The Trump administration has stopped technical assistance to pro-democracy groups in Belarus, Hong Kong and Iran, withholding a congressional grant of nearly $20 million, the Guardian reported.
The non-profit Open Technology Fund was stiffed by President Donald Trump’s new broadcasting chief appointee Michael Pack, the news outlet reported.
The halt to aid forced OTF to stop all operations in Belarus, and many operations supporting civil society in Hong Kong and Iran, the news outlet reported.
The OTF develops technologies for evading cyber-surveillance and for circumventing internet and radio blackouts imposed by authoritarian regimes.
OTF chair Karen Kornbluh told the news outlet the end of funding from the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which Pack took over in June, would put activists in those countries at increased risk.
“They are more vulnerable,” Kornbluh told the Guardian. “It means from a US perspective, it’s really undermining this core tool that we have for protecting democratic values and protecting those who are seeking their freedoms overseas.”
The freeze will also make it harder for people in those countries to listen to the Voice of America, the USAGM’s flagship broadcaster, and USAGM-funded stations like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, because it would be more difficult to overcome state jamming methods.
“We have these agencies and we’re kneecapping them,” Kornbluh told the news outlet.
Grant Turner, the former chief financial officer and acting USAGM CEO said that Pack’s funding freeze had created chaos. At one point, he said there was no money in the agency headquarters to buy toilet roll.
“Nothing in my 17 years [of government experience] comes even close to the gross mismanagement, the abuse of authority, the violations of law, that have occurred since Michael Pack assumed the role of CEO at USAGM,” Turner told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, the Guardian reported.
Pack skipped an appearance and ignored a subpoena to go before the committee, Reuters reported.
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