The post-Watergate enquiries into the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US exposed details of its covert political activities in other countries in order to promote US foreign policy objectives. Amongst such activities were the secret funding of individuals, political parties and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) favourable to US interests and funneling of money to counter the activities of those considered anti-US.
After taking over as the President in January, 1977, Mr.Jimmy Carter banned such activities and imposed strict limits on the CIA’s covert operations in foreign countries. During the election campaign of 1980, Mr.Ronald Reagan used effectively against Mr.Carter the argument that the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate decline of the US under Mr.Carter was due to the emasculation of its military and intelligence apparatus.
After his election in November, 1980, and before his taking-over as the President in January, 1981, Mr.Reagan appointed a transition group headed by the late William Casey, an attorney and one of his campaign managers, who was to later take over as the CIA Director, to recommend measures for strengthening the USA’s intelligence capability abroad.
One of its recommendations was to revive covert political activities. Since there might have been opposition from the Congress and public opinion to this task being re-entrusted to the CIA, it suggested that this be given to an NGO with no ostensible links with the CIA.
The matter was further examined in 1981-82 by the American Political Foundation’s Democracy Programme Study and Research Group and, finally, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was born under a Congressional enactment of 1983 as a “non-profit, non-governmental, bipartisan, grant-making organisation to help strengthen democratic institutions around the world.”
Though it is projected as an NGO, it is actually a quasi-governmental organisation because till 1994 it was run exclusively from funds voted by the Congress (average of about US $ 16 million per annum in the 1980s and now about US $ 30 million) as part of the budget of the US Information Agency (USIA). Since 1994, it has been accepting contributions from the private sector too to supplement the congressional appropriations.
Thirty per cent of the budgetary allocations constitute the discretionary fund of the NED to be distributed directly by it to overseas organisations and the balance is distributed through what are called four “core organisations”—the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI).
In 1994, the NED set up two other organisations called the International Forum for Democratic Studies (IFDS) and the Democracy Resource Centre (DRC), both largely funded by the private sector.
Since its inception, the NED and its affiliates have been mired in controversy in the US itself as well as abroad. Amongst its strongest supporters in the US is the Heritage Foundation of Washington DC, a conservative think tank, which played an active role in influencing the policies of the Reagan and Bush Administrations.
It brought out two papers on the justification for the NED, when questions were raised in the US on the continued need for it after the collapse of the communist regimes of East Europe. In the first paper of July 8,1993, (Executive Memorandum No. 360) it described the NED as “an important weapon in the war of ideas” and said:” The NED has played a vital role in providing aid to democratic movements in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, Vietnam and elsewhere….. Communist dictatorships still control China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam. Moreover, ex-communists masquerading as nationalists continue to dominate several of the Soviet successor states. The NED can play an important role in assisting those countries in making the turbulent transition to democracy….. Local political activists often prefer receiving assistance from a non-governmental source, as aid from a US government agency may undermine their credibility in the eyes of their countrymen.”
In the second paper of September 13, 1996, (Executive Memorandum No.461), it said:”The NED advances American national interests by promoting the development of stable democracies friendly to the US in strategically important parts of the world. The US cannot afford to discard such an effective instrument of foreign policy at a time when American interests and values are under sustained ideological attack from a wide variety of anti-democratic forces around the world…The NED has aided Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement in Poland, Harry Wu’s human rights efforts in China and independent media outlets in former Yugoslavia. Russian political activists affiliated with the NED also played a major role in President Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign against the reinvigorated Communist Party earlier this year…. The NED is a cost-effective way to encourage captive nations to liberate themselves without committing the US to a prohibitively risky and costly military crusade to free them from communism.”
Testifying before the Sub-committee on International Operations and Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives on March 13,1997, Mr.Carl Gershman, President of the NED, said: ” I just want to say that the Endowment’s work is based upon a very, very simple proposition. And that is, where there are people who share our values, where there are people who might be called the natural friends of America, then it is our obligation to help those people in some way.”
