March 28 Hearings Provided a Platform for the CIA’s “Nice Guy” Public Face, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and the Violent Coup Plotters and Regime Changers That it Supports
The concept of separation of powers was pivotal to the so-called ideal of democracy laid out by the founding fathers of the United States.
Some of the more democratically inclined founders would be horrified by the subservience displayed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today toward the Executive Branch and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
On March 28, Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) presided over hearings that provided a platform for Damon Wilson, the President and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA offshoot that was founded in the 1980s to promote propaganda and support opposition figures in countries the U.S. targets for regime change.
In his testimony, Wilson said that, while the world was far more democratic than in the late 1980s when many countries still were behind the Iron Curtain, authoritarianism was now again “on offense, led by Beijing and Moscow, in an increasingly coordinated campaign with autocrats around the world from Tehran to Minsk to Havana.”
These statements dovetailed well with Joe Biden’s remarks during the second Democracy Summit that he was hosting one day later, in which Biden pledged $690 million for foreign influence operations to support democracy around the world, including by funding free media outlets in authoritarian regimes and pro-democratic reformers, which is what the NED does.
Emphasizing that democracies must “work in common cause in support of liberty and freedom,” Wilson noted with alarm how [Chinese Premier] Xi [Jinping] and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin had reaffirmed their friendship in a recent meeting in Moscow that he called “a dictator’s mutual admiration society.”
Wilson went on to emphasize how the NED was working in Ukraine to document Russian war crimes and to “expose how corruption linked to Chinese Communist Party [CCP]-backed companies undermines rule of law in their own nations.”
Wilson continued with the anti-China theme by noting that the “NED’s support for Uyghur partners has been central to their ability to document abuses against their community in East Turkestan and to rally much of the free world to hold CCP authorities to account.”
He also said that “most recently, NED grantee the Tibet Action Institute revealed to the world that the Chinese government had taken nearly a million Tibetan children—starting at age four—from their families and placed them in boarding schools where they were subjected to indoctrination intended to ‘remove the Tibetan’ from them.”
These latter comments were an example of the NED’s support for oppressed minorities and/or dissidents in rival countries, largely in an attempt to cast those countries in the worst possible light—whether warranted or not. While some really took place, the NED has been known to fabricate atrocities, like those allegedly committed against the Uyghur, while falsely lionizing their allies—in order to whip up moral outrage and justify U.S. regime change operations and military encirclement and aggression.
According to Wilson, “Beijing invests billions of dollars on anti-democratic activities in other countries because it understands that corroding democracy in the rest of the world is the best way to protect the Communist Party’s monopoly on power in China. Russia works to crush democratic uprisings in Europe and Africa to reduce the chances of a home-grown revolution. Both seek to gain partners in crime to wield influence in international institutions and neuter democratic and human rights norms. These autocrats view democracy not just as a competitive system of governance, but as an existential threat to their own survival. Despite their rhetoric appropriating democracy and human rights, they know they don’t govern with the consent of their people…They fear their people.”
Putin and Xi are popular in their countries, however, because of the economic transformation they helped to engender; China has invested billions of dollars in the Belt and Road initiative that has won it many allies; and the democratic uprisings Wilson is referring to were supported by the NED, meaning they were not actually very democratic since the leaders were in the pay of an offshoot of the intelligence agency of a foreign imperialist power.
Rather than questioning anything that Wilson said, the chairman of the hearings, Robert Menendez, voiced his support for regime-change operations backed by the NED in Cuba, Iran, Burma and Belarus and said that the U.S. Congress should do more to support them.
A vocal member of the anti-Castro Cuban lobby who opposed the Iran nuclear deal and has supported largely hawkish positions on foreign policy, Menendez announced his support for two new pieces of legislation: a) the “Protect Global Heroes Act,” which would establish a new visa category for human rights defenders and democracy activists facing persecution, and b) a “countering authoritarianism bill,” which, he said, would provide the tools needed to combat autocrats.
The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, James Risch (R-ID)—featured speaker at a recent NED event at the George W. Bush Center aimed at mobilizing public support for the war in Ukraine—also lobbed softball questions at Wilson and the other panelists at the March 28 hearing.
Risch claimed in his remarks that, “when the U.S. retreats the rest of the world suffers,” referencing both Afghanistan—which was now under Taliban rule—and Taiwan, which Risch fears may soon be taken over by China.
