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Thank you for listening to Congressional Dish! 

Dec 10, 2018

 

The National Endowment for Democracy is a private foundation - that receives millions of our tax dollars - that pays groups to work to change the governments of other countries. In this episode, hear highlights from a hearing during which the president of this creepy organization and the presidents of two organizations that it funds - which are controlled entirely by members of the Republican and Democratic parties - will give you some insight into what kind of work they are doing manipulating information and interfering in elections in other countries around the world.


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Main Hearing

Hearing: Democracy Promotion in a Challenging World, Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, June 14, 2018.

Timestamps & Transcripts

  • 15:35 Representative Edward Royce (CA): At home, we must maintain the decades-old bipartisan consensus that democracy is a core element of U.S. foreign policy. That is why it’s important to have the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute here today, and that’s why it’s important that Congress continues to adequately fund these institutions.

 

  • 24:30 Representative Edward Royce (CA): I’m pleased to welcome our distinguished guests here on the panel, including Mr. Carl Gershman, who has served as president of the National Endowment for Democracy since its founding in 1984. He’s a long-time friend of this committee. He’s respected worldwide for his work, especially in his efforts to help peaceably end the Cold War and transition countries from behind the Iron Curtain to democracy, and he’s done this through nongovernmental action. Before his time at NED, he was the senior counselor to the United States representative to the United Nations, where he worked on international human rights issues.

 

  • 25:21 Representative Edward Royce (CA): Mr. Daniel Twining is the president of the International Republican Institute, and previously he served as the counselor and director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He also worked here in Congress. He worked here as a foreign policy advisor to Senator John McCain.

 

  • 25:45 Representative Edward Royce (CA): And we have Mr. Kenneth Wollack. He is president of the National Democratic Institute, and he has co-edited the Middle East Policy Survey and written regularly on foreign affairs for the Los Angeles Times.

 

  • 27:26 Carl Gershman: I’d call your attention, for example, to some recent events, among them the remarkable democratic transition in Gambia; the fall of the corrupt Zuma government in South Africa; the stunning victory of democracy in Malaysia, and the freeing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim; the equally stunning triumph of democracy in Armenia; and the successful local elections in Tunisia that are, in my view, a decisive step forward in the Arab world’s first democracy. These are just a few of the examples that I could give of recent democratic advances. There is Slovakia, interesting developments in Ethiopia. Even in a country like Uzbekistan, we can see some glimmerings of some opening.

 

  • 31:07 Carl Gershman: Other examples include the support that NED has given in Ukraine to the Anti-Corruption Action Center that has tirelessly led the campaign for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption court. And I’m pleased to report that just last week the Ukrainian parliament at long last approved legislation to create such a court.

 

  • 37:25 Daniel Twining: In Europe, the Kremlin is deploying a sophisticated information-warfare campaign to undermine democratic institutions, erode citizen trust in democracy, and wedge apart the transatlantic alliance. This form of warfare is particularly insidious—this political warfare—because it uses core features of democracy against us—exploiting our free media, manipulating false information, undermining confidence in electoral systems. IRI’s Beacon Project is engaged in a big line of work to leverage our relationships for European political parties and civil-societies groups to track Russian misinformation, including in many local languages, and then to coordinate political responses to that.

 

  • 31:46 Carl Gershman: The last example is the nonpartisan training conducted by four NGOs in Tunisia of new candidates who participated in last month’s local elections. Of the 235 individuals who were trained, 112 won seats, and 25 were at the heads of their electoral lists.

 

  • 41:46 Kenneth Wollack: Authoritarian regimes are using digital tools to advance their interests, including electoral espionage and the dissemination of disinformation, to skew electoral outcomes, disrupt democratic discourse, discredit democratic institutions, and fuel ethnic and social divisions. NDI has responded by providing cybersecurity support; assisting efforts of civic, media, and political groups to detect, expose, and combat this information; and conducting new types of public-opinion research to identify populations that are most susceptible to Russian disinformation and develop messages that can build resilience. In cooperation with IRI and NED, NDI is helping to launch a new effort with democracy groups, civil-society organizations, civic-tech partners, political parties, and a global network of four million citizen election monitors to interact more regularly with the technology companies.

