May 24, 2005

A Good Look At "Spirit Of America"

[update: latest on ITM here]

It seems the only people on the right who are taking Ali Fadhil's accusations seriously are the people he has accused of incompetence and lies - Jim Hake's supposed charity, "Spirit of America". Today yet another page appears on their website trying to convince donors to keep sending money (SoA already posted two pages by way of explanation: here and here).

Ali accuses Hake's team of massive dishonesty, corruption and incompetence. He says that SoA's accomplishments are "so small and so lacking that they should be ashamed of mentioning them" - Hake, of course, takes care to mention every one of them in detail. And yet a good look at SoA's projects indicates that Ali's allegations are totally true: donors' money has been used for US war propaganda purposes and little else. But more of that later.

The main problem is, SoA has not even tried to address Ali's most serious allegations, which involve the strange behaviour of SoA CEO Jim Hake and his former "Director of Logistics and Procurement" Kerry Dupont. As Ali said,
"I'm not diappointed with SoA because I think they were stealing donors money... I'm disappointed because they lied to us, both Iraqis and Americans."
Ali details some of Dupont's "strange behaviour" ...
she told us that if Jim did not approve the budget they she has 300 000 $ that we could use to do what we want...

Mohammed seemed to recall her saying tht it was Kerry's personal money while I recall her saying it wasn't.
Three hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money to be throwing around, folks. And let's remember, this was happening while Paul Bremer was (supposedly) running Iraq and US$800 million was disappearing! Add two and two together and you would have to think that the money Dupont was offering came from those same taxpayer-funded coffers. But how the hell did Kerry Dupont get authorised to hand it out? Prior to her (extensive) involvement with Iraq The Model, Dupont was (as far as I can tell) just a plain old mother of two from Topsham, Maine. What happened on the way to Baghdad, Kerry?

Ali also indicates that Dupont behaved in this "strange" way on many other occasions. In particular, he says she warned the Fadhil brothers to stay away from US contractors in Iraq because they had links to the US military and were therefore dangerous:
"If they don't leave you, let me know and I'll contact the DoD and they will kick them away"!
Excuse me? Wasn't the whole idea for US contractors and ordinary Iraqis to work together to rebuild the country? As Ali says, his two brothers met with Bush in the White House - what could be more dangerous to a US-loving Iraqi's reputation than that?!?

That White House meeting with Bush is at the core of this whole issue. When Ali complained to Jim Hake about Dupont's behaviour, Hake said the news was "very, very disturbing." And yet instead of sacking Dupont and thanking Ali for his help, Hake dumped Ali from the trip (Ali says he decided not to go but it seems the decision was extremely mutual). So Kerry Dupont was right there with Jim Hake and Ali's two brothers, Omar and Mohammed Fadhil, when they met with George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz in the White House in October, 2004.

It gets wierder. After the trip, Hake kept contacting Ali, offering him "any position I wanted and any salary I would find suitable". Any salary, Jim? Again, where would Hake get unlimited funds like that? SoA was in damage control, but what did Ali know that was worth so much to Jim Hake?

Here's my conclusion:

Jim Hake set up Spirit of America as an opportunistic scam to grab all the cash and political opportunities he could get from Bush's mad Iraq free-for-all. The big meeting with Bush was set up through a network of friends leading to arch-neocon Paul Wolfowitz (a man who frequently directed reporters to the Fadhil's Iraq The Model blog, by the way). When Ali started asking difficult questions, Hake dumped him from the trip. Afterwards, when he found that he couldn't buy Ali off, he sacked Kerry Dupont.

Now let's take a closer look at the glossy projects featured on SoA's website. Like Ali said, it looks GREAT...!

Based on Ali's allegations, there are seven Spirit of America projects under discussion.

1-Production of radio and television Public Service Announcements by the Iraq Ministry of Women’s Affairs to encourage women to vote.

Ali's story and Jim's story are in direct conflict here. Ali says the secretary of the Women's ministry asked for $10,000 but Jim sent her to Ahmed Al Rikabi, who wanted to charge $30,000. Hake says the women wanted $50,000 and he talked them down to $35,000. Even then, he admits, half this money has gone missing!

Hake has also failed to properly explain his relationship with Ahmed Al Rikabi, the owner of Dijla Radio, which ran adverts for SoA's fledgling "Friends Of Democracy". Hake says SoA has "no ongoing relationship" with the "corrupt" (Ali's word) Mr Al Rikaby, yet he still "communicates with him periodically". Well, why are they still in communication, may we ask?

