In a memorandum released shortly before Christmas, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee released the results of a years-long investigation into funding provided by the Obama Administration, through the international charitable franchise World Vision, to the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), a terrorist charity that has operated primarily out of Sudan for many decades. The U.S. government designated the organization in 2004 because of its close links with Osama Bin-Laden, Hamas, and other terrorist operatives and organizations.
The Committee’s investigation found that World Vision transferred nearly half-a-million dollars to ISRA, concluding that World Vision’s vetting practices were “borderline negligent and ignored elementary level investigative procedures.” $150,000 of this money came from the U.S. taxpayer. The Obama Administration’s Treasury Department explicitly authorized $125,000 of these funds, expressing fears of repercussions to American aid efforts if the payments were not made.
Much of the evidence discussed in the Committee’s report has been previously mentioned by the Middle East Forum (MEF), which uncovered the information during investigations published in a series of articles over the past few years.
Nonetheless, the weight of the words of a Senate Committee carry more weight than a couple of gumshoe think-tank investigators. Furthermore, in addition to the open-source research and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that made up the MEF’s investigation, the Committee had access to more documents, people, and other sources. New facts were uncovered, previously opaque events made clear, and new assessments given.
According to documents provided to the Committee, World Vision had previously subcontracted ISRA in April 2013, using United Nations Development Program (UNDP) funds; apparently not spotting a potential problem. Even after learning about ISRA’s designated status and even, by its own admission, seeing the name Islamic Relief Agency and the acronym ISRA on the designated list, World Vision claimed it “could not determine” whether ISRA was designated. World Vision claimed it believed its Sudanese partner to be a different group with the same name, because of what the Committee calls “flawed logic.”
World Vision only finally admitted the truth after multiple communications from USAID and Treasury on January 28, 2015, nearly two-years later. Even then, World Vision officials claimed to have found “ambiguity” in Treasury’s answer and demanded a second statement from Treasury reaffirming the first – that ISRA was indeed a terrorist sponsoring charity.
The Committee remains deeply unconvinced World Vision has learned its lesson, stating quite plainly that: “Finance Committee staff has reservations concerning World Vision’s ability to avoid situations similar” to the situation with ISRA, and expressed alarm over World Vision’s repeated “attempt to shift the blame to the federal government for their own inability to properly vet a subcontractor.”
World Vision’s refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing or incompetence is best summed up by the charity’s own response to the Committee’s report. Rather than concede any wrongdoing or offer an apology for funding a charity implicated in murderous terrorist attacks, World Vision instead stated: “We appreciate the acknowledgement that the committee staff’s report to the chairman ‘found no evidence that World Vision knew that ISRA was a sanctioned entity prior to receiving notice from Treasury.’” It also noted the Committee’s passing acknowledgment of a minor upgrade to its subcontractor vetting procedure.
Just as World Vision purportedly failed to notice that its close partner was a designated terrorist, now World Vision appears to have missed or ignored the fact that the United States Senate also denounced its “borderline negligence” and inability to learn from its mistakes. A self-realizing diagnosis, it seems. (Perhaps World Vision officials will later argue that they thought this part of the Committee’s report referenced a different World Vision with the same name.)
Notwithstanding, the Committee’s report is a welcome public rebuke of World Vision, which has increasingly been operating under a bunker mentality for years. Having repeatedly watched World Vision obfuscate, deny, and clam up – rather than admit the obvious, documented truth – it is frustrating that World Vision refuses to change its attitude, and thus its practice.
The Senate Finance Committee’s report is a big step toward increasing accountability. But the ultimate pressure must come from below. One can only hope that, the more World Vision donors become aware of these abuses, the more they will demand change.
Watch an Episode of TIJ Talks Filmed in 2020 About the World Vision Activities: