A report released by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley indicates the evangelical relief organization World Vision unwittingly funded an organization with links to terrorists in Sudan using grant money from the U.S. government. An investigative committee into World Vision’s actions concluded that instead of willfully funding terrorists, the Christian organization was guilty of relying on “flawed logic” and failing to perform even an “elementary level of vetting” of Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), the organization it funded.
“This failure occurred because World Vision’s system for vetting prospective sub-grantees was borderline negligent and ignored elementary level investigative procedures, such as failing to conduct basic secondary research that is widely available to the public on the internet via free search engines,” the Senate report reads.
Sen. Grassley (R, Iowa) is the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Unit, Finance Committee, which was tasked with looking into World Vision’s partnership with ISRA between the years 2013-2014. World Vision paid ISRA for services rendered as a part of its Blue Nile Recovery Program, the purpose of which was “to provide food security, sanitation equipment and health services to the conflict affected areas in the Blue Nile region of Sudan,” according to the Committee’s report. World Vision applied for and received a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the amount of $723,405 for this project. Some of this money World Vision used to pay ISRA to carry out certain aspects of the program.
The report states that World Vision became aware there may be a problem with partnering with ISRA in 2014 when it attempted to partner with another relief organization, International Organization for Migration (IOM). As is standard operating procedure for most relief organizations, IOM looked into World Vision’s partners and raised a red flag concerning ISRA. The report states IOM was able to identify ISRA as an organization on the U.S. government’s Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List (SDN) relatively easily and quickly.
World Vision could have also found the information, the Committee believes, before partnering with ISRA, if an “elementary level of vetting of ISRA had been performed by World Vision.”
In its defense, World Vision stated that it had used a software program called “Watchdog” to search for information about ISRA. While Watchdog did search the SDN list and ISRA did come up in the results, World Vision claims the fact that ISRA was listed as being based in Missouri in the United States instead of Khartoum, Sudan led them to dismiss the search result. Still, the Committee points out that the list clearly states “‘all [ISRA] offices worldwide’ are sanctioned.” Additionally, on the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) website, a description of ISRA states it is headquartered in Sudan. The Committee provided screenshots of this information from OFAC’s website.
Even after being given the tip, the report states that World Vision spent several weeks attempting to verify what IOM had discovered.
In September 2014, World Vision’s legal department was notified of ISRA’s status on the SDN list. They immediately stopped payments to ISRA, although they didn’t completely cut ties with ISRA. World Vision reached out to the OFAC requesting confirmation of ISRA’s status and also requesting permission to complete its contract with ISRA. When they didn’t receive a timely response, World Vision came to the conclusion they couldn’t verify the claim about ISRA. In the meantime, World Vision says they were under “intense” pressure from ISRA and the Sudanese government to pay for services already rendered. This request to pay for these services was eventually approved by the Obama administration.
World Vision also said they believed the U.S. government should have warned them about ISRA because in previous applications, World Vision had listed ISRA as a partner or what is known as a “sub-grantee.”
Despite what it described as “borderline negligent” behavior on the part of World Vision, the Committee’s report said it “did not find any evidence that World Vision intentionally sought to circumvent U.S. sanctions by partnering with ISRA.” Additionally, the Committee found “no reason to doubt World Vision’s assertion that the funds in their entirety were used by ISRA for humanitarian purposes.” However, the Committee points out that any money going to an organization with ties to terrorism “inevitably aids their terrorist activities.”
World Vision implemented changes to its vetting process after the incident with ISRA, which the Committee acknowledged. Still, the Committee says it “has reservations concerning World Vision’s ability to avoid situations similar to the ISRA – Blue Nile Recovery Program incident in the future.” This is due to what the Committee describes as World Vision essentially abdicating its responsibility to vet the organizations it partners with to others, such as the U.S. government.