Ann Marlowe

Ann Marlowe is a writer and businesswoman based in New York City. Since 2012 she has specialized in anti-kleptocracy writing and research. In 2011, she made four trips to Libya to cover the revolution and war and returned twice in 2012. Between 2002 and 2011 she traveled regularly to Afghanistan and published often on Afghanistan's politics, economy, culture and the U.S. counterinsurgency there. Her articles have appeared in the op –ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and New York Post, and in the Weekly Standard, Daily Beast, Forbes.com, TNR.com,and many other publications. She tweets regularly (@annmarlowe) and blogs on Libya, the Arab Spring, the links between war and art and the cultural aspects of counterinsurgency for World Affairs at: http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/new/blogs/marlowe

Her monograph on the life and intellectual context of David Galula was published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College in summer 2010. Ms. Marlowe has also published two memoirs and is one of the contributors to A New Literary History of America (Harvard University Press, 2009).

Ms. Marlowe is a regular guest on the John Batchelor radio show discussing Libya, Afghanistan and counterinsurgency. She has also appeared on Fox's "Happening Now", PBS’s “Ideas in Action” with Jim Glassman, VOA, RTTV, BloggingHeadsTV.com and other television programs. She has spoken at U.S. Army bases, the Army War College, U.S. State Department, the Institut d'Histoire du Temps Present in Paris, and American colleges. In 2009, she was a Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution and returned there for a research fellowship in 2010.

Ms. Marlowe was born in Suffern, New York in 1958 and educated at public schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She received her B.A. in philosophy magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1979 and studied classical philosophy there in the Ph.D. program in 1979-80. In 1984, she received an MBA in finance from Columbia University's Graduate School of Business.


How “The Great Hack” Misses The Point by ANN MARLOWE JULY 22, 2019 5:19 AM

January 28th, 2020

originally published in TheBulwark.com on 7/22/19 https://thebulwark.com/how-netflixs-the-great-hack-misses-the-point/

It portrays Cambridge Analytica as taking advantage of lax controls at Facebook. But that was the least of the company’s problematic behavior.

or a moment, it looked as though capitalism was doing precisely what it is supposed to do, policing itself through the market. Almost exactly a year ago, Facebook’s market capitalization lost $119 billion in a single day when it revealed that 3 million Europeans had closed their accounts and that growth projections had slowed in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

The scandal erupted when British journalist Carole Cadwalladr orchestrated revelations by Cambridge Analytice whistleblower data scientist Christopher Wylie to the New York Times and Guardian, together with a sting operation by the U.K.’s Channel 4 News. Wylie admitted to working with a Cambridge University professor, Alexsandr Kogan, on for-profit use of data from FB profiles that was collected under the premise that it was for academic research. There has been much back-and-forth about when —and if—Cambridge Analytica deleted the data.

As a result, the EU introduced new data protection laws. And six U.K. companies in the Cambridge Analytica group had to declare bankruptcy.

It’s important to realize, though, that Facebook showed no interest in cleaning house for a long time.TheCambridge Analytica scandal made headlines in March 2018, but the basic elements were reported in December 2015 in the Guardian. Harry Davies exposed that CA’s work for candidate Ted Cruz used Facebook data harvested without users’ consent. Facebook refused to comment on Davies’ and others’ reporting.

Up until Trump’s election, there was also an unfortunate tendency for the media to see data harvesting as benign as long as left of center campaigns were the ones doing it. As this breathless 2012 Guardian article details, the Obama re-election campaign used Facebook to reach supporters in ways that would now make many of us queasy. “The re-election team, Obama for America, will be inviting its supporters to log on to the campaign website via Facebook, thus allowing the campaign to access their personal data and add it to the central data store.”

And these days, Facebook’s market price is close to its pre-scandal levels, even as the Federal Trade Commission has voted to fine the company a record $5 billion for misuse of data harvested from 87 million users in violation of its own rules. And while Cambridge Analytica, its parent company, SCL Elections, and four other affiliates filed for bankruptcy, spinoff SCL companies were started in 2017-8 in the U.K. When will we find out what they are up to? When something else dreadful occurs?

