Monday, July 21, 2008

Is Kazakhstan Taking Advantage of Shadow Lobbying in the United States, or What is the real value of being a Bush Political Appointee?

Stephen Payne with Timur Kulibayev (center)
Stephen Payne doing some shooting practice with VP Dick Cheney

A look at the Department of Justice’s database of official lobbyists for foreign states indicates that only two U.S. firms are officially employed by the Government of Kazakhstan at the moment. One is a law firm based in New York called DLA Piper. The other is APCO Worldwide, Inc., whose executive Vice President, Elizabeth Jones, is a former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan. While the Department of Justice website does not offer full information on DLA Piper’s agreement with Kazakhstan, it does have copies of APCO’s agreements, which authorize the company to conduct lobbying and public relations activities on behalf of the Government of Kazakhstan. Whatever one’s attitudes towards the lobbying efforts of foreign states, these activities are fully legal and registered by the Department of Justice.

The recent scandal involving Stephen Payne that was brought to light by London’s Sunday Times, however, brings into question whether many lobbyists have found ways to do their work for foreign states and politicians while avoiding registration with the Department of Justice. Payne’s company, Worldwide Strategic Partners, allegedly has done work for the Government of Kazakhstan, but not through official channels. According to the Sunday Times, World Strategic Partner’s sister company, World Strategic Energy, also has a subsidiary called Caspian Alliance, which has been working for KazmunaiGas (KMG) as its American representative.

As I mentioned in my last post, the specificity of Kazakhstan politics creates a situation where the borders between KMG and the Kazakhstan state are frequently indiscernible, even more so because Timur Kulibayev, former head of KMG, is President Nazarbayev’s favorite and most powerful son-in law. In this context, can we assume that part of Caspian Alliance’s work for KMG could have involved lobbying for the Kazakhstan government, including perhaps efforts to bring Cheney to Kazakhstan in 2006 as alleged by Dosmukhamedov in the Sunday Times? Such activities would, of course, be beyond the scope of their declared work on the behalf of KMG. If these allegations all prove to be true, is Payne an unregistered “shadow lobbyist” for a foreign government, and is he merely one of many such people working on the edges of the Bush administration?

Such revelations, if true, may get to the heart of some of the most surreptitious ways that influence is peddled in Washington. While Americans are often aware of the ways in which influence is bought and sold in our legislative branch, we are less aware of how this may happen at the executive level. Afterall, why do we see powerful and wealthy people time and again taking political appointments in presidential administrations when on paper such a job-change frequently requires a substantial pay cut? Usually, it is assumed that jumping to an appointed government position from the private sector has long-term benefits upon return to the private sector. In Payne’s case, however, it could have had more immediate financial benefits to him. It is not clear whether Payne was a regular Schedule “C” political appointee, but he evidently had some sort of appointment allowing him be placed on a Department of Homeland Security Advisory Committee and to qualify to travel officially with Bush and Cheney on foreign visits. Are there other peripheral political appointees in the Bush administration who might be involved in the type of “shadow lobbying” that Payne allegedly undertook? Does this also explain why lobbyists are so eager to be involved in political campaigns? It should be noted, for example, that McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann allegedly was on Payne’s payroll for the same Caspian Alliance that may have been tied to lobbying for Cheney’s visit to Kazakhstan.

In terms of Kazakhstan, this scandal seems to be bringing more attention to the country in the U.S. than anything since the emergence of Borat. If Kazakhstan’s fictitious Borat served to expose Americans’ ignorance of other countries, his “more real” compatriot Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov is now exposing the results of this ignorance through the ability of hired “spin-doctors” to manipulate our foreign policy. Furthermore, Kazakhstan looks much worse in this PR scandal than it did during the heyday of Borat. If the scandal continues to roll out, people in Astana may begin to get nostalgic for the kind of PR Kazakhstan was getting from Borat.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Snag in the “Kazakhstan Triangle”: Did KazmunaiGas pay $2 Million for Cheney’s Visit to Astana?

A few months ago, I wrote about how Bill Clinton had been snagged in the infamous and wealthy web of the “Kazakhstan Triangle”– which I characterized as “that mysterious and dangerous territory of shady international business dealings covered by the area between Almaty, Astana, and Atyrau.” Well, it looks like it has snagged another victim – and it appears that hardly a more deserving one could be found – lobbyist and Bush/Cheney associate Stephen Payne. A London Sunday Times investigative report (complete with secret camera) caught Payne claiming that he could help an alleged representative of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev to set up meetings for Akayev with high-level US officials, including the Secretary of State and possibly the Vice President, in exchange for donations to the Bush library. The really interesting part of this story for avid readers of the Roberts Report is that the alleged Akayev representative involved in the Sunday Times' sting was none other than Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, who was run out of Kazakhstan last year while trying to develop a political party to compete in the parliamentary elections.

