Foundation for Defense of Democracies

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Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Formation2001; 22 years ago (2001)
Type501(c)(3) organization
Clifford May
Mark Dubowitz

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank and registered lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C., United States.[1][2][3]

The group's political leanings have been described as hawkish[4][5][6][7] and neoconservative,[8][9] though it is officially nonpartisan.[10][11][12] FDD publishes research on foreign policy and security issues, focusing on subjects such as nuclear-non proliferation, cyber threats, sanctions, illicit finance, and policy surrounding North Korea, Iran, Russia, the war in Afghanistan, and other areas of study.[13][14]

FDD has been identified as part of the Israel lobby in the United States.[15]

History and mission[edit]

FDD was founded shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001.[16] In the initial documents filed for tax-exempt status in Internal Revenue Service, the FDD stated its mission "was to provide education to enhance Israel's image in North America and the public's understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations".[17] Later documents described the mission as "to conduct research and provide education on international terrorism and related issues".[18]

On its website, FDD describes itself as "a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)3 policy institute", with focus "on foreign policy and national security that combines policy research, democracy and counterterrorism education, strategic communications and investigative journalism in support of its mission to promote pluralism, defend democratic values and fight the ideologies that drive terrorism".[16]

FDD has been identified as part of the Israel lobby in the United States by several scholarly sources.[19][20][21] Sima Vaknin-Gil, director general of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, had stated that the FDD works in conjunction with the Israeli government including the ministry.[22] Later documents described the mission as "to conduct research and provide education on international terrorism and related issues".[23]

On 15 November 2019, FDD was officially registered as a lobby under Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.[3]


According to former U.S. ambassador Dennis Jett, FDD "offers hardly any information on where its money comes from and where it goes".[16]


Money contributed to the FDD during first decade of its activity, based on calculations made by Christopher Bail, expanded by 442%.[24]

In 2011, news website ThinkProgress published FDD's Form 990 documents[25] that revealed the source of FDD's funds between 2001 and 2004. Top donors included:

Other notable donors:


FDD's Schedule A documents filed by the end of the 2011 tax year, indicates that the organization from 2008 to 2011 was funded more than $20,000,000,[27] and the top three donors were:


In 2018, AP reported that the United Arab Emirates has wired $2,500,000 to the FDD through Elliott Broidy and George Nader, to host a conference amidst Qatar diplomatic crisis about the country's role as a state-sponsor of terrorism.[28] FDD stated that it does not accept money from foreign governments, adding that "[a]s is our funding policy, we asked if his funding was connected to any foreign governments or if he had business contracts in the Gulf. He assured us that he did not".[28]

Adam Hanieh states that the FDD high-profile conference of 23 May 2017 was in line with UAE's policy at the time, which officially alleged that Qatar finances Islamist groups, adding that emails leaked shortly after show that UAE's Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba had a "cosy relationship" with the FDD, and had reviewed the remarks made by Robert Gates at the convention.[29]


Additionally, it is known that as of 2016, FDD has received donations from the following institutions:


The Iran Project[edit]

FDD and its CEO, Mark Dubowitz, have been sanctioned by Iran for advocating sanctions against Iran and working to end the Iranian nuclear deal.[34][35][36]

FDD's Iran Program is led by CEO Mark Dubowitz.[37][38][third-party source needed]

In 2008, FDD founded the Iran Energy Project which "conducts extensive research on ways to deny the Iranian regime the profits of its energy sector".[39][third-party source needed] The Wall Street Journal credited FDD with bringing "the idea of gasoline sanctions to political attention."[40] The organization pushed for sanctions against the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its use of Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) to perform transactions.[citation needed]

The Syria Project[edit]

For years, Syria has been a focus of FDD's research because of its alignment with Iran and support for organizations such as Hezbollah.[41] In 2012, as the Arab Spring spread to Syria, FDD launched "The Syria Project" to support dissident efforts in removing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad from power.[42][third-party source needed] In that effort, FDD facilitated a Skype call between dissidents and U.S. journalists in 2012.[43]

Long War Journal[edit]

The Long War Journal is a FDD project dedicated to reporting the Global War on Terror launched by the United States and its allies following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Under the direction of FDD senior fellows Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, this website covers stories about countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Iraq and follows the actions of al Qaeda and its affiliates.[44][third-party source needed] According to the Columbia Journalism Review, "Roggio's greatest service, then, may be the way he picks up where the mainstream press leaves off, giving readers a simultaneously more specific and holistic understanding of the battlefield", but says that "...there have been times when Roggio has done himself a disservice by aligning with bloggers who are more about pushing a conservative agenda."[45]

