Isaac Patch: US official who led a Cold War programme to smuggle banned and subversive books into the Soviet Union


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The Independent Online

Isaac Patch led a CIA-financed book distribution programme that smuggled hundreds of thousands of banned or hard-to-find texts into the Soviet Union. In his book Hot Books in the Cold War Alfred A Reisch wrote that that sending books into the Soviet sphere "played a decisive role, by contributing ... to the West's ideological victory."

Patch had survived duty in early Cold War flash points such as Manchuria, when his family was expelled from Prague with 24 hours' notice after he was accused of espionage. He joined what became known as Radio Liberty, a CIA-underwritten network similar to Radio Free Europe but aimed directly at the Soviet empire. In 1956, Patch became its New York-based director of special projects. His chief legacy was orchestrating the distribution of banned Russian-language works as well as Western books never translated into Russian.

The CIA financed the effort – with $10,000 at first– under the rubric of a company, Bedford Publishing, which made available works by Joyce (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), Orwell (Animal Farm), Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago) and Nabokov (Pnin), among others. Intermediaries ensured the books arrived; recipients included Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Svetlana Stalina, daughter of the late Soviet dictator. Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe's book ventures were folded into the CIA-funded International Literary Centre, which continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Isaac Patch IV, diplomat and US official: born Gloucester, Massachusetts 20 June 1912; twice married (five children); died St Johnsbury, Vermont 31 May 2014.

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