Truth of British propaganda:LETTER

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The Independent Online
THE Foreign Office's former Information and Research Department ("The British Ministry of Propaganda", 26 February), about which Scott Lucas writes so scathingly, was an important source of information and support in the West's long contest of ideas with the Soviet system and empire. As a member of the BBC's European Services in the 1950, then as a director of Radio Free Europe, and also as the founding editor of the American academic journal Studies in Comparative Communism, I benefited greatly from IRD's extensive knowledge of Eastern affairs and the accuracy of its analyses. My colleagues and I knew perfectly well where the information had come from and valued it all the more because it contained, inter alia, much diplomatic reporting that would otherwise not have reached us.

Cloak-and-dagger operations were wholly absent from IRD's work; rather was it a store-house of political, military, historical and psychological reflections of high intellectual quality. Some of the men and women responsible for them came from the top layers of British academic expertise. I cannot recall a single "atrocity story" unfounded in actual atrocities, nor any sign of "propaganda" other than speaking the truth in the face of falsehoods.

With Soviet archive materials becoming increasingly available, it is now clear enough that IRD's activities were, if anything, far too limited, especially in the field of neutralising disinformation, on which the USSR spent so lavishly. It was a mild, gentlemanly, elective and very British institution doing its best to protect Western values and interests vis- -vis a sophisticated and implacable ideological opponent.

G R Urban

Hove, Sussex

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