The news broke last week: an investigation by Israel’s Shin Bet found that the Gaza organization of World Vision, the globe’s largest Christian NGO, had been thoroughly infiltrated by Hamas for a number of years. Since 2005, Muhammad El-Halabi, the operations manager of World Vision in Gaza, had funneled more than $7 million per year from the charity to the terrorist group – and not to the nominally political government of Gaza, but to Hamas’s so-called “militant wing,” which conducts the terrorist operations.
El-Halabi, a Hamas operative from before his employment with World Vision, was detained by Israel in June 2016. World Vision protested his detention, and expressed unreserved support for him at the time.
An entrenched systemic vulnerability
Shin Bet has stressed that World Vision was unaware of what was going on. But its dossier makes clear that El-Halabi’s purpose with World Vision was to infiltrate and take advantage of the aid organization.
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During subsequent interrogation, Shin Bet learned that he had been recruited by Hamas’s armed wing in 2004, and received a “very focused mission, to penetrate an international aid organization and exploit its resources.”
Money stolen from World Vision was also used to build a military base in Gaza, and to pay the salaries of Izzadin Kassam Brigade “military” wing members.
Hamas used the millions to purchase what items needed to build and maintain its military facilities and tunnels, such as metal, fences, covers for greenhouses, and pipes, according to the investigation.
Jewish Press has a more comprehensive summary of the breadth and scope of El-Halabi’s misuse of World Vision resources – which included exploiting their aid transportation network to move military supplies for Hamas.
[T]he humanitarian aid donated for the residents of the Gaza Strip was in actual fact given almost exclusively to Hamas terrorists and their families. Non-Hamas members almost never received any benefit from the aid,
El Halabi transferred to Hamas’s possession thousands of tons of iron rods, digging equipment and plastic hoses, originally intended for agricultural use but in reality utilized by the Hamas tunnel builders and for building military bases such as the “Palestine” military base which was built in 2015 entirely from British aid money
During the war of 2014, Hamas terrorists received WV food packages to sustain them above and below ground, including in terror tunnels.
El Halabi was engaged by Hamas to initiate a greenhouse project, to use greenhouses to hide the sites where terror tunnels were being dug.
[A] project for the rehabilitation of (fictitious) fishermen was actually used to provide motor boats and diving suits for Hamas’s military marine unit.
[A] regular method of acquiring equipment for Hamas was to disguise Hamas warehouses as WV warehouses.
[T]he El Halabi investigation revealed much information concerning additional figures in the Gaza Strip who exploited their work for humanitarian aid organizations and UN institutions, on behalf of Hamas.
And CAMERA has highlighted the point that his job with World Vision gave El-Halabi the routine opportunity to spy for Hamas:
[T]here’s one aspect of the charges against Halabi that has not got much play: Halabi allegedly used his status as a World Vision employee to spy for Hamas. A statement issued by the Israeli government detailing Halabi’s alleged crimes includes the following passage:
In addition to the financial and logistical aid that El-Halabi provided Hamas, he also exploited his visits to Israel, which were permitted due to his legitimate work for World Vision, to engage in serious terrorist activity – locating and marking [via GPS] sites near the Erez Crossing that potentially could be used as egress points for Hamas attack tunnels.
If this allegation is true, it indicates that Halabi used his status as an employee of an NGO to spy on behalf of a terror organization.
To put this in perspective, recall that Israel has come under intense flurries of rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza during four periods since 2005: in 2006, 2008-9, 2012, and 2014. Each time, the Israelis had to mount a military operation to stem the attacks. In 2014, Israel uncovered a remarkably extensive network in Gaza of tunnels developed by Hamas for military use, including tunnels that would enable attackers to penetrate into Israel.
The materials and money diverted from World Vision by El-Halabi between 2005 and 2016 – tens of millions of dollars’ worth – contributed to the Hamas build-ups and attacks.
