US Government Propaganda Outlet Funds Electronic Frontier Foundation

Polity News politynews at
Mon Jul 24 13:42:33 PDT 2017

Title: US Government Propaganda Outlet Funds Electronic Frontier Foundation
Author: Rachael Tackett
Date of Publication: July 24, 2017
Website Link:

Text of Article:

Much heralded in the media, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is
depicted as championing digital civil liberties and fighting the US
government’s mass surveillance. EFF also receives money from the same
government that it claims to fight.

The Saga of Radio Free Asia

In the early 1950s, Radio Free Asia was originally a covert CIA project
to help overthrow Communist regimes in Asia. In order to conceal the
true source of its funding, Radio Free Asia set up a fundraising
campaign in the US, called the Crusade for Freedom. The goal of the
fundraising campaign was to supply funds to “…expand the facilities of
Radio Free Asia to carry the battle to China’s Red masters behind the
bamboo curtain…”. In a blatant lie, the director of Radio Free Asia,
John W. Elwood, even told the press, “Because we have no government
ties, we can say anything we damn please.”

The CIA quickly realized that many people in China did not personally
own radios. Instead, listening privately to Western broadcasts inside
mainland China was difficult, since most radios were in communal areas.
The CIA attached radios to balloons in hopes that they would reach
mainland China, but the winds shifted and the radios blew back towards
Taiwan. After several years of running into difficulties, the CIA shut
down the Radio Free Asia project.

According to a news report, the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation
(KCFF) created a new Radio Free Asia in 1966 to continue broadcasting
anti-Communist propaganda to Asia. This new Radio Free Asia was operated
by members of the Unification Church. The Unification Church has been
described as a cult run by Sun Myung Moon.

The Unification Church’s Radio Free Asia had strong ties to the US
government. At some point in their political careers, US Presidents
Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford were all involved with Radio Free
Asia. In fact, during the 1950s, Truman and Eisenhower were also
involved in the CIA’s original Radio Free Asia project.

According to court testimony, a Radio Free Asia fundraiser bribed a
Congressman in 1967 to obtain meeting with CIA officials, but the
fundraiser was blocked from further testimony due to objections by the
Congressman’s defense lawyers. In 1970, a member of the US Congress
received a very strange letter from President Park of Korea thanking the
US government for its support of Radio Free Asia. The Congressman’s
office asked the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) if it was involved in
financing Radio Free Asia. The CIA denied providing any funding.

In the 1970s, the US Congress investigated the Unification Church. There
were allegations that Radio Free Asia was involved in assisting the
Korean government to influence members of the US Congress. The
Unification Church and Radio Free Asia were also accused of having
strong ties to the Korean intelligence service (KCIA). In Congressional
testimony, Radio Free Asia was accused of soliciting donations in the
US. Allegedly, some of these donations would later be diverted to
funding Korean intelligence activities, namely to bribe members of the
US Congress. The Unification Church also tried to keep Nixon in power
during the Watergate scandal [1].

Sometime around 1975, it is reported that the Unification Church’s Radio
Free Asia stopped broadcasting. In the early 1980s, the Unification
Church’s founder was convicted in the US of filing false income tax
returns and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

During a four year period in the late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge is
estimated to be responsible for the deaths of over one million people in
Cambodia. Some of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge would later be
convicted of crimes against humanity in a war crimes tribunal backed by
the United Nations.

In 1978,  Vietnam invaded Cambodia and removed the Khmer Rouge
government from power. The Khmer Rouge fled to refugee camps in
Thailand. In the 1980s, this created an on-going conflict between
Vietnam and Thailand. The US government supplied Thailand with weapons,
including aircraft and tanks [2]. The US government has also been
accused of supporting the Khmer Rouge against Vietnam.

In 1980, a news article described Radio Free Asia as being a joint
operation between Thailand and the United States during the Vietnam War.
The Thailand government used Radio Free Asia again to broadcast
propaganda to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam [2]. Another news article,
appearing in 1990, described a Khmer Rouge brigade commander listening
to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America in hopes of hearing news about a
peace deal [3]. It is important to note that Voice of America is the US
government’s official news outlet abroad.

After the Tienanmen Square protests in China in 1989, there was growing
interest in the US Congress to resurrect Radio Free Asia. Much like its
namesake, the new Radio Free Asia would be dedicated to regime change,
but now with a mission of the more politically palatable euphemism to
“promote democratic change”. While still publicly claiming to be a
private organization, this new Radio Free Asia would be created and
funded by the US Congress. It was a case of déjà vu.

US Government’s “Internet Freedom”

The US Congress normally designates approximately $50 million dollars
every year to internet freedom appropriations. This internet freedom
funding is normally shared between three US government agencies: the
State Department, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and USAID.
A portion of the BBG’s internet freedom funding goes towards Radio Free

Some of the US government’s internet freedom funding is rather
controversial. The funding goes towards supporting internet freedom
projects in countries where the US government would like regime change.
Think of countries such as China, Iran, Cuba, Belarus, Burma, Vietnam,
North Korea, Russia, etc. The US Congress has even passed legislation
tying internet freedom funding to sanctions against Iran to dissuade it
from pursuing nuclear weapons. USAID also caused controversy when it
financed a project to create a “Cuban Twitter” in hopes of stirring
unrest and an uprising against the Cuban government.

