International Rescue Committee, Inc.
Last updated: January 11, 1989
Published by the International Relations Center / Interhemispheric Resource Center.
International Rescue Committee, Inc.
Background: The International Rescue Committee, Inc. (IRC) was founded in 1933 in response to a request from Albert Einstein "to assist anti-Nazi opponents of Hitler." IRC works with refugees fleeing from "persecution and violence in totalitarian countries, as well as uprooted victims of civil conflict."(13) IRC focuses its programs primarily on refugees from communist and socialist countries but is quite adamant that it does not tow the U.S. foreign policy line. Robert DeVecchi, executive director, said: "It is… inaccurate to characterize IRC’s operation as having `historically reflected the interests and directions of foreign policy. ‘ IRC establishes and follows its own policy directions which may or may not coincide with U.S. foreign policy objectives. It is immaterial to us whether they do or not."(2)
Despite such disavowals, the IRC has consistently followed policies which have indeed coincided with U.S. foreign policy interests. It has operated in such geopolitical hotspots as Southeast Asia, Central America, Afghanistan, and Eastern Europe, conducting programs which have bolstered Washington’s anticommunist activities. Descriptions of such programs are given below.
The group provides resettlement, medical, agriculture, education, and social welfare services. (14)
Many of IRC’s members have ties to the intelligence community, and at least one author calls the IRC "a long-time ally of the Central Intelligence Agency."(33)
Funding: IRC is a tax-exempt organization under IRS code 501(c)(3). (13) More than 90 percent of IRC’s income goes to support its programs. The group claims that "The work of the IRC is supported by individual Americans and people abroad, the business community, unions, foundations, schools, church and civic groups," but its literature fails to mention the support it receives from the U.S. government. (4) In 1987, it received approximately 72 percent of its funding from U.S. government contracts and grants. (5)
In l985, IRC’s budget listed support and revenues of $16,490,702 drawn from the following sources:
U.S. Government Grants–$7,328,000; Other Governments & Intl Organizations-$1,542,000; Donated Services–$120,779; Private Contributions-$6,750,685; Private Revenue–$749,238. (10)
The following is a selected list of grants that IRC received from foundations in 1985: $50,000 from the Public Welfare Foundation, Inc. , for a medical program for displaced refugees in El Salvador; $10,000 from the AT&T Foundation for operating expenses; $25,000 from the Mobil Foundation; $10,000 from the John M. Olin Foundation, Inc. , for resettling refugees in the U.S. ; two grants totaling $30,000 from the Smith Richardson Foundation for the Friends of Afghanistan Project; $10,000 from the Proctor and Gamble Fund; and $50,000 from the Shell Corporation Foundation. (29) A selected list for 1986: $10,000 from the John M. Olin Foundation for refugee resettlement in the U.S. ; and $45,000 from the Smith Richardson Foundation. A selected list for 1987: $50,000 from the Public Welfare Foundation, Inc. for health and sanitation services for displaced persons in El Salvador; and $25,000 from the International Foundation for work with Afghan refugees. (30)
In 1987, IRC listed total support and revenue amounting to $25,763,717 received from the following sources:
U.S. Government Grants–$5,294,324; U.S. Government Contracts–$9,831,536; Other Government and International Organizations–$3,505,829; Private Contributions–$6,478,501; Private Revenue–$653,527. (12)
In 1987, IRC received a $1 million grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was appropriated by the U.S. Congress through the Agency for International Development (AID), to "assist the independent Polish trade union Solidarity in maintaining a social fund established to provide medical assistance and related services to workers and their families."(25)
Activities: IRC’s activities include child care, medical and educational assistance, job placement, self-help and training programs, family counseling and help for those seeking asylum. Its beneficiaries are refugees and the displaced victims of war. (10) Recently, IRC’s major focus has been on the Afghan refugees, although the domestic resettlement of refugees is the group’s largest program, on a financial basis. (2,6)
Costa Rica: Most of the organization’s Central American operation has been moved to Costa Rica. IRC was asked by the Costa Rican government to run a Nicaraguan refugee camp at Achiote. IRC works mainly in the areas of health, nutrition, and sanitation. In 1986 they began some technical aid and training programs, including farm projects, animal breeding, and carpentry. (7)