 

  • 44:23 Kenneth Wollack: Ukrainians can point to concrete achievements in recent years. These include the emergence of new political parties that have national reach and are focused on citizens they represent rather than on oligarchs who would finance them. Brought together by NDI in partnership with the European Parliament, party factions in the Rada are overcoming deep fragmentation to agree on procedures that will make it easier to build consensus around reforms. In NDI programs alone, more than 45,000 citizens have engaged directly in the national reform process and reaching more than 1.3 million citizens through the media.

 

  • 45:05 Kenneth Wollack: Another story of democratic resilience is unfolding in Syria. In northern Syria, citizen groups are prioritizing community needs, and local administrative councils are responding by providing critical services. Fifty NDI governance advisors are working each day in 34 locations to advise citizen groups and administrative councils, and bringing them together to solve problems.

 

  • 49:19 Carl Gershman: But you’ve got to build a defense against it, and a lot of the groups that we helped stop fake news Ukraine and other groups like that are being able to identify fake information. We have a dialogue—a very ongoing dialogue—with the Internet companies to take down a lot of incitement, a lot of fake news. We’re connecting our grantees with the Internet companies. We have groups like Bellingcat, which is an investigative journalist group. They use open-source information. But they’ve identified the Russian general who provided the missile that shot down the Malaysian airliner.

 

  • 51:30 Kenneth Wollack: But this a daily fight on the ground. Representative Edward Royce (CA): A social media fight? Wollack: Yes. To give you one example, the Democratic Party of Serbia, two weeks before the local elections, the Russians—presumably the Russians—had hacked their Facebook page, put horrible content on it. The hackers then contacted Facebook, told them to look at the site. Facebook immediately took down the Facebook page. Now, the party didn’t know who to contact. They had no contact with Facebook. They were able to contact us. Our office in Silicon Valley managed to reach the Facebook executives. They immediately took it down.

 

  • 54:04 Representative Eliot Engel (NY): The budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 requested a $67 million for NED, which is a 60 percent cut from the amount which is $170 million that Congress has appropriated yearly since FY ’16.

 

  • 54:59 Carl Gershman: I mean, there are, obviously, two fundamental problems with the OMB budget request for fiscal 2019: the amount and separating us from the four institutes. And both of these are devastating. I don’t even want to get into now what we would have to cut. They’re devastating—utterly devastating. It would virtually kill the whole program.

 

  • 58:22 Daniel Twining: But in Malaysia, IRI’s been working with the opposition there since 2002. Malaysia was essentially a one-party majoritarian state. The ruling party had ruled since 1957. It had gerrymandered all the districts, given itself every advantage. But in this last election a month ago, the opposition won for the first time in 60-something years, and that was an example of playing the long game, right? We, the United States, supported a democratic opposition that is now in charge of this very strategic country right there on the front lines of the South China Sea, right there on the front lines of the Islamic world’s intersection with the rest of Asia, and that’s good for America.

 

  • 1:09:12 Representative Gregory Meeks (NY): And Mr. Gershman, I’m a former board member at NED, so I’ve seen firsthand the work that you and your dedication and the bipartisan board of NED collectively working together to try to make sure that we have a better world for all of us.

 

  • 1:12:20 Kenneth Wollack: Our engagement is not to spread falsehoods. It’s not to create fake news. It’s not to try to disrupt the process. It’s not to try to spur conflict in countries. What we’re trying to do is promote the principles, values, processes, and institutions that are enshrined in an intergovernmental organization. And our work is to try to help people engage in the political process.