The coming Netflix documentary The Great Hack is a missed opportunity to remind viewers of what happened when Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to collect data from users. The film, unfortunately, is not only dizzy and poorly edited, but gives way too much screen time to an impressionistic sketch of a not-very interesting former executive. Distracted viewers may remember the endless shots of Brittany Kaiser in cars, planes, and luxury hotels, and not notice the wrongdoing underlying it all.

But that wrongdoing wasn’t a bug in the way Cambridge Analytica operated, it was a feature. You could say the filmmakers give Kaiser, now 31, enough rope to hang herself, but that would have required them to question her version of the facts. Kaiser tries to portray herself as a human rights activist, but her work history before CA, the Nigerian election work she initiated for CA, and her current reinvention as a crytocurrency hustler with links to organized crime make that vanishingly improbable.

True, the film also follows an American professor of media studies at the New School, David Carroll, who sued Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections, in the U.K. under U.K. data protection laws, requesting all the data they had collected on him. But the bankruptcy of the UK companies led the UK court to decide against Carroll. On a happier note, The Great Hack also features the successful efforts of Carole Cadwalladr, whose Observer articles about Wylie’s revelations led directly to the collapse of SCL Group and to parliamentary hearings. (Full disclosure: I met Carroll and Cadwalladr in the course of tweeting about SCL, and collaborated on an article with Cadwalladr.)

The most disappointing aftermath of the CA scandal, though, is not Facebook’s impunity or Carroll’s defeat. It’s the way it’s been stovepiped as a case of a bad actor that took advantage of lax controls at Facebook. In fact, the data misuse was the least of the company’s problematic behavior.

Since August 2016, I’ve written or co-written five pieces exposing different aspects of Cambridge Analytica, from its former significant ownership by controversial U.K. property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz to its involvement in the “investor passports” business to its organizing hacking in Nigeria to its links with the Trump inner circle (Steve Bannon, Erik Prince, the Mercers).

My theory is that SCL/CA was a one-stop-shop that handled hacking elections, bribing foreign officials, getting them second or third passports, laundering their money, and dabbling in cryptocurrency. In fact SCL was apparently planning its own cryptocurrency just before the end came.

What was the real end game? It’s hard to say. But it’s interesting that SCL Group, which was incorporated in 2005 in the U.K., had seemingly little interest in making money in the data business. The company managed to lose 99 percent of its shareholders’ equity in its first seven years: “Shareholders’ equity plummeted from: £681,000 in 2006 to a modest £273,000 in 2012 to £4,424 in 2013 and £87,420 in 2014,” as I wrote for Tablet in 2016. ( Equity recovered to $244,194 in 2015, the last year the company filed accounts. )

These accounts were unaudited; the firm’s auditor, PKF, resigned in May 2013, apparently so that the firm could be domiciled at its address. It remained listed as accountant. But no other firm stepped in as replacement auditor.

The biggest SCL Group shareholder between 2005 and June 2015 was Vincent Tchenguiz, an innovative real estate investor with a penchant for conspicuous consumerism. As the Telegraph put it, “Tchenguiz’s motivator is money.”

So why did he stay invested so long in an unprofitable company? Tchenguiz only divested his shares when SCL was about to start work for Ted Cruz. His director, Julian Wheatland, remained a director until the company’s end, and even acquired a small shareholding.

Meanwhile, the key figures at SCL/CA are still riding high, trying to monetize their infamy where they previously tried to monetize our data.

Which brings us to Brittany Kaiser, the former executive turned “whistle-blower.”

When she’s not promoting cryptocurrency, Kaiser is writing a memoir of her “whistleblowing” for a “very high six figures” advance. Meanwhile the real CA whistleblower, Christopher Wylie (the pink-haired young man you may have seen on TV) appears in The Great Hack calling the company “a full-service propaganda machine”, and says Kaiser is no whistleblower.

Unlike Wylie, who left SCL in July 2014, Kaiser stuck with the company long past its sell-by date, leaving in winter 2018 due to a pay dispute, not revulsion at its dishonesty and lack of moral compass. Another problem is Kaiser’s own dishonesty and lack of moral compass.

