Our Work

Protecting NGO Space: Success Stories

Protecting NGO Space
Success Stories

Over the years InterAction has worked on behalf of, and in coordination with, its members and partners to help protect the ability of civil society organizations to work independently and collectively implement programs designed to help empower and uplift vulnerable communities around the globe. Below are a couple of notable, recent examples of InterAction leadership to protect the space needed by civil society organizations to work and partner effectively on vital global development and humanitarian initiatives.

For additional information on any of the below please contact ia@interaction.org. Media inquiries should be directed to communication@interaction.org.

Speaking Out Against Government Overreach

InterAction speaks out against U.S. military initiative using NGOs as cover for North Korean intelligence operations

In Oct. 2015, The Intercept released an article exposing U.S. military usage of a faith-based NGO as a front for gathering intelligence on North Korea. InterAction worked with the lead writer to inform the story with NGO perspectives and underscore the importance independence for the civil society organizations:

The use of HISG for espionage was 'beyond the pale' of what the U.S. government should be allowed to do, said Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, an association of nearly 200 American NGOs. The practice of using humanitarian workers as spies 'violates international principles' and puts legitimate aid and development workers at risk, he argued.

'It is unacceptable that the Pentagon or any other U.S. agency use nonprofits for intelligence gathering,' Worthington said. “It is a violation of the basic trust between the U.S. government and its civic sector.'

InterAction CEO Sam Worthington's subsequent statement and other quotes were referenced in various follow-up articles that ran around the globe in outlets such as the Yonhap news service and The Washington Post.

In addition to these public facing efforts, InterAction closely consulted with it members – as part of its ongoing security work -- to assess the potential security implications from the article's publication for NGOs in the field. InterAction leaders also worked to amplify the article's impact on the policy front, engaging U.S. government leaders at the highest levels to seek assurances that the Department of Defense and other agencies would prohibit the future usage of civil society groups as cover or fronts for intelligence, military, or other covert U.S. government activities. Learn more

InterAction leads advocacy effort protesting 2010 CIA staged vaccination campaign in Pakistan

In 2010 investigative journalists revealed that the CIA had staged NGO vaccination campaigns in Pakistan as cover to gather DNA and conduct other on-the-ground intelligence operations. The subsequent public outrage in Pakistan, tragically, led to the death of several humanitarian aid workers and forced numerous NGOs to evacuate staff and suspend vital, life-saving immunization operations across the country.

InterAction staff immediately went to work in the wake of the media revelations to help member and partner NGOs with staff on-the-ground coordinate information and convey staff safety needs to US and Pakistani government officials. At the same time, InterAction led a high-level advocacy effort to stress to the highest levels of the U.S. government that:

The CIA’s use of the cover of humanitarian activity … casts doubt on the intentions and integrity of all humanitarian actors in Pakistan, thereby undermining the international humanitarian community’s efforts to eradicate polio, provide critical health services, and extend life-saving assistance during times of crisis.

InterAction also engaged the media in a public education campaign to underscore the commitment of its members to independent, impartial humanitarian action to provide life-saving assistance to people in need. The leadership of InterAction CEO Sam Worthington, on behalf of the NGO community, in protesting the CIA vaccine cover campaign was subsequently honored by The NonProfit Times in 2012. Learn more

Safeguarding Civil Society 

Supreme Court Win Protects Civil Society’s Voice

In 2013, with the leadership of InterAction, NGOs scored a major legal victory when the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that a USAID policy requirement infringed upon Americans’ right to free speech. Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., which was fought over 10 years, challenged a 2003 law requiring that all groups receiving U.S government funds for international work relating to HIV and AIDS have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution. The case hinged on a policy requirement that infringed on NGOs’ right to decide where to spend private money and set a dangerous precedent--telling NGOs what they must say and think, even in their privately funded work. Requirements like this erode the free speech rights of organizations.

To fight this serious threat, InterAction identified and held together a very diverse coalition to protect the voice and autonomy of civil society. The resulting ruling from the nation’s highest court was a resounding affirmation that the government cannot force nongovernmental agencies to subscribe to preapproved views: civil society organizations must have the freedom to express their views and determine the most effective ways to address our toughest global challenges. Learn more

Defending NGO Access

Learning the lesson from the Somalian famine: InterAction works ensure anti-terrorism rules don't limit humanitarian response efforts

During the 2010 Somalia famine, many of the people most in need were under the control of a sanctioned group, Al-Shabaab. Humanitarian NGOs had a hard time getting authorization to respond, and it took months for the U.S. government to allow delivering life-saving assistance. This delay contributed to the deaths of over 200,000 Somalis.

InterAction led an effort to engage key U.S. government officials in the White House and the Departments of Justice, State, and Treasury to help secure needed licenses for NGOs to work in Somalia. InterAction staff also worked with members on public education and advocacy efforts to inform ongoing discussions about the NGO Community's response to the famine in Somalia occurring both in the press and on Capitol Hill.

InterAction built on this effort with a multi-year dialogue between senior U.S. government officials and representatives of U.S. humanitarian NGO community to ensure that the mistakes made during the famine would not impact future relief missions. In 2014, U.S. Department of the Treasury issued new guidance including rapid review of humanitarian license applications. Learn more