Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 3, 2007

Peter Ackerman: billionaire sponsor of toxic NGO’s

Filed under: cruise missile left,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 8:07 pm

Peter Ackerman: Michael Milken’s right-hand man and George Soros wannabe

Over on Critical Montages there’s an interesting report on the doings of some NGO’s controlled by Peter Ackerman, a Wall Street investor who once worked closely with Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham in the 1980s. While Milken went to prison for insider trading, Ackerman walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars after the firm went bankrupt.

Modeling himself after George Soros, Ackerman assumed the guise of Deep Thinker after earning a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he now serves as President of the Board of Trustees. Like many other such schools, including Columbia University’s School of International Affairs, Fletcher is a breeding ground for spooks.

The Critical Montages report contains links to exchanges between Greenleft Weekly, an Australian radical newspaper, and some of Ackerman’s minions. It was kicked off by an interview with Eva Gollinger about American efforts to destabilize Venezuela in which she refers to NGO efforts to turn Venezuela students into shock troops against the government:

On top of that, some of the same groups or individuals have participated since 2004 in training sessions with other US entities such as the Albert Einstein Institute and the International Centre on Non-Violent Conflict. These are the entities that were responsible for helping to promote, fund and advise the “coloured” revolutions in Eastern Europe [in the] Ukraine, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Georgia. They failed in Belarus and they began working here in April 2003, first with traditional opposition leaders and then, as in those movements in Eastern Europe, they used young people — students.

Ackerman founded the International Centre on Non-Violent Conflict (ICNC) and is responsible for all its funding. It should be mentioned, of course, that the millions of dollars that is required to keep this operation afloat came out of the piracy that Milken and Ackerman conducted at Drexel Burnham. As masters of the junk bond trade, they were responsible for companies firing tens of thousands of workers as a result of “asset stripping” to cover corporate debt.

Jack DuVall: prime Ackerman operative

Next, Greenleft received a letter from Jack DuVall, the President of ICNC, stating that “the ICNC has never formed any groups in Venezuela or in any other country, nor has it trained groups of Venezuelans,” although he did admit that the ICNC did support the Albert Einstein Institute “for a workshop it conducted on nonviolent action for Venezuelans held in Boston”.

After taking note of DuVall’s complaint to Greenleft, Marxmail subscriber Jacob Levich recalled his own encounter with DuVall on his campus:

If anyone knows the real story behind Jack DuVall and his International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, I’d be extremely grateful to hear it.

This guy, who purports to be some kind of pacifist, travels around the world with a dog-and-pony show centering on movies he’s produced called “Bringing Down a Dictator” and “A Force More Powerful.” His current position on Iraq, which he is selling heavily to college and university crowds, is that the peace movement has no right to oppose the invasion unless it offers an alternative way of getting rid of Saddam. (His suggestion — don’t laugh — is that the Iraqi people should be encouraged to rise up in a Gandhi-style nonviolent mass movement.)

So far as I can tell, he intervenes whenever the US wants to bring down a government by military force, attempting to refocus any First World opposition away from opposing imperialism and toward “bringing down dictators by non violent means.”

I suspect Jack DuVall is a fraud and possibly some kind of spook (see weird career details below) whose aim is to divide the antiwar movement.

(Full post is here. )

Subsequently Michael Barker responded to Duvall’s complaint:

This admission is significant because although Duvall claims the ICNC “ha[s] not and will not accept any support from any government for any purpose”, it has always worked closely with the Albert Einstein Institute [AEI] — a group that does work closely with the US government and the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Duvall gives a false impression that his organisation is totally isolated from US foreign policy elites.

He also took note of Duvall’s shadowy connections, just as Jacob Levich did. For somebody so bent on bringing peace and social justice to the world, Duvall inexplicably agreed to serve on the board of the Arlington Institute alongside John L. Petersen:

According to the Arlington Institute’s website, Peterson’s “government and political experience include stints at the National War College, the Institute for National Security Studies, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council staff at the White House”. On top of this, the Arlington Institute also boasts among its co-founders former head of the CIA James Woolsey.

Stephen Zunes: useful idiot

Next to weigh in was Stephen Zunes, a high-profile leftwing professor who is Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project and a frequent contributor to Znet and Counterpunch, two publications with impeccable leftist credentials. He is also connected to ICNC. Zunes tried to absolve ICNC of all wrongdoing:

The ICNC spends far more time with nonviolent activists from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America than they do with anyone from the Washington establishment. The ICNC has supported workshops for progressive activists around the world challenging US-backed governments, including Palestinians struggling against the Israeli occupation, West Papuans struggling against the Indonesian control and Sahrawis struggling against the Moroccan occupation, as well as pro-democracy activists in Egypt, Azerbaijan, the Maldives, Guatemala and elsewhere.

