Front organization

Front organization

A front organization is any entity set up by and controlled by another organization, such as intelligence agencies, organized crime groups, banned organizations, religious or political groups, advocacy groups, or corporations. Front organizations can act for the parent group without the actions being attributed to the parent group.

Front organizations that appear to be independent voluntary associations or charitable organizations are called front groups. In the business world, front organizations such as front companies or shell corporations are used to shield the parent company from legal liability. In international relations, a puppet state is a state which acts as a front (or surrogate) for another state.


Intelligence agencies

Intelligence agencies use front organizations to provide "cover", plausible occupations and means of income, for their covert agents. These may include legitimate organizations, such as charity, religious or journalism organizations; or "brass plate firms" which exist solely to provide a plausible background story, occupation, and means of income.

The airline Air America, an outgrowth of Civil Air Transport of the 1940s, and Southern Air Transport, ostensibly a civilian air charter company, were operated and wholly owned by the CIA, supposedly to provide humanitarian aid, but flew many combat support missions and supplied covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.[1] Other CIA-funded front groups have been used to spread American propaganda and influence during the Cold War, particularly in the Third World.[2] When intelligence agencies work through legitimate organizations, it can cause problems and increased risk for the workers of those organizations.[3] To prevent this, the CIA has had a 20-year policy of not using Peace Corps members or US journalists for intelligence purposes.[4][5]

Another airline allegedly involved in intelligence operations was Russian Aeroflot that worked in a close coordination with KGB, SVR and GRU.[6] The company conducted forcible "evacuations" of Soviet citizens from foreign countries back to the USSR. People whose loyalty was questioned were drugged and delivered unconsciousness by Aeroflot planes, assisted by the company KGB personnel, according to former GRU officer Victor Suvorov .[7] In 1980s and 1990s, specimens of deadly bacteria and viruses stolen from Western laboratories were delivered by Aeroflot to support Russian program of biological weapons. This delivery channel encoded VOLNA ("wave") meant "delivering the material via an international flight of the Aeroflot airline in the pilots' cabin, where one of the pilots was a KGB officer" .[6] At least two SVR agents died, presumably from the transported pathogens .[6]

When businessman Nikolai Glushkov was appointed as a top manager of Aeroflot in 1996, he found that the airline company worked as a "cash cow to support international spying operations" according to Alex Goldfarb[8]: 3,000 people out of the total workforce of 14,000 in Aeroflot were FSB, SVR, or GRU officers. All proceeds from ticket sales were distributed to 352 foreign bank accounts that could not be controlled by the Aeroflot administration. Glushkov closed all these accounts and channeled the money to an accounting center called Andava in Switzerland .[8] He also sent a bill and wrote a letter to SVR director Yevgeni Primakov and FSB director Mikhail Barsukov asking them to pay salaries of their intelligence officers in Aeroflot in 1996.[8] Glushkov has been imprisoned since 2000 on charges of illegally channeling money through Andava. Since 2004 the company is controlled by Viktor Ivanov, a high-ranking FSB official who is a close associate of Vladimir Putin.

Organized crime

Many organized crime operations have substantial legitimate businesses, such as licensed gambling houses, building construction companies, trash hauling services, or dock loading enterprises. These front companies enable these criminal organizations to launder their income from illegal activities. As well, the front companies provide plausible cover for illegal activities such as drug trafficking, smuggling, and prostitution. Tattoo parlors are often used as fronts for outlaw motorcycle clubs

Where brothels are illegal, criminal organizations set up front companies providing services such as a "massage parlor" or "sauna", up to the point that "massage parlor" or "sauna" is thought as a synonym of brothel in these countries.


The Church of Scientology uses front groups either to promote their interests in politics or to make their group seem more legitimate[citation needed]. The FBI's July 7, 1977 raids on the Church's offices (following discovery of the Church's Operation Snow White) turned up, among other documents, an undated memo entitled "PR General Categories of Data Needing Coding". This memo listed what it called "Secret PR Front Groups," which included the group APRL, "Alliance for the Preservation of Religious Liberty" (later renamed "Americans Preserving Religious Liberty").[9] The Cult Awareness Network (CAN) is considered by many to now be a front group for the Church of Scientology, which took the group over financially after bankrupting it in a series of lawsuits.[10][11][12]

Time identified several other fronts for Scientology, including: the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), The Way to Happiness Foundation, Applied Scholastics, the Concerned Businessmen's Association of America, and HealthMed Clinic.[13] Seven years later the Boston Herald showed how Narconon and World Literacy Crusade are also fronting for Scientology.[14] Other Scientology groups include Downtown Medical, Criminon and the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE).


In politics, a group may be called a front organization if is perceived to be disingenuous in its control or goals, or if it attempts to mask extremist views within a supposedly more moderate group. Some special interest groups engage in astroturfing, which is an attempt to mask lobbying as a grassroots movement.

