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Juan Zarate [Source: wsj.com]

Juan Zarate’s contempt for human rights was reflected in his criticism of Barack Obama for trying to close down Guantánamo Bay

Zarate also helped sow misery as a chief architect of modern financial warfare

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a CIA offshoot that was founded in 1983 to promote propaganda and finance opposition and dissident movements in countries targeted by the U.S. for regime change.

The NED routinely celebrates the bravery of political prisoners and victims of alleged human rights abuses in Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, or other U.S. geopolitical adversaries, but is silent regarding human rights abuses committed by U.S. allies like Ukraine and Israel, and by the U.S. itself.

The NED’s double standard on human rights was evident when it recently announced the appointment to its board of directors of Juan Zarate, a counterterrorism czar under George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009 who supported policies yielding massive human rights abuses like extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, the expansion of mass surveillance, and drone assassinations.

When Barack Obama threatened to close down Guantánamo Bay, where captives in the “War on Terror” were denied basic legal rights and treated worse than animals, Zarate criticized Obama, hoping that Guantánamo would remain open—as it did.

A graduate of Harvard Law School who grew up in California in a conservative family that instilled in him a fear of communism, Zarate was featured in a 2006 Washington Post article about 30-something National Security Council staffers who were part of what writer Dafna Linzer termed “the Sesame generation,” because they grew up watching Sesame Street.

Lacking the critical stance toward foreign interventions of their Vietnam-era forebearers, Linzer wrote that the “Sesame Street” generation of Gen Xers “headed off to college as the Berlin Wall was coming down, were inspired by globalization and came of age with international terrorism….[T]heir history begins with Sept. 11, 2001. It is the measuring stick they use when discussing their generation’s challenge and the sole lens through which they envision the future.”[1] 

A new generation, a new outlook: Members of the National Security Council include, from left, Michelle Davis, John Simon, Michael Allen, Frederick Jones (kneeling), William Inboden, John Rood, Juan Zarate, Michelle Malvesti and Meghan O'Sullivan.
Group of 30-something NSC staffers who were part of the “Sesame generation” serving on the front lines of the Bush II administration’s “War on Terror.” Zarate is third from the right. [Source: washingtonpost.com]

Sadly, this generation lacked the political and historical knowledge that could have allowed them to place the 9/11 attacks in their right context, and worked to advance morally abhorrent policies serving corporate-militarist interests that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and destabilization of significant parts of the Middle East.

Zarate fueled more human rights abuses as a key architect of U.S. sanctions policies[2] that targeted U.S. adversaries like Iran, North Korea, Syria, Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Belarus and other countries whose leaders were demonized and caricatured in the media.

Viewed as a form of warfare by subjected countries, the sanctions have often yielded devastating economic effects, depriving people in the targeted countries of vital medicines and food supplies while yielding no appreciable geopolitical benefit to the U.S., in some cases even harming U.S. businesses. The sanctions have further often helped to legitimize the power of nationalistic leaders who have tried to reorient their countries’ economies to withstand the outside attack.

In 2013, Zarate published, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare, in which he gloated about the financial hardship caused by U.S. sanctions in countries like North Korea and Iran, showing a callousness toward the human consequences.

Zarate was proud to be part of the “team of Treasury Department bureaucratic insurgents”—what he termed “guerrillas in grey suits”—who “created a new national security landscape in which the private sector could be prompted to isolate rogue actors in line with U.S. interests.”[3]

Treasury's War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare
[Source: amazon.com]

These comments exemplify Zarate’s cartoonish worldview, shared by many of his colleagues at the NED, in which America plays the role of good cop against a series of evil enemies and somehow remains on the side of the angels while deliberately wrecking the economies of vulnerable countries.

Zarate’s regressive political views were evident in a 1997 article that he wrote for the Stanford Journal of International Law, asserting that the customary international law banning the use of mercenaries should not apply to private military contractors (PMCs) that are hired by legitimate governments or by internationally recognized movements of national liberation for either training or combat support.[4]

This suggestion would give more leeway for the U.S. or other legitimate governments (by what criteria he does not say) to hire PMCs whose use has allowed the U.S. government to wage endless wars that the public does not support, and who have committed multiple human rights abuses without any accountability.

Zarate’s intelligence connection is evident in his work as a film consultant for McLarty Associates. Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty III was Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and special envoy to Latin America and head of the Arkansas Natural Gas Company (Arkla) in the 1980s.[5]

McLarty was a close associate of Jackson and Witt Stephens, top Clinton donors with deep CIA connections who appointed McLarty to the board of their data mining company, Acxiom, which worked with another Stephens-owned company, Systematics, to facilitate intelligence monitoring of bank transactions for the National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA.[6]

Modeled after Kissinger Associates, McLarty Associates helps companies gain market entry in foreign countries and lobbies governments to ease laws restricting foreign investment.[7]

The staff includes war criminal John Negroponte, the Vice Chairman of McLarty Associates’ Africa, Middle East and Southeast Asia teams, who oversaw CIA death squad operations as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s and Iraq in the 2000s.

