ROBERT PARRY: Why Russia Shut Down NED Fronts

The Washington Post blasted Vladimir Putin for shutting down the National Endowment for Democracy in Russia, but left out NED’s U.S. government funding, its quasi-C.I.A. role, and its regime change aim in Moscow, wrote Bob Parry on July 30, 2015.

The Kremlin, Moscow. (Pavel Kazachkov/Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News
July 30, 2015

The Washington Post’s descent into the depths of neoconservative propaganda willfully misleading its readers on matters of grave importance apparently knows no bounds as was demonstrated with two deceptive articles regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin and why his government is cracking down on “foreign agents.”

If you read the Post’s editorial and a companion op-ed by National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, you would have been led to believe that Putin is delusional, paranoid and “power mad” in his concern that outside money funneled into non-governmental organizations represents a threat to Russian sovereignty.

The Post and Gershman were especially outraged that the Russians have enacted laws requiring NGOs financed from abroad and seeking to influence Russian policies to register as “foreign agents” and that one of the first funding operations to fall prey to these tightened rules was Gershman’s NED.

The Post’s editors wrote that Putin’s “latest move, announced Tuesday, is to declare the NED an ‘undesirable’ organization under the terms of a law that Mr. Putin signed in May. The law bans groups from abroad who are deemed a ‘threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, its defense capabilities and its national security.’

“The charge against the NED is patently ridiculous. The NED’s grantees in Russia last year ran the gamut of civil society. They advocated transparency in public affairs, fought corruption and promoted human rights, freedom of information and freedom of association, among other things. All these activities make for a healthy democracy but are seen as threatening from the Kremlin’s ramparts.

The new law on ‘undesirables’ comes in addition to one signed in 2012 that gave authorities the power to declare organizations ‘foreign agents’ if they engaged in any kind of politics and receive money from abroad. The designation, from the Stalin era, implies espionage.”

But there are several salient facts that the Post’s editors surely know but don’t want you to know. The first is that NED is a U.S. government-funded organization created in 1983 to do what the Central Intelligence Agency previously had done in financing organizations inside target countries to advance U.S. policy interests and, if needed, help in “regime change.”

The secret hand behind NED’s creation was C.I.A. Director William J. Casey who worked with senior C.I.A. covert operation specialist Walter Raymond Jr. to establish NED in 1983. Casey from the C.I.A. and Raymond from his assignment inside President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council focused on creating a funding mechanism to support groups inside foreign countries that would engage in propaganda and political action that the C.I.A. had historically organized and paid for covertly.

To partially replace that C.I.A. role, the idea emerged for a congressionally-funded entity that would serve as a conduit for this money.

Reagan and Casey. (Public Domain/Levan Ramishvili/Flickr.)

But Casey recognized the need to hide the strings being pulled by the C.I.A. “Obviously we here [at C.I.A.] should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor should we appear to be a sponsor or advocate,” Casey said in one undated letter to then-White House counselor Edwin Meese III as Casey urged creation of a “National Endowment.”

NED Is Born

The National Endowment for Democracy took shape in late 1983 as Congress decided to also set aside pots of money, within NED, for the Republican and Democratic parties and for organized labor, creating enough bipartisan largesse that passage was assured. But some in Congress thought it was important to wall the NED off from any association with the C.I.A., so a provision was included to bar the participation of any current or former C.I.A. official, according to one congressional aide who helped write the legislation. [Updated Code of Federal Regulations.]

This aide told me that one night late in the 1983 session, as the bill was about to go to the House floor, the C.I.A.’s congressional liaison came pounding at the door to the office of Rep. Dante Fascell, a senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a chief sponsor of the bill. The frantic C.I.A. official conveyed a single message from C.I.A. Director Casey: the language barring the participation of C.I.A. personnel must be struck from the bill, the aide recalled, noting that Fascell consented, not fully recognizing the significance of the demand.

The aide said Fascell also consented to the Reagan administration’s choice of Carl Gershman to head the National Endowment for Democracy, again not recognizing how this decision would affect the future of the new entity and American foreign policy. Gershman, who had followed the classic neoconservative path from youthful socialism to fierce anticommunism, became NED’s first (and, to this day, only) president. [Damon Wilson became the second president in June 2021.]

Though NED is technically independent of U.S. foreign policy, Gershman in the early years coordinated decisions on grants with Raymond at the NSC. For instance, on Jan. 2, 1985, Raymond wrote to two NSC Asian experts that “Carl Gershman has called concerning a possible grant to the Chinese Alliance for Democracy (CAD). I am concerned about the political dimension to this request. We should not find ourselves in a position where we have to respond to pressure, but this request poses a real problem to Carl.”

Currently, Gershman’s NED dispenses more than $100 million a year in U.S. government funds to various NGOs, media outlets and activists around the world. The NED also has found itself in the middle of political destabilization campaigns against governments that have gotten on the wrong side of U.S. foreign policy. For instance, prior to the February 2014 coup in Ukraine, overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych and installing an anti-Russian regime in Kiev, NED was funding scores of projects.

Gershman in 2014. (CSIS/Flickr)

A second point left out of the Post’s editorial was the fact that Gershman took a personal hand in the Ukraine crisis and recognized it as an interim step toward regime change in Moscow. On Sept. 26, 2013, [months before the coup in Kiev,] Gershman published an op-ed in The Washington Post that called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and explained how pulling it into the Western camp could contribute to the ultimate defeat of Russian President Putin. Gershman wrote:

“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

In other words, NED is a U.S. government-financed entity that has set its sights on ousting Russia’s current government.

A third point that the Post ignored is that the Russian law requiring outside-funded political organizations to register as “foreign agents” was modeled on a U.S. law, the Foreign Agent Registration Act. In other words, the U.S. government also requires individuals and entities working for foreign interests and seeking to influence U.S. policies to disclose those relationships with the U.S. Justice Department or face prison. [In 2016, the U.S. required journalists at RT and Sputnik to register as foreign agents.]

If the Post’s editors had included any or all of these three relevant factors, you would have come away with a more balanced understanding of why Russia is acting as it is. You might still object but at least you would be aware of the full story. By concealing all three points, the Post’s editors were tricking you and other readers into accepting a propagandistic viewpoint that the Russian actions were crazy and that Putin was, according to the Post’s headline, “power mad.”

Gershman’s Op-Ed

But you might think that Gershman would at least acknowledge some of these points in his Post op-ed, surely admitting that NED is financed by the U.S. government. But Gershman didn’t. He simply portrayed Russia’s actions as despicable and desperate.

“Russia’s newest anti-NGO law, under which the National Endowment for Democracy on Tuesday was declared an ‘undesirable organization’ prohibited from operating in Russia, is the latest evidence that the regime of President Vladimir Putin faces a worsening crisis of political legitimacy,” Gershman wrote, adding:

“This is the context in which Russia has passed the law prohibiting Russian democrats from getting any international assistance to promote freedom of expression, the rule of law and a democratic political system. Significantly, democrats have not backed down. They have not been deterred by the criminal penalties contained in the ‘foreign agents’ law and other repressive laws. They know that these laws contradict international law, which allows for such aid, and that the laws are meant to block a better future for Russia.”

The reference to how a “foreign agents” registration law conflicts with international law might have been a good place for Gershman to explain why what is good for the goose in the United States isn’t good for the gander in Russia. But hypocrisy is a hard thing to rationalize and would have undermined the propagandistic impact of the op-ed.

So would an acknowledgement of where NED’s money comes from. How many governments would allow a hostile foreign power to sponsor politicians and civic organizations whose mission is to undermine and overthrow the existing government and put in someone who would be compliant to that foreign power?

Not surprisingly, Gershman couldn’t find the space to include any balance in his op-ed and the Post’s editors didn’t insist on any.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He founded Consortium News in 1995 as the first online, independent news site in the United States.

7 comments for “ROBERT PARRY: Why Russia Shut Down NED Fronts

  1. Dave
    January 20, 2022 at 17:57

    An absolutely timeless piece from Parry. And the echoes of those same NEDs and their bastard offspring are being felt more than ever in todays paranoid new era. Same same. Same puppets, same puppeteers, same objectives, same propaganda. Only now, we all see them for what they are.
    RIP Robert Parry.

  2. robert e williamson jr
    January 20, 2022 at 14:22

    I can not help but be puzzled as to what Congress is thinking most of the time. Seriously kids this has got to stop.

    The one obvious outcome of this one would think is the souring of relations between Russian and the U.S.. You know because the U.S. came to the territory of Mother Russia to prosecute what would threatening activities to the Russian government.

    I do however have a pretty good idea of what CIA thinks; destabilize, destabilize, destabilize. These a-holes at CIA seem to be phenomenal at killing innocents and making huge “messes” they are never held accountable for making.

    Robert Parry had written at length about Casey, NED and Walter Raymond Jr. in his 1992 FOOLING AMERICA, he also write about how John Kerry got black balled by Democrats for doing his job (p262,263) and catching hell from Conventional Wisdom’s Johnathan Alter.

    I’m having problem finishing this book because is makes me so angry I have to put it down to cool off.

    It seems clear to me that the biggest problem the U.S. has besides a do nothing, know nothing, stand for nothing republican party is a democratic party sees no evil , hears no evil or speaks nothing resembling truth to power, which in this case would be taking on CIA.

    Someone needs to and soon.

    Anyhow during the early hours of this am I was reading FOOLING AMERICA, been having nothing but trouble with my Hugh net provider and lately it’s been much worse than usual. But I digress.

    So I finally get on line and after checking the local weather to went to CN and find these articles about “NED”.

    It freaked me out – Why because I hold the solid in my mind opinion that this was more work of the one and only 41,. You see Walter Raymond Jr. was a 35 year vet of CIA – a misinformation specialist.

    I’m not real sure but I think my hair has been on fire already today!

  3. Rob Juneau
    January 20, 2022 at 13:25

    Robert Parry. I begin to understand why he is so dearly missed. Thank you, CN.

  4. Black Cloud
    January 20, 2022 at 12:41

    The US enacted The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in 1938, which requires certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.


  5. evelync
    January 20, 2022 at 12:34

    I appreciate CN publishing articles written by Robert Parry that provide clarity on areas of interest/concern that are still with us today.
    Parry left us a gift – a treasure trove of well researched, honest/apolitical, therefore courageous and trusted work.
    Parry was committed to transparency for the general public – a commitment that Julian Assange understands too well, it seems -because it’s necessary for a functional democracy.

    It’s always a pleasure to read these excellent articles. Parry’s voice is missed.
    Thanks to CN and Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria and anyone else who may be helping to find/bring these historic but always fresh pieces to the front page of CN.

  6. January 20, 2022 at 10:25

    Any nation’s leader would be a fool to allow anyone from NED within their borders.

    • Rob Roy
      January 20, 2022 at 13:26


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