Jim also fails to even respond to this allegation from Ali:
"Jim told one of my friends to arrange for an Ad. on DIjla Radio. My friend contacted the radio by mail and told them that he was contacting them on behalf of their American friends in SoA. They told him they will manufacture the Ad. for 200$/ minute. My friend who is a businessman by nature called them on the phone and asked the same request but he did not say who he was. They responded saying they will do the Ad. for him for 100$/minute! My friend did the ad with the lower price but also told Jim about the incident."
As with the Dupont incident, it seems, Jim's response was to ignore the problem. Hard to argue with Ali's conclusion:
"It didn't matter to him what those people think or how they used American money. All that mattered that they would look good to Americans."

2-Securing the rights to and subtitling in Arabic documentaries about elections in post-dictatorship countries for broadcast in Iraq.

Hake says SoA spent $2,800 researching this only to conclude that it was not possible. That's $2,800 wasted. And why was the SoA website not updated when the project was canned?

3-Providing $1,000 microgrants to 150 Iraqi women community leaders identified by the Iraqi Women’s Educational Institute.

Hake says this was scaled back from 150 women to only 25 women because of a lack of funds. Yet the funds are still sitting idle (it seems) because SoA is waiting for the Institute to request them! So much for proactive assistance to Iraqis! And once again, why was the SoA website not updated when the project was scaled down?

4-Production and broadcast of citizen roundtables and townhall meetings.

Again, scaled back with no explanation or website update. As Ali says:
"My friends were simply left no time to do anything other than present news to American audience after translating them on the "Friends of Democracy" website and they were even told to "leave it for the time being and focus on the news" (Because it brings more money and publicity I think)."
What I don't understand is that these Iraqi "friends" of Ali's all seem to be volunteers, and he claims his brothers are also volunteers. So who are the people SoA is actually paying for this kind of work ("staff, operations, etc")?

5-Support for Iraqi intellectuals who wish to publish and create public dialog on constitutionalism and the new Iraqi constitution.

Hake confirms Ali's analysis:
"Nothing was done on this project and it's completely forgotten also."

6-Creation and hosting of an Arabic blogging tool.

This appears to be SoA's one and only real accomplishment. But wait a minute - what is it, actually?

Iraqis lack medicines and fresh water, their children are dying of malnutrition, and Hake is giving them what? A blogging tool, so they can tell the world all the good news about Bush's Iraq! Even if they did have a computer and some literacy skills, many Iraqis wouldn't even have the electricity to write a blog! And if they really did want to write a blog in Arabic, why not use some other software?

Well, now, here's the thing: Hake's team control the servers on which these "Arabic blogging tool" blogs are written. And they monitor the content to ensure that only US-friendly content is being produced. Both Hake and the Fadhils have confirmed this in previous comments. In other words, this blogging tool is really a US propaganda tool, pure and simple.

And of course, like the war itself, it's still suffering "technical difficulties"!

7- Support of a network of pro-democracy student groups and community organizations called “Friends of Democracy” ...

Hake says the vast bulk of SoA's expended funds - US$123,710 - were spent on this and the organization "was given considerable discretion to use the funds". He says "part of" that money was spent on Internet access and computers, as well as lectures and training. Once again, remember, this is all so that grateful Iraqis can get on the Internet and sing Bush's praises.

Let's look at some of Spirit of America's other projects: buying polaroid cameras for US soldiers so they can take pics of good news incidents, supporting "pro-democracy" demonstrators in Beirut (but not Uzbequistan, of course), improving the morale of Coalition Troops at Fort Tal Afar... Even seemingly worthwhile projects, like providing schoolbooks (whose version of history?) and promoting women's rights, seem to have a pro-US ideological edge to them.

Given all of the above, one can only conclude that Jim Hake's Spirit of America is not only an unbelievably incompetent organisation, it is also far more of a Bush propaganda tool than anything that could remotely be called a "charity". As Ali suggests, the real aim of "Spirit of America" seems to be a means of furthering the US neocon agenda and promoting Jim Hake's own personal political ambitions.

UPDATE: Ali has now posted another long list of further evidence and questions for Jim Hake to answer. He includes a link to another Iraqi blogger, Fayrouz, who also has gripes with Hake's organization. And the comments section includes this from Jeffrey - New York:
Here's the overview from the "financials" file:

>Summary through December 31st, 2004

>Total Donations: $6,895,508
>Admin Expenses: $ 423,858
>Program Expenses: $4,576,176
>Total Expenses: $5,000,034
>Admin Exp as % of Donations: 6.1%
>Admin Exp as % of Total Expenses: >8.5%
># Donations: 17,077 (a/o Feb. 21, 2005)

Have any of you taken a close look at the "financials" file? I have.

