The Biggest D.C. Spy Scandal You Haven't Heard About (Part One)

Two years ago, the executive director of the Kashmiri American Council (KAC), Ghulam Nabi Fai, was riding high in Washington, D.C. circles. In March 2010, he hosted a pricey fundraiser in his own home for Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), the powerful chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia and co-chairman of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus.

In 2004, Fai testified before Burton’s subcommittee. Internal KAC documents show that in just 2007 alone, he had 33 meetings with members of Congress, congressional staff, the Bush administration’s National Security Council, and the State Department. He led congressional delegations to the disputed Kashmir region, and over the years nearly three dozen different members of Congress of both parties attended or spoke at Fai’s annual Kashmir Peace Conference held on Capitol Hill. KAC’s events were even broadcast live on C-SPAN.

One thing that bought Fai so much access was that Fai and the KAC board of directors generously spread campaign contributions all over Capitol Hill to members of both political parties. However, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the bulk of contributions by Fai, KAC’s board, and Fai’s associates went to Burton and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

That all changed on July 19, 2011, when Fai was arrested by the FBI not far from his Fairfax, Virginia home, where he had held the fundraiser for Burton sixteen months earlier. And just last month, a year after his arrest, Fai reported to federal prison.

According to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Sarah Webb Linden that was the basis for the criminal complaint, an extensive investigation into Fai's activities showed that all of Fai’s efforts over the past 20 years had been illegally financed and directed by Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.

The FBI affidavit stated that Fai was in constant contact with his Pakistani ISI handlers: since June 2008, Fai and his handlers exchanged more than 4,000 messages.

The FBI also found that Fai and KAC had received more than $4 million from the ISI since KAC’s founding in 1990 through the use of U.S.-based Pakistani-American straw donors who would donate to KAC and receive tax deductions, and then be reimbursed in Pakistan by the ISI. This was arranged through Fai’s conspirator Fazeer Ahmad, a U.S. citizen who lived in Pakistan and was charged along with Fai in the case.

These straw-donor transactions concealed that KAC was not an independent public relations effort by U.S. citizens to advocate on behalf of the Kashmiri people, but rather an influence operation run by the intelligence agency of a hostile foreign power, one intended to influence members of Congress to shape U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan’s favor. The stated targets for much of KAC's operations were the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

KAC’s activities didn’t have to be illegal. All Fai had to do was register his organization with the attorney general under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Doing so would have exposed the Pakistani ISI’s role in the operation, however, and would have closed most doors in Washington, D.C., to Fai and KAC.

The FBI gave Fai sufficient opportunity to come clean about his operation and its ties to Pakistani intelligence. In March 2007, the FBI interviewed Fai, who claimed he had never met anyone affiliated with the government of Pakistan.

In March 2010, the Justice Department sent Fai a letter stating that press reports in India had identified him as an agent of Pakistan, and that if true, he was required to file as a foreign agent with the attorney general’s office under FARA. In an email reply, Fai stated that KAC “has never engaged in activities on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or any other foreign entity.”

What undoubtedly prompted that Justice Department letter was a meeting that Fai had with two of his Pakistani ISI handlers in Geneva just days before. In that March 2010 strategy meeting, according to notes of the meeting obtained by U.S. Customs officials when Fai reentered the U.S., Fai briefed his handlers on KAC’s 2010 goals and the targets of his efforts. Most notably: “E.B. [Executive Branch], State, DoD, WH [White House]; Media, Think tank; Congress; U.N.”

According to the FBI, the two ISI handlers Fai met with in that March 2010 Geneva strategy meeting were Sohail Mahmood and Major General Mumtaz Ahmad Bajwa, the then-head of the ISI’s Security Directorate, which oversees operations of several Kashmiri terrorist groups.

Bajwa had also attended Fai’s Tenth International Kashmir Peace Conference on Capitol Hill in July 2009. Also at the event was Fai’s then-ISI handler, Lt. Col. Touqeer Mehmood Butt, whose visa application noted his employer as “Pakistani Ministry of Defence, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Islamabad, Pakistan.” Among the speakers at that conference were Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), and the ubiquitous Rep. Dan Burton, as seen in the video below: