Tuesday, September 04, 2007

USAID and the 'war against terrorism'

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has always had two faces. As a non-military foreign assistance agency, concocted during the Kennedy era, you have the caring vision of "extend[ing] a helping hand to those people overseas struggling to make a better life, recover from a disaster or striving to live in a free and democratic country..." USAID supports health programs around the world. But USAID is also committed to the promotion of US foreign policy, where geopolitical interests can trump humanitarian goals, and there have long been lingering suspicions about links between USAID and the CIA.

In last week's (September 1) editorial in the Lancet basically complains that USAID has slipped into its 'ugly American' mode. USAID announced recently that it plans to implement what it calls the Partner Vetting System, in which all organizations receiving USAID funds would have to supply detailed information about their employees. Even the beneficiaries of aid might have to submit personal data including name, date and place of birth, social security number, phone numbers, email addresses, nationality, citizenship and profession. The idea seems to be that if USAID has amassed all this information, it can be sure that they are not funding terrorist organizations or providing aid to terrorists. The Lancet editorial labels the proposed plan 'unworkable nonsense'; it is not as if real terrorists are crazy enough to give truthful information to USAID. It seems that USAID has been swept up by the current US administration's mindless fascination for data mining and surveillance. It must be a coincidence that the Partner Vetting System and persistent vegetative state share the same acronym.


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