“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China, and the National End

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“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China, and the National End

Postby admin » Sat Sep 26, 2015 1:03 am

“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China, and the National Endowment for Democracy
by Michael Barker
Global Research
August 13, 2007
Copyright © Michael Barker, Global Research, 2007



People familiar with Asian history will be aware that during Tibet’s popular uprising against their Chinese occupiers in 1959, his Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (then aged 23), escaped from his homeland of Tibet to live in exile in India. Subsequently, the Dalai Lama formed a Tibetan government-in-exile, and to this day the Dalai Lama and his government remain in exile. The Dalai Lama’s tireless efforts to draw international attention to the Tibetan cause received a welcome boost in 1989 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and since then the Dalai Lama has been able to demand sustained media attention (globally) to his ongoing non-violent struggle for a free Tibet. This part of Tibetan history is fairly uncontroversial, but a part of Tibet’s story that less people will be familiar with is Tibet’s historical links to the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Indeed, as Carole McGranahan (2006) notes “[t]he case of Tibet presents a mostly unexplored example of covert Cold War military intervention.”[1]

While in recent years far more information has been made available concerning the CIA’s violent linkages with Tibetan forces, to date only one article has examined the connection between Tibet’s current independence campaigners and an organization that maintains close ties with the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

A Brief History of CIA-Tibetan Relations

In 1951, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army entered Lhasa (Tibet’s capital) and proceeded to force the Dalai Lama’s government to sign a “Plan for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”, which effectively ratified the Chinese occupation of Tibet. This action combined with the ensuing Chinese repression of Tibetan activists subsequently inspired a popular revolution, which owing to its anticommunist orientation drew upon strong support from the CIA.[2] As Jim Mann (1999) notes, “during the 1950s and 60s, the CIA actively backed the Tibetan cause with arms, military training, money, air support and all sorts of other help.”[3] Furthermore, as Michael Parenti (2004) has observed at the same time:

“… in the United States, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance, with the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, playing an active role in that group. The Dalai Lama’s second-eldest brother, Gyalo Thondup, established an intelligence operation with the CIA in 1951 [although CIA aid was only formally established in 1956]. He later upgraded it into a CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose recruits parachuted back into Tibet.”[4]

Indeed, according to formerly secret US intelligence documents (released in the late 1990s), it turned out that “[f]or much of the 1960s, the CIA provided the Tibetan exile movement with $1.7 million a year for operations against China, including an annual subsidy of $180,000 for the Dalai Lama”.[5] By 1969, however, it appears that covert support for the Tibetan cause had either served its geopolitical purpose (or it was decided that these operations were simply no longer effective), and the CIA announced the withdrawal of its aid for the Tibetan revolutionaries. That said, support for the Tibetan freedom fighters was still provided by the Indian and Taiwanese governments “until 1974, two years after President Richard Nixon normalized U.S. relations with China” (as were the U.S. subsidies for the Dalai Lama, which also continued until 1974): however, thereafter – especially once the Dalai Lama urged the fighters to put down their weapons – the violent resistance collapsed and the “CIA quietly paid to resettle the survivors”.[6] With the apparent end of CIA operations in Tibet, John Kraus (2003) observes that although:

“…President Ford ended the U.S. government’s involvement with Tibet as part of its Cold War strategy. The next phase of the U.S. relationship with the Dalai Lama and his people was to be cast in terms of a contest between human rights and political engagement with China.”[7]

Thus Kraus adds that in 1979 the Dalai Lama was “finally granted a visa by President Jimmy Carter… to visit the United States” and the “Tibetan cause then found new sponsors in a bipartisan group of senators, members of Congress, and congressional staff assistants who worked with the Dalai Lama’s entourage to focus the attention of successive U.S. administrations and a responsive world community on the Tibet situation”. As this article will demonstrate, a large part of this freedom work is presently being actively supported by the NED, so the following section will now examine this organization and it anti-democratic history.

The National Endowment for Democracy: Revisiting the CIA Connection

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was established in 1984 with bipartisan support during President Reagan’s administration to “foster the infrastructure of democracy – the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities” around the world.[8] Considering Reagan’s well documented misunderstanding of what constitutes democratic governance,[9] it is fitting that Allen Weinstein, the NEDs first acting president, observed that in fact “A lot of what we [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”.[10] So for example, it is not surprising that during the 1990 elections in Nicaragua it is has been estimated that “for every dollar of NED or AID funding there were several dollars of CIA funding”.[11]

By building upon the pioneering work of liberal philanthropists (like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations’) – who have a long history of co-opting progressive social movements – it appears that the NED was envisaged by US foreign policy elites to be a more suitable way to provide strategic funding to nongovernmental organizations than via covert CIA funding.[12] Indeed, the NED’s ‘new’ emphasis on overt funding of geostrategically useful groups, as opposed to the covert funding, appears to have leant an aura of respect to the NED’s work, and has enabled them, for the most part, to avoid much critical commentary in the mainstream media.