When it was announced in October 2021 that President Joe Biden's top diplomat for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, was stepping down, Bill Roggio of the FDD said, "It is about time he stopped stealing money from the US government. He shoulders a large amount of the blame for shilling for the Taliban."[46]

European Foundation for Democracy[edit]


Clifford May, FDD's founder and current president


Former staff include:

  • Nir Boms (President)[17]

Board of directors[edit]

As of 2005, members of FDD's board of directors were:


The following people served as advisors to FDD as of 2005:



Arun Kundnani, adjunct professor at New York University, in a review of FDD publication Homegrown Terrorists in the US and UK argues that as a work "typical of many in its approach and conclusions", it does not provide empirical evidence for assumptions it makes and neglects contradicting data as a result of an influence by politics of the publisher and funders, and bias in favor of knowledge claims.[48]

Lawrence Wilkerson has criticized FDD for "pushing falsehood" in support of waging wars.[49]

The International Relations Center features a report on the foundation on its "Right Web" website, a program of the think tank Institute for Policy Studies[50] which, according to its mission statement, seeks to "check the militaristic drift of the country". The report states that "although the FDD is an ardent critic of terrorism, it has not criticized actions taken by Israel against Palestinians that arguably fall into this category".[51]

The left-leaning political blog ThinkProgress has criticized FDD for "alarmist rhetoric and fear mongering",[26][unreliable source?] for example in April 2002 when they aired a 30-second television ad campaign called "Suicide Strategy" that was described by critics as "conflating" Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. As FDD explained it: "a militant Islamic terrorist who 'martyrs' himself by hijacking a plane and flying it into the World Trade Center"—referring to the September 11 attacks—"is no different from a militant Islamic terrorist who 'martyrs' himself by strapping explosives to his body and walking into a hotel"—i.e., Palestinian suicide attacks.

In 2017 Bari Weiss of the New York Times reported on dissent within the organization over the pro-Trump orientation it adopted following the 2016 elections, which included at least two employees leaving.[52]

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran has designated the Foundation for Defense of Democracies as a terrorist organization.[53][54]

Islamophobia accusations[edit]

Christopher A. Bail, professor of sociology, public policy and data science at Duke University, describes FDD as an "anti-Muslim fringe organization" that has tried to establish itself as a legitimate authority on Islam and terrorism by tactically using "ethnic experts" —i.e. pundits with Middle Eastern background who were not Muslim— because they advocate views contrary to the mainstream perspective of the Muslim community in the United States, but look like and talk like Muslims.[55]

Sarah Marusek, research fellow at University of Johannesburg, argues that FDD is one of the "key organizations peddling Islamophobia" in a "transatlantic network".[56] Farid Hafez, researcher at Universität Salzburg, asserts the same.[57]


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    • Ahmad, Muhammad Idrees (2014), Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War, Edinburgh University Press, p. 179, ISBN 9780748693054, The [Israel] lobby has insulated itself with a network of satellite institutions and alliances all invested in cultivating the view that Israeli and US interests are identical... It consists of... think thanks such as WINEP, JINSA, AEI, CSP, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, FDD, and the defence/national security programmes of the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation...
    • Seliktar, Ofira; Rezaei, Farhad (2018), Iran, Israel, and the United States: The Politics of Counter-Proliferation Intelligence, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 168, ISBN 9781498569767, The Israel lobby stalwarts—the WINEP, the FDD, the Israel Project, the Jewish National Security Affairs (JINSA), CSP, and UANI, among others—produced a considerable number of reports, policy papers, articles, and op-eds, and their reprasantatives regularly testified before Congress.
    • Mearsheimer, John J.; Stephen, Walt (2007), The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 128–130, ISBN 978-0-374-17772-0, The [Israel] lobby's drift to the right has been reinforced by the emergence of the neoconservatives... The think tanks and advocacy groups most closely associated with these neoconservatives are the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the Hudson Institute, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Middle East Forum (MEF), the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Virtually all neoconservatives are strongly committed to Israel, a point they emphasize openly and unapologetically.
    • Ashwarya, Sujata (2017), India-Iran Relations: Progress, Problems and Prospects, Routledge, p. 179, ISBN 9781351987073, In a 155-page report "US Non-proliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East," co-authored by the head of a right-wing pro-Israel lobby group, the Foundation for Defence of Democracies (FDD), Mark Dubowitz, states that...
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