Barbara Lee [Source:]

Serves As an Award Presenter at 40th Anniversary Gala of CIA Cutout

Barbara Lee (D-CA), 77, is rightly revered in progressive circles as the sole member of Congress—House or Senate—to have voted against a resolution that gave the president power to wage aggressive war indefinitely in the Middle East after 9/11.[1]

On November 14, however, Lee allied with the forces of evil in U.S. politics when she served as an award presenter at the 40th anniversary gala for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA cutout that supports dissident groups in countries targeted by the U.S. for regime change.[2]

Lee, who is currently running the in the Democratic primary against Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, to succeed Dianne Feinstein as a California Senator, presented an NED Democracy Award to female Afghan journalists who have faced persecution by the Taliban.

While on the surface this is a good group to support, the NED has its own agenda of using these journalists to try to whip up public anger at the Taliban and engender support for imperialistic policies that would enable the U.S. to reclaim a strategic foothold in Afghanistan.

Since the withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Biden administration has initiated sanctions devastating to the local population whose main purpose is to collapse the Afghanistan’s economy and lay the groundwork for regime change.[3]

Malnutrition ward of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul. Afghans are suffering greatly because of years of warfare combined with the further ravaging effects of U.S. sanctions, which Lee tacitly supports. [Source:]

As the sole member of Congress to have voted against the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan after 9/11, Lee should know better than to support the whole charade.

That intervention too was undertaken with the supposedly noble aim of liberating Afghan women and advancing democracy in Afghanistan.

As we know, however, in practice the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan resulted in the temporary empowerment of a government equally as oppressive as the Taliban and the eventual return of the Taliban who were supported by sectors of the population as authentic nationalists leading the fight against foreign occupation.

During the war years, U.S. and allied forces rampaged around the country, killing thousands of innocent civilians, including through death squads, drone attacks and bombing. (At least 243,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed in the war).

Lee insinuated in her remarks that all repression in Afghanistan began after the Taliban took over when the U.S.-supported Karzai and Ghani governments were brutal in their own right.

Mustafa Ariaie, an Afghan lawyer living in the Netherlands, told me that the media landscape under the period of U.S.-NATO occupation was “dominated by pro-Western outlets” and that “Afghan journalists were unable to report about the ugliness of the war.”

According to Ariaie, Nassir Fayaz, a journalist for Arianna TV, was jailed by the Afghan security apparatus for being too critical of the government, though changed his tone after a trip to the U.S. A Tajik journalist named Yama Siawash was killed by a car bomb after criticizing Pashtun dominance and the Talibanisation of the North by the U.S.-backed Ghani regime.[4]

There were additional cases whereby Afghan journalists, cameramen, and activists were subjected to torture and inhumane treatment at the hands of American soldiers—though none of them were given grants or awards by the NED.

Yama Siawash
The NED never gave any awards to Yama Siawash, an Afghan journalist killed for criticizing the Talibanization of Afghanistan’s northern provinces under Ashraf Ghani, a U.S. proxy. [Source:]
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Nasir Fayaz [Source:]

Failing to note its brazen double standards and politicized agenda, Lee said that she is a “proud supporter of the NED’s work,” implying that she supports its coordinating color revolutions and right wing coups, and attempts to build public hatred against Russia and China or other U.S. enemies in preparation for war.

After 9/11, the NED allied strongly with the Bush administration’s Middle East policy, honoring Afghan civil society groups with a Democracy award in 2005 that documented human rights abuses by the Taliban and were supporting the illegal U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan.

The NED’s regime-change agenda was apparent at the gala in that it gave one of its freedom awards to women in Iran seeking to overthrow the Iranian government—a long-held dream of U.S. neo-conservatives who are trying to capitalize on the Israel-Hamas war to achieve that end.

The NED Freedom Award was accepted by Mersedeh Shahinkar, a single mother who was blinded in October 2022 during protests that broke out after Iranian morality police allegedly killed a young woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody.

Video footage, however, shows Amini collapsing on her own, indicating that the official pretext behind the protests—which was supported by violent separatist elements along with foreign intelligence services—was false.