El Salvador: IRC has been working in El Salvador since 1984and operates medical and public health programs in 43 communities of displaced families. It focuses on the eastern half of La Paz and the eastern and southern parts of San Vicente. In the country it has a staff of 36, two of whom are U.S. citizens. The IRC’s programs in El Salvador include preventive health care, emergency relief, maternal and child health programs, supplementary feeding, environmental sanitation, and agricultural projects. It trains promoters for its own programs as well as for PVOs such as Foster Parents Plan, the Catholic Church, UNICEF, and the Boy Scouts. (6) IRC also works closely with CESAD (Salvadoran Evangelical Committee for Assistance and Development), an evangelical organization that believes in integrating spiritual and material gifts in its development work; World Relief; CONADES (National Commission for Aid to the Displaced), a government agency involved in warrelated pacification programs; and Doctors Without Borders. (8) It is also a member of CIPHES (Coordinating Council of Private Human Development Institutions), a PVO umbrella organization. (6)
IRC receives AID/ES funds for a program to assist returning displaced families. (6) The group spends approximately $750,000 on its El Salvador programs. Almost two-thirds of the amount comes from AID. (2)
Honduras: IRC worked in Honduras from 1984 through 1987. It focused its work in the controversial La Mosquitia area, with an emphasis on environmental sanitation, education, and emergency relief projects. In 1984, it signed a contract with AID to establish an educational radio station in La Mosquitia as part of AID’s $7. 5 million project to aid Nicaraguan Miskitos living in Honduras. The project was turned over to AVANCE. IRC’s educational work in La Mosquitia was linked to its management of an emergency supplementary food distribution program for Honduran families whose children were suffering from malnutrition. (9)
Afghanistan: As stated earlier, Afghan refugees are the current primary focus of IRC. It conducts its programs in Pakistan for the refugees who have escaped the v
iolence of the Soviet-Afghan war. It operates seven mobile medical units, 11 clinics, maternal & child centers, and a hospital for women not well enough to be treated in the camps. (1)The mobile medical units consist of one male and one female doctor, three nurses and a pharmacist, all of whom are Afghan or Pakistani. IRC also trains refugees to help with the medical campaigns. According to the group, its medical and child care teams treat close to 40,000 Afghans each month. (13)
IRC has published 10 books for the National Endowment for Democracy-funded American Friends of Afghanistan (AFA). The books are for the Afghan Basic Education Project carried out by AFA. The project intends to educate children and rebel forces. One of the four goals of the education project is "To provide literacy programs for the freedom fighters, many of whom are men who are idle much of the time waiting for military action and who could spend some of the time learning to read and write."(16)
Refugee Resettlement: In 1986, the group resettled 6,739 refugees admitted to the U.S. Almost two-thirds of those refugees were from the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. (13)
Government Connections: Leo Cherne has a long history of intelligence connections. He served as a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1973-1976, the chairman from 1976-1979, and most recently, served as the vice-chair on former President Ronald Reagan’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. (3) In 1946, Cherne served as a special advisor to General Douglas MacArthur. In 1954 Cherne sent a cable to a U.S. government official about the situation in Vietnam,"If free elections were held today all agree privately communists would win… Situation not hopeless… future depends on organizing all resources to resettle refugees, sustain now bankrupt government, give something for people to fight for, and unite them to resist communism… West can’t afford to lose from now on."(3) During the Reagan Administration, Cherne was involved in private fundraising efforts coordinated by the National Security Council aimed at disseminating propaganda supporting U.S. foreign policy. (18)
William Casey (former IRC president) was one of the members of an IRC commission that visited Indochinese refugee camps in 1978 and advocated "a virtual open-door policy" for letting the refugees into the U.S. (17) Under Reagan, Casey was head of the CIA until his death in 1987. (3)
Angier Biddle Duke (former IRC president) served as a U.S. Ambassador to Argentina (1949), Spain (1951, 1965), El Salvador (1952), Denmark (1968), and Morocco (1979-81). Duke also served in the State Department from 1961-1965. (3)