According to the film and to Kaiser’s publisher, HarperCollins, prior to joining SCL she was “spending most of her career working for progressive political campaigns and human rights organizations.”

But there may even be more than meets the eye to one of Kaiser’s few certified liberal activities. Kaiser says she worked on Obama’s digital campaign alongside fellow Andover alum Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, in the summer of 2007.

Congress questioned Mark Zuckerberg in 2018 about Obama for America’s 2012 campaign which (depending on users’ privacy settings) allowed the same scraping of friends’ data without their permission that Cambridge Analytica’s did.

And contrary to Kaiser’s claims, her work before Cambridge Analystica involved rubbing shoulders with corrupt leaders and power-brokers in Libya, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia and other countries not exactly known for championing human rights.

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It was at a buzzy downtown Manhattan loft party in mid-November 2015. An acquaintance sang out to me as I walked in, ”You have to meet Brittany, you both worked in Libya!”

Brittany Kaiser was smiley and agreeable and young and disarmingly short; she said she’d been a human rights activist in Libya, where I’d worked as a journalist in 2011-12.

It was Kaiser’s bad luck that one of my companions at the party was Libyan, a former private banker with a huge stock of acquaintances. So we hit Kaiser with questions about what she did and for whom.

My Libyan friend had attended a May 2013 foreign direct investment conference in London that Kaiser herself had helped organize, and my friend lost no time in excoriating the then-prime minister whom Kaiser had worked with on the conference, Ali Zeidan, as “a big thief.” (He fled Libya in March 2014 after presiding over its looting and political collapse, and when he tried to return in August 2017 he was promptly kidnapped and lucky to escape the country with his life.)

My Libyan friend had heard enough and walked away in search of food. I continued peppering Kaiser with questions. I challenged her, asking why a “human rights” activist had worked with thieves like Zeidan. I was offensive. But Brittany wasn’t offended; she muttered something about having been very young then. She wasn’t very articulate, but she never lost her cool. She said she worked for a political consulting firm now. She even gave me her business card before we parted.

I found Kaiser’s activities so suspect that though it was late when I got home from the party I sat down at my laptop and went straight to the Companies House website to look up SCL Group Ltd, Kaiser’s employer. I also found the firm she’d worked for on the FDI conference, PACE Group. There was an advance promotional slide deck online.

In the next days, I pieced together part of the story. Kaiser incorporated Pan African Conference and Exhibition (PACE) in January 2013 with a woman from Sudan, Asgad Hagaz, who owned 999 of the company’s 1,000 shares, with Kaiser owning one. Hagaz and her husband Tariq Mohammed were known in the London Libyan community as Gaddafi supporters. PACE also worked with the embassy of Ethiopia in London in May 2014 on investment opportunities. Yet PACE doesn’t seem to have ever had a website.

According to the slide deck online, the “platinum sponsor” of the May 2013 conference that Kaiser organized was ODAC, a Libyan state contracting board helmed from 1989 to 2011 by Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba, a corrupt official said to have stolen more than $2 billion from the Libyan state. Another Libyan friend in London who attended the PACE FDI event thought the real purpose of the conference was to reinstate these corrupt contracts with the new ODAC management. (Coincidentally, when I met Kaiser I was researching the assets stolen by Ali Dabaiba. So it was Kaiser’s double bad luck to run into someone who knew what ODAC was.)

PACE never filed a return or accounts; it was dissolved by compulsory strikeoff in September 2014, presumably for non-filing.

In August 2013, according to her LinkedIn, Kaiser joined a related, equally shadowy group, Pathfinder Trade. Kaiser’s bio for Pathfinder lists work in such beacons of human rights as “Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Burma (sic), Azerbaijan, Mongolia and Iran.” (Oh, and China.) Pathfinder itself lists a seeming charity, World for Libya, as a “strategic partner” on its website. But World for Libya was also set up as a vehicle for political influence by associates of the kleptocrat Dabaiba family, as noted in a Wall Street Journal expose.