Barker had the last word and underscored the role of “nonviolent” movements in accomplishing US foreign policy goals:

Returning to his GLW article, he [Zunes] is correct to note that the “U.S. government has historically promoted regime change through military invasions, coup d’etats and other kinds of violent seizures of power by an undemocratic minority”. However, he adds that: “Nonviolent ’people power’ movements of the kind supported by ICNC and other NGOs, by contrast, promote regime change through empowering pro-democratic majorities which the United States and other foreign governments cannot control.”

Crucially, this gross oversimplication neglects the vital role played by soft power in promoting the hegemony of transnational capitalism: “soft” strategies that were pioneered by liberal foundations like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, which worked hand-in-hand with the CIA to create civil society front groups and co-opt progressive activists all over the world (most prominently during the Cold War). Attempts to come to terms with such manipulative and cooptive tactics will be crucial to the sustainability of the left, and such strategies do not come from “some kind of Bush administration conspiracy” as Zunes implies. As I am sure he well knows, such manipulations of civil society have always had strong bipartisan support from political elites.

As somebody who has found Zunes’s articles useful in the past, I felt compelled to send him a note urging him to sever his ties from ICNC since they will destroy his credibility on the left. He has already been attacked in MRZine for his failure to understand why it is wrong to promote peaceful intervention of the sort that ICNC is involved with, even if not a single weapon is used. This is a common fault of left-liberals and even some socialists in the US who signed letters attacking the Cuban government’s arrest of “dissidents” taking money and marching orders from the US. If political and social change is to occur in Iran, Cuba, Venezuela or Ukraine, it has to be at the hands of the people who live in those countries and not at the behest of NGO’s funded by Peter Ackerman’s junk bonds or George Soros’s derivatives for that matter.

A few more words about Peter Ackerman might be in order since he is a truly sinister figure. In fact, compared to Peter Ackerman, George Soros comes across as somebody on the side of the angels.

A June 8, 1992 Businessweek article titled “The Drexel Debacle’s ‘Teflon Guy'” was less than impressed with Ackerman’s business acumen, reporting that his colleagues held him “responsible for a good share of the blundering that pushed Drexel into bankruptcy.” It also reported that even though Ackerman managed to avoid criminal charges, he did figure “prominently in much broader civil charges brought in 1991 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Resolution Trust Corp.” They sued Milken, Ackerman, and two dozen others on behalf of failed Savings and Loans that traded with Drexel. Drexel eventually settled, but at only a small percentage of the firm’s liability. Ackerman had to cough up $80 million, but there was lots left over to play with in Venezuela and other hot spots.

Unlike Michael Milken, Ackerman tried to avoid publicity. This much was known about him, according to Businessweek:

This scholar turned Wall Street dealman turned scholar was raised in a middle-class Jewish household and even attended yeshiva before graduating from Far Rockaway High School in Brooklyn. Yet during his college years at Colgate University and the Fletcher School he became a devout follower of Christian Science after meeting Joanne Leedom, whose mother was a Christian Science teacher. Leedom worked as a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor from 1969 to 1972. Ackerman and Leedom were married around 1971 and have two sons.

As Michael Milken’s right-hand man, Ackerman made a transition into the big swinging dick culture of Wall Street.

In terms of appearance, meanwhile, Ackerman was transformed from a ”frumpy, overweight, college-professor type to this sleek, blue-suited, Turnbull & Asser deal machine.”

In short, Ackerman was absorbed into Milkenism as thoroughly as he had embraced Christian Science. Indeed, he appears to have been simultaneously devoted to both.

After Drexel Burnham crashed and burned, Ackerman continued making a living as an investment banker while using his ill-gotten gains to help him launch ICNC. He is also Chairman of the Board of Freedom House, an outfit that was founded in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt as a wing of US foreign policy. As I have pointed out in the past, the war against fascism, with all its ostensibly progressive connotations, soon morphed into the war against communism and more recently into the war against terrorism (i.e., Islam).

