The National Endowment for “Democracy”: A Second CIA

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Paradigm for peace applied to Russia, Ukraine and the US: Proposal for a peaceful Pathway forward


Part 3C. The National Endowment for “Democracy”: A Second CIA

We’ve been describing the threats to power and freedom that are driving the current crisis in Ukraine, specifically threats of foreign political interference. In discussing the external conflict between the US and Russia, the earlier essay, Part 3A, focused on the political interference performed by the CIA. But it’s also critical to discuss the behavior of the National Endowment for “Democracy” (NED) and the types of foreign political interference in which it is reportedly routinely engaged.

William Blum, a former Foreign Service Officer who left his post in opposition to the US war in Vietnam, spent a few decades researching US foreign intervention abroad. His intent was to write a magazine article, but the more he uncovered, the more he realized the material was book length. He writes, “My government, I discovered, had easily been the intervention king of all history, a serial intervener. There was scarcely any place in the known world where the CIA, the State Department, and/or the US military had not been doing their dirty work.”[1]

NED was formed in 1983, one year after a proposal by President Reagan for the US “to foster the infrastructure of democracy” abroad.[2] In 1991, one of the founders of NED, Allen Weinstein, stated that much of NED’s work involves doing what the CIA used to do. Some, in fact, refer to NED as the “second CIA.”

NED has four core institutes, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, and the Center for International Private Enterprise, which it uses to infiltrate foreign political, labor, and business organizations to mastermind “separatist riots, color revolutions, political crises, lies and rumors, and infiltration around the world, with an ever-growing list of evils.”[3]

At the time of NED’s creation, the CIA was in hot political water and under heavy scrutiny, presumably over its violations of congressional law with regard to funding the contras who were trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s left-wing, reform-minded Sandinista government. Officially a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, NED receives most of its funding from US taxpayers through legislation of the US Congress, it is budgeted for within the US Agency for International Development with the Department of State, and it’s ostensibly subject to congressional overview.

NED almost lost its funding in 1993, and in 2018, it was President Trump who unsuccessfully proposed slashing its funding. Those engaged in the anti-Trump groupthink which criticized every single thing Trump did—especially bizarre and disproportionate given the enormous weaknesses of his predecessors, condemned him once more and his “authoritarian” personality for the reason he opposed such a “good thing” as promoting democracy abroad. Writing in the New Republic, Jeet Heer states, “Unlike every US president since Jimmy Carter, he [Trump] doesn’t believe that it’s in American foreign policy interest to promote democracy and human rights abroad. Instead, his administration is working to undermine the agency tasked with doing so.”

It’s unbelievable that past US presidents are so revered and trusted as to assume that they, in their massively deadly actions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Haiti, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and beyond, and in their promotion of violence-inducing CIA and NED activities abroad were actually engaged in promoting democracy and human rights abroad. Apparently, in American Orwellian doublespeak, killing more than 800,000 in the Middle East in the US War on Terror was all part of promoting human rights.

It’s certainly possible Trump’s motives were about personal profit. But whether his motives were personal profit or were about saving national money from endless altercations abroad, the argument against his proposal to slash NED’s funding is shallow and false. Heer states, “NED is hated by the very authoritarian regimes with whom Trump is currying favor. For instance, Russia has banned the NED because the Kremlin has deemed it an ‘undesirable’ NGO.” That first line is false. As we shall see, NED is hated by people who are very democratic-minded, and NED’s actions have helped place into power authoritarian leaders, just as the CIA did.

In response to US condemnation of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 elections, some have pointed out that the US has interfered in foreign nations to extraordinary degrees. Yet Heer insists that such “moral equivalency is a bit glib” since there’s a big difference between interfering in order to promote democracy and interfering in order to destabilize democracy, which, he claims, is what Russia is doing in the US.[4] In other words, US political interference is considered moral and good because it’s promoting democracy, but Russian political interference is bad and criminal because it’s thwarting democracy.

It’s already a controversial idea to suggest that the morality and legality of violating another nation’s sovereignty varies and depends upon the violators’ purpose. After all, most violators of others’ sovereignty probably presume that their purpose is good. The Allies thought they were great when they violated Iran’s sovereignty and declaration of neutrality during the World Wars to use its railroads. That, supposedly, was somehow also about promoting democracy and freedom. However, in those rare instances where it’s deemed good to violate another nation’s sovereignty, under international law it is only the UN who makes this decision, not simply the US. This helps ensure a more comprehensive, less selfish perspective.