It may or may not prove to be relevant to the Kaiser-SCL saga that as I published in January 2017,

Tchenguiz did a £20 million trade-offset deal with Gadhafi in 2008, and was formerly half-owner of a London estate agency, now called Chestertons, which sold the office tower at 14 Cornhill to the Libyan Investment Authority in 2008.

Tchenguiz’ partner in Chestertons, Salah Mussa, a British Libyan, was the founder of World For Libya. So it could be that Kaiser came to the attention of the Mussa-Tchenguiz-Wheatland team in her PACE/Pathfinder days.

As this background suggests, Kaiser did not unwittingly slide down a slippery slope into involvement with nasty causes and people. She jumped down willingly.

But The Great Hack doesn’t begin to suggest how far over to the dark side Kaiser and her associates went during their tenures at SCL.

Kaiser initiated SCL’s work on the Nigerian presidential election of 2015, in an email she sent my source on December 19, 2014. My source on Kaiser’s Nigerian involvement was a former associate of Nigerian billionaire Benedict Peters. My source was furious at what he viewed as SCL’s incompetence, which is why he was willing to talk; later he also had a falling-out with Peters.

Peters was close to the incumbent Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, and former oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, who was first arrested for massive corruption on October 10, 2015, in London, some months after the SCL work in Nigeria described here.

The elections were slated to take place in February 2015—far too soon after Kaiser’s pitch to mount a proper digital campaign. (The election actually took place 28-29 March 2015 due to security issues.) My conclusion is that SCL had no intention of organizing a campaign based on its much-trumpeted personality profiling. They had cruder methods in mind, requiring a lot less time and effort.

The agreement was that Peters would pay SCL Group almost $2 million to work to re-elect Goodluck Jonathan; in addition, one of Kaiser’s friends, Chase Ergen, would obtain diplomatic passports from the Caribbean island of Dominica for Peters, Alison-Madueke, and one other Nigerian businessman. Such passports offer visa-free travel to 135 countries, including the Schengen area while Nigerian passports only offer visa free travel to 45 countries, mainly in Africa. In addition, people who fear indictment and confiscation of their primary passport may attempt to acquire others. (Ergen, a son of DISH chairman Charlie Ergen, is close to Dominica’s longtime PM, Roosevelt Skerritt.)

Most of the $2 million from the Peters group was wired to SCL’s London bank, but a few hundred thousand—my source couldn’t recall the exact figure—was sent to the Swiss bank account of what he called “ Israeli hackers with a Kiev company”. The Israelis did the real work: hacking Goodluck Jonathan’s opponent Mohamed Buhari. (Some of my source’s charges, including illegal hacking of Buhari’s financial and medical records, but not the passport deal, were verified by other sources in this article by Carole Cadwalladr.)

Despite SCL’s efforts, Goodluck Jonathan lost to Buhari in 2015. In March 2019, Buhari won a second term. Since then, Diezani Alison-Madueke has been arrested on money-laundering charges in both Nigeria and the U.K.; she had to return $153 million in state funds to Nigeria.

Speaking of the dark side, to the extent that anyone’s taken the fall for SCL it’s been Kaiser’s boss, the nervous, arrogant SCL Group CEO Alexander Nix. He refused to be interviewed for The Great Hack” but is nonetheless shown often on-screen, most memorably presuming to lecture MP Damian Collins, the head of the parliamentary inquiry into fake news before which he testified.

Nix also appears in famous clips from a Channel 4 (U.K.) sting video released March 19 2018 – the same day that the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office or ICO requested a warrant to search SCL’s offices. In the video, Nix tells a man he believes to be a potential foreign client, actually a reporter in disguise, about the SCL’s use of honeypots. He’s accompanied by the much older Mark Turnbull, a Bell Pottinger veteran then at SCL. (From 2004 until 2012 Turnbull ran Bell Pottinger’s Specialist Unit in Conflict Transformation. Bell Pottinger is better known in the U.K. than in the U.S. It collapsed in September 2017 amid allegations of inflaming racial tensions in work for South African clients, after a long history of work for dictators and rogues.)

