Agee on NED interview

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Overall Critical Assessment

On March 14, 2005, Dennis Bernstein interviewed the former CIA officer and author of Inside the Company, an important book describing the CIA's operations in the 1960s. A detailed discussion of the US meddling in Venezuela ensued with a critical overview of the NED and its origins.

Philip Agee: […] When president Chavez was elected in 1998 I couldn't resist doing the same thing [forecasting the CIA's attempts to overthrow his government]. I tried to follow events in Venezuela as possible, not really day to day, but I did write a memorandum on Venezuela, and I have seen a number of the things come to pass that I had written about in 1999. I have been coming here from time to time, and have spoken to a number of people, and what is being done here in Venezuela by the United State government is quite similar to what they did in Nicaragua in the 1980s minus the Contra terrorist operations in the countryside that wreaked so much destruction on the Nicaraguan economy. Venezuela has a booming economy thanks to the price of petroleum, and there is no organized paramilitary effort to terrorize the countryside like there was in Nicaragua. So, there are two important differences, but on the other hand, there are great efforts going on to penetrate Venezuelan civil society and therefore affect the political and electoral processes in this country.
Dennis Bernstein: Let me ask you to step back now. There have been a lot of documents… Eva Golinger has done a great job in putting together documents, and now she has a blockbuster of a book. Based on your experience based on your work as a CIA officer, talk a little a bit on how you would gage this operation. What do we know based on the documents that we have and all the actions that we have seen undermine and put the lie to any claim by the US government that it had no connection and no involvement whatsoever in any kind of destabilization.
Philip Agee: Well, it is true that Eva Golinger has obtained a treasure trove of documents; she has done a wonderful job under the Freedom of Information act. She has thousands of pages, hundreds and hundreds of documents and some of them are really very interesting. I would say, first of all, that the amount of money that was being put into Venezuela up until the failed military coup attempt of April 2002 was about one million per year. That was National Endowment for Democracy money being channeled through the so-called core foundations of NED, which are the foundations of the AFLCIO, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Democratic and Republican parties; there are four of these foundations. In the wake of this failed coup against Chavez, a decision was taken in Washington to expand dramatically the amount of money and the types of operations that have undertaken to that point. In June of 2002, the decision was taken – and you have to see this as some kind committee decision of all the agencies involved in this intervention in Venezuela, which would be as a minimum the Department of State, the Dept. of Defense, the CIA, the USAID, and probably two or three others… They decided in June that USAID would contract a private consulting firm as they had in Nicaragua which would carry our the major investment of money in Venezuela as they had in Nicaragua. In Nicaragua this private consulting firm, which was the key to the successful election operation against the Sandinista Front, and was called the Delphi International Group. This time it is an organization in Bethesda, Maryland, right next to Washington, which is called Development Alternatives Inc.
The contract with this consulting firm was signed at the end of August 2002, and they were required to move a team of people in here immediately, hit the ground running, and start spending five million dollars for the year Sept 2002 to Sept 2003 – that is five times the amount of money put in through NED. The contract calls for a second year option of another $5m (in fact it is slightly more), and these two years provide $3.5m to be given out by this Development Alternatives Inc., this consultant firm… $3.5 million dollars to Venezuelan organizations leading up to and beyond the general strike (which was from early December to early February), which caused great damage to the Venezuelan economy. But some of that money went into the TV ads that were run constantly during the strike; regular programming on all of the Venezuelan television channels, save one which is the government channel; all the others suspended their regular programming and they played commercial after commercial after commercial, and interviews of course, all promoting the strike trying to bring down the Chavez government. Some of this propaganda was financed through the five million dollars which had been given in September to Development Alternatives, Inc.
When the strike failed, then the next event would be the recall referendum which was set for last August 15th. And throughout the period arranging for the voter lists, the signings, and this complicated process leading to the vote on August 15th, Development Alternatives Inc. continued to pour out millions of dollars in aid to the opposition to Chavez with the purpose of ending his presidency through the ballot box. That also failed.
Meanwhile the NED programs continued through the four core foundations, two of which have offices here in Caracas, i.e., the Republican foundation: The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Democratic party foundation: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). So there are in fact three supposedly private offices opened here in Caracas through which all these millions of dollars are being funneled out to the Venezuelan opposition. And it turns out in the one contract between USAID and Development Alternatives Inc., USAID named the staff in the Caracas office, and there was a provision in the contract that not one of those people could be replaced unless they were named by USAID. So you have these three offices here, that are nothing more than extensions of the United States embassy, under the control of the embassy, of the State Department, of USAID in Washington, and posing as private firms (two foundations and one commercial consulting firm) while as a matter of fact they are no more than extensions, mechanisms and instruments of the US embassy.
Dennis Bernstein: I want to ask you about the process of destabilization in which the US government works with the media and its agents on the ground to demonize a duly elected leader.
Philip Agee: Well, Dennis, since the early 1980s the emphasis has been on the promotion of democracy, that is in quotation marks. During the late 1970s there was new thinking at the highest levels of the US foreign policymakers, and they reconsidered whether these ugly murderous military dictatorships of the 1970s were really the best way to preserve US interests in these countries – US interests being defined traditionally as unfettered access to the primary products and raw materials, to the labor and to the markets of foreign countries. This new thinking led to the establishment in 1983 of the National Endowment for Democracy. They had chosen the German pattern in which the major political parties in Germany have foundations financed by the federal government. They did more or less the same thing with the establishment of the NED as a private foundation – there is really nothing private about it, and all its money comes from the Congress. But then there were the other core foundations – this was the fundamental mechanism for promotion of democracy around the world, but in actual fact, when they say the promotion of democracy, or civic education, or fortifying civil society, what they really mean is using those euphemisms to cover funding to certain political forces and not to others. In other words, to fortify the opposition of undesirable foreign governments as in the case of Venezuela, or to support a government that is favorable to US interests and avoid of coming to power of forces that are not seen as favorable to US interests. This will be the case since the early 1990s in Nicaragua because all those programs that were started in order to assure the defeat of Daniel Ortega in 1990 continued, and they continued to make sure that Sandinista Front was not reelected again after their defeat in 1990 – and that has been the case. These programs go on in various different countries and they require quite a bit of research. […] I am sure that one could find these programs in Mexico, Colombia, Peru probably, Brazil, and other countries outside the Latin American region.
So, basically what the program of subversion these days is what they call the promotion of democracy, which is nothing more than a lie. And all the other euphemisms that they throw into these programs are equally lies, because the real purpose, as it has always been since 1947 and the beginning of the CIA's covert action operations in Italy… The goals have always been the same, but since the CIA people who receive the money, i.e., their beneficiary organizations abroad had so much trouble in covering up this under-the-table money, and it was in the hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, that they decided to fund these openly. One should never forget that the CIA has many millions of dollars that they can add to the money that organizations are getting from the State Dept., the NED, or its four core foundations, or from USAID. So, it is a fairly sophisticated structure, and so far it has been somewhat successful.
Source: Dennis Bernstein, "Philip Agee, Former CIA agent speaks on Venezuela", Flashpoints, 14 March 2005.