As is the case with the ICNC, Freedom House tries to co-opt progressives onto its Board for the sake of appearances, but none as far left as Zunes. Currently the Board includes Henry Louis Gates Jr., the African-American scholar, and Jay Mazur, the trade union bureaucrat. But they cannot begin to compensate for the presence of a rogue’s gallery that includes libertarian wiseass P.J. O’Rourke, leveraged buy out specialist Theodore Forstmann, and Malcolm S. Forbes Jr.–the beady-eyed ultrarightist who ran for President in 2000.

One of the more thorough write-up’s on Peter Ackerman’s mission to bring democracy to the rest of the world appeared in the New Republic, a magazine I generally have no use for. It was written by Franklin Foer, the new editor who was brought in supposedly to shift the magazine a few degrees to the left. For the past 10 years or so, when the magazine cheered on the Bush administration, it began to lose subscribers by the boatload. Foer writes:

The Rose Revolution–and the nonviolent movements it inspired in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon–represented a vindication for Ackerman and his ideas. And, in Washington at least, they needed it. According to his friends, when Ackerman began hawking the principles of nonviolent struggle to government bureaucrats and think-tank wonks three years ago, much of officialdom considered him a dilettante. His friend and admirer Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, recalls, “I remember him talking to a group more politically seasoned. They were clearly thinking this guy is really off-base: ‘We’re talking about more serious stuff than you.'” But, suddenly, the zeitgeist has turned in Ackerman’s direction. Now some of the same officials who dismissed him have become his boosters. The State Department has distributed his videos to anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba (a fact Ackerman didn’t know until the regime arrested some of these dissidents two years ago and charged them with possessing his films). When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.

Foer is also quite good at capturing Ackerman’s self-importance:

A few months ago, I visited Ackerman in his spacious corner office at the top of a Pennsylvania Avenue building just up the street from the World Bank. Ackerman’s Prada parka and winter tan remind you that you’re not in tattered NGO-land anymore. You’re in the presence of wealth. (When he’s not thinking about regime change, Ackerman invests in start-ups like Fresh Direct, a service that delivers Umbrian olive oil and foie gras to New York City gourmands.) Ackerman, who looks uncannily like Jaws actor Roy Scheider, has a reputation for gabbing at considerable length. “I don’t know if you’ve had any success getting him to stop talking,” one of his acquaintances quipped. In our meeting, he maintained an implacable flow of theories, historical analogies, and business school jargon, swerving from the sixteenth-century French political theorist Etienne de la Boetie to obscure corners of Indonesian politics.

And like a number of other people who have thrown their lot in with the counter-revolution as their career and wealth have taken turns for the better, Ackerman spent a brief time going through the motions of radical politics:

It’s a fitting conversational style for a man whose biography similarly twists and turns. By the time he graduated from Colgate University in 1968, he had already strayed from his middle-class Jewish roots, storming an administration building in protest and chauffeuring Stokley Carmichael around campus. But his flirtation with radicalism was brief. He felt more comfortable hewing to a conventional political path and became head of the College Democrats’ New York state chapter. College shaped him in another profound way, too. Studying comparative religion, he developed an interest in Christian Science and converted.

He also has grand, if not wacky, visions about how the last remnants of the Evil Empire can be vanquished:

As with Ross Perot, his fellow entrepreneur-turned-politico, there are moments when Ackerman seems to drift into an alternate reality. Addressing a State Department group last year, he described a scheme for providing a communications infrastructure to North Korean dissidents: “Let’s say you drop 10,000 boxes or distributed [them] somehow in North Korea. The boxes contain the following: 100 feet of string, a balloon, a helium canister and microwave devices, radio devices that can communicate. Tie the string to the tree. Tie the other end of the string to the balloon. Attach the electronic device to the balloon, stick the helium canister in the balloon, break it. The balloon rises 100 feet in the air, and you have an unlimited number of transmission towers. Provide in addition the ability to transmit with devices, handheld devices–suddenly you have an interesting opportunity.”

If balloons won’t suffice, there are always computer games:

Of all Ackerman’s whiz-bang ideas, he’s most enamored with the development of a video game named after A Force More Powerful that allows players to practice their dictator-toppling skills virtually. On a winter morning, I went to a suburban Baltimore office park to play a beta version. Ackerman has spent $3 million outsourcing the project to a company called BreakAway Games, which helped produce the popular Civilization series. Its offices were creepily quiet. Rows of cubicles held programmers, many of whom worked with earphones. Not that there were many distractions to filter. All the shades were drawn. Glowing monitors and a few desk lamps provided the room with its only light. I crammed into one of the cubicles with the game’s two lead programmers.