Amongst the critics of the NED are Ms. Barbara Conry, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute of Washington D.C. and Mr. Ralph McGehee, stated to be a former CIA official.
In a paper of November 8,1993(Foreign Policy Briefing No.27), Ms.Conry said: “NED is resented (abroad) as American interference; it is often further resented because it attempts to deceive foreigners into viewing its programmes as private assistance…. On a number of occasions, NED has taken advantage of its alleged private status to influence foreign elections, an activity that is beyond the scope of AID (Agency For International Development) or USIA and would otherwise be possible only through a CIA covert operation….. What finally drew public attention to NED’s meddling in foreign elections was an aborted attempt to provide opposition candidate Violeta Chamorro with $ 3 million in funding for her 1989 election campaign against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The plan was abandoned after it was determined that NED’s charter, which expressly forbids campaign contributions, would be violated. In the end, the money was channeled to programmes that aided Chamorro indirectly rather than through direct campaign contributions.”
In a statement of January 19,1996, Mr.McGehee described the post-1991 activities of the NED as “political action operations targeting China and Cuba.” Another NGO of the US has said: ” NED engages in much of the same kinds of interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries, which were the hallmark of the CIA. The NED has financed, advised and supported in many ways selected political parties, election campaigns, unions, student groups, book publishers, newspapers, other media, even guerillas in Afghanistan and, in general, organisations and individuals which mesh well with the gears of the globalised-economy machine…. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, and also founded the Centre for Democracy, one of NED’s funding middlemen, was quite candid when he said in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” The NED, like the CIA before it, calls what it does supporting democracy. The governments and movements whom the NED targets call it destabilisation.”
Initially, the NED’s activities were directed mainly against the communist regimes of East Europe, but, subsequently, it started combating the communist parties in multi-party democracies of West Europe too. In the 1980s, when the late Francois Mitterrand was the French President, an NED report showed an expenditure of US $ 1.5 million “to promote democracy in France.”
There was an uproar in France when the French press discovered that part of this amount had been given by the NED, through the FTUI, to the National Inter-University Union of France, allegedly a right-extremist and xenophobic organisation, in an attempt to use it to defeat communist candidates in the elections to the National Assembly. Embarrassed by the controversy, the Reagan Administration dissociated itself from the NED activities in France.
After the collapse of the communist regimes of East Europe, the NED has been focussing its activities against the communist regimes of Cuba, Vietnam, China and North Korea and the Myanmarese military regime and against the resurgence of the communist parties in East Europe due to the economic difficulties there.
Its activities relating to China are of two kinds: Those, which are legitimate in the Chinese perception such as training of local village officials in the holding of elections, training of local business executives in better management practices, advice on the drafting of economic reform legislation etc and those, which are legitimate in the US perception, but interference in internal affairs in the Chinese view, such as support to political dissidents, human rights activists and Tibetan exiles and projection of Taiwan as a democratic model worthy of emulation.
The first type of activities is carried out by workers of organisations affiliated to the NED, either based in China or visiting the country and the second by off-shore offices of the NED, which were located in Hong Kong before its reversion to China in June, 1997, and which were thereafter reportedly shifted to Australia since the ASEAN countries would not host them. Finding Australia not a convenient place, the NED has reportedly been eyeing India as a possible base for its activities directed against China.
Beijing has reasons to be concerned over what it considers as the illegitimate activities of the NED. Of the 28 NGOs of Asia funded by the NED, 14 focus on China, four of them of Tibetan exiles, five on Myanmar, two on Cambodia, and one each on Vietnam and North Korea and the remaining five on the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.
