U.S. enforces strict surveillance on NGOs for national security

 (Courtesy of Asian Tribune)

Sri Lanka has taken numerous measures in the interest of its national security as much as the United States has taken or intend to take in the form of scrutinizing and vetting non-governmental organizations operating within the United States and abroad tied up to ‘Uncle Sam’s dollars.’

Both these countries have the right to take steps and measures in the interest of their national security.

The Obama administration plans to scrutinize and vet Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds to ensure they are not connected with individuals and groups associated with terrorism as a national security priority. The plan, which is before the current session of the U.S. Congress incorporated in the ‘State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill 2014′, would require the NGO and INGO organizations to give the government detailed information about key personnel handling those organizations. The program is described in the bill now before the U.S. House of Representatives, as the Partner Vetting System (PVS).

It demands for the first time that nongovernmental organizations file information with the government on each officer, board member and key employee and those associated with an application for USAID funds or managing a project when funded including name, address, date and place of birth, citizenship, Social Security and passport numbers, sex, and profession or other employment data. The data collected “will be used to conduct national security screening” to ensure these persons have no connection to entities or individuals “associated with terrorism” or “deemed to be a risk to national security,”

The Obama administration considers this step vital to national security interests.

Such screening normally involves sending the data to the FBI and intelligence agencies to see if negative information surfaces.

The new system would also require that the groups turn over the individuals’ telephone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses, another indication that those numbers would be checked against data collected as part of a terrorist screening program run by the U.S. intelligence community.

The far broader proposed vetting program would involve U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies and could result in the denial of applications for funding.

In the interest of national security concerns, if adverse information about handlers of the NGOs and INGOs surface the U.S. intelligence agencies will then take upon themselves to act accordingly.

It is interesting to note that while the United States has taken measures, in the interest of its national security to enact legislation to have a closer scrutiny and tab on NGO’s based in the U.S. and foreign-connected INGOs and their officials, manner in which they expend and handle funds, whether the NGOs and INGOs operate contrary to U.S. foreign policy and national security interests, Sri Lanka has initiated steps to have a closer scrutiny of the locally-based NGO’s receiving funds from foreign sources in its national security interests especially concerned about its sovereignty and territorial integrity at a time former professionals and activists of the now-defunct separatist/terrorist movement Tamil Tigers are operating within the Tamil Diaspora to bifurcate Sri Lanka the Tamil Tigers failed to achieve with an armed struggle for more than two decades.

Further, while the Obama administration sponsored legislation to a have a firm grip on the NGO and INGO organizations now before the House of Representative which is expected to take effect in the new Fiscal Year commencing October 2014, the administration’s public diplomacy agency, Department of State, has already issued a statement critical of the Sri Lanka move to scrutinize the NGOs and INGOs operating in that country. The State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, describing the Sri Lanka Defense Ministry measure to scrutinize the NGOs said at the Washington daily briefing to the media that it “undermines Sri Lanka’s longstanding and proud democratic traditions, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”

The State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, 2014 has incorporated the Partner Vetting System (PVS) as follows:

(Text) Deleting the first proviso and requiring the Secretary of State and USAID Administrator to jointly submit a report on the Partner Vetting System (PVS) pilot program, not less than 30 days after the completion of the pilot program, which shall include the estimated timeline and criteria for evaluating the PVS pilot program for expansion, including efforts to standardize and streamline vetting processes and programs, a description of consultations with governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders affected by the pilot program, including long-standing implementing partners and United States Government staff based in the field, concerns raised during such consultations, and any changes USAID and the Department of State plan to make in response to such concerns. The Committee expects the PVS pilot program that is intended to safeguard against the inadvertent disbursement of funds to a terrorist or terrorist organization to be fully implemented and directs all stakeholders within the Executive branch to coordinate such implementation to maximize efficiency, including to ensure its equal application to the programs and activities of the Department of State and USAID. (End Text)

Under Special Provisions the bill states (Text) (f) Partner Vetting- Funds appropriated in this Act or any prior Acts making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs shall be used by the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator, as appropriate, to support the continued implementation of the Partner Vetting System (PVS) pilot program (End Text)

USAID will perform a Risk Based Analysis (RBA) to determine the risk of diversion of resources to those who are “terrorists, supporters of terrorists or affiliated with terrorists, including people or organizations who are not specifically designated by the U.S. Government but who may nevertheless be linked to terrorist activities”

Key factors USAID will use include the “nature of the program, the type of entity implementing the activity…..the geographic location of the activity, the safeguards available and how easily funds can be diverted. Other considerations may include the urgency of the activity and the foreign policy importance of the activity.”

