By Holly Sklar and Chip Berlet, Covert Action Number 39 (WInter 1991-92)
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was first funded in fiscal 1984, an appropriate year for an Orwellian agency making the world safe for hypocrisy. The quasi-private NED does publicly what the CIA has long done and continues to do secretly. Despite successive scandals, U.S. meddling in the internal affairs of other nations — including their “democratic” elections — has not only thrived, it has become respectable.
U.S. manipulation of foreign elections was standard operating procedure well before the CIA’s creation. In 1912, for example, the highly-decorated Marine Corps General Smedley Butler wrote his wife Ethel, “Today, Nicaragua has enjoyed a fine ‘free election’ with only one candidate being allowed to run… In order that this happy event might be pulled off without hitch and to the entire satisfaction of our State Department, we patrolled all the towns to prevent disorders…” In 1935, reporter John Spivak interviewed the then retired Butler, who became a vocal anti-interventionist after being approached to assist a now-forgotten domestic coup attempt against President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Butler spilled over with anger at the hypocrisy that had marked American interference in the internal affairs of other governments, behind a smokescreen of pious expressions of high-sounding purpose. ‘We supervised elections in Haiti,’ he said wryly, ‘and wherever we supervised them our candidate always won.’ ” ^ Butler would recognize the old policy of interference behind the new NED smoke screen.
Contemporary covert and overt operatives, working for or with the U.S. presidency, also intervene in the American political process — from manipulating media and public opinion to working to unseat administration critics in Congress. Constitutional checks and balances are voided as Congress exercises its oversight responsibility largely by overlooking wrongdoing, and the courts defer to Congress and the Executive in “national security” matters.
Fronts and More Fronts
The covert side of foreign intervention was officially institutionalized in June 1948, when President Truman signed a National Security Directive (NSD 10/2). “The overt foreign activities of the U.S. Government must be supplemented by covert operations,” it read, “(including) any covert activities related to: propaganda, economic warfare, preventative direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements,’ guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.”
The Orwellian democracy machine grew quickly in the warm shadow of the Cold War. The ClA provided a home for the “Gehlen Network” of former German Nazi spies with experience in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Under the guise of “liberationism,” CIA fronts such as the Crusade for Freedom promoted these emigre fascist leaders and collaborators to the U.S. public as democratic freedom fighters in the war against communism ^ Some became leaders in the Republican Party’s Ethnic Heritage Groups Council. ^ Others assisted Radio Free Europe and the various propaganda instruments known collectively as the “mighty Wurlitzer” by its proud conductors. The CIA also influenced U.S. and foreign labor organizations through such bodies as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and AFL-CIO affiliates.
With the help of front groups espousing anti-communism and democracy, the U.S. interfered in elections and destabilized governments in many countries, among them Italy, Greece, Iran, the Philippines, Guatemala, Brazil, Indonesia, Chile, Portugal, Jamaica, and EI Salvador. As then National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger said on June 27, 1970, speaking in support of secret efforts to block Salvador Allende’s election in Chile, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” ^
In 1967, there was a public outcry when Ramparts magazine exposed secret CIA funding of the National Student Association’s international activities. Follow-up stories and congressional hearings exposed a network of ostensibly private labor, student, cultural media and other organizations that were funded by the CIA, using conduit foundations, under its Psychological; Political and Paramilitary Division.
Faced with mounting criticism, President Johnson appointed the three-member Katzenbach Commission which included CIA Director Richard Helms. This commission laid the groundwork for a new funding technique. It recommended that “The government should promptly develop and establish a public-private mechanism to provide public funds openly for overseas activities of organizations which are adjudged deserving, in the national interest, of public support.” ^ A bill was introduced in Congress in 1967 to create an “Institute of International Affairs,” but it was not approved, and the matter of CIA funding of front groups faded from public scrutiny until Watergate.
The CIA quietly continued covert operations involving front groups and more scandals erupted in the Nixon administration. The congressional Church (Senate) and Pike (House) committees investigated CIA and FBI operations in Watergate’s wake and exposed a wide variety of illicit and antidemocratic programs. Domestic operations included CIA propaganda activities and Operation CHAOS, and the FBI’s COINTELPRO. Foreign operations ranged from CIA programs to manipulate elections and overthrow governments, to plots to assassinate foreign leaders. Amid calls for placing limitations on the CIA or even abolishing it, George Bush was appointed CIA director, serving from 1976 to 1977. His mandate was to mollify his former colleagues in Congress while actually limiting CIA reform.
In the 1980s, with former CIA Director Bush in the vice presidency, the Reagan administration legalized through Executive Order many of the covert activities previously condemned as illegal immoral and antidemocratic. The Katzenbach recommendation of a “public-private mechanism” finally bore fruit in the National Endowment for Democracy.
NED was the public arm of the Reagan administration’s “Project Democracy,” an overt-covert intervention and “public diplomacy” operation coordinated by the National Security Council (NSC). In a speech to the British Parliament on June 8, 1982, President Reagan announced that the U.S. would launch Project Democracy to “foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way.”
According to a secret White House memo setting the agenda for a Cabinet-level planning meeting on Project Democracy, officials decided in August, “We need to examine how law and Executive Order can be made more liberal to permit covert action on a broader scale, as well as what we can do through substantially increased overt political action.” ^
On January 14, 1983, Reagan signed NSDD 77, a secret National Security Decision Directive instructing the NSC to coordinate interagency efforts for Project Democracy. “Public diplomacy,” it stated, “is comprised of those actions of the U.S. Government designed to generate support for our national security objectives.” ^
When legislation was introduced to authorize “Project Democracy” in February 1983, administration officials promised Congress that the CIA would not be involved. A separate bill authorizing funding for NED was introduced in April. The public NED record generally traces its origins to a government funded feasibility study by the bipartisan American Political Foundation (APF) headed by Allen Weinstein. He served as NED’s first acting president until February 1984 and is currently president of the Center for Democracy, an NED grantee. ^
“A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” Weinstein told Washington Post foreign editor David Ignatius.” ^ Calling NED “the sugar daddy of overt operations,” Ignatius writes enthusiastically of the “network of overt operatives who during the last ten years have quietly been changing the rules of international politics… doing in public what the CIA used to do in private.”
Actually; CIA footprints are all over Project Democracy, from NED to the Iran-Contra operations. The CIA-NED connection is personified by Walter Raymond Jr. who supervised NED under Reagan. A propaganda expert and senior officer in the CIA Directorate of Operations, Raymond was first detailed by the CIA to the NSC in 1982 as Senior Director of Intelligence Programs. He resigned from the CIA in April 1983 in order to become a special assistant to the President as director of International Communications and Public Diplomacy at the NSC. In mid-I987, he became deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), where he now heads the Eastern European Initiatives Office.
John Richardson, the current and past (1984-88) chair of the NED board of directors, is an old hand in the CIA’s front group network. He was president of the CIA-sponsored Radio Free Europe from 1961 to 1968. From 1963 to 1984, he was variously president and director of Freedom House, a conservative/neoconservative research, publishing. networking, and selective human rights organization. Freedom House is now heavily endowed with NED grants. Richardson later became counselor of the congressionally-funded U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) which is governed by a presidentially-appointed board of directors dominated by past and present government officials, including Defense and CIA, and members of right-wing organizations such as the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. ^