Cliff Smithand Sam Westrop
Writing in the Christian Post on November 3, we revealed the full extent of the role played by the international evangelical charity World Vision in a 2015 decision by the Obama administration to approve the transfer of $115,000 of taxpayers’ money to a designated terror financing charity, the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA). This article itself followed a July 2018 report we wrote in National Review first uncovering the scandal, which was covered by media all around the world.
We had high hopes that, once the facts were out in public, World Vision would apologize, accept the evidence we presented, explain the unfortunate circumstances surrounding these events, and seek to correct course to ensure such things didn’t happen again. That would be an appropriate and laudable response by a taxpayer-funded charity upon finding it had transferred funds to a designated terror-financing organization closely linked with Osama Bin Laden.
World Vision’s July 2018 response to the ISRA scandal was misleading. And now, unfortunately, in their response to our November 3 article, World Vision has doubled down.
World Vision declares it “outrageous” that we made the “false and unfair claim” that it “knowingly supported an organization linked to terrorism.”
The problem with this is that we never made any such claim. Instead, our article demonstrated the steps that World Vision could have taken – employing simple due diligence to identify ISRA’s terrorist status before choosing it as a partner for a taxpayer-funded project. Had World Vision, for example, typed the name of ISRA into the Treasury Department’s Sanctioned List, or conducted a simple Google search, red flags would have been immediately raised.
World Vision says that “[ISRA] was not known to be a blocked party when World Vision made the required start-up payment.”
It remains categorically false that ISRA was not known to be a blocked party. It may be true that World Vision did not know, but if that is true, it is because World Vision did not check adequately, as we previously outlined.
World Vision’s statement completely ignores the fact that both World Vision’s grant application and other communications sent to USAID indicate that World Vision had “prior work experience” with ISRA and that “other funding streams that WV utilizes,” have financed ISRA. World Vision has again failed to address the nature of its relationship with ISRA, or explain the “other funding streams” that were used. These are documented, important issues that World Vision must address.
World Vision’s statement does admit, however, the substance of a previously unadmitted part of our claim – that the second payment of $125,000 was indeed authorized by a license, as we stated, and the original $39,759 was not, and was thus illegal.
World Vision states that “As required by regulation, World Vision reported [ISRA] into the U.S. Government’s reporting system using ISRA’s DUNs number. If its DUNs number was invalid, World Vision would not have been able to submit its report.”
If this is true, World Vision should explain where it got this DUNS number, which every recipient of government funds must possess. World Vision must detail the steps it took when submitting this report. As World Vision itself confirmed in a January 6, 2014 communication with USAID, it was responsible for ensuring that ISRA held a valid DUNS number.
Because ISRA was and remains a designated organization, it was ineligible for a DUNS number. World Vision must explain why the DUNS number it provided to USAID does not exist at all in the government’s database of approved award recipients.
World Vision then states that it “Has robust controls and screening processes in place.”
This claim is belied by the fact that World Vision worked with a group that had been a designated terrorist charity for a decade. It fails to explain why, when World Vision was notified of ISRA’s possible terrorist links by a third party, World Vision only months later sought to “clarify” what it had been told.
Rather than repeat boilerplate language about “robust” screening processes, World Vision should be explaining to concerned donors and taxpayers why its screening processes were inadequate, and how it plans to correct them. If those steps have already been taken, World Vision should detail it for the public. If this small bit of transparency can help avoid the future transfer of taxpayers’ money to terror financiers, then why is World Vision instead hiding behind accusatory press releases and pointedly misleading denials?
World Vision finally states that it “We have no evidence that any of our funds have been used for anything other than urgent humanitarian work.”
No one has ever claimed that World Vision’s funds were used for non-humanitarian work. To the best of our knowledge, they have not been used directly for terrorism. But as every expert on terror financing will tell you, money is fungible. And terrorist organizations all around the world use charitable fronts to legitimize and fundraise for their cause. As Elena Kagan said while serving as Solicitor General under the Obama administration, “when you help Hezbollah build homes, you help Hezbollah build bombs.”
World Vision knows this. This understanding has for years been part of a staple warning issued by governments for charities active in areas where terrorist groups operate.
It is not our intention to impugn any of the good work that World Vision does. But denial and obfuscation is not an appropriate response to the discovery that a charity has been working with a designated terrorist entity connected to Bin Laden; rather, reflection and internal investigation is needed.
World Vision should answer, substantively, without dodging questions, the issues raised by the documented facts we discuss, and let the chips fall where they may. Taxpayers and other World Vision supporters would better welcome a charity that could admit making such a serious mistake and take appropriate steps to correct it.
Cliff Smith is the Director of the Washington Project and Sam Westrop is the Director of Islamist Watch, both projects of the Middle East Forum.