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Thursday, 24th April 2014

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Aid without mercy: the paid pipers of civil society

The Ma’an News service is a valuable resource. While its TV stations inform and entertain the locals, its news agency (MNA) sends the world 24-hour news from beleaguered Palestine. Viewers of its well-designed website receive minute-by-minute information in Arabic, Hebrew and English, with local news from ten districts in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, accompanied by high quality, and often shocking, photographs.

Much of the coverage by the 14 correspondents and 16 photographers who work for Ma'an News and Ma'an Images – from Gerry Adams’ recent visit to the Middle East, to the banal regularity of humiliations endured by Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints – is enlightening information which is not easily found elsewhere.  Ma'an also opens a window into the power struggles between Hamas, Fatah and the PFLP as society crumbles under the Western and Israeli economic blockade of the ‘territories’.

From Ma'an Images: a family mourns the victim of an Israeli air strike
Viewing the Ma’an News site answers many questions about daily life in Israeli-occupied Palestine which are not even asked by the main world media sources.  But it also prompts another kind of question: how can people in these besieged and poverty-stricken zones afford to run this ‘independent’ and highly professional world-standard news outlet?

The answer is that they don’t.  Ma'an News admits in the ‘about us’ section of its website that it is funded by the foreign affairs ministries of Denmark and the Netherlands.  A more persistent trawl through the site reveals, among further funding organisations, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), both of which are US Government bi-partisan bodies.  Bi-partisan in the current context means that boards composed of both Republican neo-conservatives and loyal Democrats decide how to spend the scores of millions of US dollars which the US Congress allocates to ‘democracy promotion’, ‘democracy assistance’, and ‘conflict resolution’ initiatives. 

The collaboration of the United States with Denmark and Holland to finance MNA may be viewed in the context of a tactic which the NED, in its June 2006 report to Senator Richard G. Lugar of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, describes as ‘transatlantic, multilateral co-ordination’. The aim of this tactic, according to the report, is two-fold:

“New restrictions on democracy assistance, often accompanied by anti-American rhetoric (as in Egypt, for example) highlight the importance of promoting multilateral initiatives that help reduce the ‘made in the USA’ profile of democracy assistance and also leverage additional resources.”

Despite its funding sources, the Ma’an News Agency boasts “MNA is known for being reliable, objective, accurate, balanced, and informed.”  No doubt this is true.  The integrity of its staff in revealing the frequent horrors imposed by Israeli occupation cannot be doubted.  Neither can their bravery – in early July this year a photographer employed by Ma’an News, Mohammad Az Zanoun, aged 20, was shot and seriously injured by Israeli soldiers.  According to a report of the incident:

“The young photographer was seriously shot and injured by shrapnel from Israeli projectiles. One hit his mouth and teeth and cut his finger. The other hit him on his body. In spite of that, he continued to work, strangely insistent. Then the Israeli soldiers aimed their weapons directly at him and shot him in the stomach. He fell instantly to the ground with his camera.

“Eyewitnesses said that he fell to the ground shouting, ‘Where is the camera? There are many photos in it which are witness to the killing of Palestinians; there are many photos of the Palestinians who have been killed.’”

Directly or indirectly, the USA and its allies paid both for the camera and for the bullets which hit the photographer. 

The subtle Americans

The US authorities have great experience in the promotion and financing of unlikely-seeming causes.  In the 1950s and 1960s the CIA was not only arranging military coups and training death-squads - it was also involved in more subtle struggles for ‘hearts and minds’.  The NED’s official history, entitled ‘Idea to Reality: NED at 20’, opens with an interesting statement under the heading ‘Origins’:

”In the aftermath of World War II, faced with threats to our democratic allies and without any mechanism to channel political assistance, U.S. policy makers resorted to covert means, secretly sending advisers, equipment, and funds to support newspapers and parties under siege in Europe.”

 It is noteworthy that much of this covert organisation and funding was in support of ‘left-wing’ activity.  As Thomas M. Troy Junior, a former member of the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence put it:

“To over-simplify the historical background: In the late 1940s, Washington did not take it for granted that the people in Western Europe would support democratic governments and that their states would effectively oppose the Soviet Union and support the United States. To help promote democracy and to oppose the Soviet Union and West European communist parties, the CIA supported members of the non-communist left, including many intellectuals. Because the CIA's activities were clandestine, only a few of the beneficiaries were witting of the Agency's support, although a large number suspected Agency involvement.”

