Tasneem Khalil. Photo: Screengrab of a video posted by him on Facebook

Finally, the chickens have come home to roost.

Tasneem Khalil’s recent admission in a Facebook live chat with a Dhaka University professor, Fahmidul Haq of mass communication and journalism department, has taken the lid off Netra News (run by Khalil with British do-gooder David Bergman, the son-in-law of Dr Kamal Hossain who headed a coalition of opposition parties including anti-liberation forces during the last general election, in bringing up the rear).

Khalil admitted that Netra News relies for funding on the National Endowment for Democracy or NED, a non-government organisation that operates from the US. He says that the NED dispatches funds to help establish independent media outlets that speak up against human rights abuse in countries across the world.

He admitted that Netra News was set up in 2019 with the financial assistance from the NED. He also revealed that the operational cost of the outlet depends on the grant allocated by NED.

So, what is the National Endowment for Democracy?

Khalil would do well to read a magnum opus, “The US Intelligence Community” by Jeffrey T Richelson, the biggest global expert on US intelligence, who has also authored another great book, “The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology”. Richelson taught in several US universities and was a senior fellow at the National Security Archive in Washington.

Khalil’s certification of NED is from the NGOs website that carries all the nice things about the great American dream of promoting democracy across the world. He neither has the intent for understandable reasons nor the expertise to figure out how NED figures in the US intelligence’s scheme of things. That’s not the case with Richelson — he is a seasoned US academic with long years of research in US intelligence operations and knows what he is talking about.

In the 16th chapter titled “Covert Action” of the 592-page book “The US Intelligence Community”, Richelson says that after the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 Islamist terror attack on the Twin Towers, there was a fundamental shift in the operational credo of US external intelligence (CIA, Bureau of Intelligence and Research of State Department, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency).

Let’s see what Richelson says:

“The Soviet collapse meant the end of a worldwide ideological conflict — a conflict that led to covert support for publications in Western Europe and elsewhere that advanced democratic values and sought to undermine propaganda of the Soviet Union and other Marxist entities. In contrast, no similar worldwide ideological conflict was being waged between the United States and its allies on one side and Iraq, North Korea and Libya on the other.”

“In addition, activities such as the support of political parties or broadcasting that would have been conducted as covert operations are now often done overtly. Thus, the National Endowment for Democracy provided support to Nicaraguan political parties who ran against the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections.”

Richelson quotes a secret Sept 22, 1989 National Security Directive that declared: “The Department of State shall undertake a vigorous overt program to support a free and fair election process. Every effort will be made, consistent with US law, to assist the democratic opposition to compete effectively with the Sandinista regime.”

The directive specified that there will be no covert, old school cloak and dagger action in Nicaragua but an overt program to overturn the Sandinista regime. The Nicaraguan operation became the signature new generation US intelligence operation in which nice-sounding NGOs like National Endowment for Democracy were deployed for bringing down regimes unpalatable for the US and who were not considered democracies by the US. That the US passion for promoting democracy is sheer bunkum has been brought home by Washington’s direct and often bloody sponsorship of coups and military takeovers in Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, Chile and at least a dozen other countries.

Who brought down an elected Iran government headed by Mossadegh and who installed the Pahlavi monarchy in its place? The US, of course. Not to forget the controversial US intelligence role in bringing down the Awami League government through a carefully crafted military takeover that involved the assassination of the entire family of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (with only his two daughters escaping the brutal bloodbath).

So there is no doubt that the National Endowment for Democracy is funded, primed and tasked by the US intelligence community which has been financing its entire budget through the Agency for International Development since 1995. All such funding in the US, even covert operations, needs Congressional approval. So Khalil could spare us his boredom and bombast by trying to convince us about the great US democracy project. Let us enlighten him about his master patrons with a little help from Richelson and David Marples (“The Maidan Revolution in Ukraine”).

A screenshot of Netra News’s About Us page

If 1990 Nicaragua marked the beginning of the new generation hybrid US intelligence operations with the right mix of covert and overt elements, the 2013-14 Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine ushered the dawn of a new generation of US-sponsored regime-change operations, in which public unrest fomented by a wily mix of social media operations and political mobilisation funded by US dollars led to the toppling of a pro-Russian regime under the very nose of President Vladimir Putin, himself a former intelligence czar. Ted Galen Carpenter in his brilliant long-format journalism in “National Interest” online exposed “America’s Ukraine hypocrisy” on Aug 6, 2017.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was not an admirable character. After his election in 2010, he used patronage and other instruments of state power in a flagrant fashion to the advantage of his political party. That high‐handed behaviour and legendary corruption alienated large portions of Ukraine’s population. As the Ukrainian economy languished and fell further and further behind those of Poland and other East European neighbours that had implemented significant market‐oriented reforms, public anger at Yanukovych snowballed. When he rejected the European Union’s terms for an association agreement in late 2013, in favour of a Russian offer, angry demonstrators filled Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, as well as sites in other cities.

Carpenter observes: “Despite his leadership defects and character flaws, Yanukovych had been duly elected in balloting that international observers considered reasonably free and fair—about the best standard one can hope for outside the mature Western democracies. A decent respect for democratic institutions and procedures meant that he ought to be able to serve out his lawful term as president, which would end in 2016.”

“Neither the domestic opposition nor Washington and its European Union allies behaved in that fashion. Instead, Western leaders made it clear that they supported the efforts of demonstrators to force Yanukovych to reverse course and approve the EU agreement or, if he would not do so, to remove the president before his term expired.”

Carpenter’s final take: The extent of the US administration’s “meddling” in Ukraine’s politics was “breathtaking”.

Bangladesh’s regime-change operation was designed after the last parliamentary elections when the religion-based opposition was routed. The planners saw no reason to replicate 1990 Nicaragua in Bangladesh; so they planned a Euromaidan Ukraine version in which sustained social media smear and fake news could be used to whip up public unrest.

It goes without saying that the National Endowment for Democracy is a US-funded NGO to promote regime change, not democracy. Its funds, like those of the Asian Network for Free Elections or ANFREL ( remember their song and dance to send observers for the Bangladesh polls), come from the US intelligence budget. It forms the overt arm of the covert operations of the US and finally its funding of the likes of Netra News.

Moreover, YouTubers Kanak Sarwar, retired colonel Shahid Uddin Khan, retired Major Delwar, Shahid Islam and Mahmudur Rahman are driven by inspirations from the success of the Euromaidan campaign in Ukraine.

Finally, thanks to Khalil for letting the cat out of the bag. We always knew who you and your friends work for but it is great hearing it from you. NED is no democracy temple-making project — it is part of the new overt operations architecture to supplement the covert action capability of the expansionist US.

Sukharanjan Dasguptais a Kolkata-based commentator, BBC stringer and author of ‘Midnight Massacre’ on the 15 August 1975 coup.

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