Published on Countercurrents.org, by Jason Leopold, 11 July, 2008
Since 2006, Congress has poured tens of millions of dollars into a State Department program aimed at promoting regime change in Iran.
The “Democracy Program” initiative has been shrouded in secrecy since its inception and many critics of the initiative (who are also outspoken critics of the Iranian government) believe that it is directly linked to a spate of arrests of dozens of Iranian dissidents suspected of working secretly with the Bush administration to topple the Iranian government.
Up until last November, the program was operated by the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and overseen by David Denehy, the bureau’s senior adviser. The program was reportedly moved last November to the State Department’s Bureau of Iranian Affairs. Denehy did not return calls for comment.
One of the influential figures who helped launch the democracy program was Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, who as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, headed the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group and, with the financial help of a prominent Republican foundation, the International Republican Institute, financed efforts of dozens of Iranian and Syrian exiles to promote a campaign to overthrow their government leaders. Elizabeth Cheney left the State Department last year to work on Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign …
… The final appropriation for 2008 was set at $60 million to be made available for “programs to promote democracy, the rule of law and governance in Iran.”
But a statement that was included with the bill cited only two numbers related to Iran: $21.8 million for Economic Support Funds (ESF) and $8 million for the Democracy Fund. It is unknown how the State Department intends to spend the remainder of the $60 million.
Ong and Parsi have called on the Government Accountability Office to conduct an investigation to examine the effectiveness of the program, which the GAO said it has initiated but could not say when the report would be complete.
Additionally, Ong said she has been trying to educate lawmakers for more than a year on how the program has backfired.
“It’s difficult to bring the voices of Iranian dissidents to the Hill to explain how the program is hurting their cause because if they speak out publicly they will be arrested when they return to Iran and accused of being spies,” Ong said in an interview. “I’ve tried to raise this issue with some members [of Congress] and some listen and some don’t.” (full text).