Congress bribes and think-tanks: the Saudi lobby’s late awakening

By | 2017-12-12T20:47:08+00:00 Tuesday - 12 December 2017 - 8:47 pm|Tags: , , |
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Saudi Arabia found themselves in hot water after the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York, after it was found that 15 of the 19 terrorists who masterminded the operations were Saudi nationals.

It was only then that Saudi Arabia realised how ineffective their lobby was at affecting US policies in Washington.

The Saudis were pushed to try to develop their lobbying techniques and replace their previous “cheque book” policy, which was to recruit PR workers to campaign in the US.

On 7 August 2002, Qorvis Communications LLC recorded receiving $11 million from Saudi Arabia for four months’ work, after the New York attacks had tarnished the Saudi image completely in the west.

Expenses on public relations companies kept escalating until 2006, before levelling out until 2014.

Saudi royal court adviser Saoud Alqahtani and the founder and the CEO of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee Salman Al Ansari replaced the old lobbyists by the time King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and his son Mohamed Bin Salman took power.

The new lobbying team started revising the financial distribution of the lobbying network around the world and showed late concern for the direct effects of financing in the US political field.

Saudi lobby activities in moved from public relations to the Congressional election bribes and other activities that helped the emergence of global law firm Hogan Lovells, which became one of the major Saudi pressure tools for US policy.

The law firm was created in 2010 through the merger of two of the most important law offices in the world: Hogan law office in Washington DC and Lovells law office in London.

Norm Coleman, Minnesota senator until 2009, was known as one of the most important names at Hogan Lovells law firm. He joined them in 2011.

When Coleman stopped being a senator after 30 years, he led two of the lobbying groups in the 2014 congressional elections: American Action Network and Congressional Leadership Fund.

This reputation motivated Saudi Arabia to double their activities with the Hogan Lovells law firm with a $125,000 monthly contract.

The contract aimed at ousting the anti-Saudi members of Congress and supporting the pro-Saudis, which is to be considered the only success for the Saudi lobby after the Democrats lost its majority in the congressional elections.

One of those who lost their congressional seat due to these Saudi relations was Arizona Senator Ann Kirkpatrick, who was replaced by Republican John McCain.

Coleman has come a long way since 2007, when he signed a letter condemning Saudi Arabia for publishing anti-Jewish material.

Now, Coleman is a mutual friend of the Saudi and Israeli lobbies, as he promotes that Saudi Arabia now has an agenda that is harmonious and compatible with Israel.

The consecutive losses of the Saudi lobby in the US congress in 2015 and 2016 that allowed the passing of the JASTA law, which would allow the US to sue Saudi Arabia for compensation for the 9/11 attacks, pushed Bin Salman to rush for the research and study centres, or think tanks.

In 2014, most research centres started to shrink their budgets, but the Saudi lobby increased their expenses as they made 14 contracts with lobbying groups, including Edelman and DLA Piper, agencies that recruit government officials and retired members of Congress.

The Saudi lobby finances a number of research and study centres such as the Atlantic Council and the Clinton Foundation.

In 2014, the New York Times published a detailed article called Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks. This showed how powerful the money has been in Washington, using examples including the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East as a sub-centre under the Atlantic Council, supported by the UAE.

Lebanese prime minister Saad El Hariri’s brother, Bahaa, founded the centre in an attempt to seize influence in the US, supported by Israelis.

Bahaa Hariri chose Michele Dunne as the head of the centre, but she resigned after calling for the suspension of US military aid to Egypt after the 2013 coup.

The Lens mentioned in a previous article that the UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaib, ousted Dunne in a humiliating way after she adopted this opinion. The centre has nominated Fredric C Hof, a prominent Zionist, as a head of the council.

Bahaa found his way to Washington through Hof, and he was nominated by Saudi Arabia as a replacement for his brother who was forced to announce his resignation from Riyadh.

Saudi money reached media outlets as well, in order to influence US opinion of Saudi Arabia. One of the most prominent communication agencies was the Qorvis MSL group, which led many activities aimed at guaranteeing pro-Saudi media coverage.

Qorvis provided a 28-page explanation of Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the 11 September 2001 attacks, which was published by the US administration.

Qorvis also has helped Saudi Arabia with marketing the Saudi-led war on Yemen through the website operationrenewalofhope.com, and they have exerted lots of effort to reach journalists and give their arguments over the war.

Qorvis also runs the website arabianow.org, which publishes news and tweets about Saudi Arabia for the US audience.

Arabia Now supervises a company called Targeted Victory for content management on social media networks and websites for $40,000 a month.

Qorvis also contracted other polling companies to judge US public opinion towards Saudi Arabia, including the Tolona America and American Directions research groups.

Looking back at the changes in Saudi lobbying style, it seems that bribing representatives helped the lobby. The US right-wing has come back on top of the US administration again and they are paying attention to the security and military relationships with Riyadh.

Buying think tank techniques did not return real results, as only 36 per cent of US citizens think that Saudi Arabia is a friend for the US, according to a survey by the Economist newspaper.

This conclusion means that the Saudi lobby depends on a fragile base that could crash down once US voters return to moderate electoral choices.

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