Gun control lobbying fronts

Many in the gun rights movement claim that the American Hunters and Shooters Association is a front for gun control groups aimed at dividing gun owners into the sport-oriented and the self-defense oriented.

Pro-Israel lobbying fronts

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been accused of using front organizations as a means of circumventing limits on campaign spending[15] These front organizations have names unrelated to AIPAC. Delaware Valley Good Government Association (Philadelphia), San Franciscans for Good Government (California), Beaver PAC (Wisconsin), Cactus PAC (Arizona), and Icepac (New York) are examples of former AIPAC front groups.[16]

"According to a computer-aided analysis of 1986 Federal Election Reports, despite AIPAC’s claims of non-involvement in political spending, no fewer than 51 pro-Israel PACs—most of which draw money from Jewish donors and operate under obscure-sounding names—are operated by AIPAC officials or people who hold seats on AIPAC’s two major policymaking bodies. The study shows that 80 pro-Israel PACs spent more than $6.9 million during the 1986 campaigns, making them the nation’s biggest-giving narrow-issue interest group." [17]

Islamist front organizations

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is alleged by many scholars and intelligence agencies to be front organizations based on their founding ties to known Islamist organizations like Hamas.[18][19] Rep. Cass Ballenger of North Carolina has stated that CAIR is a "fund-raising arm for Hezbollah" in an interview with the Charlotte Observer published 4 October 2003. CAIR official Todd "Ismail" Royer was convicted of conspiring to train on American soil for violent jihad.[citation needed] CAIR officials Rabih Haddad, Bassem Khafagi and Ghassan Elashi have all been convicted of conspiring to fund Islamic terrorist groups.[20][21]

Hezbollah, the Lebanese anti-Israel guerrilla army runs many front organizations for fundraising, including the Al-Mabarrat organization in Dearborn.[22][23]

In the UK, the Muslim Association of Britain has been accused of being a front for or connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.[24]

Apartheid government fronts

South Africa's apartheid-era government used numerous front organizations to influence world opinion and to undertake extra-judicial activities and the killing of anti-apartheid activists; these included[25] the following:

Communist fronts

Communist and other Marxist-Leninist parties have sometimes used front organizations to attract support from those (sometimes called fellow travellers) who may not necessarily agree with Leninist ideology. The front organization often obscures its provenance and may often be a tool for recruitment. Other Marxists often describe front organizations as opportunist. The concept of a front organization should be distinguished from the united front (a coalition of working class or socialist parties) and the popular front. Both the united front and popular front usually disclose the groups that make up their coalitions.

United States

According to a list prepared in 1955 by the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, the Comintern set up no less than 82 front organizations in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. This tactic was often used during the Red Scare of the 1950s, when a number of organizations in the labor and peace movements were accused of being "Communist fronts". Sometimes, Communist fronts worked at an international level, as has been alleged with the World Peace Council.[26]

Soviet intelligence infiltrated many peace movements in the West. In addition to WPC, important communist front organizations included the World Federation of Trade Unions, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, and the International Union of Students.[27] Richard Felix Staar has also suggested that the follow were somewhat less important front organizations: Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization, Christian Peace Conference, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Federation of Resistance Movements, International Institute for Peace, International Organization of Journalists, Women's International Democratic Federation and World Federation of Scientific Workers.[28] There were also numerous smaller organizations, affiliated with the above fronts such as Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.[29][30] Numerous peace conferences, congresses and festivals have been staged with support of those organizations.[31]

More recently, the Workers' World Party (WWP)[32] set up an anti-war front group, International ANSWER. (ANSWER is no longer closely associated with WWP; it is closely associated with a WWP splinter, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, but PSL plays a more open role in the organization.) Similarly, Unite Against Fascism, the Anti-Nazi League, the Stop the War Coalition and Respect – The Unity Coalition are all criticised as being fronts for the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (UK).


In April 1991, CPSU leadership and the KGB has created a puppet political party inside Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), which became the second officially registered party in the country.[33] According to KGB General Philipp Bobkov, it was a "Zubatov's pseudo-party under KGB control that directs interests and sentiments of certain social groups".[34] The former CPSU Politburo member Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev described in his book how KGB director Vladimir Kryuchkov presented the project of the puppet party at a joint meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev and informed him about a selection of LDPR leaders, and the mechanism of funding from CPSU money.[34] The book includes an official copy of a document providing the initial LDPR funding (3 million rubles) from the CPSU money. The leader of LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky proved to be an effective media performer.[33] He gained 8% of votes during the 1991 Presidential elections.[35] He also supported the August 1991 coup attempt.


Some anti-Islamist feminist groups in the Muslim world have also been accused of being front organizations. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan has been accused of being a Maoist front, while the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq has been accused of being a front for the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq .[36][37]

Banned paramilitary organizations

Banned paramilitary organizations sometimes use front groups to achieve a public face with which to raise funds, negotiate with opposition parties, recruit, and spread propaganda. For example, banned paramilitary organizations often have an affiliated political party that operates more openly (though often these parties, themselves, end up banned). These parties may or may not be front organizations in the narrow sense — they have varying degrees of autonomy and the relationships are usually something of an open secret — but are widely considered to be so, especially by their political opponents.

Examples are the relationship between the IRA and Sinn Féin in 1980s Ireland or between the Basque groups ETA (paramilitary) and Batasuna (party) in Spain. Similarly, in the United States in periods where the Communist Party was highly stigmatized, it often operated largely through front groups. In addition, the Provisional IRA also operated a vigilante front group, called Direct Action Against Drugs.

During the Weimar Republic in Germany, the anti semitic and nationalist Organisation Consul reportedly had a front company named the Bavarian Wood Products Company.[38]

Corporate front organizations

Corporations from a wide variety of different industries set up front groups. Some pharmaceutical companies set up "patients' groups" as front organizations that pressure healthcare providers and legislators to adopt their products. For example, Schering Healthcare and Biogen Ltd. tried to pressure the UK National Health Service (NHS) to adopt its drug Beta Interferon to treat Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers. Schering set up and funded a group called MS Voice, with its own website, which claimed to represent MS sufferers.[citation needed]

Another pharmaceutical company, Biogen, set up a campaign called Action for Access, which also claimed it was an independent organization and the voice of MS sufferers. People who visited the website and signed up for the campaign did not realise that these were not genuinely independent patient groups. It has been alleged that computer software giant Microsoft created and funded the Association for Competitive Technology to defend its interests against charges of antitrust violations.[citation needed] Tobacco companies frequently use front organizations and doctors to advocate their arguments about tobacco use, although less openly and obviously than in the 1980s.

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) is one of the more active corporate front groups and one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman. They claim to be supported by restaurants, food companies and more than 1,000 concerned individuals. Based in Washington, DC, Berman & Co. represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. The group actively opposes smoking bans and lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, while targeting studies on the dangers of red meat consumption, overfishing and pesticides. Each year they give out the "nanny awards" to groups who, according to them, try to tell consumers how to live their lives.[39] Berman & Co. is also associated with various anti-union and union-busting campaigns, such as their "Center for Union Facts", as well as anti-animal rights campaigns such as "".[39] They also run affiliated websites such as

A list of some alleged corporate front groups active in the US is maintained by the Multinational Monitor.[40] Some think tanks are corporate front groups. These organizations present themselves as research organizations, using phrases such as "...Institute for Research" in their names. Because their names suggest neutrality, they can present the commercial strategies of the corporations which sponsor them in a way which appears to be objective sociological or economical research rather than political lobbying.

Similarly the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness has been criticised as a front organization for various industry bodies which seek to undermine regulation of their environmentally damaging activities under the guise of 'regulatory effectiveness'.[41]


Astroturfing, a wordplay based on "grassroots" efforts, is an American term used pejoratively to describe formal public relations projects which try to create the impression of a groundswell of spontaneous popular response to a politician, product, service, or event. Corporations have been known to "astroturf", but are not the only entities alleged to have done so. In recent years, organizations of plaintiffs' attorneys have established front groups such as Victims and Families United to oppose tort reform.[42]