McLarty’s media division is headed by Richard Klein, the Special Assistant for International Security Affairs at the State Department under Clinton, who since 2007 has advised most major Hollywood film studios, helping them to “find and secure hard-to-access production locations, and counseling writers and directors on accurate script development and topics of political and cultural sensitivity,” according to McLarty Associates’ web page.

Klein and McLarty Associates appear to be part of a larger Pentagon-CIA operation to shape the content of Hollywood films and help to condition the public to valorize the U.S. military and CIA.[8]

[Source: collider.com]

On its website McLarty Associates boasts about being part of the James Bond and Jack Ryan franchises, which glorified intelligence work,[9] and The Interview, a film promoting racist stereotypes about North Korea starring Seth Rogen whose plot centers on the efforts of the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Klein gave an interview stating that “The Interview could become a very real challenge to the ruling [North Korean] regime’s legitimacy.”

These comments indicate an underlying political agenda behind McLarty Associates’ film division, which dovetails with the regime-change goals of the NED.

In his new role Zarate will be overseeing familiar work of advancing state propaganda under the guise of something else—whether entertainment or, in the NED’s case, human rights advocacy.

Anti-China Intellectual and Another McLarty Alumna Also Join NED Board

Besides Zarate, the NED announced the appointments of two other Board members: Elizabeth Economy and Alyssa Ayres.

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Left to right: Alyssa Ayres, Elizabeth Economy, Juan Zarate. [Source: ned.org]

Economy has been a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Wall Street’s think tank, at the CIA-linked Asia Foundation, and at the conservative Hoover Institution.

The latter is named after the fervidly anti-communist former President Herbert Hoover, a millionaire engineer who as head of the American Relief Administration (ARA), used food supplies as a weapon against Bolshevism in the Russian civil war, withholding food aid from Bolshevik-controlled territory and using humanitarian relief as a cover for covertly supporting counter-revolutionaries (the whites) who were discredited among the Russian people and massacred thousands of Jews.[10]

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Herbert Hoover [Source: unleashcb.com]

Today, the Hoover Institution publishes free-market screeds and books extolling the virtues of NATO and distorting the history of the Cold War to make it seem like Joseph Stalin was responsible for everything bad that happened in it.[11]

Economy fits well into this milieu as a China expert who depicts Xi Jinping as a reincarnation of Mao Zedong intent on revitalizing Mao’s autocratic features.

This was a theme of Economy’s 2018 book, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, published by the Council on Foreign Relations in conjunction with Oxford University Press.[12]

A book cover with a flag and a person

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[Source: thenile.co.nz]

This book is thorough in analyzing many of Xi’s political views, though characteristically dismissive of the achievements of the Maoist revolution, which enabled China to reassert its economic sovereignty and power from an era of neo-colonial humiliation in the 19th century.

Economy’s bias is apparent in her assertion that “China’s military expansionism in the South China Sea and claim to sovereignty over Taiwan pose a significant threat to peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region.”[13]

In reality, if any country has engaged in military expansionism it is the U.S., which a) encircles China with military bases that are constantly being expanded; b) sold more than $14 billion in weaponry to Taiwan and supported separatist elements there; c) sailed naval vessels illegally in Chinese territorial waters; and d) sent U.S. spy planes into the Taiwan straits, over which China claims jurisdiction, in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.[14]

Economy also overlooks the fact that a) China has legitimate historical claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea it has been accused of unlawfully taking over; and b) Taiwan’s own constitution recognizes Taiwan as a province of China—a position adhered to at the UN.[15]

In the last chapter of her book, Economy criticizes Donald Trump for pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a corporate-friendly free trade agreement that excluded China and intended to isolate it economically. The TPP was a pillar of Obama’s anti-China “Pivot to Asia” policy, which was symbolically introduced by Hillary Clinton on a naval destroyer in Manila Bay, the location of America’s original pivot in the 1898 Spanish-American-Philippines War, and beefed up the U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia.[16]

Opinion | Cartoon: Heng on the South China Sea Dispute - The New York Times
[Source: nytimes.com]

Economy says that Trump “does not hold the same understanding of the intrinsic value of U.S. global leadership that his predecessors did.”[17] She also advocates for “a more active military effort in the South China Sea to preserve freedom of navigation”[18]—as if the U.S. does not have a large enough military presence already.

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Alyssa Ayres [Source: elliot.gwu.edu]

The third new NED board member, Alyssa Ayres was a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who is the first female dean of George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She was founding director of the India and South Asia division at McLarty Associates and long-time consultant to it.

Author of a book on India, Our Time Has Come: How India Is Making Its Place in the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), Ayres served from 2010 to 2013 as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia where she helped to implement Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policy that resulted in the U.S. military encirclement of China.

In South Asia, the Obama administration antagonized China by deepening ties with India, a country led by a right-wing Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi, who incited religious violence against Muslims. During Obama’s presidency, India became the second largest market for the U.S. arms industry after Saudi Arabia, providing the U.S. access to the Trivandrum Air Base in return.[19]

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Narendra Modi amidst backdrop of violence against Muslims in India that he helped incite. [Source: ummid.com]

This does not appear to have bothered Ayres nor the NED which has provided millions of dollars in grants in an attempt to expose China’s mythic genocide of the Uyghur Muslims, while it has been completely silent about Modi’s incitement of religious violence toward India’s Muslims and Indian army atrocities in Kashmir.

  1. Dafna Linzer, “The NSC’s Sesame Street Generation,” The Washington Post, March 12, 2006.

  2. Zarate served as the first-ever Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes. In that job, he spearheaded efforts to identify, freeze and recover $3 billion in Iraqi assets belonging to Saddam Hussein.

  3. Juan Zarate, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), xi.

  4. Juan Carlos Zarate, “The Emergence of a New Dog of War: Private International Security Companies, International Law, and the New World Disorder,” Stanford Journal of International Law, Winter 1998.

  5. Jeremy Kuzmarov, Warmonger: How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory from Bush II to Biden (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2023), 386. When McLarty headed Arkla, its executives were accused of taking illicit bribes and overcharging Oklahoma residents for heating, costing them between $35 and $65 million.

  6. Kuzmarov, Warmonger, 33, 57. Owners of one of the country’s largest investment banking firms outside of Wall Street and prime movers in the development of natural gas after World War II, Jackson and Witt Stephens were key figures in the cover-up of arms and drug smuggling to the Nicaraguan Contras out of Mena, Arkansas, under the nose of then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. The Stephens-owned leading Arkansas banks which laundered money in the Mena operation and helped bring the CIA’s money laundering bank, Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) into the U.S. The Rose Law Firm, in which Hillary Clinton was a partner, represented Stephens companies, which were major beneficiaries of an economic development agency that Governor Clinton set up that was also used for money-laundering purposes.

  7. McLarty Associates also employs experts in antitrust laws who can help firms navigate corporate mergers, as it did when Exxon merged with Mobil when McLarty Associates first started.

  8. The operation is illegal because the U.S. has well established laws designed to protect the population against propaganda. See Jeremy Kuzmarov, “’Hollywood is Full of CIA Agents,’ Says Ben Affleck,” CovertAction Magazine, March 27, 2022, https://covertactionmagazine.com/2022/03/27/hollywood-is-full-of-cia-agents-says-ben-affleck/

  9. In one episode, Ryan (played by John Krasinski from The Office) plots the overthrow of a tyrannical leader in Venezuela, who Ryan helps replace with an enlightened, pro-democratic reformer. The latter is a stand-in for America’s boy, Juan Guaidó, who actually has extreme right-wing leanings and led violent protests against a legally elected government that is socialist.

  10. See David S. Foglesong, America’s Secret War Against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 232. Ferdinand Lundberg called Hoover a “Morgan puppet,” who was also in the pocket of Standard Oil (Rockefeller). As Harding’s Secretary of Commerce, Hoover turned the Department of Commerce into a ”marketing agency for the big industries” and “used the Department of Commerce to foster monopoly on the most complete scale ever seen outside a Fascist state; even the pretense of enforcing the Sherman and Clayton anti-trust acts were discarded.” Hoover fought against any government action which would benefit non-wealthy groups, reducing income taxes on the rich in favor of sales taxes; fought veterans’ benefits; and scotched business regulations. His motto was: “Nobody who was in distress should be helped by the federal government.” Ferdinand Lundberg, America’s Sixty Families (New York: The Citadel Press, 1946).

  11. The Hoover Institution features writings by empire apologists like Niall Ferguson and professors from elite universities like Norman Naimark of Stanford who are fervidly anti-communist, anti-Putin and pro-NATO and do not acknowledge the existence of a U.S. empire or fact that the Cold War conflict was precipitated by the U.S. military invasion of Russia in 1918, which shaped the perspective of Soviet leaders thereafter. See Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano, The Russians are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018) for critique of the neo-orthodox school represented by Naimark and John L. Gaddis among others who have dominated the field of foreign relations history and Cold War studies for decades.

  12. Elizabeth Economy, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, A Council on Foreign Relations Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

  13. Economy, The Third Revolution, 242.

  14. See Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Biden’s Reckless New Provocation Ratchets Up Risk of Nuclear War with China,” CovertAction Magazine, July 7, 2022; Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Filipinos Don’t Want Their Country to Be Used As a “Launching Pad” for a U.S. War Against China or Any Other Country,” CovertAction Magazine, December 9, 2022.

  15. Kuzmarov, “Biden’s Reckless New Provocation Ratchets Up Risk of Nuclear War with China”; Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Saber-Rattling Leader Given Prestigious Award By CIA-Offshoot,” CovertAction Magazine, August 21, 2023; Jeremy Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2019), 200.

  16. Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars, 190-93. The pivot resulted in an increase of the U.S. naval presence in the South China Sea from 50 to 67 ships, and upgrading of U.S. base facilities, including at a World Heritage Site on Cheju-do Island in South Korea, which triggered widescale protests by locals.

  17. Economy, The Third Revolution, 237.

  18. Economy, The Third Revolution, 242. Economy supports the U.S. foreign policy strategy of turning Taiwan into a heavily armed “porcupine” that China is supposed to fear. She would also abandon the “One China policy.”

  19. Jeremy Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars, 204. India under Modi has significantly increased its military budget.

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