Recently, the BBG released a document in response to a public records
request. Specifically, the public records request was for Radio Free
Asia’s internet freedom budget proposal to the BBG. The Electronic
Frontier Foundation (EFF) is listed as a potential vendor on Radio Free
Asia’s budget proposal. EFF confirmed by email that it is receiving
money from Radio Free Asia for STARTTLs Everywhere and updates to
Certbot. The STARTTLs Everywhere project aims to ensure that secure
encryption is used between email servers. The Certbot project is
designed as a client for EFF’s Let’s Encrypt project. The funding from
Radio Free Asia is approximately $200,000.

It is difficult to track the type of government funding that EFF
receives. The US Congress has passed legislation mandating greater
transparency in federal government spending. Earlier this year, a public
records request was sent to the General Services Administration (GSA),
the federal government agency in charge of accepting these funding
transparency reports. In a letter, the GSA stated that it could not find
any record of Radio Free Asia ever submitting a single transparency
report. Since Radio Free Asia has failed to file the transparency
reports, the money that Radio Free Asia gave to EFF does not appear on, the US government’s funding transparency website.

Even though Radio Free Asia was created by the US Congress and is
essentially controlled by the US government, Radio Free Asia insists on
the fiction that it is a nonprofit organization and is exempt from the
federal public records law. Due to the National Defense Authorization
Act of 2017 (NDAA 2017)(§ 310(d)), the CEO of a federal agency, the
Broadcasting Board of Governors, now has the authority to directly hire
and fire some Radio Free Asia employees. Despite several requests, Radio
Free Asia refuses to release any records. In effect, this means that the
internal records of Radio Free Asia’s bidding and contracting process
for its internet freedom program are completely secret.

In June of 2015, the Inspector General for the State Department
published an audit of Radio Free Asia. In order to help distribute
funding for the Open Technology Fund (OTF) program, Radio Free Asia set
up the OTF Advisory Council. The OTF Advisory Council was composed of
people from industry, nonprofits, and universities. Two of EFF’s
employees served on this OTF Advisory Council which evaluated proposed
OTF projects. The Inspector General’s audit found that Radio Free Asia
failed to follow federal procurement requirements and
conflict-of-interest policies. The audit also states that Radio Free
Asia required OTF Advisory Council members to sign nondisclosure agreements.

The type of funding which EFF received may actually be illegal. The
funding which EFF receives from Radio Free Asia falls under the
Smith-Mundt Act. The law prohibits the State Department and the
Broadcasting Board of Governors (including Radio Free Asia) from using
their funding to influence American public opinion. While incidental
exposure to an American audience is technically legal, EFF is an
influential American organization, and on that basis, its projects may
be heavily publicized in the United States. It is difficult to
understand why Radio Free Asia continues to fund domestic American
organizations even though its funding is only intended to influence
foreign audiences (ie. propaganda).

In response to questions about EFF receiving government funding, EFF
Executive Director, Cindy Cohn stated:

“While EFF does not accept U.S. government funding directly, we do
accept funds that originated with the U.S. government if they are
earmarked for specific technology projects like these. EFF’s technology
projects are all open source – the code can be reviewed, added to, or
forked by anyone – and have a clear set of technical goals that serve
the public interest. They are also publicly hosted, currently on Github.
EFF guards its independence fiercely and does not accept funding that
has strings attached to advance anyone else’s agenda. We are proud of
the role that EFF’s technology projects play in building better, safer,
and more free experience for Internet users worldwide.”

It is difficult to independently verify EFF’s statement that it does not
accept funding with strings attached, because Radio Free Asia refuses to
release records on its contracts.

EFF’s facebook page states that the organization “fights for freedom
primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that
means taking on the US government or large corporations.”

The US Congress was very specific in its appropriations that the funding
for internet freedom is to serve the US government’s national security
and foreign policy interests abroad. Somehow, this funding continues to
be directed towards domestic American organizations, such as Tor Project
and Open Whisper Systems. While EFF’s government funding remains a small
portion of its overall budget, it is not difficult to imagine how a
conflict of interest could arise.

Will EFF be able to continue fighting the same government which it also
accepts money from?

Will EFF bite the hand that feeds it?



Citations in Print

1. Patt, D. (1978, April 5). Unification Church Tried to Keep Mr Nixon
in Power During the Watergate Crisis. The Times, p. 7.

2. Kelly, N. (1980, September 30). Thailand Receives US Arms Amid
Reports of Vietnamese Activity. The Times, p. 7.

3. Thayer, N. (1990, July 20). Killing Fields’ Regime’s Fighters Buoyed
by Battlefield Successes. The Charlotte Observer, p. 5A.

The text of this article is released into the public domain. Anyone is
free to translate and republish this article. The featured picture is
from Duke University Library.

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