“I’ve never met either of the Koch brothers, I suspect that like most libertarians, they’d rather avoid the unseemly world of politics as often as possible, where winning generally means forcing other people to bend to your will. (David Koch did run for Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980, but on a platform of legalizing drugs and prostitution, and abolishing the FBI and CIA.) They seem more interested in contributing to voluntary, civil society, by promoting ideas … the arts, research, and by fighting particularly pernicious laws like the PATRIOT Act…”
—Radley Balko, “The Koch Brothers’ Right-Wing Conspiracy to Undermine the PATRIOT Act,” Feb. 25, 2011
If the Kochs are so anti-interventionist, then why does a 2005 State Department cable show Charles Koch’s premier libertarian think-tank meddling in the former Soviet Union and circle-jerking with one of the most notorious CIA/State Department front-groups for the American Empire?
The cable is brief, but revealing: Titled “Tajikistan: Freedom House In Strategic Retreat,” the communique was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on November 9, 2005, and notified the folks back home that Freedom House, an infamous CIA/State Department outfit that had been tasked with funding pro-Western opposition movements and seeding regime change across the former Soviet Union, was being booted out of Tajikistan and had no choice but to abandon the NGO front group it had set up in the country. But luckily all was not lost. As the cable explained, the Institute of Humane Studies, a libertarian recruitment and educational organization controlled by Charles Koch since the early 1960s, had come to the rescue, and was ready and willing take over running and funding the Tajik NGO directly.
It would seem the Kochs have been more involved in meddling in the internal affairs of other countries than they and their lackeys lead on…
SUBJECT: TAJIKISTAN: FREEDOM HOUSE IN STRATEGIC RETREAT
¶1. (SBU) Primarily due to the ending of its DRL grant, Freedom House is shifting its Tajikistan efforts to a local NGO. Robert Freedman, Washington-based Program Director, told the Ambassador November 9 that Freedom House did not want its Tajik partners and human rights defenders to feel abandoned. In order to maintain a presence, and build on the NGO’s successes, local staff had founded and registered a new NGO, Freedom, to work with the human rights community. Although DRL funding has expired, Freedman said potential donors, especially the Institute for Humane Studies, are interested in funding a Tajik think tank to allow journalists and scholars to look at domestic problems and find domestic solutions.”
¶2. (SBU) Freedman observed that Tajikistan provided a great deal of “political space” in which human rights workers and others met freely and discuss sensitive issues without fear of arrest or repercussions from the government. “This would never happen in Uzbekistan,” he emphasized. He gave the example of a Tajik student who participated in a Freedom House training program, and then published an op-ed piece about her positive experience. He did caution that freedom of expression might be constrained in the period leading to the November 2006
¶3. (SBU) COMMENT: For a director whose NGO has been specifically targeted by the Tajik government, Freedman was surprisingly positive about the human rights atmosphere in Tajikistan. However, as pleased as we are that things are not as bad as in Uzbekistan, the situation for NGOs in Tajikistan is far from good. We support the notion of establishing a think tank in Dushanbe, particularly one focused on economic or legal rights, which would fill a need for more focused intellectual debate. END COMMENT.
What exactly were the Kochs doing in Tajikistan? Why the interest in helping train Tajik “journalists and scholars to look at domestic problems and find domestic solutions”? The answer might lie with Freedom House, the non-governmental organization the Kochs had volunteered to replace.
For those not familiar with the organization, let’s just say Freedom House isn’t what you’d call a typical NGO. It’s not big on charity, feeding starving third-world kids or even educating them—and is about as far from libertarianism and libertarian ideals as you can possibly get.
Initially founded by Eleanor Roosevelt as part of FDR’s domestic propaganda effort to get Americans excited about WWII and fighting the Nazis, the NGO eventually evolved into a semi-covert operations arm of the CIA/State Department. It is staffed and run by spooks, and funded almost exclusively by the federal government. Its mission is “to challenge regimes hostile to U.S. interests and values” while “promoting the cause of political and economic freedom outside the U.S.” Over the years it provided covert support to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua and has had a huge presence in Cuba, serving as a base for all sorts of harebrained ploys to destabilize and fuck with Fidel’s rule. A Cuba UN rep described it as “a machinery of subversion, closer to an intelligence service than an NGO.”
During the Bush years, Freedom House was a natural hangout for hardcore neocons. In the early 2000s, headed by James Woolsey, former head of the CIA and a grade-A neocon (who now lobbies on behalf of an Iranian terrorist organization), Freedom House’s primary mission became regime change and propaganda warfare in support of Bush’s insane plan to take over the world. [Read Mark Ames' 2005 "Freedom's Just Another Word For Fascism."] Freedom House was also involved in the brief coup against President Hugo Chavez in 2002, but its main focus during the Bush years was Russia and the former Soviet Union. That’s where it really shined.
