Former CIA agent tells: How US infiltrates 'civil society' to overthrow governments
BY PHILIP AGEE
Condemnation of Cuba was immediate, strong and practically global following the imprisonment of 75 political "dissidents" and the execution of three ferry hijackers. Prominent among the critics were past friends of Cuba of recognised international stature.
As I read the hundreds of denunciations that came through my mail, it was easy to see how enemies of the revolution had seized on those issues to condemn Cuba for violations of human rights. They had a field day.
Deliberate or careless confusion between the political dissidents and the hijackers, two entirely unrelated matters, was also easy because the events happened at the same time. A Vatican publication went so far as to describe the hijackers as dissidents when in fact they were terrorists. But others of good faith toward Cuba also jumped on the bandwagon of condemnation treating the two issues as one.
With respect to the imprisonment of 75 "civil society activists", the main victim has been history, for these people were central to US government efforts to overthrow the Cuban government and destroy the work of the revolution.
Indeed, "regime change", as overthrowing governments has come to be known, has been the continuing US goal in Cuba since the earliest days of the revolutionary government. Programs to achieve this goal have included propaganda to denigrate the revolution, diplomatic and commercial isolation, trade embargo, terrorism and military support to counter-revolutionaries, the Bay of Pigs invasion, assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other Cuban leaders, biological and chemical warfare, and, more recently, efforts to foment an internal political opposition masquerading as an independent civil society.
The administration of US President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s decided that more than terrorist operations were needed to impose regime change in Cuba. Terrorism hadn't worked, nor had the Bay of Pigs invasion, nor had Cuba's diplomatic isolation, nor had the economic embargo. Now Cuba would be included in a new world-wide program to finance and develop non-governmental and voluntary organisations, what was to become known as "civil society", within the context of US global neoliberal policies.
The CIA and the Agency for International Development (AID) would have key roles in this program as well as a new organisation christened in 1983 â the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Actually, the new program was not really new. Since its founding in 1947, the CIA had been deeply involved in secretly funding and manipulating foreign non-governmental voluntary organisations.
These vast operations circled the globe and targeted political parties, trade unions and business associations, youth and student organisations, women's groups, civic organisations, religious communities, professional, intellectual and cultural societies, and the public information media. The network functioned at local, national, regional and global levels.
Over the years, the CIA exerted phenomenal influence behind the scenes in country after country, using these powerful elements of civil society to penetrate, divide, weaken and destroy organisations on the left, and indeed to impose regime change by toppling governments.
Such was the case, among many others, in Guyana, where in 1964, culminating 10 years of efforts, the Cheddi Jagan government was overthrown through strikes, terrorism, violence and arson perpetrated by CIA agents in the trade unions.
About the same time, while I was a CIA agent assigned to Ecuador, our agents in civil society, through mass demonstrations and civil unrest, provoked two military coups in three years against elected, civilian governments.
Anyone who has watched the opposition to President Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela develop can be certain that the CIA, AID and the NED are coordinating the destabilisation and were behind the failed coup in April 2002 as well as the failed "civic strike" of last December-January.
The Cuban American National Foundation was, predictably, one of the first beneficiaries of NED funding. From 1983 to 1988, CANF received US$390,000 for anti-Castro activities.
The NED is supposedly a private, non-government, non-profit foundation, but it receives a yearly appropriation from the US Congress. The money is channelled through four "core foundations". These are the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (linked to the Democratic Party); the International Republican Institute (Republican Party); the American Center for International Labor Solidarity; and the Center for International Private Enterprise (US Chamber of Commerce).
According to its web site, the NED also gives money directly to "groups abroad who are working for human rights, independent media, the rule of law, and a wide range of civil society initiatives."
The NED's NGO status provides the fiction that recipients of NED money are getting "private" rather than US government money. This is important because so many countries, including both the US and Cuba, have laws relating to their citizens being paid to carry out activities for foreign governments.
The US requires an individual or organisation "subject to foreign control" to register with the attorney general and to file detailed activities reports, including finances, every six months.
Cuba has its own laws criminalising actions intended to jeopardise its sovereignty or territorial integrity as well as actions supporting the goals of the anti-Cuba US Helms-Burton Act of 1996, such as collecting information to support the US embargo or to subvert the government, or for disseminating US government information to undermine the Cuban government.
Efforts to develop an opposition civil society in Cuba had already begun in 1985 with the early NED grants to CANF. These efforts received a significant boost with passage in 1992 of the Cuban Democracy Act, better known as the Torricelli Act, which promoted support, through US NGOs, of individuals and organisations committed to "non-violent democratic change in Cuba".
A still greater intensification came with passage in 1996 of the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act, better known as the Helms-Burton Act.
As a result of these laws, the NED, AID and the CIA (the latter not mentioned publicly but undoubtedly included) intensified their coordinated programs targeted at Cuban civil society.
One may wonder why the CIA would be needed in these programs. There were several reasons. One reason from the beginning was the CIA's long experience and huge stable of agents and contacts in the civil societies of countries around the world. By joining with the CIA, the NED and AID would come on board on-going operations whose funding they could take over while leaving the secret day-to-day direction on the ground to CIA officers.
In addition, someone had to monitor and report the effectiveness of the local recipients' activities. NED would not have people in the field to do this, nor would their core foundations in normal conditions. And since NED money was ostensibly private, only the CIA had the people and techniques to carry out discreet control in order to avoid compromising the civil society recipients, especially if they were in opposition to their governments.
Finally, the CIA had ample funds of its own to pass quietly when conditions required. In Cuba, participation by CIA officers under cover in the US Interests Section would be particularly useful, since NED and AID funding would go to US NGOs that would have to find covert ways, if possible, to get equipment and cash to recipients inside Cuba. The CIA could help with this quite well.