The seminal book exposing the NED’s ‘democratic’ modus operandi, is William I. Robinson’s (1996) Promoting Polyarchy, which as it’s title suggests, lays out the argument that instead of promoting more participatory forms of democracy, the NED actually works to promote polyarchy. Robinson argues that the NED’s active promotion of polyarchy or low-intensity democracy “is aimed not only at mitigating the social and political tensions produced by elite-based and undemocratic status quos, but also at suppressing popular and mass aspirations for more thoroughgoing democratisation of social life in the twenty-first century international order.” His book furnishes detailed examples of how the NED has successfully imposed polyarchal arrangements on four countries, Chile, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Haiti; while similarly, Barker (2006) has illustrated the NED’s anti-democratic involvement in facilitating and manipulating the ‘colour revolutions’ which recently swept across Eastern Europe. More recently, both Barker and Gerald Sussman (2006) have provided detailed examinations’ of how the NED works to promote a low intensity public sphere (globally) through its selective funding of media organizations.[13] This article will now extend these three initial studies by critically examining the NED’s support for Tibetan media projects from 1990 onwards.

‘Democacy Promoters’ and Tibet

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) was founded in 1988 and is a non-profit membership organization with offices in Washington, DC, Amsterdam, Berlin and Brussels. Their website notes that they “fundamentally believe that there must be a political solution based on direct dialogue between the Dalai Lama and his representatives and the People’s Republic of China.” ICT received their first NED grant (of the 1990s) in 1994 to:

“…enhance Chinese knowledge of Tibet by contributing articles about Tibet to newspapers and magazines within China and abroad; translating books about Tibet into Chinese; and facilitating a series of discussion meetings among key Chinese and Tibetan figures, focusing on bringing Chinese journalists and pro-democracy leaders together with Tibetan leaders in exile.”

Since then, the ICT has received regular support from the NED, obtaining subsequent grants in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 (all for media work except the 1997 grant). Like many groups that obtain NED aid, ICT are not afraid to boast of their ‘democratic’ connections, and in 2005 they even awarded one of their annual Light of Truth awards to the president of the NED, Carl Gershman. Furthermore, the year before (in 2004) ICT gave the same award to both Vaclav Havel (who had received the NED’s Democracy Award in 1991, and serves on the advisory board of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition), and also to one of the earliest ‘democracy promoting’ organizations, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. (For a summary of the key ‘democratic’ connections of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition and all the other groups mentioned in this article see, Barker (2007) Hijacking Human Rights: A Critical Examination of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Branch and their Links to the ‘Democracy’ Establishment. Due to this article’s heavy reliance on internet sources most links have been omitted from the paper, however, a fully referenced paper can be obtained from the author upon request.)

Some of ICT’s directors are also integral members of the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment, and include Bette Bao Lord (who is the chair of Freedom House, and a director of Freedom Forum),[14] Gare A. Smith (who has previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor), Julia Taft (who is a former director of the NED, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, has worked for USAID, and has also served as the President and CEO of InterAction), and finally, Mark Handelman (who is also a director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, an organization whose work is ideologically linked to the NED’s longstanding interventions in Haiti).[15] The ICT’s board of advisors also presents two individuals who are closely linked to the NED, Harry Wu, and Qiang Xiao (who is the former executive director of the NED-funded Human Rights in China).[16] Like their board of directors, ICT’s international council of advisors includes many ‘democratic’ notables like Vaclav Havel, Fang Lizhi (who in 1995 – at least – was a board member of Human Rights in China), Jose Ramos-Horta (who serves on the international advisory board for the Democracy Coalition Project), Kerry Kennedy (who is a director of the NED-funded China Information Center), Vytautas Landsbergis (who is an international patron of the British-based neoconservative Henry Jackson Society – see Clark, 2005), and until her recent death, the “mid-wife of the neocons” Jeane J. Kirkpatrick (who was also linked to ‘democratic’ groups like Freedom House and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies).[17]

Next up is the Tibet Fund, who first received NED aid in 1990 to “produce audio cassettes that will bring world and Tibetan news into rural communities in Tibet.” They then received continued NED support for this work in 1994 and 1996, whereupon the distribution of the audio tapes was extended to Tibetan exile communities in India and Nepal as well as those in Tibet. In 1996, the Tibet Fund also received NED aid on behalf of the Tibet Voice Project, “for an educational initiative based in Dharamsala, India, aimed at raising the social, political, economic and environmental awareness of Tibetans through audio-visual media.” The NED notes that:

“Particular emphasis will be given to speeches of the Dalai Lama on the topics of democracy and human rights. In Dharamsala, it will continue a series of lectures and films emphasizing social issues, politics, the economy and environment for new refugees and Tibetans in exile; and will organize grassroots level dialogues between Tibetans in exile and Indian youth to increase awareness and support for the Tibetan cause in India.”

The Tibet Fund’s work with the Tibet Voice Project was continued in 1998, and the Fund also received NED aid to run “an electronic media workshop for Tibetan journalists, and to introduce a bi-monthly Chinese language news magazine about Tibet.” Tenzing Choephel is the Tibetan scholarship program co-ordinator for the Tibet Fund, and it important to note that he previously helped “lay the foundation of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy [a group that was founded in 1996 and received NED funding in 1999], where he worked as an Office Administrator / English Researcher for three years in Dharamsala.” Finally it is interesting to observe that three people who are involved with the International Campaign for Tibet are linked to the Tibet fund, these are Lodi G. Gyari (who is the the executive chairman of the board of the ICT, and an emertius director of the Tibet Fund), Gehlek Rinpoche (who serves on ICT’s advisory board, and is a director of the Tibet Fund), and Tenzin N. Tethong (who serves on ICT’s advisory board, and is a founder and emeritus director of the Tibet Fund).