Nix was supposed to appear on a panel at the annual Cannes Lions advertising convention this June but had to step down due to the outcry among attendees, including one past award winner who cut up his Lion prize in protest.

Nix’s last business venture, however, still exists, albeit without him. Nix and the CA gang started a new company, Emerdata Ltd., in the U.K. August 11, 2017, a week before the Delaware Cambridge Analytica LLC director Steve Bannon left the White House. Six of its 10 directors have resigned due to the Facebook scandal – Nix resigned March 28, 2018 shortly after resigning from SCL itself—but not Emerdata’s most notorious directors, Rebekah and Jennifer Mercer.

People like Nix and Kaiser don’t give up easily. They just keep plugging away, starting new companies with new hustles. And so just a few months after the collapse of CA, on June 7, 2018, a former director of Emerdata, Ahmad al-Khatib, 29, started Auspex International Ltd with Mark Turnbull, Nix’s co-star in the Channel 4 sting video.

Al-Khatib is one of the sons of Ashraf Hosny al-Khatib, an executive in the UAE crown prince’s court. The court is headed by a brother of the de facto ruler of the UAE, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

According to the unintentionally humorous press release, “It was Turnbull’s integrity, along with his strong track record in strategic consultancy and campaigning, that persuaded Al-Khatib to appoint him.” (Turnbull’s old firm Bell Pottinger had worked for the Abu Dhabi Airports Company and Emirates Airline.)

The Great Hack treads lightly about what Kaiser has done since leaving SCL, which is, besides the arduous task of self-promotion, crypto-hustling.

Kaiser’s LinkedIn lists her as co-founder of Bueno Capital, in the “Zurich area”, since September 2017.) What does Bueno do? The website listed on its LinkedIn page no longer works nor is there any information on who registered it. But one can consult a video from “CryptoHQ,” a side event at Davos 2018 Kaiser was involved with, to watch a lavishly fur-coated Kaiser explain “we work on building teams for blockchain projects and implementing them” and gush that it’s “the greatest time” to get involved with crypto: “The only alarm bell is there’s not enough developers to keep up with the boom.”

Kaiser has also made the time to serve on the advisory board of a crypto junketing company in neighboring Macau, DragonCoin, which has drawn the wrong kind of attention for being associated with Broken Tooth, aka Wan Kuok-koi, a scary convicted felon from Macau’s organized crime triads. Broken Tooth, recently released from prison after serving a 14-year sentence, is banned from Hong Kong.

If you don’t know much about what Kaiser did, her youth and carefully cultivated air of naivete may fool you. Or, if you are involved in fooling others, you may accept her as a kindred spirit. Some elements in the crypto “space” accept Kaiser as a whistleblower on SCL—as she was billed at a recent Hong Kong gathering (video here). Just this month, an Austin company reminiscent of London’s wilder AIM market rides, Phunware, named Kaiser to its advisory board.

Phunware, which describes itself as “a fully-integrated enterprise cloud platform for mobile,” commented that “Brittany has been at the epicenter of the global movement toward privacy, consumer protection and corporate accountability.” Phunware’s stock price has gone from over $300 in February to $2 today.

Ann Marlowe

We Should Be Paying More Attention to Somalia…so should Rep. Omar

May 27th, 2019

Originally published in The Bulwark, March 22 2019: https://thebulwark.com/we-should-be-paying-more-attention-to-somalia/

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If you care about Somalia, this isn’t a good time. The local al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabab, remains active and effective, despite or perhaps because of a dramatic spike in U.S. airstrikes ordered by President Trump under loosened rules of engagement in March 2017.

In the first two months of 2019, United States Africa Command killed 225 people in 24 airstrikes targeting al-Shabab, the New York Times reported earlier this month. The air war seems to have substituted for a joined-up approach that might have a chance at stabilizing Somalia.

Stephen Schwartz, United States ambassador to Somalia from 2016 to 2017, told the New York Times, “It could be there is some well-thought-out strategy behind all of this, but I really doubt it.” Until December, the United States hadn’t had a resident ambassador in Somalia since 1991; it was simply too dangerous.