Recall also that senior leaders of World Vision have been highly critical of Israel, too often adopting politicized stances, and veering into demonstrably false statements and allegations which mirror the propaganda of Hamas and Fatah. Besides the canonical summary at NGO Monitor, consider the case made here, here, and here, as just a few examples. From well before the Shin Bet revelations came to light last week, it has been clear that World Vision effectively supported Hamas’s radical anti-Israel posture by repeating the terror group’s lies.
Moreover, the Israeli civil rights/legal organization Shurat HaDin has been warning since 2012 that World Vision funds were ending up paying for Hamas terrorism. Shurat HaDin specifically advised both World Vision and the government of Australia of this in 2012. (Australia has been a government donor to World Vision’s work in Gaza – until last week.) The same warning was reiterated in 2015, but rejected by World Vision Australia.
All of this has to be especially appalling for America’s private donors to World Vision, because in the United States, donations for the charitable work in Gaza come only from them (whether corporate or individual). U.S. federal funding for aid in Gaza has been intermittent since 2007, and none of the occasional grants awarded (like this one from 2015) have been to World Vision.
But the U.S. government provides grants, recently averaging over $170 million per year, to World Vision U.S., which, like the World Vision organization in Gaza, is a member of World Vision International. Most of the grants are distributed through USAID, run by the State Department.
And that’s one point on which Americans, especially, will want to take a hard look at this whole situation. Because it turns out that World Vision, with its long-established anti-Israel stance, and having been duped for years by a Hamas operative in charge of the charity’s own activities in Gaza, is not only a recipient of millions in grants managed by the State Department, but is a Clinton Foundation partner, a top 100 Clinton Foundation donor, and one of the dozens of entities that have been Clinton Foundation donors and lobbied the Hillary Clinton State Department.
Christians need to ask themselves if this is a proper profile for a Christian aid organization. Americans need to ask themselves if this is a good model for using taxpayer money.
And there’s even more to this situation – a number of things that ought to give us pause, of which I’ll mention only a few.
General concerns about the World Vision profile
One is that the Hamas infiltration isn’t the first time World Vision has been surprised by local employees diverting millions of dollars in funds. In 2009, World Vision reported that employees in Liberia had been diverting 90% of the organization’s aid to a massive fraud scheme, in which they sold donated food locally and pocketed the profits. The charity later reported losing $1 million to fraud in its Zambia office between 2009 and 2013, also due to the activities of local employees.
The fraud scam in Liberia specifically involved aid funded by USAID.
Another concern is that the avowedly Christian World Vision International employs non-Christians in many of its operations outside the United States. Emily Belz, writing for World Magazine in 2009, reported this information provided by World Vision (underlining added):
World Vision requires its U.S. employees to sign either the organization’s faith statement or the Apostle’s Creed. But overseas, almost 20 percent of World Vision’s staff is Muslim, according to [Tom Getman, former executive director of international relations at World Vision]; they must simply subscribe to the mission of the organization.
This clarifies how World Vision came to employ the Muslim Hamas operative Muhammad El-Halabi in Gaza, and promote him to operations manager.
But it raises questions about World Vision’s current activities in places like Lebanon and Iraq, and other locations where the activities are funded by the U.S. taxpayer. (You can run a search at this website to see the performance locations of the hundreds of millions in federal grants awarded to World Vision since 2008.)
These questions are for Congress and the State Department, as much as for World Vision and its Christian donors. Just who is getting access to American donations through World Vision (and other NGOs supported by USAID, for that matter)? Who is controlling what happens to them?
Yet another concern is the revolving door for professional aid managers between the U.S. federal government and major NGOs, including World Vision. (A similar pattern exists overseas; e.g., in Europe and the British Commonwealth nations.)
In 2009, Michael Barker compiled the following information, in an article at Swans Commentary, on World Vision officials including “former World Vision International board member Brady Anderson,” who was Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Tanzania from 1994 to 1997:
[A]fter vacating his post as the US Ambassador to Tanzania, he served for two years as the USAID administrator (1999-2001). In 2001 Anderson was succeeded at USAID by Andrew Natsios, an individual who had previously served as a vice president of World Vision (from 1993 until 1998). As if this evidence of the intimate relations maintained between World Vision and the US government were not enough, in an interview conducted in 2004 Anderson observed how World Vision had been “the largest handler of food in the world, and almost all the food was donated by the U.S. government.”
