Anyone who has ever had interest in history of world’s intelligence services knows that they always operated under cover of facially neutral organizations. Sometimes, leadership of such voluntary associations was not even aware that they were working as a cover for secret services. But things are changing. Late in the 20th century and early in the 21st century, there was not only total infiltration of various secret agents into non-governmental organizations (NGOs); this period was marked by the establishment of specific NGOs to solve certain tasks, as for instance, a task of targeted interventions and the influence on internal policy of other countries.
Unsurprisingly, analysts of Sigwatch Company have noted that NGOs can successfully compete with business corresponded to the level of influence on state structures. They form powerful coalitions and alliances for putting collective pressure not only on public opinion, but also on major political players. Moreover, they have a fairly extensive network, working closely with various commercial companies.
As a result, NGOs need a priori to be perceived as effective structures, and that is why they are serious mechanisms to influence the position of foreign countries, regardless of their officially declared goals or altruistic motives. NGOs should be seen as institutes, aimed at changing, as a minimum, existing line of policy, and, as a maximum, all of ruling elites. Just a few figures will show this. According to the data of General Prosecutor’s Office, in 2011, NGOs carrying out their activities in the Russian Federation got almost 19 billion rubles from abroad. And in 2013, nearly two and a half thousand non-profit organizations received foreign funding of 36 billion rubles.
A curious trend, isn’t it? Furthermore, a number of organizations were showing extraordinary unscrupulousness towards their financial donors. For example, so-called Association “Golos” received money from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), whose activities were officially found by RF Foreign Ministry as detrimental to the national security interests of this country. And is it any wonder that amendments regularizing the circle of these activities have been brought to the legislation of the Russian Federation? Moreover, it has been a relatively liberal approach as the placement of foreign agents on the register is realized exceptionally under the court decision, and NGOs can defend their interests in the court.
It should be noted that such improvement in the state control over NGOs’ activities is not only Russian know-how. Recently, practically all democratic countries – India, Israel, Brasilia, not to mention such beacons for human rights and public freedoms as the USA, Great Britain and Canada – are actively engaged in it.
In India, for instance, NGOs have the right to receive foreign funding only after three years of real activities there. And you need to understand that such activities involve charitable (the fight against poverty, provision of medical assistance and realization of educational programs) or religious aims and goals. Indian NGOs can have only one bank account to receive donations from abroad. Non-profit organizations engaged in political actions there are not allowed to receive foreign funding at all.
Effective from 2011, ‘Amendment to Bill on Disclosure regarding Those Supported by a Foreign Political Entity’ (also known as the Transparency Bill) has been introduced in Israel for non-profit organizations that receive donations from foreign political entities (foreign governments). A new version of this bill that was adopted in 2016 requires non-profit organizations that receive over 50% of their funding from foreign entities to declare this fact in all of their written requests addressed to state and administrative officials. It is also their obligation to specify the sponsor country.
In the legislation of the USA there is no substantive definition of political activity. But that does not mean that there is no heavy regulation of lobbying activities. The American principle is simple: the greater NGO’s participation in politics, the less tax concessions it has, also, the more information about itself and its donors it should provide for the state bodies. External shady enterprises that try to be legally present as NGOs in the field of American politics are invited to provide that much voluminous, detailed and complex reporting as that makes impossible all desires to fulfill it.
An innovative way to apply the US legislation against NGOs that was used by new US President Donald Trump is rather remarkable, too. Being in office for less than a month, President Trump has filed so-called Form 2 with the Federal Election Committee to announce his candidacy for a second term. Why? He has done it because now, due to the Federal Election Campaign Laws, non-profit organizations cannot do anything that might even in theory affect the results of the next US presidential election in 2020 under the sanction of de-registration. They will be unable to use their channels for leaking of all sorts of mudslinging, directed to a sitting President and his team. That’s how the law works.
Thus, it may be noted that despite a trend towards an increase in NGOs’ influence, their growing destructive possibilities may well be controlled by the improvement of the state legislation and competent application of its norms. Such measures do not exclusively characterize any particular country; but they have become the worldwide trend.