The U.S. and other Western powers are trying to help the federal government bring order to the country, but to little effect. In July, the European Parliament noted that “state actors” as well as non-state actors were responsible for human rights abuses in Somalia and that there have been extrajudicial executions, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions and abductions; whereas according to the UN Human Rights Office, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) of Somalia routinely violates international human rights law; whereas it often operates in an extrajudicial manner and its powers are too broad;

The Parliament also stated, “according to Transparency International, Somalia is the most corrupt country in the world.”

Somalia needs some friends in Congress. Where is someone who can suggest something more creative than airstrikes, someone who can call the Trump administration policy to account? What about Ilhan Omar, the outspoken freshman representative from Minneapolis who was born in Somalia and elected with the help of Minneapolis’ large Somali population? (Around 74,000 Somalis have moved to or been resettled in Minnesota in the last couple of decades.) As a new member of the 47-member House Foreign Affairs Committee she might have some influence.

Yet Rep. Omar has tweeted a grand total of one time about Somalia since taking her seat, in the context of the firestorm over her attacks on Israel, claiming she would not hesitate to criticize any government, including Somalia’s or our own. But Rep Omar has not criticized Somalia’s government that I can find, nor engaged with U.S. policy there. In fact, she’s tweeted about Somalia just 15 times since January 2014 and most of these mentions were very superficial.

Ilhan Omar is ignoring her chance to be a much-needed voice for Somalia, and especially for Somalia’s women, 98 percent of whom experience FGM , according to UNICEF estimates. Instead, she’s expended much political capital posturing on Israel, which has earned her considerable backlash and led, in a meandering fashion, to a House resolution condeming anti-Semitism and other bigotry.

This is especially odd because a close ally of Donald Trump has been a major player in Somalia, someone a Democrat should relish attacking; someone many Republicans regard as unhinged, unwise, and remorseless: Erik Prince, brother of Education SecretaryBetsy DeVos and self-proclaimed Trumpworld insider, close associate of Steve Bannon and George Nader, using Chinese and Emirati funds to create companies in Somalia.

In fact, in June 2017, three months after Trump approved looser rules on airstrikes, Prince’s Frontier Services Group (FSG), announced a contract to provide “logistics, aviation and security services” for a development project in a new state in Somalia, the South West State.

Robert Young Pelton – who conducted Prince’s first major interview in 2004 for his book Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, points out that Prince is a Chinese proxy as well as a UAE proxy in the Horn of Africa. A Chinese state entity, CITIC, has a 20 percent stake in Prince’s Frontier Services Group.

In a recent Al Jazeera TV Head to Head interview with a notably hostile Mehdi Hasan, Prince made his extensive involvement in Somalia clear, saying that he was at the January 2017 Seychelles meeting with UAE and Russian nationals that Special Counsel Mueller is investigating, to talk about “Somalia and some of the other problem areas we’d helped with”. (That happens near the 34-minute mark.) . To an American, the Seychelles may seem like the middle of nowhere, but they are little more than 800 miles from Mogadishu. (My own take on Prince in the Seychelles is here.)

Prince’s influence in Somalia stems from his UAE backing; when Blackwater came under legal pressure in the years following its 2007 massacre of Iraqi civilians, Prince re-located to the UAE, where he still maintains a home. And the UAE has exerted its influence in what it perceives as its backyard.

One Somali-American expert says, “UAE training of elements of the Somalia National Army – including units trained by Prince – has been counterproductive because these units have been perceived as loyal to the foreign backers who finance them. They have been a magnet for attacks not only by al Shabab but by clan militia. These units have different uniforms and have better equipment. Sometimes they have gotten into exchanges of fire with regular units and civilian casualties have resulted.”

Pelton also noted Prince’s failed projects in Somalia: “When he left the U.S. in 2010, Prince attempted to set up a still-born presidential guard in Mogadishu and a failed anti piracy police force in Puntland.” Puntland is a semi-autonomous state that has tried unsuccessfully to win recognition as an autonomous state.

