanyahu rants about a yet non-existant Iran nuke, Israel is the lone nuclear power with hundreds in the Mideast, plus over 8,000 known US nuclear weapookns. These are examples of things we never see reported in the mainstream press, such as CNN, the networks, Wash Post, NY Times and others. Did World News Connection ever report these other conflicting sources? And if not, why not?
    Kind regards, Jon Shafer

  6. Ray McGovern
    December 4, 2013 at 01:03

    Excellent article, Elizabeth; but sad story.
    This cuts us hoi polloi out of a very rich – indeed, invaluable – source of raw, unadulterated information to analyze. I’ll bet that the hoi aristoi – the favored journalists, newspapers, and academics – will still get the feed, as long as they remain “cooperative,” apply the approved spin, and don’t act up. That may be why there is no hue and cry this time from the usual quarters. Have they ALL been co-opted?

    For the rest of us, it will now be much harder convincingly to expose distortion and spin, since we shall lack access to the original raw material being spun. For example, we will no longer be able to prove that senior Iranian leaders never threatened to “drive Israel into the sea,” or “wipe Israel off the map.”

    Perhaps it is the case that one has to have had deep experience working in the political science sub-discipline of media analysis to realize what lucrative intelligence it can yield – today just as much as in the past. Proper analysis of a foreign leader’s remarks is often of far more intelligence value than the hundred million conversations that NSA collects every day and adds to the haystack against the day one or two might come in handy. Or as Dick Cheney has put it, “You never know when you might need it.”

    In sum, the loss of access to original open sources is a major blow to those of us who know what a fertile field open media is to plow. This decision will be very bad news if it is not reversed.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    December 3, 2013 at 22:14

    “Ironically, the ODNI’s move to end public access to the Open Source Center’s products also could have the effect of making whistleblowers even more valuable and necessary for an informed public.”

    Note: this implies that the product will still exist, but public access to it will be terminated. Functionally, this amounts to an expansion of what can be considered “classified”. Independent investigative reporting which uncovers the truth, in that context, becomes a violation of National Security and a criminal offense. Think of those old cowboy movies, and that phrase, “circling the wagons”. Goebbels did the same thing with his foreign press service. In the immortal words of George Carlin, “Don’t believe anything until it’s been officially denied…but nobody listens, nobody cares.”

  8. Corey Mondello
    December 3, 2013 at 21:28

    This is the paragraph that explains it all to me: the “why” and what the outcome those who make this decision want:

    “If the ODNI goes ahead with its decision to turn off the World News Connection, U.S. citizens will have lost — perhaps irreparably — a vital window into foreign media perceptions of U.S. policy, untainted by government- and corporate-controlled media.”

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