March 15, 2002 - Does US Freedom Corps legislation threaten the integrity of the Peace Corps?

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Special Reports: Does US Freedom Corps legislation threaten Peace Corps' integrity? [3/15/02]: March 15, 2002 - Does US Freedom Corps legislation threaten the integrity of the Peace Corps?

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, March 15, 2002 - 10:30 am: Edit Post

Does US Freedom Corps legislation threaten the integrity of the Peace Corps?


From its inception there has been a strict prohibition of the Peace Corps being used for intelligence gathering by the US government. As Gerald Rice stated in his book The Great Experiment about the early history of the Peace Corps:


Not a single case of CIA infiltration of the Peace Corps, or use of CIA resources by the Peace Corps, has ever been substantiated. No investigation - including the thorough search in 1976 of Senator Frank Church's Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities - has turned up the slightest evidence of use of the Peace Corps as an arm of US intelligence. Shriver knew that any such association would destroy the Peace Corps' credibility. Hence he took the strictest precautions. Most important, he was assured by the President that the CIA would not attempt to infiltrate the Peace Corps and would not enlist former Volunteers until at least ten years after their Peace Corps service. Kennedy personally relayed this message to Allen Dulles and John McCone, the two CIA directors of the period. This understanding on the inviolability of the Peace Corps was referred to in Peace Corps circles as 'The Treaty.'"

This is not an academic discussion. Lives of volunteers are at risk. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 17, 1996, Senator Paul Coverdell testified about the independence of the Peace Corps during his tenure as Peace Corps Director in the following terms:


[The Peace Corps]...should not be used for intelligence. It is dangerous for volunteers to be in the context of the CIA. The former CIA was not allowed to use them. I was director of the Peace Corps during the Bush administration. We entered Eastern Europe. Solidarity asked, Are the volunteers CIA? It would raise doubts across the entire Corps. It would put the volunteers at risk. We lost a volunteer in Bolivia because they said he was DEA. We need to ratify an exemption for the safety of the Corps. It should be a separate facility.

Now with the implementation of the US Freedom Corps, there is concern that the language in the draft Executive Order for the creation of the USA Freedom Corps threatens the integrity of the US Peace Corps.

Please read and comment on the following op-ed piece by an RPCV that discusses his interpretation of the draft Executive Order creating the USA Freedom Corps, it's threat to the fundamental purpose of the Peace Corps, and what rpcvs need to do to ensure the integrity of the Peace Corps:


by Colin Gallagher, RPCV (El Salvador, 98-2000)

Many RPCVs are now aware of a "New Mandate" being proposed in Washington. RPCVs Roger Landrum and Dave Hibbard have been in touch with Senator Dodd's staff and are in the process of getting legislation drafted that would include more grassroots-style activities and organizations, including the NPCA, under the aegis of implementation of Peace Corps goals.

Many are not aware, however, of new developments which could threaten the fundamental purpose of Peace Corps, which is to promote peace and friendship around the world.

While Peace Corps has had a general prohibition on hiring of individuals who have had a known involvement in intelligence activities, the Peace Corps Act does not specifically preclude "intelligence information" from being routed from one agency to the next. With the implementation of the USA Freedom Corps, a mechanism will exist to do exactly that.

Section 3(f)(iii) of the draft Executive Order for the creation of the USA Freedom Corps reads as follows:


"Upon the request of the Chair, and to the extent permitted by law, the heads of executive branch departments and agencies shall provide the Council with relevant information."

In this case, the Chair is the President of the United States, and the members of the Council include the Attorney General, the Director of the U.S. Peace Corps, and other executive branch heads.

This would not provide an overly serious problem for Peace Corps, were it not for Section 908(a) of the USA Patriot Act. This section of the USA Patriot Act states the following:


"The Attorney General shall, in consultation with the Director of Central Intelligence, carry out a program to provide appropriate training to... officials of the Federal Government who are not ordinarily engaged in the collection, dissemination, and use of foreign intelligence in the performance of their duties, and officials of State and local governments who encounter or may encounter foreign intelligence in the performance of their duties, to assist such officials in identification and utilization of foreign intelligence information."

Clearly, this legislation provides a mechanism where, in combination with section 3(f)(iii) of the Executive Order ordering the creation of the USA Freedom Corps, intelligence information will be passed from Peace Corps to the Attorney General, and from there to the Central Intelligence Agency, by order of law.

