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Foreign Broadcast Information Service

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Foreign Broadcast Information Service

FBIS logo

Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) was an open source intelligence component of the Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Science and Technology. It monitored, translated, and disseminated within the U.S. government openly available news and information from media sources outside the United States. Its headquarters was in Rosslyn, Virginia , later Reston, Virginia , and it maintained approximately 20 monitoring stations worldwide. In November 2005, it was announced that FBIS would become the newly formed Open Source Center, tasked with the collection and analysis of freely available intelligence.


In February 1941, President Roosevelt directed that $150,000 be allocated for creation of the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBMS) under the authority of the Federal Communications Commission. The mandate of the FBMS was to record, translate, transcribe and analyze shortwave propaganda radio programs that were being beamed at the United States by the Axis powers. Its first monitoring station was established in October 1941 in Portland, Oregon.

With the end of World War II, the FBMS was transferred to the Department of the Army. Like many other wartime organizations, the FBMS was threatened with disbandment. The possibility of its disbandment was roundly criticized in many different quarters, which helped ensure its survival.

Upon the passing of the National Security Act of 1947, the FBMS was renamed the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) as a part of the CIA. Its original mission revolved around radio and press agency monitoring. In 1967, the Service's mission was expanded to cover foreign mass media transmitted by radio, television, and print. In 2007, Readex announced its plans to create a digital edition entitled Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports, 1941–1996.


FBIS had approximately 20 stations, commonly called bureaus, that were located around the world. These stations operated as an adjunct of a U.S. embassy/consulate or military command. Bureaus opened and closed at various times depending on the world situation and local circumstances. These stations were not covert and operated with the consent of the host government. In addition, a few of the bureaus were located on territory belonging to or administered by the US such as Key West, Florida, Bahia Sucia, Puerto Rico, the Panama Canal Zone, etc. The personnel in the stations were both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who were responsible for the collection, translation, and dissemination of foreign open source material. Depending on location, and the availability of print media, these personnel may have been responsible for translation of more than one language. It should also be noted that because of the large number print/radio/TV/satellite sources worldwide FBIS did not collect all open source material, but only those sources that met the requirements of the Intelligence Community.

Besides the translations done overseas a large volume of less-time sensitive material was sent to FBIS headquarters in Rosslyn and Reston where a more detailed translation could take place.

Not only were translations provided by in-house FBIS personnel, but approximately 700 independent contractors were also employed.


Material provided by FBIS was disseminated to over 700 recipients in not only in the U.S. Intelligence Community, but also a large number of government, diplomatic and military organizations.

The material provided by the FBIS, although it comes from openly available, public radio and TV broadcasts, is not made freely available to the American people, frequently due to copyright laws.

In the news

Saving FBIS from budget cuts

The Federation of American Scientists launched a successful campaign in 1997 to save FBIS from planned budget cuts.

The Larry Chin spy incident

Larry Wu-Tai Chin worked for FBIS from 1952 to 1981 and sold classified documents to China.

Similar outfits around the world


Office of National Assessments Open Source Centre, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


BBC Monitoring


  • Fighting a War of Words
  • PBS Frontline on four Chinese espionage investigations
  • Australian Office of National Assessments
  • Australian Government Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies
  • Remarks by J. Niles Riddel D/Director FBIS at the 1st Int'l Symposium "National Security & National Competitiveness: Open Source Solutions" 2 Dec 92

Specified references

  1. ^ Glasser, Susan B. (2005-11-25). "Probing Galaxies of Data for Nuggets: FBIS Is Overhauled and Rolled Out to Mine the Web's Open-Source Information Lode". The Washington Post. pp. A35. 

Further reading

  • The Wizards of Langley by Jeffrey T. Richelson. ISBN 0-81334-059-4. About the CIA Directorate of Science and Technology.
  • Silent Warfare by Abram N. Shulsky and Gary James Schmitt. ISBN 1-57488-345-3. About basic concepts and issues involved in government intelligence.
  • The CIA and the US Intelligence System by Scott D. Breckinridge about the structure of the US intelligence community
  • Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy by Mark M. Lowenthal about the role of intelligence in policymaking
  • "Sailing the Sea of OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) in the Information Age" by Stephen C. Mercado. Studies in Intelligence vol. 48, no. 3, 2004.
  • "Reexamining the Distinction Between Open Information and Secrets" by Stephen C. Mercado. Studies in Intelligence, vol. 49, no. 2, 2005
  • "The Scope of FBIS and BBC Open Source Media Coverage, 1979–2008" by Kalev Leetaru. Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 54, no.1, 2010
  • "Foreign Broadcast Information Service History Part I: 1941–1947" by Joseph E. Roob. Written in 1969, declassified in 2009.

External links

  • FBIS homepage
  • World News Connection
  • Readex online edition of FBIS Daily Report
  • Federation of American Scientists webpage on FBIS
  • DD/FBIS Speech at 1992 Open Source Solutions Symposium
  • An essay on Open Source Intelligence
  • National Archives - Records of the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service (1939-47)
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