Another group that has received strong NED backing is the London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN), who between 1999 and 2004 received annual NED grants (excepting 2000) to “provide comprehensive, accurate information about political, social, and economic developments in Tibet to Tibetan audiences, the international community, human rights groups, and the media.” TIN was cofounded in 1987 by Nicholas Howen (who is now the secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists) and Robert J. Barnett. Robert J. Barnett was the Director of TIN between 1987 and 1998 and now works at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, alongside fellow faculty member Andrew J. Nathan (who is an editor of the NED’s Journal of Democracy, and also serves on the advisory board for the NED-funded Beijing Spring magazine). It is important to note that between 1998 and 2002 – the time coinciding with the start of the NED’s support for TIN – the organization was directed by Richard Oppenheimer who incidentally had just spent 22 years working for the BBC World Service. In 2002, Oppenheimer was then replaced by the world famous Tibetologist, Thierry Dodin, who left TIN in 2005 when it was announced that TIN “had to close down for lack of funds”, and he subsequently went on to direct the TibetInfoNet.[18]

The Tibetan Literary Society received NED aid between 2000 and 2005 to publish the Bod-Kyi-Dus-Bab (Tibet Times), a Tibetan language newspaper which was founded in 1996 and is published three times a month in Dharamsala, India. In 1998 and 1999 the newspaper itself also received direct support from the NED. Another group to receive NED support is the Tibet Multimedia Center, which received three grants from the NED between 2000 to 2002 to:

“…provide objective information about Tibet for Tibetans in the country and in exile as well as for audiences in China. The center will produce audio and videocassettes, organize debates among Tibetan high school students in exile and publish a Chinese language magazine to educate the Chinese public about the situation in Tibet and the struggle for human rights.”

Between 1999 and 2005 the Tibetan Review Trust Society received four grants to publish the Tibetan Review, a monthly English-language news magazine based in New Delhi, India, “that covers Tibet-related news and analysis.” The Tibetan Review was founded in 1968 and it’s precursor was Lodi G. Gyari’s (see earlier) The Voice of Tibet: in the early 1970s the Tibetan Review was published by Tenzin N. Tethong (who at the time headed the International Campaign for Tibet), and after passing through the hands of a number of other Directors it is now being edited by Pema Thinley (who is the former Executive Editor of Tibetan Bulletin, the “official journal of the Central Tibet Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama”).

Finally, in 2001 and 2002, the Voice of Tibet – a Tibetan-language shortwave radio station which was founded in 1996 – obtained NED aid to provide “regular news about Tibet, the Tibetan exile community, and the Tibetan government-in-exile, for listeners in Tibet and in exile in neighboring countries.” According to their website “[e]very day Voice of Tibet broadcasts a 30 minutes news service in the Tibetan language and a 15 minutes news service in Mandarin Chinese.” Voice of Tibet was founded by three Norwegian NGOs; the Norwegian Human Rights House, the Norwegian Tibet Committee and Worldview Rights. The final group is particularly interesting as it is also known as the Points of Peace Foundation, which is a “human rights organisation based in Stavanger, Norway, with a mandate to support Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in urgent need of media, dialogue and communication assistance in their home countries and internationally.” Crucially, the Points of Peace Foundation’s advisory board includes Jose Ramos-Horta, John Hume (who is a former patron of the British version of the NED, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy), Aung San Suu Kyi (who is a member of the international advisory board of the Democracy Coalition Project, and is an honorary director of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance), Wangari Maathai (who is a member of the international advisory board of the Democracy Coalition Project, and is a trustee of World Learning), Mairead Corrigan Maguire (who is a member of the international council of advisors for the International Campaign for Tibet), and Muhammad Yunus (who is on the advisory board of Stockholm Challenge, where he sits alongside NED director Esther Dyson, and US Institute for Peace advisory board member John Gage). (Two other groups to receive NED aid for communication work in Tibet since 1990 for which no further information could be ascertained include the Tibet Justice Center (which received a single grant in 2002), and the Tibet Museum (which received NED support in both 2004 and 2005).)


This article has demonstrated the close ties that exist between the Dalai Lama’s non-violent campaign for Tibetan independence and U.S. foreign policy elites who are actively supporting Tibetan causes through the NED. This finding is particularly worrying given the high international media profile of many of the groups exposed in this article, especially when it is remembered that the NED’s activities are intimately linked with those of the CIA. This funding issue is clearly problematic for Tibetan (or foreign) activists campaigning for Tibetan freedom, as the overwhelmingly anti-democratic nature of the NED can only weaken the legitimacy of the claims of any group associated with the NED. In this regard it seems only fitting that progressive activists truly concerned with promoting freedom and democracy in Tibet should first and foremost cast a critical eye over the antidemocratic funders of many of the Tibetan groups identified in this study. Only then will they be able to reappraise the sustainability of their work in the light of the NED’s controversial background. Once this step has been taken, perhaps progressive solutions for restoring democratic governance to Tibet can be generated by concerned activists, so that Tibetan people wanting to reclaim their homeland will able to be more sure that they are bringing democracy home to Tibet, not polyarchy.

Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker@griffith.edu.au



[1] McGranahan, C. “Tibet’s Cold War: The CIA and the Chushi Gangdrug Resistance, 1956–1974.” Journal of Cold War Studies, 8 (3), (2006), p.105.

[2] Conboy, K. and J.Morrison. The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002.

Deane, H. “The Cold War in Tibet.” Covert Action Information Bulletin 29 (Winter 1987): 48-50.