The State Department and the USAID provide the following explanation to justify the scrutiny and vetting of NGO and INGO organizations.

“USAID functions in areas of high terrorist activity, and vetting enables the Agency to enhance oversight of tax payer dollars by accessing intelligence and law enforcement databases as a further safeguard of program funds.

“USAID currently conducts vetting programs in certain high [threat or risk–choose one] areas of the world. These vetting programs have proven successful in preventing funds going to unintended recipients and provide a further deterrent to individuals associated with terrorism applying for contracts and/or grants from USAID.

However, USAID functions in other parts of the world where the risks differ from these locations. The Agency intends to use the PVS pilot program to inform decisions about the future application of vetting to agency

“Through the PVS, information collected from individuals, officers, employees, or other officials of organizations that seek to receive USAID funding will be used to conduct national security screening of such individuals and organizations to ensure that USAID funds do not inadvertently benefit individuals or entities that are terrorists, supporters of terrorists or affiliated with terrorists. To properly conduct this screening, it is necessary to collect information on “key individuals”–the principal officers and other key employees and personnel of USAID contractors and recipients. Before USAID applies vetting to a particular planned award, it will perform a risk based assessment (RBA).”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reacted to Obama administration’s move to scrutinize and vet non-governmental organizations in this manner:

“This is a very real concern. PVS has been designed to enable USAID to use the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) to determine whether ?key individuals?2 associated with an award applicant are ?terrorists, supporters of terrorists or affiliated with terrorists.?3 The Background on the proposed rule also states that the program is concerned with identifying those ?linked to terrorist activities.?4 The TSC, administered by the FBI, houses the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB, known as the Watchlist), the U.S. government‘s consolidated terrorist list. The names on the list are secret and are not limited to individuals and entities designated as terrorists by the U.S. government, which are already identified on lists that are made public by the Departments of Treasury and State. It also includes unpublished, secret intelligence databases that are centralized at the TSC.

“The TSC shares information in the TSDB with thousands of law enforcement officers at every level of government and with 22 foreign governments. In some cases the information is shared with private-sector individuals.”

It is a reality that both the United States and Sri Lanka have grave concern for their national security.

The U.S. is still a target of Islamist/Jihadists. Since the attack on 11 September 2001 by Jihadists on the American soil, both the Bush and Obama administrations have taken stringent measures toward national security. The scrutiny and intense vetting of non-governmental organizations proposed by the Obama administration, its intention to bring the vetting process to the statute books is therefore understandable considering the national security threats the United States is facing at present.

Similarly, Sri Lanka just ended, May 2009, a long secessionist war – twenty six years long – that threatened its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and it entire democratic framework. When most Western military and political experts believed the indispensability of the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) separatist/terrorist movement, Sri Lanka annihilated the movement with its top, second and third leadership physically removed.

Nevertheless, it was a domestic defeat as Sri Lanka learned the hard way since May 2009. The professionals and activists who counseled the Tamil Tigers, the activists who organized fundraisers in most western nations, those who provided ‘material support’ to the Tigers and others who even professed procuring military hardware describing the movement a liberation movement have now teamed together within the Tamil Diaspora to bifurcate Sri Lanka using diplomatic channels.

With this real threat in the making, Sri Lanka has taken numerous measures in the interest of its national security as much as the United States has taken or intend to take in the form of scrutinizing and vetting non-governmental organizations operating within the United States and abroad tied up to ‘Uncle Sam’s dollars.’
Both these countries have the right to take steps and measures in the interest of their national security.

The United States needs to understand the national security threat Sri Lanka is facing with operatives in western nations within the Tamil Diaspora endeavor to achieve what the Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran could not achieve through his protracted armed struggle that brought misery, mayhem, destruction and economic ruin to this South Asian nation.

What the Obama administration, through its State Department and USAID that are critical of the measures Sri Lanka is currently endeavor to put in place to scrutinize the NGO in the interest of national security, intends bringing legislation is in the interest of its national security and foreign policy goals.

By Daya Gamage 


897 Viewers