Cecil Lyon served as a U.S. Ambassador in 11 posts from 1931 to 1967. He also served with the State Department from 1942 to 1955. (3)
Claiborne Pell served as a U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1946 to 1948 and to Italy in 1949. He served in the State Department from 1945 to 1946 and 1950 to 1952. (3) As of 1987 he was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (13) He is the Democratic Senator from Rhode Island. (34)
John Richardson (former IRC president) was the Assistant Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs from 1969-1977. (3) He served as the head of the U.S. Information Agency’s (USIA) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from 1961-1968. During those years, it was closely linked to the CIA. (19)
Henry Kissinger served in the Counter Intelligence Corps from 1943 to 1946. He was the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs from 1969-1973, and served as Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977. (3) He headed the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America from 1983-1984. (36) The Commission proposed to set the foreign policy agenda for Central America. (19)
William Vanden Huevel (former IRC president) was the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand in 1953. He worked for the State Department from 1977-1979. (3)
Private Connections: Leo Cherne is the founder and executive director of the Research Institute of America (RIA). (Casey was a board member of RIA. ) According to one author, the purpose of RIA was to unify the international investment efforts of thousands of anti-communist lawyers, industrialists, politicians, and OSS alumni. (3) Cherne also is the honorary chair of Freedom House, a conservative human rights organization that examines the "democratic" credentials of countries around the world. It focuses its criticisms primarily on Marxist governments and has been part of NED’s "democracy-building" network. Recently, Freedom House has written supportively of El Salvador’s "more moderate" ARENA party, long known for its intimate ties to the country’s death squads. (20,21) Cherne is on the advisory board of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a rightwing think tank focusing on national security and "advancing the global interests" of the U.S. (22)
Angier Biddle Duke was the chair of Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America (PRODEMCA). (23) PRODEMCA was an anti-Sandinista group which received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for opposition groups inside Nicaragua. PRODEMCA was removed as the NED grant administrator for the newspaper La Prensa after placing ads in U.S. papers advocating renewed military support for the contras. PRODEMCA closed down in late 1988 and merged with Freedom House. (24)
Carl Gershman is a former board member of IRC. He is now the president of NED, a quasi-governmental organization which promotes "democracy" abroad. NED was founded in 1983 and almost all of its funds come from Congress through the U.S. Information Agency and the Agency for International Development. (19)
John Richardson was the president of NED from 1984 to 1989. Still on NED’s board, he currently serves as the president of the government-created U.S. Institute of Peace, and the chair of the USIA-associated Consortium for International Citizen Exchange. He is the former executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (19)
Albert Shanker is the treasurer of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID) a neo-conservative social democratic organization associated with labor. LID became involved with the CIA during the 1950s in an effort to combat communism. (19,26) He is on the advisory council of Social Democrats USA (SD/USA), another neo-conservative group associated with the AFL-CIO. (35) Shanker was one of the founders of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD). (27) Shanker also serves on the boards of a slew of other neoconservative, anticommunist groups including: Freedom House, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, American Institute for Free Labor Development, NED, American Federation of Teachers (president), and the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF). (19) CANF is an anti-Castro lobby group which has received funding from NED. (19,28) He serves on the boards of the following AFL-CIO international affiliates: Free Trade Union Institute, African American Labor Center, and the Asian American Free Labor Institute. (19)
Tom Kahn is the executive director of the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO. Kahn is also on the board of SD/USA, and Free Trade Union Institute and is the chair of LID. (19)
Henry Kissinger is a board member of CSIS and is its counselor in residence. (37) He was a board member of NED in 1988 and on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council. (19)