A group of bronze statues on a table

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NED Democracy Award statuettes. [Source:]

A Democracy Service Medal recipient was Nicaraguan Catholic Bishop Silvio Báez, who was caught on video, as The Grayzone Project reported, conspiring with the political opposition to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically elected President Daniel Ortega.

Ortega was a hero of Nicaragua’s 1979 socialist revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship, whose social democratic economic program has improved the quality of life for a huge number of Nicaraguans.

According to a translation of the leaked audio, Báez declared that “the unity that we need at this moment must include everyone opposed to the government, even if they are suspected of being opportunists, abortionists, homosexuals, [drug] traffickers.” Baez subsequently urged the opposition to put up more of the tranque roadblocks that had plunged the country into violence and strangled its economy, describing them as “an extraordinary invention.”

A person wearing a robe and glasses

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Silvio Báez [Source:]

To the NED, and evidently Barbara Lee, Báez, is not a golpista but a freedom fighter along with other notorious figures of the Latin America right, like Venezuelan coup plotter Leopoldo López who was featured in an NED promotional video at the beginning of the event.

López 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 person holding a flag

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Golpista Leopoldo López—an NED favorite who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for inciting violent protests that left 43 Venezuelans dead in 2014. [Source:]

Advancing Reagan’s Freedom Agenda

In the gala’s opening remarks, NED President and CEO Damon Wilson invoked the legacy of Ronald Reagan whose “freedom agenda,” he said, had inspired the NED’s work over the last 40 years.

According to Wilson, that work had enabled many countries to escape the grip of Soviet tyranny and was resulting today in a democratic renaissance in countries like Zambia, Guatemala, Poland, Thailand, Belarus, Venezuela and others.

Damon Wilson [Source:]

The rhetoric may sound good but the NED is skilled in co opting legitimate protest movements to help install governments that serve larger U.S. strategic interests, and in working to undermine independent nationalist and socialist governments that aim to establish national control over their countries’ economic resources and social programs to improve people’s quality of life.

In Zambia, the NED helped to empower a conservative government, which has enabled foreign multinational corporations to take control of Zambia’s copper industry while paying minimal taxes and allowing AFRICOM into the country.[5] Far from being a model democracy, that government, headed by the country’s richest man, has carried out a campaign of repression against Zambia’s socialist party, arresting party leader Fred M’membe numerous times under phony pretexts.

In Belarus, meanwhile, the NED supported dissidents aiming to undermine a socialist government allied with Russia that even the World Bank praised for its progress in fighting poverty and keeping inequality levels below most other European countries—East or West.[6]

Preference for Black and White Narratives

The most offensive speech of the gala was given by Joe Wilson (R-SC) who referred to “war criminal Putin, Iran and the Chinese Communist Party” as being part of a “new axis of evil.” Wilson also claimed that the “war criminal Putin repeated in Ukraine what he did in Syria where he helped the brutal Assad regime’s killing machine to destroy cities like Aleppo.”

Profile photo of Congressman Joe Wilson in front of a scenic view of a bridge
Joe Wilson (R-SC). He came across as embarrassingly ill-informed about international affairs in his speech at the NED’s 40th anniversary gala. [Source:]

Wilson’s understanding of history is clearly very poor, as the Chinese Communist Party has a mandate to rule in China because it helped the country to overcome a colonial legacy, led the fight against Japanese invaders in World War II, and has helped billions of people to escape poverty.

As for Syria, it was Russia that brokered a cease-fire allowing rebels to leave Aleppo and intervened to prevent a full-scale U.S. military invasion after the Obama administration had triggered and prolonged a war there by supporting violent jihadist terrorists in the CIA’s largest covert regime-change operation (Timber Sycamore) since Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The Russians were further drawn into Ukraine because of a U.S.-backed coup and Ukrainian assault on ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s eastern provinces who had voted for their autonomy.

The above facts are inconvenient to the NED and its supporters who prefer a simplistic black-and-white narrative reminiscent of the Cold War where they are the heroes for championing anti-Russian and Chinese dissidents fighting for peace and democracy and leading a worldwide fight against authoritarianism.