Anderson also did a stint with the federal government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the “independent” agency that manages development finance abroad – including in places like Haiti, where development projects follow major disasters.*
Brady Anderson has also served as the former chair of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Earlier still he had served as Special Assistant to Governor Bill Clinton (from 1979-81).
Barker noted that an earlier president of World Vision U.S., Robert Seiple, joined the Clinton administration after leaving his World Vision position.
From 1987 until 1998, Robert Seiple was president of World Vision U.S. … After leaving World Vision in 1998 he joined the Clinton administration spending two years as the first U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
Basically, there was a lot of back-and-forth between World Vision and the Clinton administration in the 1990s. Today, World Vision U.S.’s senior vice president for international programs is Kent R. Hill, who was a senior official at USAID for most of the 2000s.
The point is not that these connections are demonstrably nefarious. It’s that this kind of revolving door is a significant, proven moral hazard in every other similar situation, in which government agencies have favors to dispense or withhold, and careerists go back and forth between the government agencies and their main clients on the “private” side.
Partnership with the Clinton Foundation
Which brings us to World Vision’s partnership with the Clinton Foundation. The highest-profile activity on which they partner is a safe drinking water initiative (see here for earlier reporting in it), which USAID provides funding for. In 2011, World Vision announced that this joint effort with the Clinton Foundation would focus on women and girls, and that it was making a “$200 million commitment” to the project.
That commitment was for multiple years, of course. We don’t know the source of all the funds World Vision is able to put into this commitment, but keep in mind, World Vision U.S. has been receiving more than $170 million in federal grants each year. Given the Clinton Foundation’s modus operandi, it’s also a good bet that the Foundation supplies very little if any of the funding. (Procter & Gamble is a major partner in the initiative, as the links above indicate, and no doubt fronts some of the funding for it.)
Basically, the partnership of the Clinton Foundation with World Vision has been one in which the Clinton Foundation gets credit for putting World Vision together with USAID, so World Vision can manage the use of taxpayer money.
This certainly puts the preexisting links between the Clinton administration and World Vision in an interesting light. It also puts World Vision’s status as a “Clinton Foundation donor that lobbied the Hillary Clinton State Department” in company with a lot of very dubious activity.
True, the World Vision donations to the Clinton Foundation during Hillary’s tenure didn’t amount to that much: somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000. But private donors to World Vision may legitimately wonder why any of their money is going to a non-profit foundation that spends less than 15% of its revenues on charity. Even the comparatively small amount from World Vision put it among the Clinton Foundation’s top 100 donors.
Getting into a weird area here
A troubling new development in the Clinton Foundation-World Vision partnership is the inauguration in 2015 of a project by a consortium of NGOs called the Start Network. This was announced as a “new commitment” at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in September 2015, and involves “new financial models for humanitarian response.”
In 2015, the Start Network and its partners committed to improving the way the humanitarian sector responds to disasters by developing a layered menu of funding mechanisms to enable faster and more effective response by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). To do so, the Start Network will: 1) scale the Start Fund, the first NGO-managed pooled fund for rapid humanitarian response which releases funds within 72 hours of the declaration of a small-medium scale crisis, such as a landslide or flood, and 2) pilot and scale three new financial mechanisms to enable NGOs to respond to a high impact event, such as drought and epidemics.
The article here previews what those three financial mechanisms look like. Besides a loan facility using “pooled funds” (which are guaranteed to come mostly from American-incurred debt), the Start Network is looking at parametric insurance (risk transfer structures, like those that underlay the housing-finance bubble and the collapse of 2008), and catastrophe bonds.
With the Clinton Foundation involved, and Oxfam – with its own longstanding connections to Palestinian Arab terrorists – as well as World Vision (among others), the Start Network frankly looks like a big, scary accident waiting to happen. NGOs don’t have such a good track record of accounting for their money that we should be in a rush to debt-finance their activities through some obscure scheme – especially in chaotic places where quite literally no one can vouch for how their aid will be handled.
