Ford Foundation and its CIA connections – D. P. Satish

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Ford Foundation HQ, New Delhi

D. P. Satish“The US-based Ford Foundation is not new to controversies. Many call it a front for the American external spying agency CIA. There have been thousands of articles and research papers on Ford Foundation’s CIA links. Even in India, the Ford Foundation is accused of funding the NGOs and movements which actually work against India’s social, political and economic interests.” – D. P. Satish

Ford Foundation, New DelhiWorld’s largest NGO funding agency the Ford Foundation has now come under the scanner of the government of India. As expected it has led to a controversy.

Some beneficiaries of Ford Foundation money and some activists are up in the arms condemning the government’s decision to put Ford Foundation under the surveillance of intelligence agencies.

The US-based Ford Foundation is not new to controversies. Many call it a front for the American external spying agency CIA. There have been thousands of articles and research papers on Ford Foundation’s CIA links. Even in India, the Ford Foundation is accused of funding the NGOs and movements which actually work against India’s social, political and economic interests.

James Petras, a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghampton University, New York, and author of Globalization Unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century, throws light on the inseparable relationship between the CIA and the Ford Foundation.

In a 2001 article titled The Ford Foundation and the CIA, he writes, “The CIA uses philanthropic foundations as the most effective conduit to channel large sums of money to Agency projects without alerting the recipients to their source. From the early 1950s to the present the CIA’s intrusion into the foundation field was and is huge. A US Congressional investigation in 1976 revealed that nearly 50% of the 700 grants in the field of international activities by the principal foundations were funded by the CIA (Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Frances Stonor Saunders, Granta Books, 1999, pp. 134-135).”

The CIA considers foundations such as Ford “The best and most plausible kind of funding cover” (Ibid, p. 135). The collaboration of respectable and prestigious foundations, according to one former CIA operative, allowed the Agency to fund “a seemingly limitless range of covert action programs affecting youth groups, labor unions, universities, publishing houses and other private institutions” (p. 135).

CIA LogoThe latter included “human rights” groups beginning in the 1950s to the present. One of the most important “private foundations” collaborating with the CIA over a significant span of time in major projects in the cultural Cold War is the Ford Foundation. This essay will demonstrate that the Ford Foundation-CIA connection was a deliberate, conscious joint effort to strengthen US imperial cultural hegemony and to undermine left-wing political and cultural influence. We will proceed by examining the historical links between the Ford Foundation and the CIA during the Cold War, by examining the Presidents of the Foundation, their joint projects and goals as well as their common efforts in various cultural areas.

According to Petras, by the late 1950s the Ford Foundation possessed over $3 billion in assets. The leaders of the Foundation were in total agreement with Washington’s post-WWII projection of world power. A noted scholar of the period writes: “At times it seemed as if the Ford Foundation was simply an extension of government in the area of international cultural propaganda. The foundation had a record of close involvement in covert actions in Europe, working closely with Marshall Plan and CIA officials on specific projects” (Ibid, p.139). This is graphically illustrated by the naming of Richard Bissell as President of the Foundation in 1952. In his two years in office Bissell met often with the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, and other CIA officials in a “mutual search” for new ideas. In 1954 Bissell left Ford to become a special assistant to Allen Dulles in January 1954 (Ibid, p. 139). Under Bissell, the Ford Foundation was the “vanguard of Cold War thinking”.

One of the Ford Foundation’s first Cold War projects was the establishment of a publishing house, Inter-cultural Publications, and the publication of a magazine, Perspectives in Europe, in four languages. The Ford Foundation’s purpose according to Bissell was not “so much to defeat the leftist intellectuals in dialectical combat (sic) as to lure them away from their positions” (Ibid, p. 140). The board of directors of the publishing house was completely dominated by cultural Cold Warriors. Given the strong leftist culture in Europe in the post-war period, Perspectives failed to attract readers and went bankrupt.

Teesta SetalvadAnother journal, Der Monat, funded by the Confidential Fund of the U.S. military and run by Melvin Lasky was taken over by the Ford Foundation, to provide it with the appearance of independence (Ibid, p. 140).

In 1954 the new president of the Ford Foundation was John McCloy. He epitomized imperial power. Prior to becoming president of the Ford Foundation he had been Assistant Secretary of War, president of the World Bank, High Commissioner of occupied Germany, chairman of Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank, Wall Street attorney for the big seven oil companies and director of numerous corporations. As High Commissioner in Germany, McCloy had provided cover for scores of CIA agents (Ibid, p. 141).

McCloy integrated the Ford Foundation with CIA operations. He created an administrative unit within the Ford Foundation specifically to deal with the CIA. McCloy headed a three person consultation committee with the CIA to facilitate the use of the Ford Foundation for a cover and conduit of funds.

With these structural linkages the Ford Foundation was one of those organizations the CIA was able to mobilize for political warfare against the anti-imperialist and pro-communist left. Numerous CIA “fronts” received major Ford Foundation grants. Numerous supposedly “independent” CIA sponsored cultural organizations, human rights groups, artists and intellectuals received CIA/FF grants.

One of the biggest donations of the Ford Foundation was to the CIA organized Congress for Cultural Freedom which received $7 million by the early 1960s. Numerous CIA operatives secured employment in the Ford Foundation and continued close collaboration with the Agency (Ibid, p. 143).

From its very origins there was a close structural relation and interchange of personnel at the highest levels between the CIA and the FF. This structural tie was based on the common imperial interests which they shared.

The result of their collaboration was the proliferation of a number of journals and access to the mass media which pro-US intellectuals used to launch vituperative polemics against Marxists and other anti-imperialists. The Ford Foundation funding of these anti-Marxists organizations and intellectuals provided a legal cover for their claims of being “independent” of government funding (CIA).

Arvind KejriwalHe concludes that the Ford Foundation is well situated to replay its role as collaborator to cover for the New Cultural Cold War.

The Ford Foundation claims that it helps the third world to strengthen democracy. If we go by this argument, that should keep India safe because the US claims to further the cause of democracy while India is the largest democracy, right?

According to journalist Surajit Dasgupta, that notion is wrong. He says that the Americans often follow an Indira Gandhi-like policy: Romancing with nefarious elements till they serve as Pentagon’s puppets. A deep probe into the [dead link] site reveals that the Ford Foundation has dirty pro-Islamic businesses it would rather be silent on.

There have been a number of reports by journalists about it founding anti-Israel NGOs. It is also worth noting that Henry Ford created the Ford Foundation while he was involved in and impressed by Nazi Germany, two years before he received his award. Remember, Ford also had a factory in Imperial Japan and, for some unexplained reason in March 1945, Japan sent orders for a pro-independence committee to be formed in Indonesia.

Former Ford Foundation president Richard Bisell acknowledged that the purpose of the Ford Foundation was not “so much to defeat the Leftist intellectuals in dialectical combat as to lure them away from their positions”. In other words, you make them work in ‘harmless’ activities, and not in those that may eventually pose a threat to the interests of the US Administration. – IBNLive, 25 April 2015

» D. P. Satish is IBN’s correspondent south of the Vindhyas. He tweets at @dpsatishcnnibn.

Embassy of the United States of America, New Delhi

See also


2 Responses

  1. Other developing countries should take a leaf from India’s book. Philanthropic institutions, charities, foreign aid sponsors, etcetera, are welcomed with open arms in the developing world. We are at most times blinded by the ‘good faith’ of these organizations and don’t often think beyond the dangling carrot.
    We should not shun any charitable course, however in the same breath one should not be overwhelmed by it without proper understanding and rational enquiry.
    As the old saying goes…”the only free lunch is the cheese in the mousetrap.”

  2. Ford Foundation on India government watch list: Govt orders all funds from the US-based non-profit organization to be routed to recipients only after the home ministry’s approval – Elizabeth Roche – Live Mint – New Delhi – 23 April 2015

    New Delhi: India has placed Ford Foundation on a watchlist and ordered all funds from the US-based non-profit organization to be routed to recipients only after the home ministry’s approval, citing national security concerns.

    The home ministry has asked the Reserve Bank of India to instruct all banks to ensure funds given by Ford Foundation to Indian recipients be brought to its notice and disbursed only after its clearance.

    The ministry said in its order that it wanted to ensure funds coming from Ford Foundation were utilized for “bonafide welfare activities without compromising on concerns of national interest and security”.

    The move follows the Gujarat government last week seeking a probe into the alleged misuse of funds by a non-governmental organization (NGO) run by human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, one of the reported recipients of grants from the New York-based charity.

    Setalvad is one of the main campaigners seeking justice for the 2002 Gujarat riot victims. The Gujarat government had sought a probe into the alleged misuse of funds by Setalvad’s NGO to stoke “communal disharmony”, the Press Trust of India reported.

    The action comes at a time when India-US relations are on an upswing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US in September and President Barack Obama was chief guest at the Indian Republic Day celebrations in January.

    Before he became Prime Minister in May 2014, Modi was denied a US visa for 10 years because of the 2002 riots that took place when he was Gujarat chief minister and in which many Muslims were killed.

    The US embassy declined comment on Thursday’s development. Ford Foundation could not be reached for a comment.

    NGOs and lobby groups have been on the central government’s radar for a while now following reports by intelligence agencies that they had been playing a role inimical to India’s economic growth by campaigning against power projects, mining and genetically modified food.

    Previously, the Modi government had barred Greenpeace India from receiving foreign funds on the grounds that it has “prejudicially affected the economic interest of the state”.

    (PTI contributed to this story.)

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