Elie Weisel served on the PRODEMCA national council. He is a well-known author and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. (13,23)
Edwin J. Wesely, board member of IRC, is President of CARE, perhaps the largest relief and development organization in the world. CARE is the major distributer of U.S. government PL480
Title II food (Food for Peace) worldwide. (38,39)
Misc: The IRC’s 1962 annual report states: "When Vietnam was divided in 1954, 880,000 refugees voted with their feet by migrating to free South Vietnam. IRC established a large scale program that helped to resettle these refugees."(3) A review of the refugees’ backgrounds shows that they were overwhelmingly Catholic and had fought with the colonial French against the Viet Minh. South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem was Catholic as well. After entering South Vietnam, the refugees became a privileged minority. (15)
The IRC was heavily involved in supporting the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam. In fact, the executive committee for the pro-Diem lobby, the American Friends of Vietnam, was virtually identical to that of the IRC. The strongest supporter of Diem in the group was former IRC official Joseph Buttinger. Buttinger praised Diem as the democratic alternative in Southeast Asia. After a two-week visit with Diem by Leo Cherne (at the time he was the president of IRC), Buttinger was sent to set up IRC operations in the country. While there, Buttinger was introduced to the head of CIA operations in Vietnam, General Edward Lansdale. According to one author,"Lansdale took Buttinger under his wing and introduced him to the top security people in Diem’s government and the Vietnamese Army."(15) At a 1957 dinner sponsored by the IRC and American Friends of Vietnam, Diem was presented the Admiral Richard E. Byrd Award for "inspired leadership in the cause of the free world." Many of the speeches Diem gave in the U.S. were written by Buttinger. Finally, writing in 1965, author Robert Scheer stated that the IRC "helped to shape the Cold War as we live it today."(15)
According to an article in the April 18, 1981 edition of The Nation, the Smith Richardson Foundation not only has CIA agents reviewing grants, but also provides management training to the CIA and the Department of Defense through an affiliate organization. (31)
A 1984 press conference cosponsored by Angier Biddle Duke featured contra leader Arturo Cruz. Acknowledging that rightwing oligarchs were a threat to democracy in Central America, Duke, speaking for PRODEMCA, stated that "even more dangerous [is] the threat from the local totalitarian left in Central America which, with Soviet and Cuban support, is now tightening its hold on Nicaragua, carrying out guerrilla and terrorist attacks in other countries of the region, and building unprecedented military forces."(32)
Reportedly, IRC has the power to affect Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and governmental decisions about who should be classified a bonafide refugee. (3)
Comments:U.S. Address: 386 Park Avenue South, New York, New York, 10016.
Principals: Leo Cherne, chair; Ralph M. Baruch, vice chair; James T. Sherwin, chair, Exec Committee; Richard M. Hammer, chair Finance Committee/tres; Mrs. Donald M. Blinken, vice pres; Cecil B. Lyon, vice pres; Lionel Olmer, vice pres; Thomas L. Rhodes, vice pres; Mrs. Lawrence Copely Thaw, vice pres; Liv Ullman, vice pres-intl; Elie Wiesel, vice pres-intl; Anne Whitehead Crawford, gen counsel; Peter W. Weiss, asst tres; Charles Sternberg, sec; Robert P. DeVecchi, exec dir; Alton Kastner, dep dir; H. Roy Williams, dep dir-operations. Board of Directors: Garret G. Ackerson, Jr. , Rose Becker, J. Jeffery Campbell, Angier Biddle Duke, Anthony D. Duke, H. William Fittleson, Mrs. Andrew Goodman, Herbert G. Graetz, Morton I. Hamburg, Richard C. Holbrooke, George F. Hritz, Tom Kahn, Henry A. Kissinger, Ronald S. Lauder, Margery Levenstein, Jay Mazur, Robin McMillin, Warren C. Meeker, Allen Moore, Peter A. Nathan, M. D. , Catherine O’Neill, Claiborne Pell, Ralph A. Pfeiffer, Jr. , Dith Pran, John Richardson, John P. Roche, Felix Rohatyn, Oren Root, Donald Rumsfeld, Isadore M. Scott, Albert Shanker, Jacob Sheinkman, Adam M. Shub, Delores C. Smithies, Stephen J. Solarz, Nancy Starr, H. Peter Stern, James C. Strickler, M. D. , Charles J. Tanenbaum, Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, Georgia Gosnell Travers, William J. Vanden Heuvel, Daniel Weiner, M. D. , Edwin J. Wesely, Louis A. Wiesner, John Ellis K. Wisner. (2)
Former members include the late William Casey, Carl Gershman, James Michener, and Clare Booth Luce. (3,11)
1. International Rescue Committee, flyer on Afganistan, no date.
2. Letter from Robert P. DeVecchi, exec dir IRC, Dec 6, 1988. 3. Dorienne Truskoff Miner,"The Covert Use of Refugees," Aug 25, 1987.