Knaus, J. K. Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival. New York: Public Affairs, 1999.

[3] Mann, J. “CIA Funded Covert Tibet Exile Campaign in 1960s.” The Age (Melbourne), 16 Sept. 1998. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://listserv.muohio.edu/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind9809c&L=archives&P=14058>.

[4] Parenti, M. “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth (Updated).” Jul. 2004. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html>.

[5] Mann, J. “CIA Funded Covert Tibet Exile Campaign in 1960s.” The Age (Melbourne), 16 Sept. 1998. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://listserv.muohio.edu/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind9809c&L=archives&P=14058>.

[6] Knaus, J. K. Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival. New York: Public Affairs, 1999.

Salopek, P. “The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet.” Seattle Times, 26 Jan. 1997. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.timbomb.net/buddha/archive/msg00087.html>.

[7] Knaus, J. K. “Official Policies and Covert Programs: The U.S. State Department, the CIA, and the Tibetan Resistance.” Journal of Cold War Studies, 5 (3), (2003), p.78.

[8] Reagan, R. W. “Address to Members of the British Parliament.” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 8 Jun. 1982. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1982/60882a.htm>.

[9] Rasmus, J. The War at Home: The Corporate Offensive Against American Workers and Unions from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. San Ramon, CA: Kyklos Productions, 2006.

[10] Ignatius, D. “Innocence Abroad: The New World of Spyless Coups.” The Washington Post, 22 September 1991.

[11] Robinson, W. I. and J. Gindin. “The Battle for Global Civil Society.” Venezuelanalysis.com, 13 Jun. 2005. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1477>.

[12] Barker, M. J. “Taking the Risk Out of Civil Society: Harnessing Social movements and Regulating Revolutions.” Refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Newcastle 25-27 September 2006. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.newcastle.edu.au/school/ept/politics/apsa/PapersFV/IntRel_IPE/Barker,%20Michael.pdf>.

Roelofs, J. Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

[13] Barker, M. J. “The National Endowment for Democracy and the Promotion of ‘Democratic’ Media Systems Worldwide.” Communication for Development and Social Change: A Global Journal (In Press).

Barker, M. J. “Democracy or Polyarchy? US-Funded Media Developments in Afghanistan and Iraq Post 9/11.” Media Culture Society (In Press).

Sussman, G. “The Myths of ‘Democracy Assistance’: U.S. Political Intervention in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe.” Monthly Review, Dec. 2006. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.monthlyreview.org/1206sussman.htm>.

[14] Barker, M. J. “A Force More Powerful: Promoting ‘Democracy’ Through Civil Disobedience.” State of Nature, Mar. 2007. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.stateofnature.org/forceMorePowerful.html>.

[15] Fenton, A. “Canada’s Growing Role in Haitian Affairs (Part I).” Znet, 21 Mar. 2005. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=7496>.

[16] For a detailed examination of both individuals strong ties to the NED see Barker, M. J. “Promoting a Low Intensity Public Sphere: American Led Efforts to Promote a ‘Democratic Media’ Environment in China.” A paper to presented at the China Media Centre Conference (Brisbane, Australia: Creative Industries Precinct, 5-6 July 2007).

Also of interest is Barker, M. J. “Hijacking Human Rights: A Critical Examination of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Branch and their Links to the ‘Democracy’ Establishment.” Znet, August 3, 2007. <http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=80&ItemID=13436>.

[17]Grandin, G. Empire’s workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006.

[18] Robert, P. “Tibet Information Network Closes as Funds Dry Up.” Tibet Information Network, 13 Sep. 2005. 21 Jun. 2007. <http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=10679&t=1&c=1>.
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Re: “Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China, and the National

Postby admin » Tue May 23, 2017 11:09 pm

Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, U.S. Intervention, and Hegemony (Excerpt)
by William I. Robinson

The shift from the CIA to the NED

What little political aid the United States has attempted in the past 35 years has been more or less covert, largely financial and most often administered through the CIA. It did not take long for most policymakers to realize that such covert operations were inappropriate, awkward, and embarrassing.

-- Project Democracy consultant [29]

Political aid programs were sporadic and underdeveloped in the post-World War II period. Those programs that did exist were managed by the CIA. The Truman administration created the CIA out of its World War II precursor, the Office of Strategic Security, as a covert branch of the US state in the Cold War. Since its inception, the CIA has carried out thousands of covert operations; overthrown countless governments; and contributed to the death, directly or indirectly, of millions of people as a result of its actions.30 Alongside intelligence gathering and paramilitary campaigns,a major component of CIA intervention has been political operations involving the creation, covert funding and guidance of allied political groups and individuals in target countries -- media, political parties, trade unions, businesses, and associations.

At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, despite occasional scandals and failures like the Bay of Pigs, the CIA enjoyed the respect of much of the US public, and the full extent of its activities remained hidden from the international community. But during the 1970s, as many of its seamy covert operations became public, it fell into disrepute. In 1974-5, congressional investigations revealed the sordid underworld of CIA covert activity at home and abroad. Top-level CIA officers defected and exposed the history of overseas intrigues, and investigative journalists uncovered unsavory details of US secret activities.31 After the US defeat in Indochina and the delegitimization of foreign intervention, the CIA by the late 1970s was badly discredited. In the United States, bipartisan and constituent support crumbled. In target countries abroad, association with CIA programs meant instant repudiation. In addition to the stigma, there were other problems.The CIA had proved adept at staging coups, assassinations, and installing dictators. It achieved its stated goal in 1973 in Chile, for instance, when it orchestrated the military overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. In Guatemala, it was impeccably efficient in organizing the removal in 1954 of the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. The CIA showed similar proficiency in operations in Brazil, Iran, the Congo, the Philippines, Iraq, and dozens of other countries.