I'm sorry, people, but Ali is right. This is a scam. Over 7 MILLION dollars have been donated to SoA and what do they have to show for it? Lots of money spent on salaries, furniture, office equipment, and travel expenses and on and on. Hey, Jim, I thought 100% of the donations were going directly to the Iraqi people?
UPDATE 2: Hake has posted yet another page to explain what happened to that $500,000 Ali asked about. Problem is, he really hasn't explained it in terms of real projects. I'm assuming most of it went on "administration". And Hake also explains why he walked away from "Friends of Democracy" - it was too dangerous, it was totally unneccessary, and nobody was interested anyway. Funny, that's not how it sounded on their website, is it?

4 comments:

elendil said...

Ali says "I'm not sure what SoA's real agenda is", but then he says "They are reassuring Americans that a great job is being done in Iraq through their donations, where in fact the good things that were accomplished are so small and so lacking that they should be ashamed of mentioning them. Not to mention that there are harmful things done without them caring to do anything about it.".

Ali -- one-time writer of Iraqi good-news-only -- think about it. Why did ITM and SoA make such a lovely couple? What do you two share in common?

Do you know the phrase "pot calling the kettle black"?

I think you might already know what SoA's real agenda is.

gandhi said...

elendil,

Fair enough - Ali Fadhil has a lot to answer for, given how wholeheartedly ITM supported the whole SoA agenda. He even deleted some of my recent comments on his blog (saying that the USA should pull out of Iraq).

But give him credit for finally having the courage to come out and say what had to be said. I'm sure there are many other war supporters who have grown increasingly uneasy with the direction things are headed but dare not change their stance...

It does take some courage and self-awareness to admit you were duped, and to admit you were wrong. So bravo, Ali.

I imagine it is still something of a shock for Ali to be getting kudos from me (of all people) and a shock for ITM readers to see me taking his side on this issue. Well, deal with it, folks.

Truth is, I never was a troll at ITM, I was just treated like one. As were an other anti-war commenters.

But let's stick with the story here, eh? As I always tried to say at ITM, it's not about me!

elendil said...

Gandhi, you're a more generous person than I am.

I was pretty disappointed with his initial vague response, and I'm glad he finally had the testicular support to explain himself, belated as it was. Still, I can't fathom how he does not understand SoA's primary objective when he operates in exactly the same realm (at least until he changed blogs).

It reminds me of Samaratin's Purse and their Operation Christmas Child. The idea is that they send a shoebox full of toys for impoverished kids overseas. Sounds nice, doesn't it? Until you realise that the cost of approx $5 a box could be used much more effectively to address real needs of food, clean water, etc. So what's the deal, why are they being so inefficient? The trick is that they're not being inefficient - they are meeting their objectives perfectly. You see, the primary objective here is not to alleviate poverty, or even to brighten some little kids day. It's to evangelise. Each shoebox contains a Christian tract in the child's native language.

Do you see the parallel? How efficient is it to create an expensive blogging tool, when the water Iraqis drink is contaminated with sewage? Compare SoA's "featured programs" list with more reputable organisations, and you'll see what I mean in terms of priorities and efficient use of money.

It is said "by their fruits, you will recognise them". I think we can recognise the objectives of an organisation by looking at the types of projects they run.

I can't fathom how he doesn't understand, when he has spent about two years participating in this. I'm pretty sure that he started off sincere, and that he wanted to share good news about Iraq because he's a lovely, warm, fuzzy guy. But he *must* have seen the political effect that he had on the Americans. Does he not have a site-meter? Wolfowitz quotes him, for crying out loud. How much more obvious can it be?

You know I don't share your psy-ops theory, and he obviously doesn't, but you don't need higher-level organisation to explain the appeal of good news from Iraq, written by Iraqis, and how well that goes with a feel-good, low-impact charity, which seems to do more to make Americans feel good than help Iraqis survive a terrible situation.

htroundup said...

On a very bright note, Operation Christmas Child not only sends Christian tracts in their shoe boxes, they are one of a leading group of Christian organizations to provide much needed medical assistance, homes, food and many other items all over the world. Not just Iraq is hurting today. Uganda, Latin America, Liberia, Sudan. So many people need help. And thanks to generous organizations like Samaritan's Purse, they're getting it.

And so what if there's a little Christian message in the shoe box? You don't have to do anything with it if you don't want to. It's not like they take the box back if you don't fall on your knees then and there.

Take it easy on the Christians. They do a lot of good work around the world - work that no one else wants to do.

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