Peter Ackerman

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Peter Ackerman is the Chairman of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Boston. He is also the chairman of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, the former chairman of Freedom House, and a "a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. Advisory Council of the United States Institute of Peace, and the Business Advisory Council of United States Olympic Committee."[1]

In recent years there has been a long-running debate between critical scholars and affiliates of Ackerman's International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, with the critics suggesting that the ICNC and their founder and primary funder, Peter Ackerman, are acting in the service of imperialism. [2]

"Peter Ackerman is the Managing Director of Rockport Capital Incorporated, a private investment firm. Since its inception in 1990, Rockport has made numerous direct investments in fields as diverse as movie libraries, publishing, propane distribution, textiles, custom labeling, wax refining, auto part remanufacturing, variable life insurance, SMS integration, and internet-based food retailing. From 1978 to 1990, he was Director of International Capital Markets at Drexel Burnham Lambert where he structured, financed, and invested in hundreds of recapitalizations including the largest and most complex leveraged acquisitions of that period."[1] He was the Executive Producer of the documentary Bringing Down A Dictator.

Early History

Peter Ackerman was born in New York City, Nov 6 1946, and educated at Colgate University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University) where he earned a PhD in International Relations.[3]

After his graduation he joined the junk-bond dealers, Drexel Burnham Lambert, and for most of the next fifteen years, he was the right-hand man to Michael Milken the "Junk-Bond King". He became the key deal-maker and strategist for the company, and his innovative approach to deal-making, together with his unusual academic qualifications, earned him the nickname "the absentminded professor". But the record shows that he was far from absent minded.

He was the primary decision-maker in most of the enormous debt-structured deals Drexler did with Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts (KKR), the leverage buyout (LBO) specialists. Drexler's ability to generate junk-bond funding were central to the success of KKR and other LBO deal-makers during the 1980s. "The Age of Leverage", as this decade came to be called, culminating with KKR/Drexel's take-over of RJR Nabisco, the tobacco-and-food conglomerate (previously R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company). During this time, the fees and salary Ackerman earned from LBO deals were astronomical. According to Wall Street journalist/author George Anders in his book, The Merchants of Debt, as the chief strategist for the company, Ackerman earned up to $125 million a year.[4] Milken himself only earned $5 million in 1976 before the LBO boom, but government investigators later discovered that his income jumped to $295 million in 1986, and $550 million in 1987 (according to Pulitzer Prize-winner, James B. Stewart's "Den of Thieves").[5] Unlike Milken who liked to flaunt his wealth, Ackerman lived relatively modestly and socked his income away in Treasury Bills at CitiBank. From 1981 when he first contacted KKR on behalf of Milken, to 1989 when the LBO business virtually collapsed overnight, Ackerman generated many billions of dollars in fees for the company, and when the crunch finally came with the Black Monday stockmarket crash in October 1987 (in the midst of the take-over battle for RJR-Nabisco,) he designed a scheme which saw Drexler and KKR win the tobacco-food company by issuing an 'innovative' form of 'reset bonds' - which had special obligations and variable interest rates tied to corporate performance. These reset bonds later came to haunt the RJR Nabisco deal when high-debt companies suddenly faced new problems, and they are credited with responsibility for what was almost "the largest corporate collapse" in American corporate history. During February 1990, the terms of the RJR Nabisco bonds timed-out and needed to be renegotiated in markets unwilling to lend. KKR had to pay out over $250 million in special bank fees to extricate itself from the mess - quite apart from astronomical interest rates. The financial crisis nearly sent KKR itself broke and forced it "to buy RJR a second time" (by borrowing even more from its lenders and banks), and these reset bonds are said to be the primary cause of Drexler’s own bankruptcy.

But at the end of the 1980s, especially late 1987 onwards, Milken was also fighting government security-fraud charges, and Ackerman had taken over most of Milken's duties. The prosecutors also threatened to go after Milken's family and associates with RICO charges which forced Milken to deal with the prosecutors.

From March 1989, when Milken was formally indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and securities fraud, Ackerman virtually ran the company. Anders says Ackerman was propping "up Drexler's market-share statistics by selling a lot of bonds of dubious quality" -- and this was the time of the RJR Nabisco takeover.[4]</ref>

In the fall of 1990, Milken pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment (he served only two). He paid $200 million in fines, and agreed to a settlement with the SEC which returned $400 million to shareholders: this reduced Milken's net worth to about $1 billion.