At the end of the gala there was a characteristic tribute to the people of Ukraine in whose supposed yearning for democracy the NED was deeply invested. Left unmentioned was Volodymyr Zelensky’s banning of at least 12 opposition parties and the CIA’s running of a terrorist operation that has resulted in the deaths of journalists, town mayors and politicians considered to be pro-Russian.

A featured speaker, Anna Bondarenko, founder of Ukraine’s war-time volunteer service, spoke of her optimism about the ongoing war and of the friends of hers who had allegedly been tortured or killed after their capture by the Russians.

Anna Bondarenko
Anna Bondarenko [Source:]

Bondarenko’s anguish for her friends is surely real, but the NED is not interested in an honest evaluation of war crimes committed by both Ukrainians and Russians.

It would never invite a Russian relief worker whose friends were tortured by Ukraine’s military or died from Ukrainian army shells, which were responsible for more than 80% of casualties in eastern Ukraine prior to Russia’s launching of its “Special Military Operation,” according to a UN investigation cited by former Swiss diplomat Jacques Baud.[7]

What is sickening in watching the whole spectacle of an NED event is the selective concern for human rights combined with the use of human rights as a pretext for military intervention and regime change operations designed to extend Western hegemony.


The 40th anniversary NED gala featured speeches by a Tibetan monk allegedly tortured in Chinese custody; by Estonia’s fervently anti-Russian, and pro-Ukrainian, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas who has signaled her interest in NATO’s top job, and by a spokesman for Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-Wen who has allowed her country to be transformed into a heavily armed base for a threatened U.S. war on China.

Kaja Kallas [Source:]

The entertainment at the gala was provided by a Crimean Tatar singer, Jamala, who claimed that her homeland had been invaded by Russia, when a majority of Crimeans had voted to rejoin Russia—which invested more in Crimea’s economy than Ukraine—following the February 2014 U.S.-backed Ukraine coup.

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Jamala [Source:]

The NED is the propaganda arm of the U.S. Empire which helps frame U.S. foreign policy interventions under the veneer of democracy promotion.[8]

Some NED grantees are genuinely heroic in trying to stand up for human rights, but there is an imperialistic agenda underlying all NED activities that undercuts its ability to genuinely support human rights and democracy around the world.

This is why Barbara Lee’s support for the NED is so disturbing. If the one woman smart enough to vote against endless intervention in the War on Terror has been hoodwinked by the NED, it means that, likely, everyone else in Congress has too.

Which in turn means that the NED will continue to be funded to the hilt and will avoid being subjected to the critical investigation and scrutiny that it deserves.

  1. For a characteristically flattering piece in liberal media, see Aida Chávez, “Barbara Lee Has to Vote,” The Nation, August 30, 2021, After her vote against the authorization of the use of force, Lee received death threats and was called a traitor.

  2. NED founder Allen Weinstein crowed: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA” (The Washington Post, September 22, 1991).

  3. Lee was not among those congressmen and women to sign a letter to President Biden in December 2021 urging him not to impose sanctions on Afghanistan that would accelerate the country’s humanitarian crisis.

  4. In 2008, it was reported that Afghan journalist Parviz Kambakhsh was imprisoned, and that members of Parliament, police, and army officers had assaulted Ariana Television journalists. 

  5. Zambia’s left-leaning PF Party, which the NED worked to undermine by funding anti-regime activists, had made efforts to establish a new regulatory authority for the copper mining industry and to tax foreign multinational corporations that own the mines—which account for 70% of the country’s exports. Zambian President Edgar Lungu (2015-2021), whom NED-supported activists depicted as a tyrant, bought back two of the country’s copper mines which were privatized in 2000 and put them under control of the old state-owned Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).

  6. See Stewart Parker, The Last Soviet Republic: Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus (London: Trafford Publishing, 2007).

  7. See Jacques Baud, Operation Z (Paris: Max Milo, 2022), 87. In the period from October 1, 2019, to March 30, 2020, the UN documented that 84.4% of civilian casualties were from Ukrainian artillery shelling. Baud, a former Swiss diplomat, wrote that “the Ukrainian government is massacring its own people with the help, funding and advice of the military of NATO and the countries of the European Union that defend its values.”

  8. Russia is accused of being a military aggressor but not the U.S. which has 60 times more overseas military bases than Russia and has invaded dozens more countries.

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