Details Questionable Roles of Liz Cheney, Shaha Riza, and Others in Multi-Million Dollar Program
(Washington, D.C.) – A report released by the Government Accountability Project (GAP), based on documents obtained through nearly three years’ of U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, exposes the highly irregular manner in which the Foundation for the Future (FFF) – an obscure project funded by the U.S. Department of State – was established and operated by Bush administration officials and appointees.
Specifically, the report details how high-level State Department officials misled Congress as they sought millions in public money for the Foundation, which was a haven for people with political connections. The report also shows that FFF was a pet project of Elizabeth Cheney, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Cheney worked to set up the Foundation with Shaha Riza, Paul Wolfowitz’s companion whose seconding to the State Department (and then to the FFF) was directly responsible for the 2007 World Bank scandal that resulted in Wolfowitz’s departure from the Bank.
“Liz Cheney had the preposterous idea that the Foundation for the Future would bring peace and democracy to the Middle East,” said GAP International Program Officer Shelley Walden, author of the report. “This overlong project wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.”
The Foundation for the Future first became an issue of public interest inquiry in 2007, when GAP published the payroll records of Riza, girlfriend of then-World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. The records showed that Riza, a British national who worked as a World Bank communications officer, was seconded to the U.S. State Department after Wolfowitz was appointed, where she was responsible for establishing the Foundation for the Future (FFF). The FFF was a nonprofit organization tasked with promoting democracy and reform in the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) region.
While seconded from the Bank to the State Department in 2005 and 2006, Riza received salary raises in excess of what Bank rules allowed, earning far more than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In October 2006, Riza’s secondment was transferred to the FFF itself, where she remained until returning to the Bank in early 2008, after Wolfowitz was forced to resign.
Liz Cheney’s Failed Pet Project
The documents released by the Department of State (DOS) show that Liz Cheney, as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, envisioned Riza’s highly irregular secondment to the FFF in May 2005, well before it was established, and before Paul Wolfowitz became President of the Bank. In this unsupervised position, Riza promoted an overtly political U.S. agenda in the Middle East. Riza’s activities in this role were in apparent violation of conflict of interest regulations at the World Bank, as well as the national security, tax and visa regulations of the U.S. government. The report also shows that Cheney was instrumental in the Foundation’s launch and failure to obtain broad international support.
“The project was doomed from the start – State Department officials in the region warned that restrictive laws in the Persian Gulf states would make the Foundation ineffective; BMENA governments did not support a Foundation that would give their opposition a platform from which to oppose them; and potential donors had misgivings about the project’s lack of indigenous imprint,” stated Walden. “Despite these warning signs, Cheney and the Bush administration moved full steam ahead and established the Foundation anyway.”
In 2005, Cheney, Shaha Riza and Condoleezza Rice embarked on an international crusade to obtain financial and diplomatic support for FFF. But their efforts at diplomacy were a failure; they raised less than 25% of the goal (set by Cheney) of $25 million (USD) in contributions from other nations. The great majority of funding came from the United States, although the legislation creating the institution included a requirement for matching funding.
“The Foundation for the Future was to promote democracy, transparency and popular political participation on a multilateral basis in the Middle East,” said GAP International Program Director Bea Edwards. “So when Liz Cheney – who, in the view of many Middle Eastern leaders, occupied her position largely because she was the Vice President’s daughter – asked other nations for contributions, they balked. Add to this the fact that the Foundation’s board member selection process was directed by the former Deputy Secretary of Defense’s girlfriend and that the Foundation was managed by a personal friend of Wolfowitz’s with little expertise in the region, and it’s no wonder that many potential donors refused to fund it.”
GAP’s report shows that the FFF was almost entirely financed and monitored by the U.S. government, even though the Bush administration repeatedly portrayed it to Congress as a multilateral, non-governmental organization created in response to democratic demands from grassroots organizations. Documents also show that the Bush administration intended to use the Foundation as a vehicle through which to demonstrate its purported commitment to democratic processes and human rights abroad, at a time when President Bush was subjected to increasing criticism for human rights violations in Iraq, Afghanistan, “black sites” around the world and Guantánamo Bay.
Dubious Lobbying and Funding Efforts
From 2005-2007, officials at the State Department executed a number of questionable legislative maneuvers in the US Congress that were favorable to the FFF. In the end, the Bush-Cheney administration successfully obtained the passage of three laws related to the Foundation and a disbursement of $21.3 million in public funds. They also secured $921,064 for the Eurasia Foundation – a non-profit organization set up by the State Department in the 1990s to promote democracy in the former Soviet Union – to help establish the FFF.
It appears that in order to obtain the disbursement to the FFF, State Department officials deliberately misled the US Congress about the funding pledged to the Foundation by other governments. Evidence strongly suggests that section 534(k) of US Public Law 109-102, which at that time stipulated that funds could only be made available to the Foundation to the extent that they had been matched by contributions from other governments, was violated; the Foundation’s own reports show that less than $6.4 million of the $22.26 million in “matching funds” listed by the State Department in its communications with Congress as pledged ever materialized.
Especially suspicious was the State Department’s representation of a murky $10 million pledge from Qatar, the largest “pledge” of any country other than the United States. Documents indicate that the State Department knew that this pledge would never materialize when it asked Congress to disburse matching funds.
GAP’s report also suggests that FFF management – including former FFF Chairman (and close friend of Paul Wolfowitz) Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently a Malaysian parliamentarian – misled the US Internal Revenue Service. The FFF’s financial statements for 2006 and 2007 state that the Foundation did not attempt to influence national legislation, an assertion contradicted by the cables and reports released by the Department of State. These documents suggest that several Foundation representatives actively lobbied the US Congress in 2006-07 for legislative changes favorable to the FFF.
State Department documents show generous travel allowances and salaries for the office of Shaha Riza, whose nebulous duties did not seem to require such lavish financial support. Riza was paid a net salary of $180,000 to perform such tasks as reviewing a translated draft of the FFF bylaws, a PowerPoint presentation of a business plan and a translated policies and procedures manual.
The Foundation for the Future continues to operate, although the departure of both Cheneys from public office appears to have weakened its financial support from Congress. Because the vast majority of its funding comes from the U.S. government, budgetary figures indicate that the FFF will be unsustainable after 2014.
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.