 

  • 1:16:34 Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA):... did we or did we not involve ourselves heavily to undermine the democratically elected government of Yanukovych in Ukraine? And what did it bring us? It brought us turmoil and conflict—that if we’d have waited and let that government be elected, because of its flaws unelected, we would not be in this situation today where the world is more likely to go into conflict because of that. I don’t believe the Russians would’ve invaded Ukraine had we not arrogantly involved ourselves to overthrow that democratically elected government in Ukraine.

 

  • 1:18:39 Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA): So, I’ve had my say. I know I’m making everybody mad at me, but I had to say it.

 

  • 1:25:59 Representative Brad Sherman (CA): And I want to turn our attention to Yerevan and Armenia. NED has allocated $1.3 million last year. Now we’ve seen a real move toward democracy. Are you going to do more, given the fluid situation there? Carl Gershman: Thank you very much for that question, Mr. Sherman. Yes. The answer is yes. Our board, which meets later this week, is making Armenia what we call a country eligible for contingency funds, which are funds set aside for new situations and, obviously, what’s happened in Armenia is very, very new. And we—I think there are several priorities that have to be addressed. There are going to be quick elections that have been called in Armenia, and those elections have to have integrity to them to give legitimacy to the current Pashinyan government. There is a parliament that oversees this, and government officials are really new to the governing game. The system has been controlled by a centralized authority for a number of years and so a lot of training is going to have to be necessary for some of the new government officials. And then, finally, there’s going to be a big information war, the kind of issue raised by Congressman Royce, and it is very essential in this period—and this is what the groups that we help are doing—is to get people reliable and independent information so they don’t make the judgments based upon the disinformation that is going to be promoted by the forces that have just been removed from power.

 

  • 1:49:40 Representative Karen Bass (CA): Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair. And I want to welcome my colleagues from NED and IRI and NDI. And I’m a member of the NED board, for my colleagues that are here on the committee, and I have to say the work that NED does around the world is really tremendous.

 

  • 2:07:52 Representative Ted Poe (TX): Globally, what do you personally see is the number-one entity that is a threat to democracy worldwide? Is it China? Is it Russia? Is it North Korea? Is it ISIS? Is it Iran? Pick one. Pick the one you think is the threat. Carl Gershman: China. Rep. Poe: China. Gershman: China. Rep. Poe: Mr. Twining. Daniel Twining: China. Rep. Poe: Mr. Wollack. Kenneth Wollack: Russia. Rep. Poe: Russia. Russia and China.

 

  • 2:35:00 Carl Gershman And I think it should not be forgotten: NED was created as an independent institution so that even when you have problems, whatever the problems are with the executive branch, our work continues consistently. And I think that was a brilliant idea, and it’s in the National Endowment for Democracy Act adopted by the Congress by Dante Fascell in 1983, and I think it was brilliant to give the NED that kind of independence so that we can go forward, regardless of what the policies of the executive branch are at any particular time.

 

  • 2:47:46 Carl Gershman: I take pride in the fact that when we make grants to groups abroad, I take pride that it’s with American taxpayer money. We try to protect that money. We try to make sure that every single dollar is spent well. But I take pride in the fact that that’s a demonstration of the support coming from the American people.

Sound Clip Sources

News Interview: The Rules-Based International Order Created by the U.S. is Being Torn Apart by the U.S., CNN, June 10, 2018.

  • 2:30 Sen. Diane Feinstein I mean we have helped support this whole Democratic Atlantic community and more or less forged it into a single entity. And I’ve been very proud of that as an American.

Speech: Madeleine K. Albright Gives Keynote Remarks at 2018 Albright Luncheon, National Democratic Institute, YouTube, May 10, 2018.

  • 10:50 Madeline Albright We are employing every tool at our disposal from the use of focus groups to the collection of more accurate data, to connections made through social media, to the design of election observer missions, to the drafting of model laws, to partnerships with regional bodies and the United Nations, to the mobilization of public opinion from around the equator and from pole to pole.

Discussion: Foreign Affairs Issue Launch with Former Vice President Joe Biden, Council on Foreign Affairs, January 23, 2018.