In his testimony of March 13,1997, before the House Sub-committee on International Operations and Human Rights, Mr.Gershman said:” There has been a doubling of resources spent in Asia (primarily China, Burma and Cambodia) and a tripling of resources for the Middle East. There were also dramatic increases in Central Asia and the former Yugoslavia…While the discretionary programmes and those of our affiliated labour institute support the activities of various pro-democracy networks, among them Human Rights in China, the China Strategic Institute, the Laogai Research Foundation, and the Hong Kong based activities of labour activist Han Dongfang, IRI and CIPE have targeted opportunities created by the official reform policy in the areas of local elections and economic modernisation.Additional grants support the democracy movements in Hong Kong and Tibet and,through the International Forum, we have highlighted the role of Taiwan as an Asian model of successful democratisation.”
The trans-border activities of the NED against the Myanmarese military regime seem to be directed mainly from Thailand and India. This is evident from a testimony given by Ms.Louisa Coan, NED’s Programme Officer for Asia, before the House Sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific on September 17,1997.
She said: “NED has been able through its direct grants programme to support the dissidents, to support the democracy movement of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, particularly through assistance to the groups along the borders in Thailand and in India, including twice daily radio programming through the Democratic Voice of Burma (author’s comment: based in Scandinavia), newsletters, underground newspaper, underground labour organising, particular programmes to foster inter-ethnic co-operation and unity among the opposition forces in support of Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for tripartite dialogue and national reconciliation.”
It is not known whether New Delhi was aware of the India-based activities of the NED against the Yangon regime.
Before the recent visit of the US President, Mr.Bill Clinton, to India, the NED headquarters in Washington issued the following press release: “Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced on Tuesday March 14 that the US and India will launch a joint non-governmental initiative called the Asian Centre for Democratic Governance during President Clinton’s upcoming trip to South Asia.
“Jointly organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the NED, the Centre will be based at CII’s offices in New Delhi, The Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training, an affiliate of the Indian Parliament, will partner with the CII in implementing the activities of the Centre.”
The press release said the expenditure on the initiative would be shared by the CII and the NED.
It is an interesting case of an important member of the Clinton Cabinet, announcing on behalf of a self-proclaimed NGO of the US funded by the Congress, a non-governmental initiative in collaboration with a non-governmental Indian business organisation with which an office of the Indian Parliament would also be associated.
This launching was duly done at New Delhi.
There are three likely implications of this unusual venture:
* Possibility of misunderstanding with China which might interpret it as directed against it and its presence in Tibet.
* Impropriety in co-operating with an American organisation working against the present Government at Yangon, which has normal diplomatic relations with New Delhi and has been co-operating in counter-insurgency measures in the North-East.
* The presence in Indian territory, with official blessing, of an organisation, which aims to wipe out communism as a political and ideological movement all over the world and which might utilise its presence to undermine the Indian communist movement. NED has never criticised the Indian Communist parties, but a reading of the past statements of those in the US supporting the NED would indicate that they hold communism and democracy as incompatible.
The US has also announced the association of India as co-sponsor with a forthcoming conference of “communities of democracies ” in Poland being funded by the Stefan Batory Foundation of Poland, set up by George Soros in 1998, to counter the resurgence of communism in East Europe, and the Freedom House of the US.
The Freedom House was founded in the 1940s “to strengthen free institutions at home and abroad”. It played an active role in carrying on a psychological warfare (psywar) against the troops of the USSR and the late President Najibullah in Afghanistan during the 1980s through the Afghanistan Information Centre set up by it, allegedly with CIA funds. The offices of this centre at Peshawar in Pakistan trained the Afghan Mujahideen groups and Pakistani organisations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (formerly known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, presently active in Kashmir, in techniques of media management and psywar.
Since 1983, part of the funds voted by the Congress to the NED are funneled to the Freedom House, which also gets contributions from the private sector. The Freedom House focuses its activities on media and communications and, according to a 1990 study by the Interhemispherique Resource Centre of the US, more than 400 journalists in 55 countries were collaborating with the Freedom House in its activities against communist parties and regimes.
Before going ahead with these projects, there is an urgent need for an examination of the implications of our collaboration with such organisations from the point of view of our national security and political stability.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).