Evidence of the amount of money these agencies have been spending on their Cuban projects is fragmentary. Nothing is publicly available about the CIA's spending, but what is easily found about the other two is interesting. The AID web site cites $12 million spent for Cuba programs during 1996-2001, but for 2002 the budget jumped to $5 million plus unobligated funds of $3 million from 2001. AID's 2003 budget for Cuba is $6 million showing a tripling of annual funds since the George Bush junta seized power. No surprise given the number of Miami Cubans Bush has appointed to high office in his administration.
From 1996 to 2001, AID disbursed the $12 million to 22 NGOs, all apparently based in the US, mostly in Miami. By 2002, the number of front-line NGOs had shrunk to 12 â the University of Miami, Center for a Free Cuba, Pan-American Development Foundation, Florida International University, Freedom House, Grupo de Apoyo a la Disidencia, Cuba On-Line, CubaNet, National Policy Association, Accion Democratica Cubana and Carta de Cuba.
In addition, the International Republican Institute received AID money for a sub-grantee, the Directorio Revolucionario Democr tico Cubano, also based in Miami.
These NGOs have a double purpose, one directed to their counterpart groups in Cuba and one directed to the world, mainly through web sites. Whereas, on the one hand, they channel funds and equipment into Cuba, on the other they disseminate to the world the activities of the groups in Cuba. Cubanet in Miami, for example, publishes the writings of the "independent journalists" of the Independent Press Association of Cuba, based in Havana, and channels money to the writers.
Interestingly, AID claims on its web site that its "grantees are not authorised to use grant funds to provide cash assistance to any person or organisation in Cuba". It's hard to believe that claim, but if it's true, all those millions are only going to support the US-based NGO infrastructure, a subsidised anti-Castro cottage industry of a sort, except for what can be delivered in Cuba in kind â computers, faxes, copy machines, cell phones, radios, TVS and VCRs, books, magazines and the like.
On its web site, AID lists purposes for the money: solidarity with human rights activists; dissemination of the work of independent journalists; development of independent NGOs; promoting workers' rights; outreach to the Cuban people; planning for future assistance to a transition government; and evaluation of the program. Anyone who wants to see which NGOs are getting how much can visit <http://www.usaid.gov/regions/lac/cu/upd-cub.htm>.
AID's claim that its grantees can't provide cash to Cubans in Cuba, makes one wonder about the more than $100,000 in cash that Cuban investigators found in the hands of the 75 mostly unemployed "dissidents" who went on trial. A clue may be found in the AID statement that "US policy encourages US NGOs and individuals to undertake humanitarian, informational and civil society-building activities in Cuba with private funds". Could such "private funds" be money from the NED?
Recall the fiction that the NED is a "private" foundation, an NGO. It has no restrictions on its funds going for cash payments abroad, and it just happens to fund some of the same NGOs as AID. Be assured that this is not the result of rivalry or lack of coordination in Washington. The reason probably is that NED funds can go for salaries and other personal compensation to people on the ground in Cuba.
The Cuban organisations below the US NGOs in the command and money chain number nearly 100 and have names [translated from Spanish] like Independent Libraries of Cuba, All United, Society of Journalists Marquez Sterling, Independent Press Association of Cuba, Assembly to Promote Civil Society and the Human Rights Party of Cuba.
NED's web site is conveniently out of date, showing only its Cuba program for 2001. But it is instructive. Its funds for Cuban activities in 2001 totalled only $765,000 â if one is to believe what they say. The money they gave to eight NGOs in 2001 averaged about $52,000, while a 9th NGO, the International Republican Institute received $350,000 for the Directorio Revolucionario Democratico Cubano for "strengthening civil society and human rights" in Cuba. In contrast, this NGO is to receive $2,174,462 in 2003 from AID through the same IRI.
Why would the NED be granting the lower amounts and AID such huge amounts, both channelled through IRI? The answer, apart from IRI's skim-off, probably is that the NED money is destined for the pockets of people in Cuba while the AID money supports the US NGO infrastructures.
Whatever the amount of money reaching Cuba may have been, everyone in Cuba working in the various dissident projects knows of US government's sponsorship, funding and of its purpose â regime change.
Far from being "independent" journalists, "idealistic" human rights activists, "legitimate" advocates for change or "Marian librarians from River City", every one of the 75 "dissidents" arrested and convicted was knowingly a participant in US government operations to overthrow the government and install a US-favoured political, economic and social order. They knew what they were doing was illegal, they got caught and they are paying the price.
Anyone who thinks these people are prisoners of conscience, persecuted for their ideas or speech, or victims of repression, simply fails to see them properly as instruments of a US government that has declared revolutionary Cuba its enemy.
They were not convicted for ideas but for their paid actions on behalf of a foreign power that has waged a 44-year war of varying degrees of intensity against this poor country.
To think that the "dissidents" were creating an independent, free civil society is absurd, for they were funded and controlled by a hostile foreign power and to that degree, which was total, they were not free or independent in the least.
The civil society they wished to create was not just your normal, garden variety civil society of Harley freaks and Boxer breeders, but a political opposition movement fomented openly by the US government. What government in the world would be so self-destructive as to sit by and just watch this happen?
The threat of war against Cuba from Bush and his coterie of crusaders, all of them crazed after Iraq, is real. A military campaign against Cuba, coinciding with the 2004 electoral campaign, may be the only way he can hope to get himself elected for his second term.
[Abridged from Granma Internacional. Philip Agee was a CIA covert operations officer from 1959 to 1969 and is the author of Inside the Company: A CIA Diary. He lives in Havana, where he runs a travel web site, <http://www.cubalinda.com>.]
From Green Left Weekly, July 23, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.