  • Speakers:

    • Joe Biden
    • Richard Haass - President of the Council on Foreign Relations
  • Joe Biden: I’ll give you one concrete example. I was—not I, but it just happened to be that was the assignment I got. I got all the good ones. And so I got Ukraine. And I remember going over, convincing our team, our leaders to—convincing that we should be providing for loan guarantees. And I went over, I guess, the 12th, 13th time to Kiev. And I was supposed to announce that there was another billion-dollar loan guarantee. And I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn’t. So they said they had—they were walking out to a press conference. I said, nah, I’m not going to—or, we’re not going to give you the billion dollars. They said, you have no authority. You’re not the president. The president said—I said, call him. (Laughter.) I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars. I said, you’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. (Laughter.) He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.

Hearing: Facebook, Google and Twitter Executives on Russian Election Interference, House Select Intelligence Committee, C-SPAN, November 1, 2017.

  • Witnesses:
    • Kent Walker
      • Google Senior Vice President & General Counsel
    • Colin Stretch
      • Facebook Vice President & General Counsel
    • Sean Edgett
      • Twitter Acting General Counsel
  • 59:39 Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL): I submit to you that your efforts have to be more than just about finding malicious and deceptive activity, that you have a responsibility—all of you have a responsibility—to make sure that we are not adding to the problem by not being as rigorous and as aggressive as we can in terms of vetting the content and in terms of making sure that we are being really dynamic in doing that.

 

  • 1:57:39 Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA): RT, Russia Today, on your platform, has 2.2 million subscribers. Fox News, on your platform, has 740,000 subscribers. CNN has 2.3 million subscribers. The Intelligence Community assessment that was made public in January spoke about RT, and it said, “RT conducts strategic messaging for Russian government. It seeks to influence politics and fuel discontent in the United States.” So my question to you is, why have you not shut down RT on YouTube?

Hearing: Facebook, Google and Twitter Executives on Russian Disinformation , Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, October 31, 2017.

  • Witnesses
    • Colin Stretch - Facebook Vice President and General Counsel 
    • Sean Edgett - Twitter Acting General Counsel 
    • Richard Salgado - Google Law Enforcement & Information Security Director
  • 38:25 Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI): And I gather that all of your companies have moved beyond any notion that your job is only to provide a platform and whatever goes across it is not your affair. Colin Stretch: Senator, our commitment to addressing this problem is unwavering. We take this very seriously and are committed to investing as necessary to prevent this from happening again. Absolutely. Whitehouse: Mr. Edgett? Sean Edgett: Absolutely agree with Mr. Stretch, and this type of activity just creates not only a bad user experience but distrust for the platform, so we are committed to working every single day to get better at solving this problem. Whitehouse: Mr. Salgado? Richard Salgado: That’s the same for Google. We take this very seriously. We’ve made changes, and we will continue to get better. Whitehouse: And ultimately, you are American companies, and threats to American election security and threats to American peace and order are things that concern you greatly, correct? Stretch: That is certainly correct. Edgett: Agree. Salgado: That’s right.

 

Hearing: Subcommittee Hearing - The Collapse of the Rule of Law in Venezuela, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, July 19, 2017.

  • Witness

    • Luis Almagro
      • Secretary General of the Organization of American States
  • 07:15 Senator Marco Rubio: I also know this, and I do not speak for the president, but I’ve certainly spoken to the president, and I will only reiterate what he has already said, and I’ve been saying this now for a number of days: it is my—I have 100% confidence that if democracy is destroyed once and for all in Venezuela on the 30th in terms of the Maduro regime, the president of the U.S. is prepared to act unilaterally in a significant and swift way. And that is not a threat; that is the reporting of the truth.

Confirmation Hearing: Defense Secretary Nominee General James Mattis Says Russia is Trying to Break NATO, US Senate, C-SPAN, January 12, 2017.

  • John McCain: For seven decades, the United States has played a unique role in the world. We’ve not only put America first, but we’ve done so by maintaining and advancing a world order that has expanded security, prosperity, and freedom. This has required our alliances, our trade, our diplomacy, our values, but most of all, our military for when would-be aggressors aspire to threaten world order.

Hearing: U.S. Strategy Against ISIS, Senate Armed Services Committee, C-SPAN, December 9, 2015.

  • 2:28:14 Sen. Lindsey Graham Here’s what I’ve done. I make an offer to our president that I believe this war is going to go on for a long time after his presidency; I believe that they’re going to go wherever they can on the planet and that we should stop them wherever necessary; and when it comes to means, we should not limit this commander in chief or any other commander in chief when it comes to means.

Speech: Gov. Howard Dean - DemTools 2.0 Launch, NDI's DemTools Launch Event, December 9, 2015.

  • 9:55 Howard Dean I’m incredibly proud to be a member of the board of NDI, which is an incredibly sophisticated organization that does not shrink from bringing democracy to any corner of the Earth, including some we’re not allowed in. We get there anyway.

Speech: Sen. Tom Cotton Says US Should Shoot Down Russian Planes Over Syria, YouTube, October 1, 2015.

Conference: Is the United States at a Crossroads? Domestic and Global Dimensions, Wilson Center, May 15, 2015.

  • 15:35 Jane Harmon Ukraine. You and I were there together. Madeline lead the delegation - of course she did - for the National Democratic Institute, which she chairs and the International Republican Institute was also there during the first Ukraine election in May of last year. And among other things we met with the presidential candidates including Poroshenko and Tymoshenko and we tooled around in Kiev and I also went to Odessa to see how the voting was going.

Speech: Senator Dan Sullivan's Maiden Floor Speech, US Senate, C-SPAN, January 27, 2015.

  • 9:05 Sen. Dan Sullivan If the executive branch continues to dither on America’s economic future, Congress can and should act to expe- dite such projects. That is what we are doing with Keystone, and that is what I will be pressing the Congress to do for Alaska’s and America’s next great en- ergy infrastructure project—the Alas- ka LNG project—which will create thousands of jobs and provide clean and affordable energy to Americans and our allies for decades.

Speech: Vice President Joe Biden Opens 2014 NDI Democracy Award Dinner, National Democratic Institute, December 11, 2014.

  • 32:40 Vice President Joe Biden That’s why in Ukraine, working alongside groups like NDI, with your leadership, we’re providing to the Ukrainians, as we had to the Iraqi’s, personnel from each of our departments teaching them how to literally, as I said, write a budget, expertise from our Justice Department, teaching them the tools that are available to ensure that the court systems are free and transparent. We’re helping Ukrainian officials develop laws and regulations that will establish anti-corruption institutions within the government, enable authorities to combat corruption more effectively. Our militaries are working together to improve Ukrainian capacity to provide it’s own defense and a military system that meets the standards of democracies, while providing security assistance to counter Russian aggression.

Speech: Thomas A. Daschle's Speech to NDI's 30th Anniversary Dinner, National Democratic Institute, December 16, 2013.

  • 1:30 Tom Daschle Like many of you, - by the mission of NDI. The realization that we have had one focus now for 3 decades. And that focus is very simply to empower people to be able to govern themselves more effectively. That’s what we try to do.

Speech: Mitt Romney Foreign Policy Speech, Virginia Military Institute, C-SPAN, October 8, 2012.

  • 17:25 Mitt Romney Fortunately, we had leaders of courage and vision, both Republicans and Democrats, who knew that America had to support friends who shared our values, and prevent today’s crises from becoming tomorrow’s conflicts. Statesmen like Marshall rallied our nation to rise to its responsibilities as the leader of the free world. We helped our friends to build and sustain free societies and free markets. We defended our friends, and ourselves, from our common enemies. We led. We led.

News Interview: CIA Admits Orchestrating Syrian Coup of March 1949, BBC Interview, 1967.


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Music Presented in This Episode

Intro & Exit: Tired of Being Lied To by David Ippolito (found on Music Alley by mevio)