Risch said further that Putin’s war on Ukraine was the “most blatant attack we’ve seen on democracy since the Cold War.”
The latter statement obscures that it was Ukraine and not Russia that banned 12 opposition political parties, and that Ukrainian jails have become so overcrowded because of mass round-ups of political dissidents, that prisoners have to sleep in shifts.
“With Biden’s Help We Will Prevail”
Risch referred to one of the main featured speakers at the March 28 hearing, Belarusian politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, as a “freedom fighter.”
However, Tikhanovkaya has limited support within her own country where many may well view her as a national traitor. She currently resides in Lithuania, having been sentenced in absentia to 15 years imprisonment for high treason and “conspiracy to seize power,” i.e., a coup.
According to the World Socialist website, during the mass demonstrations surrounding Belarus’s 2020 election won by Alexander Lukashenko, Tikhanovskaya tried to derail workers’ protests. She has supported harsh sanctions against her country that are harmful to her own people, and has openly appealed to the imperialist powers, saying that “with Biden’s help we will prevail.”
If the latter held true, then Belarus would become another NATO satellite country used as a base for attacking Russia and would undo the socialist policies adopted by Lukashenko that earned the country praise from the World Bank for its low poverty levels and good social services.
In her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tikhanovskaya highlighted the repressive features of Lukashenko’s rule and courage of Belarus’s political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize recipient Ales Bialiatski, and said that “the most damaging factor to democratic hopes of Belarusians has been Russia’s interference in our internal affairs.”
According to Tikhanovskaya, “without the Kremlin’s help Lukashenko would have lost power even before 2020. To return the debt he makes illegal concessions to Russia…[like] agreements expanding Russian military presence and handing over economic and financial controls to Moscow.”
Tikhanovskaya called for “a strong response to Russia’s hostile, colonialist actions against Belarus”; a new Marshall Plan for Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus; and provision to Ukraine of the most advanced military equipment. She further expressed appreciation for the Belarus Caucus in the U.S. Congress, headed by Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker (R), who suggested that the U.S. should consider launching a nuclear first strike against Russia to defend Ukraine.
Tikhanovskaya seems happy to associate with Wicker and others in the U.S. government who care very little really about the Belarusian people but would use them as pawns in a larger geopolitical game.
Platform to a Violent Golpista
Tikhanovskaya was preceded in her testimony by Leopoldo López, a socialist hater like her who was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being found guilty of inciting violence during the 2014 anti-Maduro Guarimba uprisings in Venezuela, which left 43 people dead.
A mentor of Juan Guaidó, a right-winger recognized by Donald Trump as Venezuela’s leader despite his holding no official position, López was part of one of the three families that tried to orchestrate a coup against socialist leader Hugo Chávez in 2002. He was barred from running for mayoral re-election in Caracas’s Chacao district in 2008 for allegedly misusing public funds.
Supporting U.S. sanctions that caused the deaths of at least 40,000 of his countrymen and women, López said that “hundreds of activists, social leaders, journalists, union leaders, business people, students, military officers, and common citizens have been the targets of the [Nicolás] Maduro regime.”
López went on to condemn what he described as growing Russian interference in Latin America, noting how the Russians “routinely send delegations to Havana, Caracas, and Managua to discuss mutual ‘security.’”
“The most recent visit,” López said, “was that of Nikolai Patrushev, a Russian general, intelligence officer, and orchestrator of war crimes in Ukraine. The topic of discussion was the suppression of ‘color revolutions.’ Disguised as a diplomatic mission, this was a blatant Russian intervention in Latin America with the specific purpose of sharing methods of repression to terrorize and intimidate any possible dissenters.”
López warned further that “Putin, often considered to be a traditionalist, nationalist, and right-winger,” had “thrown massive support behind Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, who styles himself as a socialist and a hardline left-winger. It’s important to realize that these despots’ ‘ideologies’ are actually a thin façade for transnational corruption and the exportation of human rights violations. Putin will face no domestic backlash for his ideologically incomprehensible support of Ortega; Russian support is not rooted in admiration for Sandinismo in Nicaragua. It is merely a strategy to make the world less safe for those who respect human rights, the rule of law, and democracy.”
Nicaragua and Venezuela, it should be noted, have long been targets of NED and other U.S. government agency-backed regime-change operations precisely because of their socialist character and push for independent economic development and regional integration.
Hypocritically, López says nothing about the long-standing U.S. imperial intervention in Latin America that has left the continent the most unequal in the world, nor about the human rights abuses that have taken place over many years in U.S. client regimes.
But if he did, he would not have a platform before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to advertise a new organization he has helped launch, the World Liberty Congress, which seems reminiscent of the World Anti-Communist League supported by right-wing extremists and criminal drug traffickers during the original Cold War.
J. William Fulbright—a Break in the Imperialist Tradition
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been chaired by many ardent imperialists since its establishment in 1816, including Joe Biden, who played a key role in using the committee to secure Senate support for the Iraq War.
Between 1897 and 1907, John Tyler Morgan (D-AL) used his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to call for a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through Nicaragua, enlarging the merchant marine and the Navy, and acquiring Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Cuba. Morgan expected Latin American and Asian markets would become a new export market for Alabama’s cotton, coal, iron and timber.
A break in tradition occurred in the 1960s when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman J. William Fulbright (D-AR) held hearings on possible relations with Communist China whose tone was very different from those of March 28, 2023.
Senator Fulbright’s hearing indicated that American public opinion toward China had moved away from hostility and toward cooperation, and set the groundwork for Richard Nixon’s enlightened détente policy of the early 1970s.
One of the key witnesses was Harvard China scholar John K. Fairbank, who urged for peaceful cooperation with China and challenged the whole premise behind U.S. policy toward Asia, stating that, “rather than communist aggression and subversion, one of the most important problems we have right now is how we control ourselves and the control of American power.”
Appointed as the youngest chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1959, Fulbright had been an ally of Lyndon B. Johnson who had helped him get the Tonkin Resolution passed authorizing U.S. troop deployments to Vietnam.
However, Fulbright came to regret his complicity with the Vietnam War, and in 1966 held educational hearings, which offered a platform for anti-war dissenters.
The star witness was George F. Kennan, architect of the Cold War containment doctrine, who explained how American leaders had gotten the U.S. stuck in the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. According to Kennan, the entire domino theory on which defending South Vietnam was predicated was a myth; Southeast Asia was hardly on the brink of falling wholesale to Communism, and the administration’s promises of victory in Vietnam rang hollow as “the Vietcong will go on controlling at night the villages we control during the daytime.”
Five years after Kennan’s testimony, the Fulbright committee heard from future Secretary of State John Kerry, then head of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who accused the Johnson and Nixon administrations of “criminal hypocrisy.” Kerry discussed the Winter Soldier war crimes tribunal held by Vietnam veterans in Detroit where they admitted to shooting civilians and “razing villages in a manner of Genghis Khan.”
Kerry told Fulbright and his colleagues that “the country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.”
It is interesting to look back at the testimonies of Kerry, Kennan and Fairbank, and to compare them to the spectacle on March 28, where CIA officials and their foreign proxies spread misinformation about socialist governments while advocating for more arms sales, sanctions, regime change and military intervention that could lead to nuclear war.
Fulbright had been a close friend of LBJ but had the independence of mind to try to scrutinize Executive Branch policies and advocate for alternatives.
His model is an example of an alternate approach that we sorely need today—in an age where the abuses of the Executive Branch are obscene.
During a webinar coordinated by the Atlantic Council, a rabidly anti-Russian think tank, Tikhanovskaya openly called for a more aggressive imperialist intervention into Belarusian politics, stating, “I think it’s high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth.” ↑
See Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson, Inside the League: The Shocking Expose of How Terrorists, Nazis, and Latin American Death Squads Have Infiltrated the World Anti-Communist League (New York: Dodd Mead, 1986). The World Liberty Congress was launched by López and two other NED honorees: Russian anti-Putin activist Gary Kasparov, who was associated with the neo-con/CIA-tied think tank, Center for Security Policy, and Masih Alinejad, who worked for the U.S. propaganda outlet, Voice of America, was pictured with former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and helped trigger anti-regime protests in Iran. ↑
John Delury, Agents of Subversion: The Fate of John T. Downey and the CIA’s Covert War in China (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2022), 294. ↑
Reflecting his segregationist roots, Fulbright had opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act initiated by LBJ. ↑
Delury, Agents of Subversion, 292, 293. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
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