In the President's 2003 Budget Initiatives for "Using 21st Century Technology to Secure the Homeland," an increase from zero dollars (2002) to 17 million dollars (2003) will be spent specifically to "assure _relevant information_ is conveyed to State and local officials" for defense purposes. This same language is seen in Section 3(f)(iii) of the USA Freedom Corps Executive Order: "...the heads of executive branch departments and agencies shall provide the Council with _relevant information._"

Is foreign intelligence information part of this "relevant information?" Regardless of the intent of the legislation and Executive Order, there is nothing to legally prevent "intelligence information" from falling into the category of "relevant information."

What is more disturbing is that even if this "relevant information" had nothing to do with intelligence-related info at all, the inclusion of the Attorney General in the USA Freedom Corps Council, of which the Director of Peace Corps is a member, provides a mechanism whereby Peace Corps could be used for intelligence purposes by other government agencies under section 908 of the USA Patriot Act.

A petition has been started to oppose the language of section 3(f)(iii) of the USA Freedom Corps Executive Order. You can link to it at:

All RPCV comments are welcomed on this page. It is hoped that more RPCVs will forward their thoughts on what kind of legislation, if any, is needed to enhance and protect Peace Corps, and to create a unity of goals. To that end, the RPCVs working on the New Mandate Proposals have made a valiant and successful effort to have Senator Dodd's staff consider Peace Corps Independence language as part of the draft proposals. Now is the time to lend your thoughts and support to this ongoing dynamic discussion, so that your ideas can be considered along with others that are being included in draft legislation. Hope to hear from you soon!

(Link to: and follow the Peace Corps Independence links to leave your comment and Make It So!)


The link to the draft Executive Order creating the US Freedom Corps is at:

The Executive Order starts on Page 28

The link to the USA Patriot Act is at:

USA Patriot Act - Section 908 is the relevant section referenced above

The link to Senator Paul Coverdell's testimony defending the integrity of the Peace Corps is at:

Notes from July 17, 1996 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The link to discussion of Peace Corps independence is at:

Discussion of Peace Corps Independence

The link to the petition for Peace Corps independence is at:

Petition for Peace Corps Independence

We encourage rpcvs with legal training or who are familiar with the legislation governing the Peace Corps to research these references and see if they come to the same conclusions as the author of the op-ed piece.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Special Reports; Speaking Out



By Joanne Marie Roll (joey) on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 9:21 pm: Edit Post

I thank Colin Gallagher for his excellent analysis of the ways in which Peace Corps integrity could be compromised by inclusion in the umbrella "Freedom Corps." Initially, I could not see the potential conflicts. Now, I can.
I would like to request that Gallaher do a similar analysis of how the so-called New Mandate legislation and its expanded role for the National Peace Corps Association might also compromise Peace Corps independence. My understanding is that NPCA's membership is not limited to RPCVs and PC staff and there are no employment restrictions on members.

By Leo Cecchini on Tuesday, April 02, 2002 - 10:46 am: Edit Post

By law all information held by any part of the Federal Government must be made available to all parts of the government unless restricted by specific security classification. The items referred to in this article simply restate this condition.

By Vic Cox on Tuesday, April 02, 2002 - 11:33 am: Edit Post

Credibility and trust are the key ingredients to a Volunteer's successful relationship with his/her community and host nationals. If there is any perceived link between a volunteer and intelligence gathering by US govt.agencies you can kiss good-bye to any hope of becoming an effective Volunteer--and probably of making friends, too.
The Peace Corp's independence and integrity must be strengthened, not weakened, and I hope Director Vasquez will actively work toward that end. He could start by exempting the agency from the Bush executive order.

By Hugo V. Schmidt on Wednesday, April 03, 2002 - 12:51 am: Edit Post

Hugo Schmidt, Ukraine, 2000-2001
I feel,as those above, that P.C. must be independent and beyond suspicion in order to have effective volunteers. PCVs must be able to declare, when confronted, that intelligence gathering is prohibited. I was repeatedly questioned as to my reason for being in Ukraine, and "Are you a spy" was a frequent query. Maybe my mature appearence, 73 years with gray hair, was reason for concern. However, it did allow many opportunities for stimulating conversation.

