Five years ago, the Libyan government decided to obtain lobbying heft in Washington, D.C. They went to two organizations — the Livingston Group and the Monitor Group — whom they paid $5.4 million for lobbying services.
The story of the selling of Libya to the United States is a fascinating tale of how liberal academics and former members of Congress united to attempt a repackaging of Libya’s Gaddafi family as human rights reformers. PJM has pieced together the story of how the dictatorial regime was shamelessly presented as reformers to Congress and to Washington policymakers.
Gaddafi’s government — officially named the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” — first hired the Livingston Group, founded by former House Speaker Rep. Robert Livingston. For $2.4 million a year, Livingston, a Republican, represented both Gaddafi and his second son Saif Al Islam Al Gaddafi. Tripoli then secured the services of the Monitor Group, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, image consulting firm founded by a group from the Harvard Business School. They tried to groom Saif as a “thought leader” in Europe and in the United States, and reportedly received $3 million for the attempted makeover.
With the Monitor Group in the lead, Saif was groomed as a Westernized, sophisticated new generation of young Arab leader. Monitor, which has 30 offices around the world, especially sold Saif to the British public as a new Muslim face for “progressive” Libya. The British political elite bought the image, especially at the London School of Economics — Saif gave the school a gift of $2.5 million, and he was rewarded with a Ph.D.
Last week, news of Saif’s multi-million dollar gift led to the firing of the university’s head.
From South Capitol Street — a stone’s throw from the U.S. Capitol building — former House Speaker Livingston used his Washington Rolodex to contact U.S. Defense and State Department officials, members of Congress, and defense contractors on behalf of the regime. After receiving the $2.4 million retainer, Livingston also agreed to represent Saif on a pro-bono basis. Livingston introduced Saif to human rights activists in Washington as the head of an official “charity” — the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.
Meanwhile, around 2006, the Monitor Group corralled a variety of policy academics to vouch for the authenticity of Saif and his father. It recruited a number of high-profile people ranging from historian Francis Fukuyama to Benjamin Barber, an anti-Western author and an in-house intellectual at the Clinton White House. Also recruited was Harvard’s Joseph Nye, who coined the phrase “soft power”: using diplomacy over military “hard power.” Nye served on Clinton’s National Intelligence Council and was a personal adviser to Saif when he wrote his Ph.D. thesis at the London School of Economics. The Monitor team also included LSE’s professor emeritus Anthony Gibbons, who has been an apologist for Gaddafi for many years. Only recently has it come to light that since 2006 Gibbons has been on the payroll of the Monitor Group. He made two trips to Libya, in 2006 and 2007.
The Livingston campaign for Gaddafi and his son illustrates how former members of Congress on both sides of the aisle enrich themselves on behalf of dictatorships. A PJM review of the latest documents filed by Livingston with the U.S. Department of Justice, dated February 2010 and earlier, provides a road map of lobbying row and how it may open doors for dictators.
In a single six-month period, Livingston arranged for Libyan Ambassador Ali Aujali to hold private meetings with 23 members of Congress — nearly half of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. In the words of their September 18, 2009, filing, all of their activities “can be defined broadly as constituting political activity.”
Livingston staff planned for the arrival of a Libyan military delegation and a separate visit by Col. Gaddafi’s national security chief. The lobbyist’s staff reached people in the office of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the office of the undersecretary of defense, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. They also contacted the Defense Department’s Libya country director and the defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. They additionally spoke to a retired Marine lieutenant general who heads up Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems in the Middle East.
The Livingston Group contacted the State Department about the Libyan military arrivals. Records show that they reached out to the Office of Maghreb Affairs in State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, a foreign affairs officer at State’s Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers, and the Libyan desk officer.
The Livingston and Monitor groups made sure to present the “soft” side of Gaddafi’s Libya. In March 2009 they organized meetings with several human rights organizations. Les Campbell, the regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Democratic Institute, was approached by the Livingston Group’s Lauri Fitz-Pegado who suggested a meeting with Saif Gaddafi and Youssef Mohamed Sawani, the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation’s executive director. He said the meeting, which was attended by Human Rights Watch and the International Republican Institute, went badly. He told PJM:
My impression was that this was one of these typical “let’s try to put a different face on a repressive regime” type of attempts.
In the UK, Saif was presented by Monitor as a thoroughly sophisticated, charming, and Westernized Arab. He flitted through British high society, befriending people from the Rothschild family to the prince of Monaco.
Saif has a reputation for being thin-skinned, displaying his father’s well-known explosive anger. Campbell recalled that during his 2009 meeting, Saif lost his temper. Human Rights Watch asked about specific human rights cases, which enraged Saif:
He started to lose his temper. He was very, very rude. Very dismissive.
Mauro De Lorenzo, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, attended a different luncheon meeting with Saif during the same time period. He told PJM:
I remember this lunch, and I remember how surreal it was. I went out of morbid curiosity and was not disappointed. Nothing dramatic, just weird and kind of creepy.
One person who knows Saif told the Guardian:
Saif is urbane, charming, and psychotic.
The Guardian’s Jamie Doward observed:
Saif’s desire to act as a mouthpiece for his father has lent the tragic scenes unfolding in Libya a surreal, sometimes ridiculous dimension. His appearances in front of the television cameras suggest a man increasingly unhinged. Arms folded, jaw firmly out, Saif is a manifestation of defiance. It is clear he is very much his father’s son.
Representing darker overseas interests certainly is a bipartisan game in the nation’s capital. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are currently 367 lobby and PR shops actively registered under the Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Act. It includes the law firm and lobby behemoth Patton Boggs, which was founded by former Lyndon Johnson aide Tommy Boggs. Another giant is the Podesta Group, headed by President Obama friend and confidant Tony Podesta. John Podesta, Tony’s brother served as chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.
One State Department source who asked not to be identified told PJM that the Livingston Group — a Republican lobby shop — typically partners with other Democratic firms. This gives many foreign lobby campaigns a bipartisan luster.
Most of the Mideast is dominated by five large firms. In addition to Livingston, Podesta, and Patton Boggs, the Mideast is handled by the Glover Park Group, headed by former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart, and the Moffett Group, headed by former Democratic Congressman Toby Moffett. The five firms represent Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Libya.
Campbell believes the use of high priced firms is a loser from the start:
If a country is genuinely democratizing, they don’t need a lobbying firm to come and tell me that. … Paying high-priced help to basically spin tales based on zero evidence of change in the country, I don’t know if that’s sleazy, but it’s a very questionable undertaking.
In September 2009 the Livingston Group terminated its relationship with Saif’s charity, but it still represents the Libyan government.
PJM made repeated calls to Livingston spokesman and Chief Operating Officer Steve Kreseski, but no calls were returned. PJM has also placed a call to the Monitor Group which has not been returned, but earlier this week the Monitor Group said it regretted some of its promotion of Saif Gaddafi.