From 2000 to 2004, Freedom House, along with Soros’ Open Society Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy, engineered political opposition movements that toppled old Soviet-era leadership in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine and installed “reformers” handpicked by U.S. business interests. It funded and set up political groups, NGOs and media organizations that rallied behind freemarket ideas and Western-friendly politicians. They trained organizers and activists and had PR experts cook up catchy slogans and logos. The plan was to tap into people’s genuine desire for reform and channel their naive trust in the West into votes for politicians who took their marching orders directly from the IMF.In Georgia, the organization helped elect Mikheil Saakashvili, a man groomed by the State Department to play the role of a Western stooge. Meanwhile, Ukraine got Viktor Yushchenko, head of the Ukrainian Central Bank who had married a State Department spook and former member of the Reagan administration. Freedom House called it “democracy building,” and that is exactly what it was hoping to do in Tajikistan when the Tajiks got wise and booted them out of the country.
Cheney and Bush hanging with the help…
So where does the Institute for Humane Studies fit into Freedom House’s regime change marathon?
Today, the Institute for Humane studies is a place where Kochite elders like Reason’s editor Nick Gillespie and its anti-police state expert (now HuffPo star columnist) Radley Balko are paid to train up-and-coming Koch warriors. But through the 40-plus years of its existence, the Institute has been one the Kochs’ premiere libertarian organizations and served as a home base for the biggest names in libertarian thought, including Friedrich Von Hayek.
The Kochs themselves are supposed to be strict adherents of the libertarian way: against state intervention and the projection of government power both domestically and internationally. And it seems that they are. After all, David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980, and sought to abolish the CIA, among other things. According to Justin Raimondo, the paleolibertarian editor of Antiwar.com, that’s what makes them different: “the one factor that sets the Kochs apart from post-cold war conservatives (and liberals), and that is their untrammeled anti-militarism.”
So it’s easy to see how people would get the impression that the Kochs are staunch anti-interventionists. Even Glenn Greenwald thinks the Kochs, through their Cato Institute, are all about peace and love–seemingly no different than Code Pink:
Whatever else is true, there are people on the Right who believe in the same things people on the Left when it comes to war and civil liberties. Anyone can go read the Cato Institute’s writing about these issues over the last seven years and let me know which group has done more to oppose extremist Bush policies than they have.
The Institute for Humane Studies, as well as other Koch libertarian outfits like Cato Institute, have had a history of translating and smuggling banned libertarian literature into the Soviet Union. But the Kochs’ involvement with Freedom House is different. It was no longer just about spreading ideas, but about taking over for a CIA arm designed for foreign intervention and regime change.
And why would the Kochs want to do that?
It’s not clear. The Wikileaks cable dump make no further mention of the Kochs’ involvement in Tajikistan, so we don’t know why they wanted in on the project or how it turned out for them in the end, but that doesn’t really matter. Just the fact that they were on the scene, buddying up with war-crazed neocons, CIA goons and State Department bureaucrats famed for their covert regime change ops tells us all we need to know: the anti-interventionist/anti-empire position of libertarianism is just another Koch con meant to give libertarians credibility, and bowl over gullible lefties and progressives into supporting the Kochs’ brutal 19th century economic policies.
But there’s more to it than that.
Interestingly, just a month before the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe sent the above cable, a guy named Peter Ackerman replaced Woosley as the head of Freedom House. As it turns out, Ackerman, a finance guy who worked with Michael Milken and got rich off junk bonds, had served on Cato Institute’s Board of Directors since 1995. But his connections to the Koch propaganda machine seems to go even deeper: Ackerman had studied non-violent political movements under Gene Sharp and wrote a dissertation on how to create and manipulate astroturf movements in order to achieve political change. And guess what? In Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe write that a book Ackerman wrote on the subject is required reading for FreedomWorks employees.
All of a sudden, the Kochs’ involvement in funding propaganda and potentially helping organize a fake opposition group in a country halfway across the world no longer appears to be out of character. After all that’s what their vast libertarian/free-market apparatus is designed to do right here in America. And there’s no reason it can’t scale up to go international.
Yasha Levine is an editor of The eXiled. You can reach him at levine [at] exiledonline.com. Want to know more? Read Yasha Levine and Mark Ames’ article about the “Koch-Hayek Social Security-Fanboy Letters”: Monster Koch Bust: Charles Koch Used Social Security to Lure Friedrich von Hayek to America.
Read Yasha Levine’s dispatches from the frontlines of California’s real estate meltdown: Victorville.
Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.
Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.
Twitter twerps can follow us at twitter.com/exiledonline