By Judith Podlesney (jpod) on Wednesday, April 03, 2002 - 11:45 am: Edit Post

Judith Podlesney, Malawi, 1993-1996.
The people we serve as Peace Corps Volunteers trust us to have their best interests at heart. We must not compromise that trust in any way through other agendas. Intelligence gathering is the antithesis of the goals of Peace Corps. There is enough suspicion in the international community; let's continue to be part of the solution, not create new problems.

By Raymond T Donaldson on Wednesday, April 03, 2002 - 6:09 pm: Edit Post

I agree with most of what has been said above, especially the comments of Vic Cox. If there is a widespread perception that the Peace Corps is associated with United States intelligence agencies, it will destroy the effectiveness of the Peace Corps and put volunteers at risk.

By Kathleen R. Taylor on Thursday, April 11, 2002 - 7:27 pm: Edit Post

I agree with the comments above. I would not want to serve in the Peace Corps if it was not to remain an independent organization. Peace and friendship do not mix with intelligence gathering-even the perception of connection would destroy what is great about Peace Corps.

By Stephen D. Manning on Saturday, April 13, 2002 - 5:34 pm: Edit Post

Is this discussion still active? I tried to post something on April 11 or 12 but it seems to have disappeared into the ether. If it was edited out, OK, but if not I will try again. Thanks! I may have an account but don't remember if I do.

Steve Manning

By Steve Manning on Saturday, April 13, 2002 - 6:08 pm: Edit Post

Since the last previous message did go through, I will try again. All previous postings on this issue bring up excellent points and I just would like to add two more, excellent or not: (1) I unfortunately do not see a clear line between intelligence gathering and the third goal of the Peace Corps, "bringing the World back home" or something similar, basically helping Americans to learn more about those places Peace Corps serves. Thus, maybe what we should do is forbid all formal Peace Corps connections with any agency that does COVERT intelligence gathering, and of course forbid volunteers from doing that themselves. If the Freedom Corps has authority to do covert actions then Peace Corps should not be part of it. However, to try to regulate who talks to whom may get overly bureaucratic and be counterproductive if it gets to the point that volunteers and RPCV's feel they cannot communicate freely with anyone about anything they learned or experienced in the Peace Corps.
(2) It certainly is important to maintain reciprocal trust between volunteers and those they serve. I feel that the main basis for mistrust, past, present, and future is that if any covert intelligence agency from anywhere really wants to infiltrate an organization, governmental or nongovernmental, Peace Corps or other, they may do it regardless of any official prohibitions or limitations. Thus I might attach slightly less importance to the wording of the legislation and more to being very sure that volunteers continue to be assigned only to positions in which trust can be built based on open communications.

By Jim Fox on Sunday, April 21, 2002 - 2:03 am: Edit Post

It is relatively simple to make and enforce a distinction between (1) experiencing a cultural exchange, (including sharing experiences with family, friends and public back home) and (2) collecting and reporting strategic information to some governmental intelligence processing agency.

In the 60's the distinction was emphaticly and unambiguously clear with a zero-tollerance policy. A member of my group, reportedly was given a "free" plane ticket by some "spook." When discovered, he was immediately terminated and sent home.

If the policy is clear, it is relatively simple to carry-out your work, allegiances and obligations, while remaining detached from other governmental activities. As with other agencies, there are things you talk about, and things you don't.

Peace Corps was and is a service exchange program, which must never become co-opted into either a propaganda or intelligence gathering arm of the federal government. Volunteers are not "employees" in the traditional sense. Rather than working "for" Peace Corps, Peace Corps should be working "for" the Volunteer experience.

Since the beginning, foreign assumptions have been that PCV's were spies using phony volunteerism as a convenient cover. Only by strict isolation, years of individual dedication and focusing on each individual's unique volunteer experience has Peace Corps earned the respect and reputation it has.

All of this could be quickly destroyed if the reputation and tradition of Peace Corps is co-opted for short-term political expediency.

Volunteers often work in isolated locations, often very visible and exposed with only good will for protection. Host countries may have numerous factions either supporting or challenging the host government. It is essential that Volunteers NEVER be seen as a direct arm of political activity.

If emphatic and unambiguously clear, the distinction between cultural exchange and either propagandizing or intelligence gathering, is easilly workable by PCV's, PC/Staff and other governmental agencies.

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