(And that’s even aside from what exactly the Clinton Foundation is getting out of this. Why did the Start Network need to be announced as a new commitment by the Clinton Global Initiative in the first place? The best estimate, after all, is that no money whatsoever will be put up by the Clinton Foundation to facilitate this project.)
In light of these facts, it is of concern that, in 2007, World Vision re-registered to change its tax status from non-profit to church. What that means is that it isn’t a 501(c)(3), and doesn’t have to submit its financial information to the IRS (i.e., to validate its tax-exempt status. World Vision does provide independently audited financial summaries at its website. But the 501(c)(3) disclosure requirements don’t apply to it now).
That’s one thing for an actual church that sponsors charitable activities with its congregation’s tithes. But it’s another thing for one of the world’s biggest NGOs, which gets enormous amounts of grant money from the federal government, partners with the Clinton Foundation to develop “new funding mechanisms” for NGOs, promotes a “documentary” that gives a slanted depiction of Israel and agitates against Christian support for Israel, and loses vast sums to in-house fraudsters in Africa and to Hamas in Gaza.
Partnership with the Obama administration
Given all this, it won’t surprise readers to learn that World Vision is one of the NGOs that stepped up last year to support Obama’s refugee resettlement effort. (Although WV isn’t one of the federal government’s nine go-to agencies for resettling refugees; that’s World Relief you may be thinking of.)
The president of World Vision U.S., Richard Stearns, was named to the advisory council of Obama’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009.
But it’s not clear how well all this embeddedness with the political power structure is paying off for the simple purposes of charity. See the footnote below for more on that from the Haiti response. The downsides of things like being at the table as a guinea pig for “NGO funding schemes,” and paying a very stiff price for getting to operate in Gaza, are real. The upside is by no means obvious.
Christian donors who just want to know they’re helping people in need may want to think hard about how best to spend their charitable dollars. Perhaps Samaritan’s Purse or the Salvation Army, just to name two, would deliver aid more effectively.
I imagine a lot of Christians, meanwhile, will see a predictable link between adopting an anti-Israel stance, being blind to the diversion of funds to Hamas, and becoming increasingly politicized in such a way that charity and compassion start taking a back seat to political considerations.
* World Vision was one of the top NGO responders to the Haiti earthquake of 2010, and seems to have escaped implication in the Clinton Cash shenanigans there pretty narrowly.
I stress that there is no reason to believe World Vision was involved in any fraudulent activity. But the slimy Florida-based corporation InnoVida did name World Vision as a client, in InnoVida’s attempt to solicit OPIC funding for a housing project in Haiti using its Clinton Foundation connections. In subsequent court proceedings against InnoVida’s CEO, World Vision had to affirm that it was not a client for that project.
The InnoVida claim about World Vision was made in January 2010, shortly after the earthquake. Interestingly, in a filing with Broward County in 2014, another Florida company – AshBritt, a debris-management service – produced a document from a competitor, DRC, showing that DRC had performed work for a joint project of InnoVida and World Vision in Haiti, in December 2010. The work was described as “site work for schools.” Again, this is separate from the InnoVida claim about a client relationship for a housing project, which World Vision denied. But the whole situation raises the question of what kind of company a Christian NGO devoted to helping the needy and relieving suffering wants to be in.
NGO-watchers have been scathing about the expenditure of aid funds in Haiti after the earthquake, and World Vision has come in for its share of criticism. In January 2011, The Nation reported:
World Vision (which reports spending $107 million of the $194 million it raised through appeals to help Haitian earthquake survivors) is keeping unspent millions of Haiti donations in “low-risk investment accounts,” according to spokesperson Amy Parodi. She told The Nation that the organization plans to “re-invest” any interest accrued into World Vision’s Haiti response program.
A key factor tending to bottleneck the aid was in fact the centralized planning and government sponsorship (in which both Bill Clinton and Hillary’s State Department, as well as OPIC, were heavily involved). Promises about building infrastructure and industrial parks, hotels and model housing developments, actively interfered with simply delivering aid where people needed it. And NGOs like World Vision were hampered in their operations.