We had a roundtable yesterday with US Navy Rear Admiral Lawrence Rice (transcript is here). The subject was the Supreme Court's willingness to hear a case in which inferior courts had ruled that the US Navy could not use its sonar in some cases, to protect marine mammals, which rulings have caused the Navy severe training issues.
I asked him to what degree the NGOs involved in the lawsuits were backed by hostile international actors -- lawsuits of this type have been filed against the US, NATO countries, and the UK. The Admiral declined absolutely to consider the motives of the NGOs, but noted that they were "national" rather than "international."
Fair enough, but I was still curious. I spent a bit of time looking into it this morning. The chief NGO involved in the suit is the National Resources Defense Council, which has offices in four American cities... and Beijing. In 2006, while suing the US Navy to inhibit its training activities relating to submarine warfare, they coauthored a paper (with the Federation of American Scientists) playing down Chinese submarine capacity both current and future, and speaking harshly of DOD analyses suggesting otherwise.
You might wonder where their money comes from. Well, so did I...
...and it turns out that they had startup assistance money from the TIDES Foundation. In addition to the original funding, there are continuing grants: for example, in 2006, they received an additional $93,500 from TIDES. TIDES is funded in large part by donations from George Soros and others in his network of contacts.
Investors Business Daily wrote:
OSI isn't the only secretive organization that Soros funds. OSI partners with the Tides Foundation, which funnels cash from wealthy donors who may not want it known that their cash goes to fringe groups engaged in "direct action" — also known as eco-terrorism.
On the political front, Soros has a great influence in a secretive organization called "Democracy Alliance" whose idea of democracy seems to be government controlled solely of Democrats.
"As with everything about the Democracy Alliance, the strangest aspect of this entire process was the incessant secrecy. Among the alliance's stated values was a commitment to political transparency — as long as it didn't apply to the alliance," wrote Matt Bai, describing how the alliance was formed in 2005, in his book "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics."
You will recognize a few of the names of the many groups getting money from TIDES: Code Pink and International ANSWER, for example.
See here: Download td_2006.pdf
Some of this is just left-wing politics, which is of course perfectly fair game. The NRDC also passes money on to groups including Earth First, the Humane Society and the Sierra Club. Through such money, the left has managed to convert the Humane Society into an anti-hunting and gun-control lobby (The Brady Center is another group that gets money from the TIDES Foundation). Just as George Soros is able to fund MoveOn and others to provide him with influence on American politics, he can give money to TIDES to affect our country in other ways.
I have no doubt that most of the people who volunteer time or money for NRDC, or even work for them as employees, are merely interested in environmental issues such as the protection of the whales.
However, I cannot help but notice that there has been a sustained legal strategy brought to bear against the US, UK, EU and NATO navies, part of the effect of which is to hinder their submarine warfare. At the same time, the same NGO chiefly involved in the suit against the US Navy has used its position in Beijing to produce a paper that undercuts DOD strategies for restraining Chinese submarine warfare, and to downplay the potential threat of such.
No doubt, of course, the authors of that paper believe their analysis correct and accurate (as it surely must be, in part, since FAS was involved with it -- though the Military.com piece linked above shows some good reasons to doubt certain aspects of the analysis as provided). The fact that it supports their desire to see the Navy stop using sonar systems is merely a coincidence -- it's just nice that China isn't the threat the DOD analysts think. Likewise Soros and his fellow donors doubtless believe they are doing the right thing for the world. While we might reasonably wonder why we allow foreign billionaires such profound influence on our political culture, it is not currently illegal for him to attempt to affect it in this fashion.
I would like to add that my research is the research of one morning; I have cited my sources, and if there are errors in the research I regret them and will be glad to correct them. Better still, I would like to see the question taken up by someone with better capacities than I have for handling research of this type. I am the first to admit that I can only do my best as a concerned citizen: getting to the final truth may require more resources and tools, and greater expertise, than I have.
Finally, I don't mean to suggest that the NRDC is engaged in anything dishonorable in these lawsuits. By all means Americans should be able to appeal for redress of grievances against the government, including through the courts, including for what they as citizens see as unacceptable threats to marine mammals.
Yet it should surely matter to the Supreme Court whether this is the act merely of good people engaged in citizen activism; or whether those people are being used by foreign powers. The answer to that question has consequences.