Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S. government funded media outlet originally established to “promote democratic values and institutions by disseminating factual information and ideas“, has experienced a lot of resistance over its 59-year broadcasting history. Its signal has been repeatedly jammed by Soviet authorities and its journalists attacked. According to an exhibition review from 2001, “Historians estimate the Soviets spent $35 million trying to jam the stations’ signals — double the cost of running both RFE and RL. Some politicians sent spies or even assassins: Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu succeeded in having his on-air critic Emil Georgescu murdered. A bomb tore through the Munich office in 1981, causing $2 million in damage. But the poison in the salt shaker scheme of 1959 failed, thanks to an alert counter-agent.” But with Gorbachev’s perestroika, many believed the days of interference with RFE/RL were over. Not so fast.
On April 26 a massive cyber attack began with RFE/RL’s Belarus web site, and then quickly spread to shut down seven others: Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Tatar-Bashkir, Radio Farda, South Slavic, Russian, and Tajik. While several of the other sites have been reinstated, the Belarus site continues to be down. The attack, which coincided with the 22nd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, used the same “denial of service” type of hacking method as was suffered by the Estonian government during the Bronze Soldier fiasco. The Estonians accused the Russian government of having organized the attack – a claim denied by the Kremlin.RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin gave the following statement: “If free and independent media existed in these countries where we’re working and broadcasting, we would have no reason to exist,” Gedmin said. “The Belarusians, the Iranians — they all have basically the same objective. They see free information — flowing information of ideas and so forth — as the oxygen of civil society. They’ll do anything they can to cut it off. If it means jamming, if it means cyberattacks, that’s what they’ll do.“