Yet there was something clumsy about these operations. The political aftermath of covert operations seemed to create new, more complex problems over the long term. The CIA could destabilize quite well, but, its detractors argued, it was not good at creating stability. Nearly four decades after the CIA overthrew the Arbenz government, Guatemala remained a cauldron of guerrilla insurgency, gross human rights violations and social instability. The Pinochet regime lasted sixteen years but was an international pariah. Iran's nationalist prime minister, Mossadegh, was ousted in the CIA-led coup of 1954, which installed the Shah and recovered Iranian oil fields for Western petroleum companies. But, despite twenty years on the throne, the Shah was unable to sustain himself in the face of a rising Islamic fundamentalist movement and popular struggles against his policies. CIA operations seemingly lacked sophistication and long-term vision. The CIA was not able to create stable governments or to mold structures in civil society itself that could provide long-term protection for a core-dominated market economy and a pro-US political program. Here, the capable hands of a political surgeon were needed, not the heavy hand of a paramilitary assassin.

The new, post-Vietnam breed of political professionals lobbied for the transfer of crucial aspects of the CIA's political operations -- namely, "political aid" -- to a new agency. They lobbied for the establishment of an institution that would use sophisticated techniques, including elections, political aid, and other political operations, to achieve lasting results. Two of the original NED founders noted: "Since the advent of the Cold War, the United States has worked abroad politically, mainly covertly, with direct government action and secret financing of private groups." This US political intervention capacity "is necessary for protecting US security interests," but efforts to date have proven inadequate: "[The] various covert means for filling the political gap in US policy solved some short-term needs, but did not provide effective long-term solutions. Covert political aid provided directly by the US government is limited in its effectiveness."32 Thus, while CIA intervention has continued, a more specialized, sophisticated entity with a focus on political operations, a long-term vision, and a strategic agenda came into existence with the creation of the NED in 1983. This new entity would not only play the role of skillful political surgeon, but it would overcome the taint associated with the covert political operations that the CIA had been carrying out abroad. Specifically, NED would take over much of the funding and political guidance for political parties, trade unions, business groups, news media, and civic organizations that the CIA had traditionally supplied. The NED is a "combination of Government money, bureaucratic flexibility and anti-Communist commitment. .. which mixes public funds and private interests," noted the New York Times shortly after the Endowment's founding. The NED's work "resembles the aid given by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s, 60s and 70s to bolster pro-American political groups."33 Former CIA director William Colby commented in regard to the NED program: "It is not necessary to turn to the covert approach. Many of the programs which ... were conducted as covert operations [can now be] conducted quite openly, and consequentially, without controversy."34 The idea was to create a further division of labor within the organs of US foreign policy. The NED would not replace the CIA, whose programs have continued and even expanded in the 1990s.35 Rather, it would specialize in the overt development through political aid programs of political and civic formations, supplementing CIA covert activities in synchronization with overall US policy towards the country or region in which it operated.

The NED, with its ideological underpinning of "promoting democracy," was well equipped for rebuilding US domestic consensus for political operations abroad. The name National Endowment for Democracy conjures up an apolitical and benevolent image not unlike that of the National Endowment for the Arts or other humanitarian societies. The efforts to project such an image are, in fact, part and parcel of the ideological dimensions of the new intervention, and have been remarkably successful. Standard university texts perpetuate such an uncritical image. "The National Endowment for Democracy, launched by the Reagan administration in 1983, is a recent manifestation of a tradition with a long heritage," states American Foreign Policy: Pattern and Process, one of the staple US college texts on foreign policy. "Its purpose is to encourage worldwide the development of autonomous political, economic, social and cultural institutions to serve as the foundations of democracy and the guarantors of individual rights and freedoms."36 Yet the NED was created in the highest echelons of the US national security state, as part of the same project that led to the illegal operations of the Iran-Contra scandal. It is organically integrated into the overall execution of US national security and foreign policy. In structure, organization, and operation, it is closer to clandestine and national security organs such as the CIA than apolitical or humanitarian endowments as its name would suggest. The NED has operated in tandem with all major interventionist undertakings in the 1980s and 1990s.

The NSC's Project Democracy

Efforts to create "political development" programs date back to the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, when Congress discussed, but declined to approve, several bills to establish a "Freedom Academy" that would conduct party-building in the Third World. The passage of the Title IX addition to the Foreign Aid Act in 1966 spurred renewed interest in such an agency. The Brookings Institute, one of the most important policy planning institutes, undertook an extensive research program on political development programs in coordination with the AID and other government agencies.37 In 1967, President Johnson appointed the three-member Katzenback Commission which recommended that the government "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."38 A bill was introduced in Congress in 1967 by Rep. Dante Fascell (D.-Fla.) to create an "Institute of International Affairs," but it was not approved.39 Meanwhile, the public outcry against intervention abroad in the early 1970s as a result of the Indochina war and the revelations of CIA activities, as well as the Watergate scandal, put these initiatives on hold for much of that decade.