The New York Times published a scathing account of the Puntland effort in October 2012. Prince’s shell company, Sterling Corporate Services was criticized by the United Nations as a “brazen, large-scale and protracted violation” of the UN arms embargo on Somalia. After incidents involving beatings of trainees and a death, Sterling pulled out suddenly when one of its trainers was shot dead by a trainee:

with the antipiracy army now abandoned by its sponsors, the hundreds of half-trained and well-armed members of the Puntland Maritime Police Force have been left to fend for themselves at a desert camp carved out of the sand, perhaps to join up with the pirates or Qaeda-linked militants or to sell themselves to the highest bidder in Somalia’s clan wars — yet another dangerous element in the Somali mix.

So why isn’t Rep. Omar trying to do something to help Somalia? Why her silence on Prince?

Perhaps Rep. Omar is biding her time, planning on using her perch in the Foreign Affairs Committee to contribute to the dialogue on Somalia once she has more seniority (but Omar’s tweets on Israel don’t suggest that she is the patient type.) It should be noted that Omar hasn’t ignored the Horn of Africa completely; she was part of a recent House delegation to Eritrea, a nasty pariah state that has lately made peace with Ethiopia. Omar’s office declined to comment for this article.

What is Omar’s family’s history and how does it fit in the complex fabric of Somalia politics? On her father’s side, she is a member of the large, powerful Majerteen clan, which has a power base in Puntland. However, being Majerteen need not mean much given that Omar grew up in Mogadishu and left Somalia at the age of 8.

But there are hints of Omar’s loyalties. In March 2013, as a private citizen, Omar supported the creation of Jubbaland, a new state in Somalia bordering Kenya:

“Kismayo (the capital of Jubbaland) offered refuge for me as a child running from war in the capital Mogadishu, and it has since been a place of unimagined violence. I was excited to celebrate its liberation and look forward to one day returning there as peace prevails. To my relatives still residing in Kismayo, I would like to congratulate them and urge them to not lose sight of this amazing opportunity to secure peace and prosperity.”

Others take a less benign view of Jubbaland, pointing out that it is a Kenyan puppet state set up to control the port of Kismayo, where Kenyan smugglers operate. With this in mind, consider what Omar told Minneapolis Citypages in 2016 about her family’s fleeing Somalia in 1991: “My family chose to go to Kenya because my grandfather had contacts there.”Citypages reported,“Omar’s paternal grandfather Somalia’s National Marine Transport director. Abukar oversaw the string of lighthouses along the Arabian Sea coastline.”

So, by her own account Omar’s family had some pull in Kenya, and she might well feel grateful to Kenya and its satellite state, Jubbaland, for taking in her family as refugees.

Perhaps Omar doesn’t want to raise the specter of her own potential dual allegiances, given that she has made so much noise about AIPAC and Jewish American politicians. But given her general lack of reticence to speak up despite her newcomer status, and given that she could be advocating for policies that would benefit both the United States and her home country, her silence is curious.

Ann Marlowe
Ann Marlowe is a writer and businesswoman in New York. She tweets at @annmarlowe.
BULWARK VIDEOS

Is Harvard Whitewashing a Russian Oligarch’s Fortune?

May 27th, 2019

Originally published in The New York Times on December 5, 2018: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/05/opinion/harvard-russian-oligarch-whitewash.html

Len Blavatnik made billions as a Kremlin insider. Now he’s writing huge checks to the university.

By Ann Marlowe
Ms. Marlowe is a writer.

Dec. 5, 2018

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Len Blavatnik recently pledged $200 million to Harvard Medical School.
Credit
Joe Giddens/Pa, via Associated Press

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Len Blavatnik recently pledged $200 million to Harvard Medical School.CreditCreditJoe Giddens/Pa, via Associated Press
This article has been updated.

By now, most Americans are aware of the deep and disturbing connections between Russia’s oligarchs and the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, thanks to an onslaught of news coverage and a growing list of sanctions aimed at them and their business empires.

Yet a surprising number of respected American institutions don’t seem to get it, including two that I am connected with: the Hudson Institute and Harvard.