Troy’s article, a critique of a book called The Cultural Cold War by Frances Stonor Saunders, was published in the unclassified section of the CIA’s staff magazine in 2002.  In it, Troy resorts to defending this involvement in left-wing activities in Europe by asserting that the CIA did not directly control the organisations and publications which it set up and financed:

“After the CIA established and funded the Congress for Cultural Freedom and Encounter magazine, did it then call all the shots? Did the Agency determine what the Congress should support or what Encounter should publish? Evidently, no. In the 15 years that the Agency ‘ran’ the magazine, Encounter probably published about 2,000 articles and reviews. Saunders can cite only two (rather dubious) cases in which the CIA may have intervened to prevent the journal from printing articles.”

This may well be true.  Self-censorship by the paid piper is usually the most effective kind of censorship.  The CIA’s real achievement in this operation was the creation and promotion into intellectual dominance of a ‘left’ which was hostile to the Soviet Union and supportive of the Western version of ‘democracy’: a ‘left’ which was no threat to capitalism.

Jay Lovestone was a key CIA agent in the trade union movement during the Cold War
Thomas M. Troy Junior makes another interesting point in his article:

“I would venture the guess that Irving Brown and Jay Lovestone won more ‘hearts and minds’ in Western Europe by working with the trade unions than any 20 people involved in the Congress or all the articles in Encounter.”

Brown and Lovestone were ‘militant’ union leaders (Jay Lovestone was a former leading communist) who worked with the CIA – using large amounts of cash provided by the Agency - to undermine communist influence in workers’ organisations in Europe.   These covert operations came to light in 1967, after some of those in the know became disillusioned with US policy because of the Vietnam War.  A description and a spirited defence of some of these activities by a former CIA operative, Thomas W. Braden, was published soon after these disclosures.  In his article, Braden outlines some of the principles used in disbursing the agency’s cash:

“…the first rule of our operational plan: ‘Limit the money to amounts private organizations can credibly spend.’ The other rules were equally obvious: ‘Use legitimate, existing organizations; disguise the extent of American interest: protect the integrity of the organization by not requiring it to support every aspect of official American policy.’ “

Plus ca change.

Giving aid a good name

Of course, on their own these CIA operations would not have been effective.  They were allied to more respectable forms of international assistance.

Indeed, it was the Marshall Plan that gave economic aid a good name.  Under this famous scheme, the USA, hardly scathed by the Second World War, put capitalist Western Europe back on its feet.  In fact, most of the long term developmental effects attributed to Marshall aid resulted from the US Technical Assistance and Productivity Program (USTA&P) under which Western Europe, Japan and some other countries were given access to advanced US technology and training in how to manage mass-production. The US authorities permitted their allies to adopt state-led models of economic and social development: nationalising and co-ordinating industries and providing extensive welfare and public services. Japan in particular was allowed to export cheap manufactured goods to the USA while protecting its growing industries from US imports.  A quarter-century of high economic growth, accompanied by improvements in both material living standards and public welfare, followed. 

To receive Marshall and USTA&P aid, countries were required to join the Cold War on the US side.  A key condition was participation in the US-led technology blockade against the socialist countries, organised through CoCom, the economic arm of NATO.  Industrial modernisation efforts in the USSR, Central Europe and China encountered significant difficulties as a result.

US economic aid is still a highly political weapon, with a pattern of distribution which is designed to achieve the strategic ambitions of US policy.  The Israeli government is a major beneficiary, with most of the money earmarked for the provision of high-tech weapons.  But even Israel is required to carry out neo-liberal ‘reforms’ as a condition of receiving some of the cash.  The USAID website states:

“The United States, acting through USAID, will provide $240,000,000 in FY 2006 Economic Support Funds (ESF) to Israel as a cash transfer. These funds will be used by Israel to repay debt to the United States, including refinanced Foreign Military Sales debt, and to purchase goods and services, as a general rule, from the United States. The United States will continue to encourage Israel to reduce government spending and deficits, improve tax and public wage structures, increase privatization, reform labor markets, and liberalize its trade regime.”

