Gaddafi paid millions to US firms to polish his image

Boston: Libya`s strongman Muammar Gaddafi was spending over USD 3 million annually to mount a secret media campaign and PR effort to spruce up his global image as a statesman and a reformer, confidential documents show.

Gaddafi, now facing a rebellion from his own people, hired `The Monitor Group`, a consulting firm here, to execute a public relations strategy that included paying think-tank analysts and former government officials to take a free trip to Libya for lectures, discussions and even personal meetings with Gaddafi starting in 2006.

Quoting a 2007 memo from Monitor to Gaddafi`s intelligence chief, CNN reports that the campaign was to "enhance international understanding and appreciation of Libya. Emphasise the emergence of the new Libya. (and) introduce (Muammar Gaddafi) as a thinker and intellectual."

The price of the PR exercise was USD 3 million a year, plus expenses, for work that included consulting, briefings, analyses and a steady stream of high-profile visitors to Libya — at least one a month.

The memos were posted online by the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition, the CNN reports.

Eamonn Kelly, senior partner at Monitor Group, is heading an internal investigation at the company.

He said the visitors programme was only a small part of a wider campaign to help build civil society there.

The vast majority of the work, he says, was bringing leadership training and expertise to the country, aimed at "promoting reform, improving the economic prosperity of the country and the people, modernising the government and helping to heal the very broken civic society."

"We were not working for Gaddafi, we were working for Libya," Kelly said.

After one year`s work, a 2007 memo from Monitor touted the results, including a dozen high-profile visitors, ranging from interviewer David Frost to eminent professors such as Francis Fukuyama, fellow at Stanford University.

Monitor also took credit for positive media coverage and also highlighted a half-dozen positive articles written by some of the participants they sponsored.

For example, Benjamin Barber wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post entitled, "Gaddafi`s Libya: An Ally for America?" and Andrew Moravcsik wrote a piece for Newsweek called, "A Rogue Reforms."

Although the firm had vowed to "provide operational support for publication of positive articles on Libya," there is no indication any of the pieces were written at Monitor`s behest.

Instead, participants in the programme who were reached by CNN say they believed they were being paid for the lectures they gave and the coaching they offered.

They said they agreed to go because they were curious about Libya at a time when the regime had taken several positive steps toward the West and appeared to be open to change.

Barber points out that, starting in 2003, Libya "came out of the cold, thanks to Bush administration overtures: rejoined the West, made war on al-Qaeda, started imprisoning al Qaeda warriors, paid (Lockerbie) reparations of USD 1.3 billion, and yielded their weapons of mass destruction."

Another distinguished American academic, Harvard`s Joseph Nye, said he accepted the paid trip because "Gaddafi appeared to be changing his policy — and introducing new ideas could further reform."

After he met Gaddafi, Nye wrote an op-ed for The New Republic that contained both praise and criticism of the dictator.

Some of the visitors who met with Gaddafi later briefed American officials, according to Monitor`s memo, including "senior officials in the White House" and "senior government officials" at the State Department and the Department of Defence.

Monitor also offered, in a letter to Gaddafi`s intelligence chief, a 22-page proposal for a book about Gadhafi, to be produced for USD 2.9 million in fees and expenses.

The book would cover Gaddafi`s "ideas on democracy," the outline said, "so that the West gains a more accurate and balanced understanding of his actions and ideas."

The book project never reached fruition, and Monitor said in a statement the proposal was "a poor decision" that the firm seriously regrets.

But overall, said Kelly, Monitor stands by its main body of work.

"We were working in a very different period, a period of promise, and we are heartbroken that that period clearly has ended."

Monitor wasn`t the only US firm that Gaddafi`s regime engaged. In 2008, as Monitor`s work was coming to a close, Libya retained a more traditional lobbying firm, The Livingston Group, led by former House Representative Bob Livingston.

The firm lobbied State Department officials and members of Congress for Libya in 2008 and 2009, introducing Libya`s US ambassador to dozens of members of Congress.

Libya initially paid the firm USD 200,000 a month, but after a year, the billings had dwindled to just USD 30,000 a month.