Then, in 1979, with reassertionism taking hold, a group of government officials, academicians, and trade union, business, and political leaders connected to the foreign-policy establishment, created the American Political Foundation (APF), with funding from the State Department's United States Information Agency (USIA) and from several private foundations. The APF brought together representatives of all the dominant sectors of US society, including both parties and leaders from labor and business. It also brought together many of the leading figures who had been developing the ideas of the new political intervention, many of them associated with the transnationalized fraction of the US elite.40 Among those on the APF board were Lane Kirkland of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), former Republican National Committee chair William Brock, former Democratic National Committee chair Charles Manatt, international vice-president for the US Chamber of Commerce Michael Samuels, as well as Frank Fahrenkopf, Congressman Dante Fascell, Zbignew Brezezinski, John Richardson, and Henry Kissinger. The APF was chaired by Allen Weinstein, who would later become the first president of the NED. The names of APF activists and the composition of the APF board are revealing. They fall into three categories. One is members of the inner circle of second-generation post-World War II national security and foreign policymakers, such as Kissinger, Brezezinski, and Richard Allen, all former National Security Advisors. Another is top representatives of the four major constituencies that made up the post-World War II foreign-policy coalition -- the Democratic and Republican parties, labor and business. The third is operatives from the US intelligence and national security community. These intelligence and security operatives include people associated with the CIA and dozens of front organizations or foundations with which it works, as well as operatives from the USIA.

The prominence of the USIA is significant, since this is an agency with a long track record in political and psychological operations. It was created by the Eisenhower administration in 1953 as an agency within the NSC at the recommendation of a top-secret report issued by the President's Committee on International Information Activities. Its explicit purpose was to conduct propaganda, political and psychological operations abroad in conjunction with CIA activities.41 A National Security Action Memo in 1962 stipulated coordination among the USIA, the AID, the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department in waging political warfare operations, including civic action, economic and military aid programs.42 Based on research programs it conducts directly or commissions governmental and non-governmental agencies to conduct, the USIA selects propaganda themes, determines target audiences, and develops comprehensive country plans for media manipulation and communications programs. As part of Project Democracy, USIA activities were greatly expanded in the 1980s.43

The APF recommended in 1981 that a presidential commission examine "how the US could promote democracy overseas." The White House approved the recommendation for Project Democracy. At its onset, Project Democracy was attached to the NSC, and supervised by Walter Raymond Jr., a high-ranking CIA propaganda specialist who worked closely with Oliver North, a key player in the Iran-Contra scandal, on covert projects.44 "Overt political action," explained Raymond, could help achieve foreign-policy objectives by providing "support to various institutions [and]... the development of networks and personal relationships with key people."45 Raymond explained that the creation of the NED as a "vehicle for quasi-public/private funds" would fill a "key gap" in US foreign-policy -- it would be a "new art form."46 Raymond and his staff at the NSC worked closely with Democratic Congressman Dante Fascell of Florida. Fascell chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee which would draft the legislation creating the NED and organized support for the project within Congress.47

In June 1982, in a speech before the British parliament considered the symbolic inauguration of the new policy, Ronald Reagan announced that the United States would pursue a major new program to help "foster the infrastructure of democracy around the world."48 A secret White House memo on the minutes of a Cabinet-level planning meeting to discuss Project Democracy held two months later, in August, set the agenda: "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."49 Then, in January 1983, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 77 (NSDD 77), which laid out a comprehensive framework for employing political operations and psychological warfare in US foreign policy. At least $65 million was allocated by the administration to underwrite the activities and programs contemplated in the NSC directive.50 NSDD 77 focused on three aspects of Project Democracy.51 One aspect was dubbed "public diplomacy" -- psychological operations aimed at winning support for US foreign policy among the US public and the international community -- and involved an expansion of propaganda and informational and psychological operations. The directive defined "public diplomacy" as "those actions of the US Government designed to generate support for our national security objectives." An Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD) operating out of the White House was established.52 The General Accounting Office ruled OPD an illegal domestic propaganda operation in 1988. Another aspect set out in the NSC directive was an expansion of covert operations. This aspect would develop into the clandestine, illegal government operations later exposed in the hearings on the Iran-Contra scandal of the late 1980s. Parallel to "the public arm of Project Democracy, now known as the National Endowment for Democracy," noted the New York Times, "the project's secret arm took an entirely different direction after Lieut.-Col. Oliver I. North, then an obscure National Security Council aide, was appointed to head it."53

The final aspect was the creation of a "quasi-governmental institute." This would engage in "political action strategies" abroad, stated NSDD 77.54 This led to the formal incorporation of the NED by Congress in November 1983. While the CIA and the NSC undertook "covert" operations under Project Democracy, some of which were exposed in the Iran-Contra investigations, the NED and related agencies went on to execute the "overt" side of what the New York Times described as "open and secret parts" of Project Democracy, "born as twins" in 1982 with NSDD 77.55 But while the Iran-Contra covert operations that grew out of Project Democracy were exposed and (assumed to be) terminated, the NED was consolidated and expanded as the decade progressed. With the mechanisms in place by the mid-1980s, the "reassertionists" turned to launching their global "democracy offensive." "The proposed campaign for democracy must be conceived in the broadest terms and must weave together a wide range of superficially disparate aspects of US foreign policy, including the efforts of private groups," noted one Project Democracy consultant. "A democracy campaign should become an increasingly important and highly cost-effective component of ... the defense effort of the United States and its allies."56 The countries in which the NED became most involved in the 1980s and early 1990s were those set as priorities for US foreign-policy. "Such a worldwide effort (a 'crusade for democracy'] directly or indirectly must strive to achieve three goals," one Project Democracy participant explained. "The preservation of democracies from internal subversion by either the Right or the Left; the establishment of new democracies where feasible; and keeping open the democratic alternative for all nondemocracies. To achieve each of these goals we must struggle militarily, economically, politically and ideologically."57