Lest anybody suppose that Israel’s favourable treatment is due to the power of the ‘Jewish lobby’ in the United States, it must be noted that the US government has been happy to work through fundamentalist Islamic groups when this has suited its interests.  In 1998, former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski boasted in an interview with the French Magazine Le Nouvel Observateur of his role in arranging US support for radical Islamists against the left-wing government in Afghanistan:

“According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”

When asked, “do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?”, Brzezinski responded sharply:

“What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

An important trend in the allocation of economic and humanitarian aid by Western countries in recent decades is the tendency for money to be provided to and through NGOs rather than via governments.   Indian writer Arundhati Roy remarks:

“In India the funded NGO boom began in the late 1980s and 1990s, coinciding with the opening of India’s markets to neoliberalism.

“At the time the state, in keeping with the requirements of structural adjustment, was withdrawing funding from rural development, agriculture, energy, transport and public health.

“As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these areas. But their available funds are a minute fraction of the cut in public spending. Most wealthy NGOs are financed and patronised by aid and development agencies, funded by western governments, the World Bank, the United Nations and multinational corporations. Though they may not be the same agencies, they are certainly part of the same political formation that oversees the neoliberal project and demands the slash in government spending…”

Thus foreign-financed NGOs, even the ones which have no explicit political role, have the overall effect of disempowering the people who they are supposed to be helping.  Ms Roy continues:

“They turn people into dependent victims and blunt political resistance… They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.

“In the long run NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among.”

The NED and regime-change

The National Endowment for Democracy was established by US President Reagan in 1983 to assist and supplement the CIA’s more hard core activities.  Bizarrely, the US government claims that NED is a private, non-governmental body, although it is fully-funded and controlled by the US authorities.

Child victim of a 'Contra' attack in Nicaragua
The NED channels most of its financial interventions through its four sub-bodies: one associated with the Republican Party, another with the Democrats, a third with the US Chamber of Commerce; the fourth continues the CIA’s tradition of working in trade union organisations.  The ‘timeline’ on the organisation’s website glows with satisfaction at the successes of the NED’s first two decades.  Among these was assisting the defeat of Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government in 1990 by bankrolling the country’s right-wing media and its anti-government political forces.  The timeline neglects to mention the other prong of the USA’s anti-Sandinista strategy: the paramilitary campaign of the ‘Contras’, organised from neighbouring Honduras.  As an Armed Conflicts Events Database report notes:

“Advisory, financial, and material help from the CIA were crucial. According to the United States Department of State, military and nonmilitary assistance between 1982 and 1990 amounted to US$300 million. This figure did not include an additional US$100 million gathered by the United States National Security Council, and aid solicited from private organizations and foreign governments, much of it devoted to weaponry…

“The Contras' brutal practices of attacks on rural cooperatives, villages, and clinics, often involving the deaths of civilians and the torture and killing of Sandinista officials and soldiers, brought accusations that the Contras were conducting a deliberate campaign of terrorism.”

The NED timeline also records with pride the organisation’s extensive operations in Eastern Europe, including Solidarnosc in Poland (“assisting Polish democrats - a primary focus of NED's early grants”) and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia.  

Mark Almond, a history lecturer at Oxford University, disclosed in a 2004 article in The Guardian the role of himself and other Western academics:

“As an old cold war swagman, who carried tens of thousands of dollars to Soviet-bloc dissidents alongside much better respected academics, perhaps I can cast some light on what a Romanian friend called ‘our clandestine period’. Too many higher up the food chain of People Power seem reticent about making full disclosure…

“Throughout the 1980s, in the build-up to 1989's velvet revolutions, a small army of volunteers - and, let's be frank, spies - co-operated to promote what became People Power. A network of interlocking foundations and charities mushroomed to organise the logistics of transferring millions of dollars to dissidents. The money came overwhelmingly from Nato states and covert allies such as ‘neutral’ Sweden.”

From the USAID website: The anti-Milosevic B92 Radio Station in Serbia, funded by NED and USAID
But Almond became disillusioned with the fruits of Western-funded ‘people power’:

“The hangover from People Power is shock therapy. Each successive crowd is sold a multimedia vision of Euro-Atlantic prosperity by western-funded ‘independent’ media to get them on the streets. No one dwells on the mass unemployment, rampant insider dealing, growth of organised crime, prostitution and soaring death rates in successful People Power states.”

