FBI seizes retired general’s pressure data in Qatar

The FBI has confiscated the electronic data of a retired four-star general that authorities say made false statements and withheld “incriminating” documents about his role in an illegal foreign pressure campaign on behalf of the wealthy Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

New federal court filings obtained on Tuesday identified a potential criminal case against former Marine General John R. Allen, who commanded US and NATO forces in Afghanistan before he was hired in 2017 to lead the influential Brookings think tank.

It’s part of an expanded investigation that caught Richard J. Olson, the former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, who pleaded guilty. to federal charges last week, and Imad al-Zubayri, a prolific political donor He is now serving a 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Several members of Congress were interviewed as part of the investigation.

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 kingdom in the Persian Gulf and its neighbors.

“There is strong evidence that FAA violations were intentional,” FBI agent Babak Adeeb wrote in a search warrant request, referring to the FAA.

Adeeb wrote that Allen also misrepresented his role in the lobbying campaign in front of US officials, failing to disclose “that he was simultaneously seeking multi-million dollar business deals with the government of Qatar”.

The FBI says Allen provided a “false version of events” about his work for Qatar during a 2020 interview with law enforcement officials and failed to produce relevant emails in response to an earlier grand jury subpoena.

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The 77-page search warrant request appears to have been submitted in error and was removed from the agenda on Tuesday after the Associated Press reached out to federal authorities about its contents.

Allen declined to comment on the new filings. He previously denied working as a Qatari agent, and said his efforts on Qatar in 2017 were motivated to prevent a war in the Gulf that would endanger US forces.

Allen’s spokesman, Bo Phillips, told the Associated Press last week that Allen “voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation into this matter.”

The affidavit says Allen, who was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution before becoming president, used his official think tank email account for some of his Qatar-related communications.

The Brookings Institution did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Qatar has long been one of the Brookings Institution’s largest financial backers, although the institution says it recently stopped receiving Qatari funding.

Olson was working with Zubairy on another Qatar issue in mid-2017 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states announced a blockade of Qatar over its alleged ties to terrorist groups and other issues.

Soon after the blockade was announced, then-US President Donald Trump appeared to be biased against Qatar.

Court papers say Allen played a significant role in changing the US response. Specifically, authorities say Allen lobbied then-National Security Adviser HR McMaster to get the Trump administration to adopt a more Qatar-friendly tone.

In an email to McMaster, Allen said the Qataris want the White House or the State Department to issue a statement in language calling on all parties to the Gulf diplomatic crisis to “exercise restraint.”

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Federal law enforcement officials say then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did so just two days later, issuing a statement calling on other Gulf states to “relax the blockade of Qatar” and demand “there should be no further escalation by parties in the region.”

The Qatari embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As part of the lobbying campaign, federal law enforcement authorities say, Olson and Allen traveled to Qatar to meet with the country’s ruling emir and other senior officials.

At the meeting, Allen offered advice on how to influence US policy and said the Qataris should “use the full scope” of information operations, including “black and white” operations, as stated in the affidavit. Usually “black” operations are clandestine and sometimes illegal. Qatar has been accused of orchestrating hacks and leaks to its critics and opponents during the diplomatic crisis, including one targeting an ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.

The affidavit said that before they went to Doha, Allen wanted “to have a conversation” with Olson and Zuberi about his compensation. Allen suggested in an email that he would charge a $20,000 “speaker fee” for the weekend trip — even though he wasn’t giving a speech — and then “make a complete arrangement for a long-term relationship,” according to the affidavit. .

The affidavit said Al-Zubayri paid Allen’s first-class fare to Qatar, but there was no indication that the speaker’s fee had been paid. Allen’s spokesman said the general had not paid him any fees in the past. It is not clear why. Some of Zubairy’s former business partners accused him of not honoring his financial obligations.

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The FBI said Allen also had other financial incentives to help the Qataris and maintain strong relationships with its top leaders.

“At the same time as he was lobbying US government officials on behalf of Qatar, Allen conducted at least a multi-million dollar business deal with the Qatari government on behalf of a company he served on its board of directors,” the affidavit says.

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

Among them was Representative Ted Liu, a California Democrat, who told law enforcement officials that he did not remember exactly what Allen said but his impression was that he was there to “support the country officials and their position.”

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Contact the Associated Press’s global investigative team at [email protected] or https://www.ap.org/tips/

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Sudirman reported from Richmond, Virginia, and Mustian from New Orleans.

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