In countries designated as hostile and under Soviet influence, such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan, the United States organized "freedom fighters" (anti-government insurgents) in the framework of low-intensity conflict doctrine, while the NED and related organs introduced complementary political programs. Those countries designated for transition from right-wing military or civilian dictatorships to stable "democratic" governments inside the US orbit, including Chile, Haiti, Paraguay, and the Philippines, received special attention. By the late 1980s and early 1990s ,the NED had also launched campaigns in Cuba, Vietnam, and other countries on the US enemy list, and had also become deeply involved in the self-proclaimed socialist countries, including the Soviet Union itself. While these first programs were tied to the 1980s anti-communist crusade, the NED and other "democracy promotion" agencies made an easy transition to the post-Cold War era. As the rubric of anti-communism and national security became outdated, the rhetoric of "promoting democracy" took on even greater significance. Perestroika and glasnost highlighted authentic democratization as an aspiration of many peoples. But US strategists saw in the collapse of the Soviet system an opportunity to accelerate political intervention under the cover of promoting democracy. In the age of global society, the NED and other "democracy promotion" organs have become sophisticated instruments for penetrating the political systems and civil society in other countries down to the grassroots level.

Structure of the "democracy promotion" apparatus

Constitutive documents describe the NED as an "independent" and "private" organization. "Non-governmental" is its juridical status. In any political or practical sense, such a classification is meaningless; structurally and functionally it operates as a specialized branch of the US government. The NED is wholly funded by Congress with funds channeled through the USIA and the AID, both entities of the Department of State. From its inception in 1983 to its financial year 1992 allocation by Congress, it has received approximately $210 million in monies allocated by Congress.58 According to the NED's public documentation, these allocations account for some 99 percent of its funding. However, it is clear from the study of its operations abroad that NED spending is so interlocked with other direct and indirect, secret and public US government spending, that talk of fixed budgets is not all that meaningful. All NED grants are submitted to the State Department for approval, and US embassies abroad frequently handle logistics for and coordination of NED programs. The State Department and other executive agencies regularly appoint personnel to participate in NED programs.59 The decision to make the NED a quasi-private entity was based on several considerations. First, this would make it easier to insulate its operations from public scrutiny and accountability. For instance, the NED would not be subject to congressional oversight, as is the CIA. Second, a "private" organization would not be subject to the same bureaucratic encumbrances as a formal government agency, and therefore would be afforded greater flexibility in its operations. Third, formally separating the NED from the State Department would eliminate apparent or potential conflicts between government-to-government diplomacy and partisan interference in the political systems of other countries.

The NED operates overtly, at least on paper, as opposed to the CIA's covert activities. Its assistance to groups and individuals in other countries is conducted publicly -- above board -- according to the NED charter. This shift from covert to overt is a product of several practical and ideological concerns held by policymakers. Overt political intervention described as "democratic, nonpartisan assistance" is more difficult to discredit than "CIA bribes," "covert payoffs," or "secret intervention." Similarly, it is easier and more ideologically convincing to sell intervention as "democracy promotion" than as national security, and thus this assists in legitimizing foreign policy. Transferring political intervention from the covert to the overt realm does not change its character, but it does make it easier for policymakers to build domestic and international support for this intervention. It also provides policymakers with greater flexibility and options in pursuing their country-specific objectives. Despite its officially overt character the NED also engages in extensive covert operations. In fact, "overt" appears to be more an aspect of the "democracy" rhetoric than actual NED policy. NED activities are often shrouded in secrecy, and NED officials operate more often in the shadows than in the open, much like an agency dedicated to covert operations. Revealingly, NSC and other governmental documents of the early 1980s spoke almost interchangeably of "political action" and "covert action," and one secret White House planning document on Project Democracy referred to "covert action on a broad scale" to promote public and private "democratic institutions" abroad.60 Clearly those involved in Project Democracy were not yet clear how covert and overt aspects of the new political intervention would be portioned out.

The NED functions through a complex system of intermediaries in which operative aspects, control relationships, and funding trails are nearly impossible to follow and final recipients are difficult to identify. Most monies originating from the NED are first channeled through US organizations which, in turn, pass them on to foreign counterparts, who are themselves often pass-throughs for final recipients. Dozens of US organizations have acted as conduits for NED funds. Financial accounting becomes nearly impossible, facilitating all sorts of secret funding, laundering operations, and book-keeping cover-ups which allow for unscrutinized transactions. Through the multi-tiered structure of go-betweens, it is difficult to establish the links between US government operations on the one hand, and seemingly independent political activities in other countries on the other. In this Alice's Wonderland of political intervention, things are not what they seem, at first blush, to be.