Finally, there is evidence that Ackerman–along with George W. Bush and Columbia University president Lee Bollinger–views Iran as the grand prize:

More recently Ackerman has stepped up his involvement. He worked with Bob Helvey to train IranianAmericans, many of whom worked for Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed shah. Azar Nafisi has introduced him to the Iranian human rights community. And the ICNC has made some preliminary contacts with the referendum movement–the most broad-based and promising of the opposition coalitions, uniting monarchists, communists, and Islamists behind a simple demand for a vote on the regime’s future. According to his friends, Ackerman and his circle have begun to kick around creative ideas for challenging the mullahs. What if every Iranian withdrew money from the ATMs at once, overwhelming the country’s financial system? What if they boycotted state-run industries? Ultimately, he envisions events unfolding as they did in Serbia, with a small, well-trained, nonviolent vanguard introducing the idea of resistance to the masses. These ideas may not have gone very far yet, but they have caught the attention of the Iranian government. Last year, the Ministry of Guidance brashly called Ackerman’s office, requesting copies of his videos and writings. “I guess that’s one way to do intelligence,” Ackerman jokes.

I have a better idea on how Ackerman can bankrupt Iran. He can sell them junk bonds, something that he will have more success at than subversion.

18 Comments »

  1. Hank Paulson, the current Treas. Sec. is into Christian Science too.

    Comment by m.c. — October 4, 2007 @ 2:26 am

  2. I unfortunately don’t have anything to add to this superb post, but you get way too little traffic at your blog.

    Comment by MFB — October 4, 2007 @ 11:19 am

  3. Terrific Post. These scoundrels don’t dare to start their “non violent change” in US , which needs it more than any other nation in this world. Iranians and others who suffer under imperfect, authoritarian regimes can liberate themselves without the “help” of these scumbags. If they ever started their antics in US they would be thrown under the prison or may be carted off to Syria for you know what.
    I always wonder how on earth any leftist can have anything to do with these capitalist creeps. I guess, it starts with small compromise like taking a grant from Ford Foundation.
    By the way,I knew you and Perelman unsubbed Yoshie from your respective lists.Is that quarrel over? You provided a link to Yoshie , that’s why I am asking.

    Comment by Ajit — October 4, 2007 @ 11:42 am

  4. I invited Yoshie back to Marxmail but she didn’t even reply to my invitation.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 4, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  5. What fun to find this wee Marxist echo chamber, fresh off the ash-heap of history ! I now know where to come for the rusty moral-equivalence I thought had been discredited by the dramatic increase in freedom around the globe since the, um, USSR imploded. I wonder, though, what turn-of-mind finds it objectionable that a guy (Ackerman) would self-fund educational materials for non-violent revolutionaries? Are the governments thus-agitated so desirable in this world?

    Ackerman is the first to admit that his approach doesn’t work with all tyrannical regimes, but is worth trying where apt. He is saving lives of student in movements which might otherwise blunder into deadly confrontations. People interested in the spread of democracy (not Marxism, which morphs into Stalinist/Castroist thuggery) think of him as Soros with brains.

    His computer game spreading the means of non-violence may be beyond Marxist comprehension, but will also save lives among intellectually prepared activists — and their “Revolutionary Guard”-type opponents. Your polemic is so busy with class-envy, I suspect it misses the benevolent aspect of ANY computer game that eschews violence and inflammatory rhetoric. Ackerman is the rare intellect who has made his way in business and you’ve helped me see clearly how this is frustrating to Revolutionistas, keyboard and otherwise, who have produced no jobs, no equity for women, no self-determination.

    Comment by Gordon — October 4, 2007 @ 3:32 pm

  6. I wonder, though, what turn-of-mind finds it objectionable that a guy (Ackerman) would self-fund educational materials for non-violent revolutionaries?

    Actually, my post was directed more to the left than it was to those who believe in the capitalist system, like yourself. When a decent person like Stephen Zunes lends himself to a project associated with a criminal like Peter Ackerman, attention must be paid. As far as funding goes, that really gets to the heart of the problem. When you have a world in which money influences politics, it is the billionaires who will exercise power. This is not democracy. It is plutocracy.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 4, 2007 @ 3:38 pm

  7. If political and social change is to occur in Iran, Cuba, Venezuela or Ukraine, it has to be at the hands of the people who live in those countries and not at the behest of NGO’s funded by Peter Ackerman’s junk bonds or George Soros’s derivatives for that matter.