But another hugely shaky point in Heer’s thesis is the idea that US political interference actually is promoting democracy, when abundant evidence suggests that it is not. Equally shaky is the idea that Russian political interference is thwarting democracy or destabilizing US democracy—to the extent that it even exists in the US—when no facts are given to support this statement either. How are we to know that alleged Russian political interference on social media in the US, for instance, wasn’t aimed at trying to thwart the US propaganda machine that steers American minds in undemocratic ways? How do we know that alleged Russian interference in other nations isn’t aimed at thwarting other forms of undemocratic US influence, which seeks to place leaders in power who will grant financial favors to US businessmen? We don’t know either way when only these shallow, unsubstantiated claims are made and no comprehensive analysis is performed. We’re just supposed to stupidly assume that one nation interferes in all the right ways and the other in all the wrong ways.

As we shall see, there’s no clear proof in the material I’ve come across that NED actually is engaged in promoting democracy, or, if it is, there’s no clear proof in that material that its efforts to promote democracy are not offset by its efforts to thwart it. In fact, the evidence I’ve seen supports the idea that NED actually thwarts democracy. American groupthinkers who like to climb on the jeering bandwagon of hating someone, whether it’s Trump or Putin, have to learn that that bandwagon was likely created for manipulative reasons by people who have their own ulterior motives. Just because Trump and Putin didn’t like NED doesn’t mean NED is good. The same goes for NATO.

Many Americans who have already uncovered NED’s worldwide nefarious role from a variety of other sources would wholeheartedly agree with these opening words in a May 7, 2022 report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China: “The United States has long used democracy as a tool and a weapon to undermine democracy in the name of democracy, to incite division and confrontation, and to meddle in other countries’ international affairs, causing catastrophic consequences.” NED “has subverted lawful governments and cultivated pro-US puppet forces around the world under the pretext of promoting democracy. Its disgraceful record has aroused strong discontent in the international community.”[5] And again, for those with biases, remember: just because China said this doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

NED supposedly promotes democracy, but, according to William Blum in Rogue State, it actually promotes free market economies and US investment abroad—ironically at the expense of both US and foreign democracy—by using US tax dollars to support right-wing groups against left-wing groups and supplying funds, technical expertise, training, educational material, computers, copiers, cars, etc. to right-wing political groups, civic organizations, labor unions, student groups, book publishers, and foreign media. The result of NED’s activities has been the destabilization of nations that in many cases already had free and fair elections.[6]

Certainly, these types of anti-left-wing activities—performed with the goal of toppling and forming foreign governments who will promote the profits of certain US social and business circles at the expense of the local population’s prosperity and well-being, are the activities that have been commonly observed in the CIA, giving credence to NED’s nickname as the “second CIA.”

Therefore, not only does NED promote a certain economic system against the will of the foreign population, but, while I don’t have comprehensive evidence for this, it seems, based upon the results of their work, that their motivation is to promote in particular the ability of US investors and businessmen to have the power they need to make profits off foreign resources, labor, and markets, even if that means that foreigners have less ability to engage in free market economics themselves.

History demonstrates that the US government seeks to stabilize right-wing governments and to destabilize left-wing governments. The entire process is undemocratic, both in trampling the foreign population’s will to choose and benefit from other forms or variations of economic systems and what appears to be the trampling of the general foreign population’s ability to prosper from free market economics to the extent that US businessmen do. In fact, evidence indicates that, aside from a foreign elite that is cultivated, nations go downhill economically after NED or some other pro-capitalist force does its work. If there is evidence to the contrary, of course, it would be important material to bring forward in cooperative dialogue of non-violent conflict resolution. However, be wary of including in the calculations any economic boosts derived from US aid or loans, for these invariably have interest payments that benefit US bank owners as well as over-bearing political, economic, and military strings attached.

In fact, with regard to the economic results of US influence, Blum provides relevant information in his book, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire:

In Russia and in the other countries, the “success” of such globalization programs has typically resulted in the mass of the population being left in great want, much worse off than when they were under communism, while a wealthy elite class is created and the country is gradually thrown open to foreign investment and control.

The reduction in the standard of living of the people in the region since 1990 can scarcely be exaggerated. . . . From Bulgaria to Poland, from Slovenia to Lithuania, the citizens have left their homes to become the guest workers, the illegal workers, the migrants, the refugees, and the prostitutes of Western Europe.

However, these countries are now honored members of NATO, proud possessors of a couple of billion dollars worth of useless military hardware they were obliged to buy from multinationals, they have the right to send their youth to the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan to support US wars, the American flag flies over American military bases on their lands, globalized free enterprise is king.[7]

When NED appears on the scene, freedom seems to jump ship, because US policymakers want leaders abroad whom they can control. China’s report lists numerous coups and revolutions in which NED was involved with its use of heavy propaganda, character assassination, and the funding and training of opposition groups, including Poland in 1989, the dissolution of the USSR in 1991—which led to the cannibalization of Russia’s resources and the impoverishment of its people, and coups and forced resignations in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Egypt (2011), and Yemen (2011), as well as Jordan, Algeria, Syria, Libya, Belarus, and Bolivia[8]—of the highly popular left-wing Evo Morales, who had done wonders to reduce Bolivian poverty and improve internal ethnic relations. In fact, when Morales had first run for president in 2002, US Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich warned Bolivia that its aid would be in danger if they chose Morales, who was anti-big business.[9]

According to China’s report, NED, like the CIA, also interfered in several foreign elections, stirred up protests, and funded opposition and media groups, including in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti, and China.[10] Blum also reports in detail on NED’s major interference in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Haiti.[11] The Alliance for Global Justice states that NED’s first success after its formation was to defeat the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua in 1990, which the US-backed contras had been fighting for years. It then moved on to toppling Haiti’s leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.[12]

In his work, America’s Other War: Doug Stokes describes how Venezuela was the victim of a US-supported coup in 2002 when the late President Hugo Chávez was forced from power for 48 hours. And keep in mind that the “support” of a US-supported coup usually means much more than a phone call or handshake. It means money, arms, propaganda, bribes, scheming, payrolls, destabilization operations, economic sabotage, mob instigators, and military back-up.

Stokes explains that NED had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to US and Venezuelan opposition groups, including the labor group whose protests ignited the coup. Yet Chávez, who had won the elections of 1998 and 2000 by the largest majority in forty years, was vigorously defended. Millions of Venezuelans protested and defeated the US-backed coup leaders.

To get a glimpse into the disdain some US policymakers actually hold for democracy, note that a Bush Jr. administration spokesman explained that while Chávez had been democratically elected, “‘legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters.’”[13] Of course, Bush Jr. should know, since he didn’t win the popular vote against Al Gore but nonetheless was granted legitimacy as the US president.

Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan-American attorney and journalist who strongly supported Chávez, writes that the US Agency for International Development and NED funneled millions annually into political groups who opposed and led to the political downfall of Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, a highly popular leader who worked hard to reduce poverty and who also refused to renew the lease to allow the US to maintain a military base in Ecuador, thus earning US policymakers’ enmity by breaking the second and fourth of the “Four Commandments” described in the earlier essay, Part 3A, on coups.

Golinger also states that Honduras was the victim of a coup backed by the Obama administration that forced President Manuel Zelaya from power in 2009. Honduras has suffered ever since from the loss of its democracy and the presence of enormous human rights violations.[14]

As Al Jazeera reports, NED also helped anti-Morsi supporters get rid of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president,[15] by paying huge amounts of US taxpayer dollars to opposition parties and wealthy opponents, and by encouraging protests. Now US policymakers support al-Sisi, who led the 2013 anti-Morsi coup, and who’s said to be even worse with regard to human rights than Egypt’s brutal Hosni Mubarak—like Mubarak on steroids. Al-Sisi has had hundreds of Egyptians killed and imprisoned tens of thousands of political prisoners.[16] But you don’t see US headlines hateful towards al-Sisi and calling him a murderer.

Of course, such interference in foreign nations’ internal politics is illegal and violates international law and foreign nations’ laws, if not US law itself. How is it possible that our tax dollars are allowed to fund this? If NED is under congressional oversight, why isn’t Congress acting to enforce law and dismantle NED for criminal behavior?

Blum’s Freeing the World to Death describes NED activities in Eastern Europe:

The standard operating procedure in a particular country has been to send in teams of specialists from US government agencies, non-governmental organization (NGOs), American labor unions, or private organizations funded by American corporations and foundations; leading examples are the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Agency for International Development (AID), and the Open Society organizations of George Soros, American citizen and billionaire. These teams go in with as much financial resources as needed and numerous carrots and sticks to wield; they hold conferences and seminars, hand out tons of papers, manuals and CDs, and fund new NGOs, newspaper and other media, all to educate government employees and other selected portions of the population on the advantages and joys of privatizing and deregulating the economy, teaching them how to run a capitalist society, how to remake the country so that it’s appealing to foreign investors.[17]

Again, notice that these “pro-democracy” institutions aren’t pro-democracy at all. They’re pro-capitalism and specifically, pro-privatization and pro-US investment abroad. They’re confusing an economic system with a political system. Privatization has also been pushed by the World Bank, which grants loans typically on conditions of privatizing. This entire issue led to the “Water Wars” in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when a corporation owned in large part by Bechtel was trying to take over Cochabamba’s public water supply. This was during the brutal dictatorship of US-supported Hugo Bánzer, prior to the leadership of Morales. When the civilians resisted the contract, Bánzer cut off power to the city, banned meetings of more than two people, and instituted martial law.[18] But this forced privatization is what US policymakers call “freedom.”

Once you read about the coups funded and instigated by the CIA and NED in articles and books such as Blum’s Killing Hope and James Cockcroft’s Latin America, you start to see the pattern. In fact, the current crisis has many parallels with the pre-coup stages of CIA and NED operations, particularly the propaganda, the lies, the economic and financial sabotage of Russia, and US businessmen’s acquisitive interests in Russia and Europe. This entire crisis is more than likely another case of the US government fighting to secure control—not only over Ukraine—but over Russia, in order to force them to conform to the Four Commandments.

I’ll include them again here:

First Commandment: Thou shalt not obstruct US businesses’ profit-making abroad.

Second Commandment: Thou shalt not significantly help the poor or give decent amounts of fertile land to the landless.

Third Commandment: Thou shalt not be enemies with our friends, or friends with our enemies.

Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt not reject US military bases and weapons.

Within Russia, the NDI and IRI—two of NED’s core institutes, and George Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation contributed millions to Yeltsin’s presidential campaign and helped create a certain public image that would be as likeable as possible, while ignoring less savory aspects of his personality and plans. Most of all, these US campaign contributors wanted Yeltsin in power because he would play the privatization game, thus opening Russia to the grubby, grasping hands of US investors and businessmen. Harvard University’s Institute for International Development sent over its “shock therapist,” Jeffrey Sachs, to put Russia through a crash immersion into capitalism, a course that resulted in catastrophe for most Russians, but fortunes for foreign investors and Russian oligarchs.[19] While Sachs seems genuinely committed to eradicating poverty, others accused him of being tied a narrow way of thinking that caused the crash into poverty of Russia.

China’s report also writes that NED has been “interfering in Russia’s elections and threatening Russia’s constitutional, defense and national security. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, between 2013–2014, NED allocated 5.2 million in US dollars to Russian organizations.” By July 2015, NED was declared an “undesirable organization” by Russia. Russian officials reported that NED “participated in work to recognize election results as illegitimate, to organize political action with the goal of influencing government policy, and to discredit Russian army service.” Can you imagine if Russia were involved in discrediting US military service? Even Americans are guilt-tripped into feeling practically criminal if they express disgust with military service rather than the expected holy reverence.

In 2017, NED, apparently in denial of the CIA’s and its own highly manipulative, intrusive, and violence-inducing activities abroad, issued a report “Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence” in which it demonized China and Russia by alleging that for more than a decade they’ve spent enormous funds on influencing and manipulating target countries and purchasing loyalty.[20] The hypocrisy is unreal. I wonder if NED ever does a self-report on the spending of enormous funds from US tax payer dollars to manipulate target countries and purchase loyalty. I wonder if NED has read Dov Levin’s book which states that in the years 1946–2000, the US has interfered in foreign political elections 81 times, while Russia has interfered 36 times?[21]

Greedy oligarchs who are rivals with Putin, oligarchs who are angered by Putin’s clamping down on the worst cases of corruption and Putin’s re-nationalizing the energy and banking sectors, are oligarchs who’d be happy to accept NED and CIA bribes to commit murder. And there’s no doubt that US policymakers, NED, and NATO, would conveniently but falsely frame a coup against Putin as the result of “dissension within the Kremlin” and “popular unrest” against an “authoritarian, anti-democratic” leader by Russians who “yearn for freedom.”

Putin and Russia have every right to keep NED and its supporters out of their land, unless they want to use the opportunity to try to teach NED members about the true elements of democracy and the fact that democracy need not have a thing to do with capitalism. In my view, it is NED who’s behaving aggressively towards other nations in its illegitimate efforts to take for itself power and freedom meant for others.

However, in the cooperative dialogue of non-violent conflict resolution, it would be important to learn all the facts from all perspectives, and to see if the issue is more complicated than what I have presented here. In what ways do NED members believe they’re promoting democracy or thwarting democracy? Are all NED members equally aware of all NED activities? Might some be in the dark about undemocratic behaviors? Do NED members feel I am misunderstanding some important aspects of their work or misrepresenting what they do? If NED has been accused of so much coup involvement, why doesn’t it admit it?

In the next part of this essay, we’ll talk a bit about the backgrounds of the social and business circles supporting NED, and we’ll carefully scrutinize the assumptions and leaps of logic within statements made by NED leaders with regard to Russia.

Kristin Christman has been independently researching US foreign policy and peace since 9/11. Her channel focuses on US-Russian relations at Kristin graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College with a BA in Russian, and she holds Master’s degrees in Slavic languages from Brown University and public administration from SUNY Albany. She is a guest with former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter and UNAC coordinator Joe Lombardo on Cynthia Pooler’s program, Issues that Matter, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice recently published her article on suicide, culture, and peace in their special edition on suicide, Vol. 33 No. 4.  [email protected]

[1] William Blum, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire. Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 2005165.

[2] Jeet Heer, “Trump’s Disdain for Democracy Promotion,” New Republic, Mar. 6, 2018,

[3] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Fact Sheet on the National Endowment for Democracy,” May 7, 2022,

[4] Heer, “Trump’s Disdain.”

[5] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Fact Sheet on the National Endowment for Democracy,” May 7, 2022,

[6] William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 2005), 238-43, 390.

[7] Blum, Freeing the World to Death, 166-68.

[8] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Fact Sheet on the National Endowment for Democracy.”

[9] Blum, Freeing the World to Death, 174.

Jon Lee Anderson, “Bolivia’s Evo Morales Wants to Stay in Game,” New Yorker, Nov. 20, 2019,

[10] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Fact Sheet on the National Endowment for Democracy.”

[11] William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, rev. ed. (London: Zed Books, 2014), 373-74.

[12] Alliance for Global Justice, “What Is NED?”

[13] Doug Stokes, America’s Other War: Terrorizing Colombia (New York: Zed Books, 2005), 51.

[14] Eva Golinger, “Coup in Ecuador Thwarted,” Oct. 1, 2010,

[15] Emad Mekay, “Exclusive: US Bankrolled Anti-Morsi Activists,” July 10, 2013,

[16] Steven A. Cook, “Sisi Isn’t Mubarak. He’s Much Worse,” Foreign Policy, Dec. 19, 2018,

[17] Blum, Freeing the World to Death, 166-67.

[18] Amy Goodman, “Cochabamba, the Water Wars and Climate Change,” TruthDig, Apr. 21, 2010,

NOW with Bill Moyers, “Leasing the Rain,” PBS, July 5, 2002,

Jim Schultz, “Bolivia’s War over Water,” Democracy Center, 2003,

[19] Gerald Sussman, “The Myths of Democracy Assistance: US Political Intervention in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe,” Monthly Review, Dec. 1, 2006,

[20] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Fact Sheet on the National Endowment for Democracy.”

[21] Kim Hjelmgaard, “The US Is the Biggest Election Meddler of Them All, New Book Claims,” USA Today, Sept. 4, 2020,

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