4. International Rescue Committee, Fact Sheet, July 1987.
5. International Rescue Committee, Annual Financial Report, Dec 31, 1987.
6. Private Organizations with U.S. Connections in El Salvador (Albuquerque, NM: The Resource Center, July 1988).
7. Letter to Dorienne Miner from Robert P. DeVecchi, Indochina Program Director, March 22, 1983.
8. Interview with Robyn Ziebert, IRC, Sep 14, 1987.
9. Private Organizations With U.S. Connections in Honduras (Albuquerque, NM: The Resource Center, July 1988).
l0. Bureau for Food for Peace and Voluntary Assistance, Report of American Voluntary Agencies Engaged in Overseas Relief and Development Registered with the Agency for International Development, Voluntary Foreign Aid Programs, l985 (Washington DC : Agency for International Development, l986).
11. International Rescue Committee, Annual Report, 1985.
12. Bureau for Food for Peace and Voluntary Assistance, Report of American Voluntary Agencies Engaged in Overseas Relief and Development Registered with the Agency for International Development, Voluntary Foreign Aid Programs, 1986-1987 (Washington DC : Agency for International Development, 1988).
13. International Rescue Committee, Annual Report, 1986.
14. InterAction, InterAction Member Profiles (New York, NY: InterAction, May 1987).
15. Robert Scheer and Warren Hinckle,"The `Vietnam Lobby’," Ramparts, July 1965.
16. Letter from American Friends of Afghanistan to the National Endowment for Democracy, Jan 30, 1986.
17. George McArthur,"Open Door Urged on Indochina Refugees," Los Angeles Times, Feb 19, 1978.
18. Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, Appendix B: Volume 12 (Washington, DC : U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988).
19. The Resource Center,"The Democracy Offensive," Fall 1989.
20. Freedom Monitor, Vol 5, #4, Aug 1988.
21. Freedom at Issue, Jan/Feb 1989.
22. Alison Muscatine,"Georgetown’s Media Profs," Washington Post, May 11, 1986.
23. PRODEMCA Summary of Activities, 1986.
24. Phone conversation with PRODEMCA employee, Jan 26, 1989.
25. National Endowment for Democracy, Annual Report, 1987.
26. Ellen Ray, William Schaap, Karl Van Meter, and Louis Wolf, Dirty Work: The CIA in Africa (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, Inc. , 1979).
27. Jerry Sanders, Peddlers of Crisis: The Committee on the Present Danger (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1983).
28. John Spicer Nichols,"The Power of the Anti-Fidel Lobby," The Nation, Oct 24, 1988.
29. Foundation Grants Index, 16th edition, 1987.
30. Foundation Grants Index, 17th edition, 1988.
31."Culture War," The Nation, Apr 18, 1981.
32. Tom Barry and Debra Preusch, The Soft War (New York, NY: Grove Press, 1988).
33. Judy Carnoy and Louise Levison,"The Humanitarians," The Trojan Horse, A Radical Look at Foreign Aid, Steve Weissman (ed) (San Francisco, CA: Ramparts Press, 1974).
34. Listing of U.S. Senators, distributed by Rodale Institute, 1989.
35. Michael Massing,"Trotsky’s Orphans: From B
olshevism to Reaganism," The New Republic, June 22, 1987.
36. Who’s Who in America, 1989-1990.
37. CSIS, 1987-1988 Programs and Activities, 1987.
38. CARE, Annual Report, 1988.
39. Rachel Garst and Tom Barry, Feeding the Crisis: Food Aid and Farm Policy in Central America, forthcoming in 1990 from the University of Nebraska Press.
The underlying cites for this profile are now kept at Political Research Associates, (617) 666-5300. www.irc-online.org.