The video tape makes it difficult for Payne to make this story disappear (as happened in Clinton’s case), and Representative Waxman is already suggesting that a House Oversight and Government Relations Committee investigation is in order. While the story that most of Washington and the political bloggers have jumped on concerns Payne’s sale of face-time with Bush appointees for donations to the future Bush library (one would assume it may be difficult to raise money for that institution), Dosmukhamedov agreed to this stunt to prove a much more damning accusation.

According to Dosmukhamedov, while working for Timur Kulibayev in 2005, he negotiated with Payne to secure Dick Cheney’s infamous trip to Astana, which took place the following May. Furthermore, Dosmukhamedov claims that, during the course of negotiations, some $2 million were transferred from Kazmunaigas (which Kulibayev ran at the time) to Payne’s firm “Worldwide Strategic Partners." The implication, of course, is that the Kazakhs bought the Cheney trip for $2 Million, which might explain the Vice President’s hesitance to criticize the Kazakhstan government’s political backsliding and human rights record at his Astana press conference. While such accusations will be very difficult to substantiate, it would be interesting for some aspiring investigative reporter to take a look at the books of “Worldwide Strategic Partners” to see if such a transfer can be found.

If the Cheney trip was essentially purchased for a cool 2 million as Dosmukhamedov suggests, it illuminates some interesting things about both Kazakhstan and the US. For Kazakhstan, it would highlight the grey borders that exist between the state, corporations, and the ruling family in that country. For the US, it would demonstrate the equally blurred lines separating lobbyists, presidential administrations, and foreign policy in our country. Furthermore, while such a revelation would likely have little impact on the domestic politics of Kazakhstan (keep in mind that $2 Million is chump-change compared to the money allegedly funneled to oil companies through Giffen), it could could certainly create a stir in Washington, if not lead to the Bush administration's very own “Kazakhgate." Afterall, a Vice Presidential trip to Kazakhstan likely costs the American tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not close to $1 million). If it can be substantiated that we are paying such money only to line the pockets of the likes of Stephen Payne, it certainly should create a scandal.

While it looks like the “Kazakhstan Triangle” has caught another American in the act, we should also keep in mind that these things don’t only happen in Kazakhstan. A look at a confidential power point presentation of “Worldwide Strategic Partners” that was reprinted by the London’s Sunday Times online version shows that Mr. Payne has been active similarly in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Interestingly, he also claims to have helped to rehabilitate the international image of Uzbek oppositionist Mohammed Salih, bringing him from “alleged terrorist to US ally” (maybe paid for by Gulnora Karimova’s estranged husband Mansur Maqsudi, who has already faced the wrath of another shady DC-based firm discussed here recently, Global Options, in his custody battle turned PR-war with his ex-wife). Thanks to Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, however, Kazakhstan may become a particularly visible example of the international arts of K-Street wizardry. I guess we shouldn’t count Dosmukhamedov out of the Kazakhstan political game yet – he has certainly proven himself to be particularly resourceful and creative in using western media in new ways to shine a light on his homeland.

NOTE: Here are two more links that have been publicly released by Payne for those who want to look at this in more detail. First, there is a slightly abridged version of Payne's email correspondence with Dosmukhamedov, and second, there is Payne's official statement about the incident.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The War on Terror, the Olympics, and the Global Economy: Has the International Community Abandoned the Uyghurs?

Uyghur Execution
Uyghur Prisoner being Brought to Execution in China

At the end of June, in the first case concerning a Guantanamo detainee tried by an American civilian court, A District of Columbia Court of Appeals found that the evidence accusing Parhat Huzaifa, a Uyghur prisoner, of involvement in terrorism was virtually non-existent. In its decision, the court even compared the evidence to a Lewis Carroll nonsense poem, The Hunting of the Snark, which declares “I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.” Indeed, the state’s evidence against Parhat appeared to amount to nothing more than circular arguments not unlike those more poetically written by Carroll. As the panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit hearing the case noted, the evidence used to detain this prisoner “comes perilously close to suggesting that whatever the government says must be treated as true.”

