As a longtime activist, I have always been puzzled (and frustrated) by the dogmatic attitude towards violence among American progressives. In European countries, the working class has organized itself into a militant anti-austerity movement, particularly in Spain, Greece and Italy. They smash windows, burn cars and corporate property, set up barricades and defend themselves against police brutality.
In the US, in contrast, there is no cohesive anti-austerity movement. You see occasional anti-austerity rallies and protest marches. However the participants are nearly always middle class students, academics and professionals. Even though they suffer the brunt of state and federal austerity cuts, there is virtually no participation by the low income and unemployed Americans who are most affected by federal and state austerity cuts.
Moreover protest organizers are always quite adamant that protesters must not damage corporate or police property. And if the police kick, punch or club you over the head, you are absolutely forbidden to fight back. As Peter Gelderloos describes in The Failure of Nonviolent: From the Arab Spring to Occupy, activists who violate these stringent rules may be subject to violent attack by fellow protesters.
All this struck me as quite odd, until I learned that the CIA has been funding so-called “left gate keeping foundations” for nearly sixty years. Frances Stonor Saunders outlines the strategy in her 2000 Cultural Cold War: the CIA and the World of Arts and Letters.
According to Sanders, right wing corporate-backed foundations and the CIA have been funding the non-communist left since the late sixties. The clear purpose here is to drown out and marginalize more militant leftists.
The CIA, along with the Pentagon and more recently the State Department, has also invested heavily in institutions promoting non-violent resistance. By far the most prominent are the Albert Einstein Institution and the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC).
Both receive major corporate and/or government funding, mainly through CIA “pass-through” foundations. While the ICNC is funded mainly by the private fortune of hedge fund multimillionaire (junk bond king Michael Milken’s second in command) Peter Ackerman, the AEI has received funding from the Rand Corporation and the Department of Defense, as well as various CIA-linked foundations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the US Institute of Peace and the Ford Foundation (see Does the CIA Fund Both the Right and the Left? and The Cointelpro Role of Left Gatekeeping Foundations).
All of these foundations have a long history of collaborating with the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA in destabilizing governments unfriendly to US interests.
Gene Sharp: Godfather of Institutional Nonviolence
The unquestioned godfather of nonviolent resistance is an 85-year-old Bostonian named Gene Sharp, founder and director of the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI). The AEI bills itself as a “nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of non-violent action.”
Sharp is most famous for his 1993 book From Dictatorship to Democracy. This and other Sharp handbooks on nonviolent protest were widely disseminated in the Eastern Europe Color Revolutions, in the Arab spring revolutions and in the Occupy movement in the US (see Michael Barker’s Nonviolence in the Service of Imperialism).
More recently Sharp has passed the baton to his disciple Peter Ackerman. It was Ackerman who conducted nonviolence trainings in Cairo and Tunisia in 2009-2010 (see Foreign Policy Journal and New York Times).
Peter Ackerman, head of ‘Overthrow, Inc.’
The institutional nonviolence clique has cleverly refocused the debate on whether 85 year old Sharp is a CIA agent and whether he actively participated in US-funded destabilization efforts in Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iran and elsewhere that resulted in so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions. The obvious answer to both questions is no. The more important question is why the alternative media and “official” progressive movement embrace Sharp unconditionally as a fellow progressive without a careful look at his past or his ideological beliefs.
Sharp has never made any secret of his fervent anticommunist views. He also makes no secret of the funding he has received from the Defense Department; the Rand Corporation; CIA-linked foundations, such as NED, the IRI and the US Institute of Peace; and George Soros’s Open Society Institute. All this information is readily available from the AEI website.
Thierry Meyssan’s 2005 Expose
Thierry Meyssan first exposed Gene Sharp’s extensive CIA and Pentagon links in an article The Albert Einstein Institution: Nonviolence According to the CIA he published on Voltaire Net in October 2005. Meyssan, a French intellectual and political activist, first gained international prominence in 2002 by publishing a French best seller entitled L’effroyable imposteur (English title: The Big Lie). The book claimed that the 9-11 attacks were directed by right-wingers in the U.S. government and the military industrial complex, who were seeking justification for military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meyssan’s 2005 article on the Albert Einstein Institutes enumerates a long list of collaborations between Sharp and opposition groups receiving covert US support in campaigns to bring down unfriendly Asian and Eastern European governments.
Iran and Venezuela Denounce Sharp
The article was widely reposted on leftist and libertarian websites. In 2008, it resulted in a formal denunciation of Sharp by the Iranian government and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, both targets of AEI destabilization activities. In June 2008, Stephen Zunes, chair of the Academic Advisory Committee of the Peter Ackerman’s International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) issued a rebuttal, Sharp Attack Unwarranted, in Foreign Policy in Focus. The latter is an on-line magazine of the Institute for Policy Studies, where Zunes serves as Middle East Editor. The article was simultaneously reprinted in the Huffington Post.
Zunes subsequently persuaded Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Code Pink and other high profile progressives to help launch an on-line petition defending Sharp’s progressive credentials. However, as numerous critics point out, he never addressed Meyssan’s most important concerns: the military/intelligence backgrounds of many of the Albert Einstein Institution’s (AEI’s) directors and advisory board members; their documented collaboration, together with Sharp, with the opposition groups who led the “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe; and their work with Venezuelan opposition groups in an effort to topple president Hugo Chavez.
AEI Links with the State Department and the Military-Intelligence Complex
Australian researcher Michael Barker, Canadian activist Stephen Gowans and CIA watchers wrote detailed critiques defending Meyssan’s 2005 expose. Barker’s rebuttal is entitled Sharp Reflection Warranted. Barker’s main argument is that the problem of elite manipulation of ostensibly progressive groups isn’t at all new. He also points readers to excellent links regarding collaboration between the CIA and the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and others.
Gowans argues that Zunes, a paid adviser to the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), is hardly a neutral or objective party, given his involvement with Peter Ackerman and the ICNC. Ackerman, hardly the progressive peace activist, is a Wall Street investment banker, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and head of Freedom House. The latter, according to Noam Chomsky (in Manufacturing Consent), is “interlocked” with the CIA and a “virtual propaganda arm of the (US) government and international right wing.” According to Louis Proyect, Ackerman is also on the advisory board of the ultraconservative Cato Institute’s Project on Social Security Choice. Not surprisingly, this group strongly advocates for privatizing Social Security.
A Close Look at Sharp’s Past
There is no question that Thierry Meyssan’s 2005 article on Gene Sharp’s extensive links to the US military-intelligence complex is one of the most important exposes of the 21st century. Its only weakness is Meyssan’s failure to cite many of his sources. The following is the best publicly verifiable chronology of Sharp’s life (based on Meyssan’s article with sources added):
1953 – conscientious objector during Korean War, imprisoned for nine months for refusing to report for alternative duty. Imprisoned for refusing to fight in Korean War ( (People and The Progressive).
1973 – publishes The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973) with an introduction by Thomas C. Shelling. Shelling was a well known economist and professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy, and arms control. After working with US ambassador Averel Harriman in Paris in 1948 to implement the Marshall Plan, Shelling had a fifty year affiliation with the Rand Corporation (US military think tank) and is widely credited as the theoretician behind military escalation in Vietnam.
1983 – founds the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) in Boston, with the assistance of Major General Edward B Atkeson, who was on the first AEI advisory board. The AEI website identifies Atkeson as Senior Fellow at the Institute of Land Warfare Association of the US Army. According to the CIA website, during the 1980s Atkeson was also a National Intelligence Officer for General Purpose Forces.
1985 – publishes a book entitled Making Europe Unconquerable: the Potential of Civilian-base Deterrence and Defense. The second edition includes a preface by George Kennan, historian and State Department senior diplomat whose writings influenced Truman in the creation of the Truman Doctrine. Kennan is viewed as the father of the US foreign policy of “containment” (by force) of Soviet expansion.
1986, 1988 and 1989 – travels to Israel/Palestine to bolster support for the Palestinian Center for the History of Non-Violence, founded in 1983 by one of Sharp’s disciple. It’s a matter of public record that Sharp met with Colonel Reuvan Gal, who directed the Israel Defense Force (IDF) Psychological Action Division. Meyssan claims the two conspired to create a split in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) by creating a dissident “nonviolent” group. Gal and Sharp claim the purpose of their meetings were to devise ways to dissuade IDF commanders from using tanks and excessive military force against Palestinian settlers (see The Jeruselem Fund, Mubarak Awad, and Nonviolence).
1987 – receives funding from the US Institute of Peace to host seminars instructing US allies on defense based on civil disobedience. By law, the US Institute of Peace integrates elements of US intelligence.
1989 – assists Colonel Robert Helvey in training anticommunist Burmese opposition groups concerned about the growing strength of the Burmese Communist Party. The AEI website refers to Helvey as a retired US military officer and ex-military attaché in Burma. He was actually a thirty year veteran of the Defense Intelligence Agency with extensive experience in overseeing clandestine and subversive operations in Southeast Asia (see Guerrillas Without Guns Col Helvey Weaponizing Nonviolence and Peace Magazine Archive). Following his retirement from the Defense Intelligence Agency, Helvey has been board member and president of the Albert Einstein Institution.
1990 – with his AEI team (according to AEI website), assists Lithuanian opposition leaders in organizing popular resistance against the Red Army. According to the website, the AEI also did trainings with anticommunist opposition groups in Tibet, Estonia, and Belarus.
1998 – travels, with Helvey, to Eastern Europe to train Otpor, a group of Serbian youth opposed to Slobodan Milosevic and Europe’s last communist government. Milosevic was immensely popular with Serbian people for standing up to NATO and for his generous social policies. The trainings were funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). (See 2000 New York Times interview with NED officer Paul B. McCarthy).
2003 – assists, with AEI staff, in the launch of the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia (see The Secrets of the Georgian Coup).
2004 – Helvey and other AEI members meet with the Ukrainian resistance in Kiev (see Mowat’s Coup d’État in Disguise).
2003-2004 – travels, with Helvey and other AEI team members to Venezuela to meet with wealthy Venezuelan opposition leaders, following the failed 2002 CIA-sponsored coup against Chavez. The AEI advises them in organizing a recall referendum against Chavez. They also train the leaders of Súmate during the August 2004 demonstrations and assist in the formulation of “Operation Guarimba”, a series of often-violent street blockades that result in several deaths. According to an analysis published by Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), Venezuelan student leaders traveled to Belgrade in 2005 to meet with representatives of AEI-trained OTPOR/CANVAS, before traveling to Boston to consult directly with Sharp himself.
Fast Forward to the “Arab Spring”
As I mention above, Peter Ackerman and the ICNC seem to have taken over from Sharp in the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011. As others have documented elsewhere, the 2011 uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa were neither spontaneous nor indigenous.
Many of the individuals and groups who helped organize them received training (in the US) sponsored by the State Department and CIA-linked democracy manipulating foundations (see L’Arabesque Americaine by French-Canadian analyst Ahmed Bensada and Tony Cartalucci’s Soros Celebrates the Fall of Tunisia). The New York Times lends further credibility to these claims in their April 2011 U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings.