US Empire

The Grayzone debates National Endowment for Democracy VP on group’s CIA ties

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) contacted The Grayzone to dispute our characterization of their organization as a CIA cutout. Listen to our highly revealing conversation with the NED’s communications director.

On April 4, 2023, National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Vice President of Communications and Public Engagement Leslie Aun contacted me, Alex Rubinstein, to request a phone conversation about an article I published at The Grayzone a day before.

My report detailed the open justification of the terrorist bombing of a cafe in St. Petersburg, Russia by a top staffer of Bellingcat, which receives significant sponsorship from the NED, which functions as the regime change arm of the US government. In the article, I described the NED as a “CIA cutout,” which clearly displeased Aun and prompted her appeal for a call.

On April 6, Aun joined me and Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal for a 40-minute-long phone conversation, during which we challenged her on the NED’s lengthy history of supporting violent insurrectionists in countries where the US seeks regime change, and on the role of the CIA in founding the NED to openly conduct the work it used to do covertly.

To explain why The Grayzone has referred to the NED as a “CIA cutout,” Blumenthal pointed Aun to a declassified document showing Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey, proposing the creation of a US government-funded “National Endowment.” The National Endowment for Democracy was born just months after Casey circulated the document to cabinet level Reagan officials. A cutout, Blumenthal explained during the call, is “an organization spun out as an initiative of that entity and which performs the work or advances the agenda of that entity.”

Watch Max Blumenthal’s 2018 documentary on the NED, “Inside America’s Meddling Machine.”

Blumenthal and Rubinstein then provided Aun with a brief history of NED’s sponsorship of NGO’s, media organizations and politicians which have engaged in violent campaigns to topple democratically elected governments, and to undermine officially designated US enemies, from Nicaragua to Venezuela to Ukraine to Hong Kong. Rather than deny her employer’s record of regime change machinations, Aun said she was unaware of it and that she would need to learn more before responding.

We asked Aun to provide concrete evidence that NED had enacted provisions to prevent it from coordinating its activities with US intelligence. “I don’t know if it’s in the statute. I don’t know if it’s — I mean, I don’t — I don’t know. I’m going to sound like an idiot. I don’t mean to sound like an idiot,” Aun replied.

We also demanded to know whether NED had instituted guidelines which prevented it from funding anti-democratic and violent actors like the coup leaders and political arsonists we detailed. In one particularly revealing exchange on the topic, Blumenthal asked Aun, “How is it pro–democracy to support mobilizations that seek to remove elected leaders?”

“Isn’t that sort of what democracy is?” she fired back in a tacit admission that her organization views foreign meddling and support for violent putschists abroad as an intrinsically democratic act.

At a loss for answers, Aun resorted to a Red Scare-style insinuation: “I’m just curious, are you supporters of the Belarusian government, of [the] Ortega government, of the Chinese government?” she asked. “I mean, those are all governments that you are working, writing — you’re supportive of, like from an editorial perspective?”

After our call with Aun, we provided her with our questions in writing. Despite repeated promises over the phone and in follow-up emails to furnish the information we requested, the NED has not done so for over 50 days since we first engaged with Aun.

Between April 11 and May 5, Aun sent three emails promising a response. She then went cold, prompting our decision to publish a recording of our phone conversation.

We will update this article if Aun chooses to reply to our questions.

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