See also


  1. ^ Leary, William M.. "CIA Air Operations in Laos, 1955-1974 Supporting the "Secret War"".  From Studies in Intelligence (CIA), volume 43, number 1, winter 1999-2000.
  2. ^ Powers, Thomas, "The Man Who Kept the Secrets : Richard Helms & the CIA", Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1979, ISBN 0-394-50777-0
  3. ^ Joe Davidson, "I Am Not a CIA Agent". 2002-04-11. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  4. ^ "Press briefing by Mike McCurry". Clinton Presidential Materials Project. 1996-07-17.. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  5. ^ "Exclusive: Peace Corps, Fulbright Scholar Asked to 'Spy' on Cubans, Venezuelans". ABC News. 2008-02-08. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  6. ^ a b c Alexander Kouzminov Biological Espionage: Special Operations of the Soviet and Russian Foreign Intelligence Services in the West, Greenhill Books, 2006, ISBN 1-853-67646-2
  7. ^ Viktor Suvorov Aquarium (Аквариум), 1985, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN 0-241-11545-0
  8. ^ a b c Alex Goldfarb, with Marina Litvinenko Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB, The Free Press, 2007, ISBN 1-416-55165-4
  9. ^ Kent, Stephen A.; Krebs, Theresa (1988). "When Scholars Know Sin: Alternative Religions and Their Academic Supporters". Skeptic 6 (3): 36–44. Retrieved 2006-06-06. 
  10. ^ Knapp, Dan (1996-12-19). "Group that once criticized Scientologists now owned by one". CNN. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  11. ^ Kent, Stephen A. (January 2001). "The French and German versus American Debate over 'New Religions', Scientology, and Human Rights". Marburg Journal of Religion 6 (1). Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  12. ^ Russell, Ron (1999-09-09). "Scientology's Revenge - For years, the Cult Awareness Network was the Church of Scientology's biggest enemy. But the late L. Ron Hubbard's L.A.-based religion cured that -- by taking it over". New Times LA. Retrieved 2011-10-21. 
  13. ^ Behar, Richard (1991-05-06). "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power". Time.,9171,972865-6,00.html. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  14. ^ Mallia, Joseph (1998-03-03). "INSIDE THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY; Scientology reaches into schools through Narconon". Boston Herald. 
  15. ^ Top Pro-Israel Contributors to Federal Candidates and Parties (1992), Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed online 8 October 2006.
  16. ^ Richard Curtiss (1997): U.S. Aid to Israel: The Subject No One Mentions, The Link 30 (4):10.
  17. ^ John Fialka, Linked Donations? Political Contributions From Pro-Israel PACs Suggest Coordination, Wall Street Journal, June 24, 1987 p1 c6
  18. ^ Daniel Pipes and Sharon Chadha, CAIR: Islamists Fooling the Establishment, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2006. Volume XIII, Number 2. Accessed online 8 October 2006.
  19. ^ David Frum, The truth about Hamas - and its followers, National Post (Canada), April 25, 2006. Accessed online 8 October 2006.
  20. ^ Lisa Klopfer, Information on Rabih Haddad, September 5, 2004
  21. ^ CAIR and Terrorism, Editorial from the Washington Times, July 23, 2004
  22. ^ Steven Emerson, Al-Mabarrat – A Hezbollah Charitable Front in Dearborn, MI?, Counterterrorism Blog, July 22, 2006. Accessed online 8 October 2006.
  23. ^ Debbie Schlussel, Hezbollah U.S.A, Part II: Al Mabarat Charitable Organization, Tax-Funded Hezbollah on Our Shores,, July 24, 2006. Accessed online 8 October 2006.
  24. ^ Briefing on the Muslim Association of Britain, Workers' Liberty, August 22, 2006.
  25. ^ Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, Volume 2,. 2003. pp. 525–527. 
  26. ^ Richard Felix Staar, Foreign policies of the Soviet Union, Hoover Press, 1991, ISBN 0817991026, p.79, p.84
  27. ^ Richard Felix Staar, Foreign policies of the Soviet Union, Hoover Press, 1991, ISBN 0817991026, p.84
  28. ^ Richard Felix Staar, Foreign policies of the Soviet Union, Hoover Press, 1991, ISBN 0817991026, p.80-81
  29. ^ Richard Felix Staar, Foreign policies of the Soviet Union, Hoover Press, 1991, ISBN 0817991026, p.82-83
  30. ^ Richard Felix Staar, Foreign policies of the Soviet Union, Hoover Press, 1991, ISBN 0817991026, p.86
  31. ^ Richard Felix Staar, Foreign policies of the Soviet Union, Hoover Press, 1991, ISBN 0817991026, p.85
  32. ^ Adrienne Weller, Millions in the streets! …and here come the redbaiters, Freedom Socialist, Freedom Socialist Party, Vol. 24, No. 1, April–June 2003.
  33. ^ a b White, Stephen (2005). "The Political Parties". In White, Gitelman, Sakwa. Developments in Russian Politics. 6. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822335220. 
  34. ^ a b Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev Time of darkness, Moscow, 2003, ISBN 5-85646-097-9, page 574 (Russian: Яковлев А. Сумерки. Москва: Материк 2003 г.)
  35. ^ Hale, Henry E. (2010). "Russia's political parties and their substitutes". In White, Stephen. Developments in Russian Politics 7. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780230224490. 
  36. ^ Karsten Kofoed, Lackeys of the occupation disguise as progressives, The Committee for a Free Iraq, Denmark, October 28, 2004
  37. ^ Megan Cornish, Iraqi Women Face Double Jeopardy, March 3, 2005
  38. ^ Waite, Robert G L. (1969). Vanguard of Nazism. W W Norton and Company. , page 217
  39. ^ a b Center for Consumer Freedom, SourceWatch
  40. ^ Corporate Front Groups and Corporate-Backed Groups, Multinational Monitor Links Page
  41. ^ Chris Mooney, Paralysis by Analysis, The Washington Monthly, May 2004
  42. ^ Astroturf in the liability wars, (sponsored by the Manhattan Institute and American Enterprise Institute), July 1, 2005

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