On Tuesday, the founder, director and sole funder of the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative, Charles Davidson, announced that he was leaving his position at the head of the initiative because Hudson had accepted a $50,000 donation for a table at its annual gala from Leonard Blavatnik, a Soviet-born dual British-American citizen who made his money in the rough and tumble of Russia’s commodities privatizations during the 1990s and now owns, among other properties, Warner Music Group.

“Russian kleptocracy has entered the donor pool of Hudson Institute,” he told The New York Post. “Blavatnik is precisely what the Kleptocracy Initiative is fighting against — the influence of Putin’s oligarchs on America’s political system and society — and the importation of corrupt Russian business practices and values.”

Sources at the Hudson Institute said that Kleptocracy Initiative would continue, but did not comment on the Blavatnik gift. (Disclosure: I am a visiting fellow at Hudson, but it is an honorary position, and I have neither received money from the institute nor performed work for it.)

Mr. Blavatnik’s glory at Hudson largely lasted just one night. But he did succeed in attaching his name to Harvard for generations to come. On Nov. 8, Harvard Medical School announced that the Blavatnik Family Foundation had pledged $200 million to the institution, creating the Blavatnik Institute and Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab. This follows on a $50 million gift by the foundation to the university in 2013.

(Asked for comment, a Harvard spokeswoman said in a statement: “Harvard Medical School is deeply grateful for the generous and transformational commitment from the Blavatnik Family Foundation that will support discovery at HMS propelling the school’s mission to transform human health.” She also referred me to someone who handles media relations for the foundation.)

As a Harvard alumna, I find this appalling. Mr. Blavatnik — who, with a net worth of over $20 billion, is the richest man in Britain and the 29th-richest in America — cut his teeth in the brutal aluminum wars in 1990s Russia alongside Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich, who has estimated that every three days someone in the business was murdered. Together, they acquired an empire of recently privatized metals and energy companies, often for outrageously low prices.

Those deals, and others, involved a series of transactions with individuals with checkered pasts, deep Kremlin ties and a reputation for corruption. Though Mr. Blavatnik is not under American sanctions himself, many of his associates are, including Mr. Deripaska. The aluminum giant Rusal, where he is a major shareholder, is facing direct sanctions due to go into effect soon; Rosneft, an energy company owned by the Russian government where he also made millions, expects the ax to fall shortly.

One of Mr. Blavatnik’s early investments, United Trading Company, which he owned with Viktor Vekselberg, another oligarch also under American sanctions, brought him censure from the Russian government.

In 2004 the pair had to give up ownership of United Trading after the Russian government charged it with anti-competitive actions; they sold their shares to three other Kremlin-linked investors, Dmitri Pyatkin, Aleksandr Fraiman and Igor Annensky.

In 1996, Mr. Blavatnik and Mr. Vekselberg helped found SUAL, a large aluminum producer; through it, they own over a quarter of Rusal. The other big shareholder in Rusal is Mr. Deripaska’s En+ Group, which controls 48 percent.

Mr. Blavatnik’s biggest deal involved selling his stake in the Russian oil company TNK-BP to Rosneft in March 2013; he and his partners, including Mr. Vekselberg, together made $27.7 billion. The deal was arranged at the top levels of the Russian government; since 2004, Rosneft has been run by a close ally of Mr. Putin, Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister.

To be clear, Mr. Blavatnik is not accused of any crimes, in the United States or in Russia. But he is undoubtedly a Kremlin insider, someone who has made an enormous fortune trading on his political connections to a deeply corrupt circle of oligarchs and a criminal Russian state.

Mr. Blavatnik is entitled to spend his money how he pleases. But institutions like the Hudson Institute and Harvard, which at least in principle stand for the ethical pursuit of knowledge, sully themselves by accepting it.

Accepting gifts — especially naming gifts — from people with dubious sources of funds or close ties to despotic regimes encourages the view that dirty money can be cleansed by charity. What lessons does that teach Harvard students? And what message does it send to citizens of countries troubled by kleptocracy and corruption?

One of the gates to Harvard Yard has a celebrated inscription: “Enter to grow in wisdom. Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”

I still remember that. I wonder if Harvard does.

Ann Marlowe is a writer and consultant who specializes in investigating corruption.