National Democratic Institute for International Affairs

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The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) is "a nonprofit organization working to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide. Calling on a global network of volunteer experts, NDI provides practical assistance to civic and political leaders advancing democratic values, practices and institutions. NDI works with democrats in every region of the world to build political and civic organizations, safeguard elections, and to promote citizen participation, openness and accountability in government."


Project Democracy

In 2005, reported an interview with former CIA operative Philip Agee[1] In the interview, Agee described some of the background of how he understood the purpose behind the establishment of agencies such as the NDI.

According to Agee, the CIA had in the past supported "brutal military dictatorships in all of the Cono Sur [Southern Cone]—Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and of course, in Chile with Pinochet". However a "process of new thinking began in the upper echelons of the makers of US foreign policy, the new thinking being that these military dictatorships, with all the repression and the disappearances and death squads and so forth, might not be the best way to preserve US interests in Latin America, or other areas for that matter". Agee goes on to claim that the "new thinking was that the preservation of US interests could better be achieved through the election of democratic governments formed by political elites who identify with the political class in the United States". These were not the popular forces, but the traditional political classes in Latin America, such as the ‘Oligarchies.’ Agee continues by saying "So the new American program, which became known as “Project Democracy,” was adopted and United States policy would seek to promote free, fair, transparent democratic elections but in such a way that it would assure that power went to the elites and not to the people".

To work towards the aims of Project Democracy, Agee reports that the “American Political Foundation” was established in 1979. This foundation was set up with major participation from the main labor center in the United States the AFL-CIO, with the United States Chamber of Commerce and with the Democratic and Republican parties. The four main organizations and the financing for this foundation came both from the government and from private sources. Their job is described as being to study how the United States could best apply this new thinking in promoting democracy and the solution is reported to have been the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its four associated foundations: the International Republican Institute (IRI) of the Republican Party, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) of the Democratic Party, the American Center of International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) of the AFL-CIO, and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) of the United States Chamber of Commerce. According to Agee, "where the AFL-CIO foundation is concerned, they took an existing organization which had worked hand-in-glove with the CIA for many years called the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) and simply changed the name".


  • Supplying election observers The four organizations receiving most of the NED funding also supply election observers. These either will validate the election of someone who the US government would like to see elected, or they can undermine election results of someone opposed by the USG. Validating election results of despots or dictatorships favorable to US interests are referred to as demonstration elections. NDI has supplied election observers for the Nicaraguan elections, and have also been paid by USAID [1]. (Account of NDI's activities)
  • Election observers to the Palestinian 2005 elections. NDI supplied 80 observers working in tandem with the Carter Center. NDI was also instrumental in setting up the Civic Forum, a Palestinian grassroots civic education program [2]. The NDI contingent was led by Patrick Merloe, NDI Director for Elections Program. NB: Most of the same group of observers had just spent a weeks observing the recent elections in Ukraine.
    [Source:, January 10, 2005] (Also see Scott Lasensky)
  • Funding political parties Where the US is attempting to create a political framework compatible with its interests, it is willing to create and fund parties. In the case of Iraq:
"The U.S. Agency for International Development has spent $80m (£42m) on voter education and training in Iraq through two organisations, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute. Critics of these groups, and those of the National Endowment for Democracy, say they have a long history in places such as Haiti of favouring groups friendly to Washington and undermining "unfriendly" or dissident groups. Les Campbell, IRI Iraq manager, told The Independent his organisation had only spent money on voter training. No money had been spent to fund political parties, he said.[2].

The New Standard states that whilst both these groups publicly assert that they are nonpartisan, they each have extremely close ties to their namesake American political party and are deeply partial to the perceived national interests of their home country[3] According to the report:

'Both groups have highly controversial reputations and are described throughout much of the world as either helpful, meddlesome, or downright subversive, depending on who you ask. In some places their work has earned praise from independent grassroots democracy advocates, but in many Third World republics, both groups have been tied to alleged covert plans to install US-favored governments'.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is the official governmental agency funding the consortium's operations in Iraq. Which according to the New Standard 'contracts with and provides grants to private organizations that uphold its objectives, which include, according to the Agency's own literature, "furthering America's foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets while improving the lives of citizens in the developing world."' In the words of Herbert Docena of think tank, Focus on the Global South, "USAID has learned that ?legitimate? leaders are not just found, they're made,"... "Before the US withdraws from the scene, it first has to ensure that its Iraqis will know what to do." He went on to add that USAID's activity in Iraq, as carried out by non-governmental proxies, is drawn straight out of the Agency's handbook, which advocates "capitalizing on national openings" and "[taking] advantage of national-level targets of opportunity" as they emerge, all while looking for a "strategic doorway" -- called an "entry point" -- that enables an Agency project to "anchor its program and optimize overall impact" in a target area. "In Iraq, the ?entry point? was the invasion," Docena explained. "The ?national opening? was the collapsed state left in its wake."

The New Standard quotes Robinson of the Global and International Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara as calling groups like NDI and IRI as "extensions" of the US State Department. Robinson, who is reported to have researched and written extensively on US foreign political and economic policies, states that the perception of an alignment between the US government and the private organizations it funds is well deserved. He describes that agencies such as those involved in the consortium are in effect "trying to select individual leaders and organizations that are going to be very amenable to the US transnational project for Iraq," In the report he goes on to describe those actors as willing to engage in "pacifying the country militarily and legitimating the occupation and the formal electoral system" and added that developing relationships with "economic, political and civic groups that are going to be favorable to Iraq's integration into the global capitalist economy" would prove even more important for US-based organizations in the long run.

According to Robinson this would include altering Iraq's 'political and economic infrastructure to be more open to international trade and investment, as well as more favorable to global financial lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It is stated that Robinson sees the Middle East as one of the few viable areas of the world yet to be drawn into the US's sphere of economic influence, and he is reported to have concluded that, more than a way to exploit oil, the US-led invasion and occupation serve as potential doorways into broader, more advantageous economic engagement in the region.

Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) is reported to have written about the roles of NDI and IRI, where he claimed that the purposes for which both organizations are utilized elsewhere in the world "would be rightly illegal in the United States."[4]


NDI Board of Directors & Senior Advisory Committee (February 2005)

Contact Details

2030 M Street, NW
Fifth Floor
Washington, DC 20036-3306
202 728-5500

External links

Gindin, J. (2005) The Nature of CIA Intervention in Venezuela 22nd March 2005.


  1. Gindin, J. (2005) The Nature of CIA Intervention in Venezuela 22nd March 2005. Accessed 14th May 2009
  2. Buncombe, A. (2005) Iranian and Saudi cash weighs against local parties, The Independent, January 29, 2005
  3. Croke, L. A. & Dominick, B. (2004) Controversial U.S. Groups Operate Behind Scenes on Iraq Vote The New Standard. 13th December 2004. Accessed 14th May 2009
  4. Croke, L. A. & Dominick, B. (2004) Controversial U.S. Groups Operate Behind Scenes on Iraq Vote The New Standard. 13th December 2004. Accessed 14th May 2009