Before Milken's imprisonment Ackerman moved to London where he joined the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Recent History

A recent Tufts Univ. biography summarized his other exploits:

Peter Ackerman is the Managing Director of Crown Capital Group Incorporated, a private investment firm. For the past decade, Crown has made successful direct investments in such diverse fields as propane distribution, ball bearings, textiles, auto part remanufacturing, publishing, variable life insurance and internet-based food retailing. From 1978 to 1990 he was the Director of International Capital Markets at Drexel Burnham Lambert where he structured, financed, and invested in hundreds of recapitalizations including the largest and most complex leveraged acquisitions of that period.
Dr. Ackerman is a member of the boards of CARE, Colgate University and the Cato Institute. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Executive Council of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He co-authored Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, published in 1994, and A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. The latter volume was a companion book for the Emmy nominated documentary of the same title that appeared on PBS in September 2000, for which Dr. Ackerman served as the series editor. Most recently, Dr. Ackerman has co-produced a documentary on the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia for PBS, which won the Peabody Award.
After earning a B.A. from Colgate University in 1968, Dr. Ackerman studied at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, earning an M.A. in 1969, M.A.L.D. in 1971 and a Ph.D. in 1976. He joined the Board of Overseers to the Fletcher School in 1993 and has served as chair since 1996. He was elected to the Tufts University Board of Trustees in 1996 and currently chairs the Investment Committee. [6]

He is married to Joanne Leedom-Ackerman. [7] In August 2005 he talked at a conference titled Solidarity Twenty-Five Years On: Lessons in the Struggle for Freedom which was "Cosponsored by Freedom House, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the International Republican Institute, the Lech Walesa Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty". [8]

Swarming "non-violence"

Ackerman suggests that civic groups can accomplish regime change by engaging in "strategic nonviolenc conflict". A succint explanation of his theories can be found here:

Indicative of the common objective are the comments of the theoreticians of the post modern coup, for example, Dr. Peter Ackerman, the author of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter on April 26, 2002, Dr. Ackerman offered the following corrective to Bush's Axis of Evil speech targeting Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, which he otherwise approved: "It is not true that the only way to 'take out' such regimes is through U.S. military action."
Speaking at the "Secretary's Open Forum" at the State Department on June 29, 2004, in a speech entitled, "Between Hard and Soft Power:The Rise of Civilian-Based Struggle and Democratic Change," Ackerman elaborated on the concept involved. He proposed that youth movements, such as those used to bring down Serbia, could bring down Iran and North Korea, and could have been used to bring down Iraq – thereby accomplishing all of Bush's objectives without relying on military means. And he reported that he has been working with the top US weapons designer, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, on developing new communications technologies that could be used in other youth movement insurgencies. "There is no question that these technologies are democratizing," he stressed, in reference to their potential use in bringing down China, "they enable decentralized activity. They create, if you will, a digital concept of the right of assembly." [9]

Some might suggest that when foreign powers get involved with the affairs of other nations they manipulate the outcome in their favor. On the other hand, giving people communications technology and teaching them about nonviolent strategy might simply be seen as empowerment of the masses.


Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Board Of Trustees:Peter Ackerman", Freedom House, accessed January 2008.
  2. For full details of this debate, see
  3. "Peter Ackerman", Nationmaster, accessed January 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 George Anders, The Merchants of Debt: KKR and the Mortgaging of American Business, Basic Books, April 1993. ISBN 0465045235 and ISBN 978-0465045235
  5. James B. Stewart, Den of Thieves, # Random House, June 1993. ISBN 0517104385 ISBN 978-0517104385
  6. [1]
  7. [2]
  8. Solidarity Twenty-Five Years On, American Enterprise Institute, accessed October 10, 2007.
  9. [3]
  10. Atlantic Council Board, organizational web page, accessed December 9, 2013.
  11. globenewswire Peter Ackerman, Managing Director of Rockport Capital and Founding Investor of FreshDirect, Joins Capital Area Food Bank's Board of Directors, organizational web page, accessed March 30, 2013.
  12. Advisory Board, America Abroad Media, accessed February 23, 2010.
  13. Who, Americans Elect 2012, accessed November 23, 2011.
  14. Project Advisory Board, CATO Institute, accessed August 28, 2008.
  15. Center for Preventive Action Advisory Committee, organizational web page, accessed January 21, 2013.
  16. Board of Directors, Council on Foreign Relations, accessed January 17, 2008.
  17. EMAK Worldwide, EdgarOnline, accessed August 28, 2008.
  18. International Management Advisory Group, Fletcher School, accessed February 23, 2010.
  19. Donors and Sponsors, Free Africa Foundation, accessed June 26, 2009.
  20. 2007 Annual Report, Technoserve, accessed February 20, 2010.
  21. [4]
  22. bloomberg Internet Picks Presidential Candidate If Ackerman Gets His Way, organizational web page, accessed July 6, 2012.
  23. Human Freedom Advisory Council, George W. Bush Institute, accessed November 14, 2015.


Articles by Ackerman

"…instead of celebrating these events, many pundits and policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have been debating the propriety of U.S. and European funding for democracy-building in Ukraine. That debate misses the reality of how the Orange Revolution succeeded. Like all victories of people power in the past 25 years, it was achieved, not by foreign assistance, but by the indigenous force of ordinary citizens applying their own strategy to challenge autocratic power."
Comment: If US organizations poured $150m+ to manipulate the elections, then it can hardly be said that this was an insignificant contribution. Furthermore, it is appropriate discuss whether the US or its cohorts should be engaged in this type of activity – something Ackerman is suggesting that we shouldn't do.

Critical Articles