The first tier in this system of intermediaries consists of what are known as the NED core groups. These groups handle the bulk of appropriated NED funds and programs. They are: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and its counterpart, the National Republican Institute for International Affairs (NRI, whose name was later changed to International Republican Institute, or IRI), which are the "international wings" of the Democratic and Republican parties; the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), a branch of the US Chamber of Commerce; and the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI), an international branch of the AFL-CIO (the AFL-CIO also operates abroad through three regional organizations, the AALC, for Africa, the AAFLI, for Asia, and the AIFLD, for Latin America). These core groups carry out programs in target countries with those sectors considered strategic pillars of society: labor (FTUI), business (CIPE) and the political parties and organizations (NDI and NRI). A host of other US "private" organizations enmeshed with foreign policy, such as Freedom House, the Council on the Americas, the Center for Democracy, and US universities, foundations, think-tanks, and even the YMCA, handle programs for "civic" sectors. In this structure, the US state foments direct linkages between the organs of US civil society and their counterparts in other countries.

Another characteristic of the NED is its fusion of the public and the private domains in its operations. In "democracy promotion" operations, "congressional testimony, agency budgets, speeches for department heads, planning and programming have been routinely farmed out to private firms rather than done internally by the responsible bureau," candidly explained one Project Democracy counselor. "In some cases, these 'private' agencies are really just fronts for the departments they serve; the agency may prepare a report or a research project that it then gives to the private firm to attach its letterhead to, as if it were really a private activity or initiative."61 The lines of funding in leadership which originate at the highest levels of the formal state apparatus and filter down through public and "private" networks ostensibly unconnected to the government obscures the linkage between many on-the-ground activities in intervened countries and the US state. Although they are projected as non-governmental organizations (NGOs -- or in official AID terminology, private voluntary organizations, or PVOs), the "private" groups which actually manage many "democracy promotion" programs in intervened countries form part of an extended US state apparatus. Obscuring this linkage means that the governmental identity of these groups and the function of their activities in the service of US foreign policy are almost universally unrecognized by US and foreign publics, and may even be unrecognized by other branches of the state apparatus (e.g., members of the US Congress), by many of their own employees, and by governments and publics in intervened countries. (However, the leadership of these quasi-private groups, top-level policymakers and field operatives, quite fully recognize their status as instruments of US foreign policy.) This blurring of "public" and "private" in US foreign policy was exposed in the 1980s during investigations into the Iran-Contra dealings. However, this was mistakenly seen as an aberration limited to that scandal. It is actually a structural feature of foreign policy in the current era. In this process, the US state oversees and guides the application of the overall resources of society to foreign policy objectives. This means tapping the technological, intellectual and organizational expertise of those not formally in the government in which diverse interests are merged and the distinction between state activity and private activity disappears. For instance, US intervention in the Nicaraguan elections involved the coordinated actions of the White House, the National Security Council, the CIA, the Department of State, the Pentagon, the USIA, the AID, Congress, the Democratic and Republican parties, the AFL-CIO, the US Chamber of Commerce, and dozens of "private groups," ranging from Freedom House and the Cuban American National Foundation, to the National Association of Broadcasters and sectors of the US Catholic Bishops Conference (see chapter 5). In theoretical terms, this should be seen as a feature of transnationalization. The US state acts to combine and fuse the actions and resources of elites operating in synchronization in civil and political society, and then project them into a transnational setting, through which cross-national politics are conducted and efforts are undertaken to construct hegemony.

A striking feature of the NED structure is the system of interlocking directorates. The boards of the "core groups" and the host of other "private" groups in US civil society that participate in "democracy promotion" programs, such as Freedom House, the Council on the Americas, and so on, heavily overlap with government and "private" organization officials who promoted Project Democracy and who sit on the NED board itself.62 In turn, this is an exact mirror of the institutional structure of power in the United States, in which the top leadership of the corporate world, government, and civic groups is thoroughly interlocking -- what Dye has analyzed as the "oligarchic model" of power and national policy-making. This oligarchic model has its flip side in the intervened country, where the United States promotes a string of civic, political, labor, and media organizations whose leadership is remarkably interlocking. Through US intervention programs, this leadership is brought together, trained and groomed by the United States in the art of polyarchic political processes, the ideological and other dimensions of consensual domination, and is expected to cohere into a society-wide elite exercising effective institutional power. This elite becomes responsive to the concerns of their US mentors and to the transnational agenda. The goal is to construct a functioning oligarchic model of power and a polyarchic system which links local elites to the transnational elite.

This interlocked core group of political warfare specialists strategizes on and actually conducts these "democracy promotion" projects as agents of the US elite, but does not constitute a unified group in terms of domestic US politics or affiliation. They do not represent any specific sector or ideological strain in mainstream US politics, and include right-wing Republicans and moderate Republicans, liberal Democrats and conservative Democrats and even social democrats, representatives of labor and representatives of business, and so forth. The new political intervention is less a creature of the right-wing Republican presidencies of the 1980s which actually oversaw the shift in policy than of dominant groups in the United States as a whole, and underscores the importance of Project Democracy for the restoration, beyond the specific program of anyone administration, of bipartisanship in foreign policy which had collapsed in the aftermath of the Vietnam and Iran debacles. Behind its mere restoration, those who developed the new political intervention sought the reconstitution of consensus among the major sectors of US society (political parties, government, labor, and business). "One byproduct" of the creation of the NED "may well be the restoration of bipartisanship to its central place in the American foreign-policy-making process," noted the principal Project Democracy report. "Not since the post-World War II consensus broke down during the debates over American involvement in Vietnam has this missing ingredient -- bipartisanship -- been present."63 This bipartisanship represented a consensus among the US elite on the political aspect of the transnational agenda (promotion of polyarchy), reflecting the hegemony that the transnationalized fraction had won.
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