A proposed appointment to one of the government's smallest agencies, the Board for International Broadcasting, has aroused the ire of two key senators who would have to pass on the nomination and has raised questions about the role of President Carter's national security affairs adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The White House confirmed yesterday that Massachusetts Institute of Technology Prof. William E. Griffith is one of three persons proposed by Brzezinski for consideration for three board positions. The other two names were not revealed.
Griffith was intimately involved with the operation of Radio Free Europe in the early 1950s, when the radio was a covert operation of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Board for International Broadcasting was created as an oversight agency in 1973 after then-Sen. J. W. Fulbright (D-Ark.) revealed teh CIA role in the operation of RFE and its companion, Radio Liberty.
Griffith left RFE in 1958 after a storm of controversy over its broadcasts to Hungary during the 1956 uprising there. He was chief political adviser to RFE at the time of the revolt, when the radio's broadcasts have been interpreted as encouraging the Hungarians to oppose Soviet forces.
Radio free Europe broadcasts to five Eastern European countries and Radio Liberty to theh Soviet Union.
One board position opened last month when chairman David M. Abshire wrote a letter of resignation to the President effective March 8. Two other board sets will open this spring.All appointments to the board are subject to Senate approval.
According to sources who have followed the selection process, Brzezinski has kept the matter under tight control and did not seek the opinions of others who might be involved, including senators who would have to pass on the nomination.
When Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) and Charles H. Percy (R-I11.) found out that a list of names was being drawn up they sent a letter to the White House. The two are chairman and ranking minority members, respectively, of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations, which has responsibility for the board.
McGovern and Percy recommended former CBS President Frank Stanton for chairman, but according to well-informed sources, cast their arguments in terms designed to block Griffith's selection.
In their letter, they pointed out that Stantons "record is free of any affiliation either with the radios' previous sponsorship or with the aggressive attitudes and purposes which are generally associated with that sponsorship."
"It is most important that the board be led by a man whose reputation is one of dedication to communication and not to Cold War," they said, according to a copy of the letter.
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are consistently jammed lectronically and subject to constant criticism by the Soviets, in particular, as being throwbacks to Caid War days.
McGovern and Perry referred to this when they said in their letter that "the radios' transformation into a solid journalistic enterprise has not been completely matched by a change in reputation."
Griffith, like Brzezinski, is one of a small fraternity of anedemic specialists on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europen. He shares with Brzezinski the reputation among some observers of having been a hard-liner toward the Soviets, especially before detente.
The MIT professor responded to this characterization yesterday by saying in a telephone interview that "it is not true that I am opposed to detente. I am a proponent of detente," adding that he had pushed the idea before it became popular.
Griffith said that he has "no doubt that mistakes were made" in RFE's broadcasts during the Hungarian revolt, but that "it is an enormous exaggeration of the effect of any radio" to say that the broadcasts played a role of any significance. He said that a West German government probe had found no fault in the radio's broadcasts. RFE is based in Munich.
Griffith said he left RFE voluntarily to return to teaching was under no pressure to leave.
A key Senate aide indicated last week that Griffith's selection for a board position would likely lead to a Senate fight because his association with RFE while it was under the CIA would be a lightning rod for criticism from the Soviets, especially in the days leading up to the Belgrade review of the 1975 Helsinki accord designed to guarantee freer flow of information.
Stanton has figured prominently in another Washington debate over international broadcasting, that on the future of the Voice of America. The former CBS president was head of a panel that recommended that VOA be split from the U.S. Information Agency and given independent status as a way to ensure its jornalistic freedom. The panel recommended, however, that VOA not be linked with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.