In another article, Almond notes the US financing of the 2004-05 ‘Orange Revolution’ against the capitalist (but insufficiently pro-US) government of Ukraine.  He comments:

America's real aim in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics is to seize control of vital resources before China and India can challenge US dominance…

“The Pentagon is really aiming at Beijing in its grab for the old Soviet strategic space around Russia. China is booming, but energy is her Achilles heel. Economically and technologically, China's 1.3 billion people seem poised to assume superpower status, but China cannot risk falling out with America. Only access to Russian and central Asian oil can liberate China from dependence on vulnerable sea-borne oil supplies, so the real ‘Great Game’ is between Beijing and Washington. America's real strategic fear is the rise of China and India.”

Gringo GONGOs

But not all of the USA’s regime-change efforts have been successful. Frustrated by measures taken in several countries to resist political interference from the USA, the NED’s President Carl Gershman presented a report entitled ‘The Backlash against Democracy Assistance’ in June 2006.  The report throws some light on recent US tactics.

As the report makes clear, the recent ‘colour revolutions’ in former Soviet states were not achieved overnight.  Seeds were sown and cultivated over a long period:

“The mobilizations in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities during the Orange Revolution, for example, demonstrated the latent vibrancy of these groups just a few years after some commentators had lamented the fact that civil society was so frail that Ukrainians rarely defended their own interests. Such instances also serve as a reminder that NED and its institutes actively invested resources in sustaining democratic and civil society groups for 15 years prior to the Orange Revolution, demonstrating the need for a long term approach.  In addition, these breakthroughs confirm the benefits of a ‘venture capital’ approach whereby ‘seed funding’ is provided to democratic and civil society groups in countries and contexts that initially appear unpromising for democratic change.”

The NED’s ‘Backlash’ report reeks of the arrogance of imperial power.  Not only are the citizens of other countries (in the above case the Ukrainians) only seen as having “defended their own interests” when they followed the call of US-created and financed NGOs, but the setting up of organisations, acting within their own national borders, by governments and parties which do not toe the US line, is even regarded as an attack on democracy:

“Repressive governments have sought to undermine the NGO sector by establishing ersatz or captive NGOs, or Government-Organized NGOs (GONGOs). Governments use these organisations to appear supportive of civil society, to channel funding to preferred causes and away from opposition groups and to discredit independent NGOs by claiming that government-affiliated organizations represent ‘legitimate’ civil society.”

Hold on a moment. By this definition, aren’t the thousands of organisations around the world which have been set up and funded by NED, USIP and USAID also GONGOs?  GONGOs, moreover, not in the service of the government of their own country but in the service of a foreign government, the government of the United States of America?

Among a list of countries which have established NGOs which are not to the liking of the US government, the NED report includes Venezuela:

“In Venezuela, the Chavez regime has organised a wide range of parallel Chavista groups which deliberately confuse and cloud the issues by taking a pro-government line in international meetings.”

In 2002, President Chavez of Venezuela survived an attempted coup organised with the support of the US authorities; this was followed by a work stoppage in the oil industry and other sectors which was organised jointly by the employers and the right-wing trade union federation CTV, a body which has received large sums of money from NED.   Venezuela is currently a key target of US funding activity; despite a Freedom of Information Act request, NED refuses to name many of the groups in receipt of funding.

But in the topsy-turvy logic of NED officials, it is the activities of the ‘Chavistas’ in support of their elected government which are illegitimate.

Venezuelans mobilising against the US-backed coup in 2002
Of course, the USA does not promote a partisan agenda.  In other words, it is often happy to win friends and influence people on opposite sides of some local disputes, and to do so also both within governments and within forces opposed to those governments.  The NED report complains that:

“One of the Gulf States sought to justify a refusal to register the operations of a democracy assistance group with the argument that this would set a precedent for the Iranians to open an office to agitate among the country’s Shi’a.  The difference is of course that the US group was running programmes for a wide range of political forces, including pro-government and opposition, rather than promoting a partisan agenda.”

Having maximum control of both pro-government and opposition forces is the ideal position for the world’s dominant power. 

For those countries which are beginning to restrict the activities of US-funded political groups, including Russia, Belarus and Iran, the report recommends that the USA mobilise the international community to use pressure, including where possible economic sanctions, against them.  Another measure, of course, is to hugely increase the amounts of money involved and conceal its origin through complicated routing arrangements.  According to a report in the Miami Herald:

“The Bush administration, in keeping with its pledge to push for democracy around the world, has quadrupled worldwide aid for pro-democracy programs to more than $2 billion a year, says Thomas Melia, deputy executive director of Freedom House, which organizes exchange visits for pro-democracy activists in Latin America.

