The American Center for Democracy (ACD) is a Manhattan-based nonprofit that claims to be "exposing and monitoring threats to the national security of the U.S. and Western democracies." Although the center has hosted a number of scholars and fellows, it appears to serve primarily as a publishing vehicle for neoconservative writer and activist Rachel Ehrenfeld, its founder and director.
A flagship project of the center is its Economic Warfare Institute (EWI), which is devoted to identifying "emerging economic warfare tactics and finance threats," including "terror financing, political corruption, emerging narcoterrorist movements (i.e. the fusion of the drug trade with terrorism), [and] international terrorist organizations."
The EWI is associated with Ehrenfeld's often controversial work on terrorism financing, the subject of her 2003 book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. The accuracy of the book was questioned by reviewers and eventually became the subject of a libel lawsuit. The lawsuit resulted in a British court ordering Ehrenfeld to pay damages to a Saudi businessman she had accused of supporting al-Qaeda.
The case spurred Ehrenfeld to launch a campaign against "libel tourism," which became the focus of another flagship ACD project. This project aims to insulate Americans from libel charges filed abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom, and has inspired both state and federal legislation blocking the enforcement of British libel rulings by U.S. authorities. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a longtime neoconservative heavyweight, was a major backer of what came to be known as "Rachel's Law," a federal version of which was ultimately signed into law in 2010.
The underlying assumption of ACD's terrorism analysis is that private and public corruption permits international organized crime to flourish, providing a nesting place for terrorist networks. ACD supports initiatives that assess foreign political corruption, elections, and cybersecurity. It also publishes a blog largely populated by Ehrenfeld's writings on these issues.
Islamic terrorism is the primary concern of ACD's work. A former ACD project, "Economic Jihad," was billed as "an ongoing effort to expose the radical Muslim Economic and Financial jihad against the United States and the West." The project's work was published on the ACD website and on the "Terror Finance blog," which was edited by former ACD researcher Ilan Weinglass. In more recent writings, Ehrenfeld has warned about "Islamic banking," which she claims was developed by the Muslim Brotherhood "to penetrate the Western finance system, corrupting it from within in hopes of creating a parallel system to re-establish a global Islamic empire governed by Islamic law."
Ehrenfeld is a proponent of U.S. intervention in Syria's civil war, arguing in a May 2013 blog post that President Barack Obama's reluctance to intervene in the conflict was somehow driving the violence. "Sitting on his hands for two years, doing nothing to stop the atrocities in Syria, Obama seem[s] to have encouraged Assad to use heavy military weapons, such as attack helicopters and tanks against innocent civilians," she wrote. She concluded, "Obama's attempt to pacify the Muslim/Arab world, beginning with his Cairo speech in 2009, seem to have yielded catastrophic results. … [T]he Oslo Committee should change his 'Peace Award' with the 'Sitting on the Fence Award.'"
Ehrenfeld has also promoted the notion that the United States is vulnerable to attack from an "electromagnetic pulse" (EMP) attack, which proponents—including the Heritage Foundation, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Newt Gingrich—say could be launched by a hostile power exploding a nuclear weapon in the stratosphere over the United States. In a blog post hyping a May 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed by ACD board member James Woolsey, Ehrenfeld claimed that both North Korea and Iran "present a real threat of an EMP attack. Both rogue states have the technical know-how and, as importantly, their leaderships have shown themselves willing and capable of irrational behavior." Such an attack, she claimed, "will not only devastate the economy, but also cause the death of millions of Americans." A writerfor Foreign Policy subsequently described the EMP scenario as "a wild claim" peddled by a "crowd of cranks and threat inflators."
Presaging the work of conservative scholars like Matthew Levitt, Ehrenfeld has long argued that Islamic radicals and left-wing South American terrorists have close working relations, including in her 1992 book Evil Money. When challenged to prove her claims, however, Ehrenfeld has said that she can't reveal her sources because they are classified, as Michael Massing pointed out in a review of the book for the New York Review of Books and a subsequent exchange of letters. "In Evil Money," he wrote, "Ms. Ehrenfeld makes a series of sensational claims—that Sierra Leone has become 'an international terrorist center,' that BCCI 'cemented the symbiotic relationship between Peruvian terrorists and drug traffickers,' that Abu Nidal trained Shining Path members in urban guerrilla warfare, helping to set up a 'dormant terrorist infrastructure' in the United States. In my review, I noted how little evidence Ms. Ehrenfeld offered to back up these claims."
Ehrenfeld, an Israeli-American, is a member of the Committee on the Present Dangerand has a doctorate in criminology from the Hebrew University School of Law. She serves on the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit, which provides a forum for intelligence and military officials interested in "fighting terrorism." Tom McInerney and Paul Vallely, two other Intelligence Summit advisory board members, also sit on ACD's advisory board.
Other ACD fellows have included Economic Warfare Institute director Kenneth D.M. Jensen, former State Department official J. Millard Burr, former IDF intelligence adviser Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, consultant Leslie Lebl, columnist Domagoj Margetic, researcher Ganesh Sahathevan, Playfair Group CEO John Wood, and former Lockheed Martin engineer Robert Zubrin. Its board of directors includes former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Reagan-era Defense Department official Richard Perle, defense researcher Nicholas Rostow, Tapestry Pharmaceuticals CEO Leonard P. Shaykin, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Alongside McInerney and Vallely, ACD's advisory board has included Jean-Charles Brisard, Kevin D. Freeman, Gal Luft, Harvey Stone, Dmitry Radyshevsky of the Jerusalem Summit, and "Islamophobic" funder Nina Rosenwald, who heads the Gatestone Institute.
In 2011, ACD—which is classified by the IRS as a "recreational" organization—reported roughly $700,000 in net assets.