    Something you and all us “state-caps” agree on.

    I’m sorry to hear there was a falling out between yourself and Yoshie. Hopefully it’s not some kind of irreperable breach.

    Comment by Binh — October 5, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  8. I always bring up your blog when I need a laugh. There are two high points of humor. First, the habitual handful of buddies who tell you how good your last posting was. They have a weakness for the word “superb”. Second, those reports of “irreparble rupture” between various teenies of the dwindling Leftover Marxists.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — October 23, 2007 @ 9:29 am

  9. Thanks for reposting information from my articles, and for digging up more dirt on Ackerman. Thought I would just let you know that my most recent response to Zunes is now online, and in addition you may be interested in a call for papers for a forthcoming book which will be critically analysing the influence of liberal foundations see http://michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com/about/

    best wishes Michael

    Comment by Michael — December 31, 2007 @ 1:08 am

  10. A good test of the authenticity of the nonviolent teachings of DuVall and Peter Ackerman is whether or not they have ever written or spoken of helping the Palestinians to overthrow Israeli military occupation of the West Bank by nonviolent means. These two have no connection or roots with any authentic nonviolent group that I know of.

    Comment by Doug Page — January 19, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  11. I just wanted to say great post and thank you for the effort you’ve put into writing this. I was watching the said ‘Bringing Down a Dictator’ video in class just this week – a video which was promoted as an interesting insight into a social movement. It didn’t seem right to me – specifically, the promotion of their brand of NVDA tactics (and it is like a brand) at expense of any other tactics, the uncritical acceptance of US$25M in funding to the student led Optor campaign and the electoral campaign against Milosevic (which seemed to come from nowhere), the emphasis on US spokespeople, the description of changed US intelligence tactics (why was this relevant?) – but the video is very well made and is easily accepted by those less critical. As a piece of propaganda it’s actually kind of brilliant, because the pro-US message is swallowed easily with the clever mix of left rhetoric they use. Fascinating.

    Comment by lisa — February 26, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

  12. […] seeks more or less the same goals operating as an NGO. Sharp receives major funding from Peter Ackerman, a leveraged buyout operator at Drexel-Burnham in the 1970s who was Sharp’s student at Tufts. Ackerman set up his own NGO with ambitions similar to the […]

    Pingback by What is the connection between Otpor and the Egyptian youth movement? « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 14, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

  13. […] as the instrument of Sharp’s ideas, the idea is not so ludicrous. As I mentioned in an earlier article on the venture capitalist, Ackerman was the former director of Freedom House, a group that was also run at one time by James […]

    Pingback by Gene Sharp’s goal: liberty in a world of market imperatives « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 21, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

  14. my name is Tolika. iam running a ngo for poor children. i dont have much amount so dat i can run my ngo. so i badly need a sponcer to run my ngo.my ngo is in new delhi. india.

    Comment by tolika sumi — May 5, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

  15. It may be time to revisit this topic, considering the following op-ed by Thomas Friedman:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opinion/sunday/24friedman.html

    Look up the org he’s discussing at Wikipedia to see the link. There is perhaps more support for it than is comforting.

    Comment by Jamie W. — August 26, 2011 @ 10:08 am

  16. On or about Nov. 23 or Nov.24 . 2011, the Washington Post reported about Peter Ackerman forming a “middle of the road movement” to intervene in the 2012 election as a political party combining “middle of the road” Republicans and Democrats. This is obviously a scheme to avoid a defeat of the Republicans who have not come up, at this date, with a suitable candidate. The information of above analysis from 2007 now comes as timely opportune to follow this latest development: To quote Mencken (1923): “Nobody ever lost money underestimating the taste of the American public!” That is the true secret of the success of Ackerman and the other geofinancial hustlers.

    Comment by Valeria Damiroxa — November 25, 2011 @ 5:42 am

  17. Ackerman is a member of the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations. Enough said.

    Comment by Joe Ryan — December 11, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

  18. […] مباشرة قبل ثورة مصر هذه المعلومات على الرابط التالي : https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/10/03/peter-ackerman-billionaire-sponsor-of-toxic-ngos/ لويس كاتب المقال السابق يعرف الحقيقة و يسميها منظمات […]

    Pingback by خطورة منظمات المجتمع المدني و حقيقة التمويل | موقع اخباري لجهة فاس بولمان فاس نيوز — February 2, 2013 @ 5:50 pm


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