Libya and the Consummate Shadow Lobbyist — Neocon Richard Perle

Ever won­der how Libya’s ter­ri­ble image began show­ing some signs of improve­ment in recent years? Or how one of Gaddafi’s sons would find him­self named a “Young Global Leader” at Davos — the ulti­mate insider’s club?

The answer came in reports last week from Politico, the Huff­in­g­ton Post and oth­ers: Libya has made canny use of both old-school lob­by­ists, and, cru­cially, the new gen­er­a­tion of power bro­kers: shadow lobbyists.

As Politico’s Laura Rozen wrote last week:

One of the more unlikely fig­ures… is not reg­is­tered with the Jus­tice Depart­ment. Promi­nent neo­con­ser­v­a­tive Richard Perle… trav­eled to Libya twice in 2006 to meet with Qad­hafi, and after­ward briefed Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney… accord­ing to doc­u­ments released by a Libyan oppo­si­tion group…

Our only quib­ble is her choice of the word “unlikely.” Gaddafi has been called “deranged” and “delu­sional,” but in the era of the shadow elite, his regime made at least one ratio­nal choice in choos­ing to host Perle, a con­sum­mate shadow lob­by­ist who was hired by a firm that makes K-Street look pos­i­tively passe.

Perle was work­ing with the Mon­i­tor Group, a Cambridge-based con­sult­ing firm that fea­tures an aca­d­e­mic all-star list of pro­fes­sors and thinkers, many con­nected with the Har­vard com­mu­nity, includ­ing co-founder, Har­vard Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor Michael Porter. (In a 2007 Busi­ness Week inter­view, Porter says he met Gaddafi’s sup­pos­edly reform-minded son years ear­lier over “sev­eral din­ners” in Lon­don. That son looked very far from London’s smart set in a YouTube clip that’s cir­cu­lated in recent days, show­ing him ral­ly­ing loy­al­ists while hold­ing a machine gun. The World Eco­nomic Forum last week sus­pended his Young Global Leader title.)

These unreg­is­tered agents of influ­ence are espe­cially effec­tive when they can trade on a pres­ti­gious impri­matur, like the Har­vard name. In the case of Richard Perle, his name alone is his call­ing card: he had unim­peded access to the high­est lev­els of power in the Bush White House. We would be well-advised to study Perle’s M.O., because this is how the top influ­encers of today operate.

A for­mer assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense under Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan, Perle has long sur­faced at the epi­cen­ter of a head-spinning array of busi­ness deals, con­sult­ing roles and ide­o­log­i­cal ini­tia­tives, con­sis­tently court­ing and yet skirt­ing charges of con­flict of interest.

In the first term of George W. Bush, Perle accepted chair­man­ship of the Defense Pol­icy Board, a Pen­ta­gon advi­sory body with a mixed state-private char­ac­ter that pro­vides its mem­bers access to clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion and top-secret intel­li­gence reports. This is the per­fect arrange­ment for the shadow influ­encer: access with­out the account­abil­ity that comes with a more for­mal, vis­i­ble role.

While serv­ing as chair (later mem­ber) of the Defense Pol­icy Board, Perle used the posi­tion to call for the over­throw of Sad­dam Hus­sein — a cause for which he had long been work­ing — and pushed “infor­ma­tion” man­u­fac­tured by Ahmed Cha­l­abi through gov­ern­ment and pri­vate chan­nels to help make the case for war. In his exten­sive oper­a­tions abroad, he left many lis­ten­ers with the impres­sion that he spoke for the U.S. government.

Quasi-government offi­cial Perle gave talks through­out Europe. While Perle was nei­ther a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist nor an autho­rized spokesper­son for the U.S. gov­ern­ment, he “was mak­ing remarks as if he were an offi­cial inside the U.S. gov­ern­ment,” accord­ing to Lawrence Wilk­er­son, for­mer chief of staff to the Sec­re­tary of State Colin Pow­ell. Pow­ell instructed his chief to com­pile a dossier of Perle’s speeches and activ­i­ties, of what Perle was say­ing and to whom. As Wilk­er­son told Janine:

The Ger­mans, French, Brits, and Japan­ese per­ceived him [Perle] as an offi­cial pur­vey­ing offi­cial U.S. pol­icy… I had to bring on an extra staff per­son to keep up [the dossier]. It turned into five note­books… and they were big note­books too! One was four inches thick.

And now comes news of his vis­its to Libya (and sub­se­quent brief­ings with Vice Pres­i­dent Cheney), with Perle act­ing once again as, report­edly, an unreg­is­tered agent of influ­ence. The firm that named him as a senior advi­sor in 2006 has the hall­marks of a clas­sic shadow lobby orga­ni­za­tion. A reveal­ing fact about Mon­i­tor is what the group says it is not: as the CEO him­self states, in those doc­u­ments released by a Libyan oppo­si­tion group, “Mon­i­tor is not a lob­by­ing orga­ni­za­tion.” This, despite the fact that they were report­edly being paid $3 mil­lion a year plus by Libya to help thaw rela­tions with the West.

This is quite obvi­ously a mar­ket­ing point for Mon­i­tor, and all of the other agile play­ers of the shadow elite era. Shadow lob­by­ists can do the same things as tra­di­tional lob­by­ists, sell­ing off the pub­lic trust to the high­est bid­der, and then go around brag­ging about how they’ve never sul­lied them­selves with actual lobbying.

Shadow lob­by­ists can be more effec­tive pre­cisely because they do not define them­selves as lob­by­ists. By intro­duc­ing ambi­gu­ity they cre­ate deni­a­bil­ity, which lends them influ­ence with impunity. More­over, with pres­ti­gious impri­maturs and impres­sive career his­to­ries fill­ing up their tal­ent ros­ters, orga­ni­za­tions like Mon­i­tor Group can have far more access than your gar­den vari­ety K-Street lob­by­ists. And by not reg­is­ter­ing as full-fledged lob­by­ists, they fall into a use­fully vague area — a reg­u­la­tory nether­world. Gov­ern­ment watch­dogs there­fore can do little.

Per­haps the sad­dest part of this story is the fact that this “news” is actu­ally old news. The doc­u­ments detail­ing Mon­i­tor Group’s efforts to enhance Libya’s stand­ing were released by the Libyan oppo­si­tion group in 2009, but back then, Libya wasn’t front-page news.

Only when Gaddafi turned his gun on his own peo­ple did the lob­by­ing on his behalf war­rant a thor­ough reck­on­ing. And no mat­ter what shadow lob­by­ists try to por­tray, or how often they try to fly under the radar, they are, indeed, lob­by­ists, whether for their own ide­o­log­i­cal cause or sim­ple finan­cial inter­est. And they need to be held to account.

By Janine Wedel and Linda Keenan

Pub­lished in The Huff­in­g­ton Post, March 3, 2011.

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