This court case is illustrative of the more general information that has been circulating since September 11th about the alleged existence of a Uyghur organized terrorism network. While the Chinese government has suggested that they have foiled numerous terrorism plots masterminded by Uyghurs, there have been very few incidents of violence in Xinjiang which could be clearly characterized as terrorism in the last twenty years. Most violent incidents involving Uyghurs in the past have surrounded social problems and have involved local citizens, much like the Tibetan protests earlier this year that turned violent. Other alleged cases of Uyghur-led terrorism outside China in Central Asia have also been dubious and appear to be related more to organized crime than to any political issues. In fact, with the exception of some still unexplained explosions in Urumchi in 1992 (long before September 11th), it is difficult to find incidents in the region that could even be thought to be the work of Uyghur terrorists.

While I have written about this before, I reiterate it here because despite the lack of evidence, the Uyghurs in China continue to be viewed at least passively by the international community as harboring an organized terrorist network, which may actually not exist. Since the Uyghurs remain mostly inconsequential to geopolitics (partly because they have not used terrorism and, thus garner little news attention), this “dirty little secret” of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) tends to go unnoticed, but it is outrageous, inhumane, and demands our attention.

As the present administration in Washington is gradually getting ready to leave, this is an issue that needs to be investigated. What information was used to justify the classification of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organization? Was it merely Chinese intelligence, which in this case would likely be politically tainted? Like the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I am concerned that the evidence of the existence of a substantial and well organized group of Uyghur terrorists is terribly flawed, and scores of Uyghurs have suffered as a result. Perhaps it is time that calls began for a review of the alleged intelligence by an independent committee to verify that this decision was based on security concerns and not on the political imperative to win the Chinese state over to GWOT.

At present, reliable information from Xinjiang is difficult to access. The Chinese state has made a concerted effort to prevent free access to the region by journalists and scholars, and it has even sought to instill self-censorship in foreign scholarship about the Uyghurs and Xinjiang by blacklisting some scholars who publish manuscripts with views not consistent with China’s party line. This has also helped to ensure that scholars who might be concerned about the plight of the Uyghurs remain silent regarding current events.

The tragic results of these policies on both the part of the U.S. Government and the Chinese state have been evident over the past two years as the Chinese government, mostly without critism, claims to have foiled several planned terrorist attacks planned by Uyghurs to disrupt this summer’s Olympics. First, in January 2007, the Chinese state claimed to have destroyed an alleged Uyghur terrorist training camp in the Pamir region of southern Xinjiang. In March of this year, again the Chinese authorities claimed to have arrested several Uyghur terrorists in Urumchi, including one allegedly on a plane with flammable liquid. And, finally, this past week, Chinese authorities claimed once again to have uncovered a Uyghur terrorist cell in Urumchi, killing five of the fifteen young Uyghurs gathered in a local apartment. While the authorities claimed to have shot in self-defense because the alleged Uyghur terrorists had knives, the actual details of the event remain murky. Almost simultaneously, the Chinese government executed two Uyghurs and sentenced to prison fifteen more for belonging to a terrorist group in the southern Xinjiang city of Kashgar. According to reports, 10,000 Uyghurs were made to witness the public execution.

While I would not claim to say unequivocally that none of the Uyghurs killed or arrested in these incidents were terrorists, we also have no hard evidence that they were. Yet, the international community tends to avoid questioning the Chinese authorities’ actions or demand evidence of their appropriateness when it comes to the Uyghurs. Furthermore, there is even little international outrage at China’s skillful shielding of the Uyghurs and Xinjiang from the eyes of international scholars and journalists. In short, China’s cooperation in GWOT, the international obsession with the Olympics, and most countries’ imperative to maintain strong economic relations with China seem to have led to an abandonment of the Uyghurs by the world. Just as the threat of being blacklisted keeps foreign scholars controlled by the Chinese state, China’s growing importance in the world is encouraging world powers to ignore the repression of Uyghurs in China. In the meantime, the Uyghurs inside China have been increasingly isolated, and the Chinese state is showing itself adept at marginalizing the Uyghurs within their own homeland. All that can be said is that the international community should be ashamed of itself. And, the final result may be more than shame as inevitably these marginalized Muslims in China’s northwest will understand that the international community beyond the borders of China is also implicated in their repression. Then, perhaps, we will finally get the Uyghur terrorist organization we have been imagining to exist.

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