U.S. government agencies contacted by The Miami Herald for official aid totals said any such numbers are only rough approximations because funds are being poured over multiple accounts into a complex web of groups and government agencies.”

Beggary and belief

Yet in the charitable story of Western aid, the manipulation and humiliation of Palestine is surely the most extreme example.  After the defeat of the USSR, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was pressurised and induced into accepting, through the Oslo negotiations, a supposedly temporary situation in which Palestinians would ‘self-govern’ two districts, the West Bank and Gaza, pending the future creation of a Palestinian state.   The areas covered by the oxymoronic Palestinian Authority cannot independently trade (they have not been permitted to have a port or a functioning airport) and travel within the ‘territories’ is extremely difficult because of the Israeli ‘Separation wall’ and the ubiquitous checkpoints; added to this are the Israeli settler land-grabs, one example of which was described by Nick Dearden of War on Want:

“The Jordan Valley, along the eastern edge of the West Bank, is a particularly large-scale settlement production centre. While Palestinians are cramped into small villages surrounded by closed military zones, vast plantations of fruit and vegetables line the landscape. One million palm trees have been planted here, and the Israeli government plans another million in the next five years. The partially state-owned export company, Agrexco, is responsible for 60-70% of all produce exported from settlements, and business is booming, with a 72% increase in revenue in the last 3 years. 60% of all Israeli vegetables exported end up in the UK. We met one Palestinian farmer growing aubergines in his field, but they were dry and shrivelled compared to the well watered grapes that grow on the plantations which have been stolen from him. ‘The water these plants constantly get comes through my land’, he tells us, ‘yet I have no access to it.’”

In short, the districts which are nominally administered by the Palestinian Authority are economically unviable, and becoming more so, in the circumstances which have been imposed by Israel with the backing of the ‘international community’.  The CIA makes the following economic assessment of the West Bank:

“The West Bank - the larger of the two areas under the Palestinian Authority (PA)- has experienced a general decline in economic growth and a degradation in economic conditions made worse since the second intifadah began in September 2000. The downturn has been largely the result of the Israeli closure policies - the imposition of border closures in response to security incidents in Israel - which disrupted labor and commodity market relationships. In 2001, and even more severely in 2002, Israeli military measures in PA areas resulted in the destruction of much capital plant, the disruption of administrative structure, and widespread business closures. Including the Gaza Strip, the UN estimates that more than 100,000 Palestinians out of the 125,000 who used to work in Israeli settlements, or in joint industrial zones, have lost their jobs. International aid of $2 billion to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2004 prevented the complete collapse of the economy and allowed some reforms in the government's financial operations. In 2005, high unemployment and limited trade opportunities, due to continued closures both within the West Bank and externally, stymied growth.”

It is perhaps unfair to single out journalists among Palestinian people and institutions as recipients of Western aid.  The policy of the ‘international community’ was to permit Israel to reduce the West Bank and Gaza to beggary while preventing complete meltdown by providing increasing aid.  That aid, however, was conditional on ‘democratisation’; the US and the EU countries gambled on the prospect that elections, combined with increased international pressure on the ruling Fatah faction of the PLO, would produce a government even more willing to make concessions to Israel.  In 2005, as
preparations began for a general election, the NED sought to encourage such a result by expanding its ‘democracy assistance’ programme in Palestine to cover 18 different organisations; including the huge sum of $348,000 for projects in the trade union movement.  Ma’an News received $40,000 (not including the USIP grant and leveraged funding).

After the wrong party won the Palestinian Authority elections in January 2006, the economic aid from the USA and EU (but not the ‘democracy assistance’) was abruptly terminated. 

The degradation and hardship which has followed can be observed by visiting the highly professional website of the Ma’an News Agency.

From Ma'an Images: a desperate Palestinian scavenges in a rubbish dump


Ma’an News:

NED ‘Backlash’ report:

NED official history:

Thomas M. Troy Junior’s book review in the CIA staff magazine:

Thomas W. Braden’s defence of CIA covert actions:

USAID on support to Israel:

Brzezinski interview:

Arundhati Roy:

Armed Conflicts Events Database report on Nicaragua:

Mark Almond (1):,,1367965,00.html

Mark Almond (2):

Miami Herald:

Nick Dearden (War on Want):

CIA on West Bank economy:

NED ‘democracy assistance’ programmes in Palestine: