Today, Watchdog host Lowkey is joined by investigative journalist Matt Kennard to discuss how the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has infiltrated foreign media in an attempt to export obedience to the United States government and promote Washington’s interests around the world.
In the late twentieth century, the CIA developed an infamous reputation, both inside and outside the United States, as scandal after scandal hit the agency. COINTELPRO quietly infiltrated and subverted all manner of domestic democratic movements, including the student movement, the civil rights campaign, the hippie movement and the Black Panthers. The Church Committee, chaired by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID), revealed to the public that the CIA had also infiltrated hundreds of the largest and most important domestic media outlets in order to shape public discussion. Meanwhile, abroad, the CIA had funded death squads in Central America and organized the overthrow of several foreign leaders.
The National Endowment for Democracy was the Reagan administration’s solution to the storm of negative publicity. Established in 1983 as a semi-private company, the NED’s job was to be the group to which the U.S. government outsourced its dirtiest work. This was done almost completely openly. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” NED co-founder Allen Weinstein proudly told The Washington Post.
The NED quickly went to work undermining the governments of Eastern Europe in the name of democracy and freedom of speech. Yet, as Kennard told Lowkey, once the Communist-era regimes fell, it actually expanded its scope to act as a worldwide force for projecting U.S. government interests everywhere.
In recent years, the NED has been funneling money to protest leaders in Hong Kong, carrying out dozens of operations against the government of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, attempting to overthrow the Cuban government, and has even organized rock concerts inside Venezuela in an effort to destabilize the country.
But Kennard’s latest research shows that the NED is also conducting influence operations in the United Kingdom. The agency is quietly funding British journalistic outlets and press organizations to the tune of $3.5 million. As Kennard told Lowkey today:
From our research, it is quite clear that democracy and freedom are not the priorities of the NED because we could not find even one grant given in any of the six U.S.-backed Gulf dictatorships (Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait). Not one pro-democracy group in those countries received an NED grant that we could find. So it is effectively about projecting American power rather than freedom and democracy.
A former reporter for The Financial Times, Kennard is now chief investigator at Declassified UK, an investigative journalism outlet concentrating on British foreign policy, military and state power. He is deeply concerned about his findings, and the presupposition that U.S. actions inside Britain are benevolent, telling Lowkey:
If even a tiny percentage of this came out about Russia it would be a massive scandal – that journalists and press freedom groups were being funded by Russia. But because it is the United States, it is assumed that this is OK. It is assumed that we [the U.K.] are a vassal of the U.S. and our discourse can be distorted by the U.S. and it is not a problem. And for me and anyone who cares about the principles of press freedom and journalism, that is not something we should accept.
Lowkey and Kennard also chatted about how British journalists and being fed stories by U.S. intelligence, the shady backgrounds of senior Conservative politicians like Rory Stewart and Boris Johnson, and the treatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
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Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic, political campaigner, and a MintPress video and podcast host. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique, and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network, and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn.