American ‘humanitarian’ regime-change arm USAID discusses embedding ‘aid workers’ with military and intelligence


The US Agency for International Development (USAID) published a plan to train aid workers as special operations forces, working in teams with military and intelligence operatives to advance “national security” interests.

By Ben Norton

The US government’s supposed “aid” organization the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has published a plan to train its ostensible humanitarian workers as special operations forces who will collaborate closely with the military and intelligence agencies.

USAID, which serves as Washington’s soft-power arm, pushing regime-change operations under a “humanitarian” guise, discussed this strategy in an internal report first reported on by the development website Devex.

American putative humanitarian workers will learn CIA-style tactics and work directly with operatives from the US military and intelligence agencies, according to the proposal. The goal is to turn them into what the agency describes as “super enablers,” who can better serve US “national security” efforts.

USAID has been a key player in the Donald Trump administration’s far-right coup attempt in Venezuela. The organization also supported some of the right-wing opposition groups behind the 2018 coup attempt in Nicaragua.

USAID is already working directly with the Defense Department and State Department to deliver so-called aid to Cucuta, Colombia, on Venezuela’s border, as part of Trump’s efforts to overthrow the socialist government of elected President Nicolás Maduro.

USAID military DOD DOS Southcom Venezuela aid coup

According to the internal report revealed by Devex, USAID is considering plans to develop what is calls Rapid Expeditionary Development Teams, or RED Teams for short.

USAID’s internal report says these “RED Team members would be specifically recruited and trained to deliver novel techniques, practices, and tools optimized to secure communities vulnerable to violent extremist radicalization and exploitation.”

These RED Team development officers, the USAID report continues, “would be deployed as two-person teams and placed with ‘non-traditional’ USAID partners executing a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations in extremis conditions.” The teams would also “have the resources and authority to implement projects and disburse resources on their own.”

As an example of some of potential “‘non-traditional’ USAID partners,” the regime-change agency named some of the following organizations:

  • US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command
  • US Army Special Forces
  • State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Devex noted that the authors of the study consulted with representatives from infamous US military and intelligence agencies, including the deadly US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, popularly referred to as SEAL Team Six.

This strategy to weaponize aid workers is being pushed by USAID’s US Global Development Lab, which was launched by the Barack Obama administration in 2014. Its technocratic rhetoric is full of neoliberal buzzwords about “innovation” and “broad-based economic growth.”

The deeply neoliberal institution says it works “in partnership with public and private innovators around the world, USAID Missions, and interagency colleagues.”

USAID RED Teams special operations military intelligence

The USAID report (PDF) proposing the development of the RED Teams quotes an anonymous officer with more than 15 years of experience who stated bluntly:

“We have to be involved in national security or USAID will not be relevant. Anybody who doesn’t think we need to be working in combat elements or working with SF [special forces] groups is just naïve. We are either going to be up front or irrelevant… USAID is going through a lot right now, but this is an area where we can be of utility. It must happen.”

The report continues:

“A former USAID Mission Director with experience throughout the Middle East likened RED Teams to Forward Air Controllers (FACs), responsible for directing air strikes in remote areas. Rather than call through layers of bureaucracy in the heat of battle, FACs radio directly to those responsible for scrambling air assets and deliver a range of capabilities perfectly suited to firefights in real time. In the Mission Director’s analogy, RED Team members would be ‘super enablers,’ observing situations on the ground and responding immediately by designing, funding, and implementing small-scale activities. They would also have ‘reach back’ to USAID to link up efforts with additional development programming streams that could amplify or build on their immediate efforts.”