FBI Seizes Retired General’s Data Related to Qatar Lobbying: NPR

Marine General John Allen, the former top US commander in Afghanistan, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 20, 2012.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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FBI Seizes Retired General's Data Related to Qatar Lobbying: NPR

Marine General John Allen, the former top US commander in Afghanistan, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 20, 2012.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The FBI has seized the electronic records of a retired four-star general who authorities say made false statements and withheld “incriminating” documents about his role in an illegal foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of the wealthy Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.

New federal court files obtained Tuesday outlined a possible criminal case against former Marine General John R. Allen, who led US and NATO forces in Afghanistan before being tapped in 2017 to lead the influential Brookings Institute.

It’s part of a growing investigation that has entangled Richard G. Olson, a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan who last week pleaded guilty to federal charges, and Imaad Zuberi, a prolific political donor who is now serving a 12-year prison term. year on corruption charges.

The court files detail Allen’s behind-the-scenes efforts to help Qatar influence US policy in 2017, when a diplomatic crisis erupted between the gas-rich Persian Gulf monarchy and its neighbors.

“There is substantial evidence that these FARA violations were intentional,” FBI agent Babak Adib wrote in a search warrant, citing the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Allen also misrepresented his role in the lobbying campaign to US officials, Adib wrote, failing to disclose “that he was simultaneously pursuing multimillion-dollar business deals with the government of Qatar.”

The FBI says Allen gave a “false version of events” about his work for Qatar during a 2020 interview with law enforcement and failed to produce relevant emails in response to a previous grand jury subpoena, the affidavit said.

The 77-page application appears to have been filed in error and was removed from the list Tuesday after The Associated Press contacted federal authorities about its contents.

Allen declined to comment on the new submissions. He has previously denied ever working as a Qatari agent, saying his efforts for Qatar in 2017 were motivated to prevent a war from breaking out in the Gulf that would endanger US troops.

Allen spokesman Beau Phillips told the AP last week that Allen “voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation into the matter”.

The Brookings Institution, one of the most influential think tanks in the US, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Qatar has long been one of Brookings’ biggest financiers, although the institution says it has recently stopped taking Qatari funding.

Olson was working with Zuberi on another case involving Qatar when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states announced a blockade of the gas-rich monarchy in mid-2017 over Qatar’s alleged links to terror groups and other matters.

Shortly after the blockade was announced, then-President Donald Trump appears to be taking sides against Qatar.

According to court documents, Allen played an important role in changing the US response. In particular, authorities say Allen has lobbied national security adviser HR McMaster to get the Trump administration to adopt a more Qatar-friendly tone.

In a June 9 email to McMaster, Allen said the Qataris were “asking for some help” and that he wanted the White House or the State Department to issue a statement in specific language describing all sides of the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf were urged to “act with restraint”.

Federal law enforcement officials say then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did what Allen told McMaster two days later the Qataris wanted to do, by issuing a statement that “differs from previous statements by the White House.” Tillerson’s statement called on other Gulf states to “ease the blockade against Qatar” and asked “that there be no further escalation by the parties in the region”.

Qatar’s embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As part of the lobbying campaign, Olson and Allen traveled to Qatar to meet with the country’s ruling Emir and other top officials.

At the meeting, Allen offered advice on how to influence US policy and said the Qataris should use “the full spectrum” of information operations, including “black-and-white” operations, the affidavit said. “Black” operations are usually covert and sometimes illegal. Qatar has been accused of orchestrating hack-and-leak operations by its critics and rivals during the diplomatic crisis, including one that targeted a UAE ambassador. Qatar denies any allegation.

Before going to Doha, Allen wanted to “chat” with Olson and Zuberi about his compensation, the affidavit said. Allen suggested in an email that he would get a $20,000 “speaker’s fee” for the weekend trip — even though he didn’t speak — and later “work out a more complete settlement of a long-term relationship,” the affidavit says.

Zuberi paid for Allen’s first-class plane ticket to Qatar, the affidavit said, but there is no indication that the speaker’s fee has been paid. Allen’s spokesman previously said the general has never received compensation. It’s unclear why. Some of Zuberi’s former business associates have accused him of failing to meet his financial obligations.

Allen also had other financial incentives to help the Qataris and maintain strong ties with his top leaders, the FBI said.

“While he lobbied US government officials on behalf of Qatar, Allen made at least a multi-million dollar business deal with the Qatari government on behalf of a company on which he served on the board of directors,” the affidavit said.

After returning from their trip to Qatar, Allen and Olson lobbied members of Congress, particularly those who supported a House resolution linking Qatar to terrorist financing, the FBI said.

Among them was Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat who told law enforcement officers he didn’t remember exactly what Allen had said, but felt he was there “to support Qatari officials and their position.”

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