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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

APCO: In Mercenary We Trust

Tian Chua  

In this dynamic and ever-changing world, APCO Worldwide stands tall as the giant of the lobbying industry.
The firm, in its own words, offers “professional and rare expertise” to governments, politicians and corporations, and is always ready to help clients to sail through troubled waters in the complex world of both international and domestic affairs

APCO’s client is not only Malaysia. In my last article, I described APCO’s relationship with homeland security and risk management consultancy firm ASERO Worldwide. ASERO is almost like a retirement home for ex-Mossad and ex-Shabak secret services officials.

Going through the record of APCO, it is amazing to see the audacity of the company in being so consistently and persistently opposed to the cause of social justice.

Dressing up dictators

As we all know APCO and its strategic partner ASERO serve Israel and its Zionist agenda. On the international stage, APCO in particular is well known for assisting dictatorships across the globe.

Gujarat’s Hindu nationalist Chief Minister, Narendra Modi hired APCO as image consultant in August 2007. The BJP politician was implicated in the religious riots which killed some 1,000 people. The massacre was triggered by the Godhra train burning on 27 February 2007 in which a few hundred Hindus were burned alive.

BJP and RSS radical blamed Muslims for the accident and retaliated with anti-Muslim riots. The Modi-led Gujarat government then paid USD25,000 per month to APCO to rebuild his international image and attract FDI.

Besides anti-Muslim Chief Minister Modi, APCO is well-known for running public relations campaigns for disgraced politicians.

In mid-90s, the company was contracted by former Nigerian President-for-life Sani Abacha. APCO represented the dictator when the regime clamped down on a popular uprising and executed 9 pro-democracy activists, including the famous environmentalist-artist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, APCO found new fortunes in Russia, Eastern European states and Central Asia.

Ken Silverstein, the editor of Harper's Magazine (June 30, 2007) described APCO lobbyists as the “crucial conduit through which pariah regimes advance their interests in Washington”. He exposed APCO's specialized experience in working on behalf of authoritarian regimes e.g Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, etc.

Silverstein wrote: “In exchange for fees of up to $1.5 million a year, they (APCO) offered to send congressional delegations to Turkmenistan and write and plant opinion pieces in newspapers under the names of academics and think-tank experts they would recruit. They even offered to set up supposedly ‘independent’ media events in Washington that would promote Turkmenistan…”

In China, APCO helps Israeli firms to do business. In one of its brochure, APCO advertised that: “APCO will conduct and guide a participant through locating and screening process relating to a potential business partner or a participant’s potential China distributors, integrators, agents, suppliers or competitors.”

Beating the war drum

Doing public relations for dictatorships is perhaps the more charitable part of APCO’s activities. APCO has battalion of pro-war lobbyists under its wing. The firm is also a strong advocate of expanding armaments and the U.S. military role in world affairs.

In October 2004, APCO and Kissinger Associates (owned by Henry Kissinger) formed “a strategic alliance”. They duly announced: “Our grasp of core policy and regulatory issues in numerous countries combined with APCO's extensive public affairs experience will result in well-rounded thinking about our clients’ challenges”.

Beside Kissinger Associates, APCO also built a broad network or coalition of conservative pro-Zionist lobbyists and consultancy groups including Heritage Foundation, Frontier of Freedom, Jewish Policy Center, etc.

In the name of war against terror, APCO helped to coordinate government communications to convince the public of the necessity of war. Its job also included manufacturing public opinion and feedback in supporting the war efforts. Basically they exploited Islam-phobia in Western society to sell aggression as the solution to regain security in the West.

In addition to supporting George Bush, APCO also defended British PM Tony Blair’s unpopular move to enter the Iraq war. APCO had assisted Tony Blair to consolidate the war alliance. Together with London-based Foreign Policy Institute, APCO prepared and published the pamphlet, ‘A Global Alliance for Global Values’ in which Blair declared:

“The situation we face is indeed war, but of a completely unconventional kind. And it can't be won in a conventional way. We will not win the battle against global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force.

“Doing this requires us to change dramatically the focus of our policy. We must commit ourselves to a complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those that threaten us”.
After the invasion of Iraq, APCO swiftly positioned itself to help American companies plunder Iraqi wealth and resources. In May 2003, APCO Worldwide launched a task force headed by Marc Ginsberg, the former US ambassador to Morocco, to help U.S. clients secure contracts for Iraq's rebuilding.

Anti-reform in U.S.

All evils start at home. APCO is not an angel in its home base either. Armed with such a heavy conservative political outlook, it is always ready to serve the right-wing political agenda against reforms and public interests.

APCO Worldwide was born out of the law firm Arnold & Porter, one of Washington D.C.'s largest law firms that is well connected to the tobacco industry.

Consumer rights advocacy described APCO as a lobby firm that “specializes in helping corporations advance their goals by manipulating legislators, and drafting and advancing model legislation and regulations. Key tools... include the creation of business coalitions and fake, corporate-funded ‘grassroots’ groups tailored to specific issues.”

In 1993, tobacco giant Philip Morris hired APCO to counter public awareness campaigns against tobacco. APCO organized a pseudo-NGO front known as The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). The objective was to fight public health efforts seeking legislative change, and fence off attempts to restrict tobacco sale.

Not only does APCO want people to think smoking is good for health, it also represents the profiteering interests of pharmaceutical companies and health care industries. Thus we are not surprised to notice that APCO is actively resisting and undermining Obama’s initiative for health care reforms.

One of APCO’s favorite legislators is Senator Joe Lieberman, who is a staunch supporter of military aid to Israel. Lieberman’s wife, Hadassah was APCO’s leading lobbyist for health care and pharmaceuticals clients.

On behalf of big drug companies, Senator Lieberman organized anti-health care reforms that hardliners hoped would frustrate Obama’s initiative; and have successfully delayed the passage of the new health care schemes.

Outside the U.S., APCO led the legal campaign against the distribution of cheap AIDS drug in South Africa.

Apart from health, APCO is also in league with big multinationals in the energy sector to reject concerns over global warming. Again, the assignment of TASSC was to present ‘rational’, ‘level-headed’ scientific evidences to paint the danger of global warming as illusion of alarmist environmental lunatics.

Paid by companies like Exxon Mobil, APCO's was tasked to assemble an army of climate change skeptics to oppose the Kyoto Treaty's “science and technology fatal flaws”.

In all these, APCO’s means and ends have been none but profits and bigger profits.

The public relations captains in Malaysia

APCO Managing Director in KL is Paul Stadlen. It is true that APCO’s first job with Malaysian government was not the promotion of 1-Malaysia.

Paul Stadlen came to Malaysia in 2008, around the time of ISA crackdown against Teresa Kok, Raja Petra and Sin Chew journalist Tan Hoon Cheng. He was recruited to assist the communications strategy of the Home Ministry to justify the ISA arrests, particularly with regard to the international community.

APCO’s Vice Chairman Larry Snoddon was appointed Asian regional CEO on January 2009. Prior to APCO in 2002, Snoddon was CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a UK based public relations big player.

Burson-Marsteller too had a very interesting record. Like APCO, Burson-Marsteller was hired by Nigerian Ministry of Information in the late 60s to counter international condemnation over alleged genocide and systematic human rights violations conducted by the Nigerian military.

Similarly, the firm was appointed shortly after Lee Kuan Yew’s infamous ‘Op Cold Store’ during Singapore's formative years. Lee sought its services to help Singapore develop a 10-year program to attract overseas investments.

The firm was also engaged for public relations work by the nuclear plant company after the U.S. Three Mile Island accident of 1979. More recently, Burson-Marsteller represented U.S. private security services firm Blackwater in a controversial case. It was engaged to defend Blackwater employees, who had killed 17 Iraqi civilians following a shoot-out in the street of Baghdad on September 16, 2007.

However the real boss of APCO’s operations in Malaysia is based in Washington DC. With RM23 million, he can afford to fly into KL almost every fortnight.

The person in-charge of Najib’s image consultancy is Jonathan M Winer, the Senior Vice President of APCO Washington DC.

Formerly, Winer served as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State International Law Enforcement from 1994 through 1999. During his term as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, he was known to be an expert in terrorist finances.

In U.S. domestic politics, Winer had once help Kerry’s presidential campaign. Unfortunately unlike his boss John Kerry, Jonathan Winer is not a good friend of Anwar's. Jonathan Winer had in fact started to help Najib to campaign against Anwar prior to the APCO contract.

As far back as 2005, conservative US groups cited Jonathan Winer’s congressional testimony to paint World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) as terrorist-linked organization.

Winer’s claim was never vigorously challenged to be substantiated. He based his conclusions solely on a single event that WAMY had invited Hamas leader Khalid Mishal as a VIP to its Riyadh conference held on October 2002.

Besides being sympathetic to Zionist causes, Winer had on many occasions expressed his deep prejudice towards Muslims and Islam in general. In his testimony to the US Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on 31 July 2003, Winer described the organization Ikhwan Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) as “terrorist group”.

He said, “The Brotherhood's role in the development of other militant Islamic organizations is also illustrated by its relationship to the establishment of the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiya, the JI, created with the aim of setting up an Islamic state in Indonesia. JI's founder has acknowledged being inspired by the Brotherhood in the goal of jihad as a means to the creation of an Islamic state in South East Asia covering Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the southern Philippines.

“JI then received funding from wealthy Saudis affiliated with Al Qaeda. In turn, the Brotherhood's central financial mechanism, Al Taqwa, established operations in Malaysia that linked to JI… the al Taqwa group…has long acted as financial advisers to Al Qaeda, … providing direct assistance to Osama bin Laden as well as investment advice and cash transfer mechanisms for Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups.”

I presume the above view expressed by Jonathan Winer is not acceptable to my friends from Barisan Nasional. Nonetheless, has the Malaysian government requested the APCO consultant to change his view before signing the lucrative RM23m contract?

Can we trust APCO?

The modus operandi of APCO has been the same; it provides the public relations legionnaire that advocates the cause of those who can pay, and can pay the most.

The points I raised in this article have somewhat been included in my debate of Royal Address in the Parliament on 29 March, 2010. In the debate, I appealed to the BN, as well as fellow Malaysians, to treat this issue seriously.

APCO might provide a convenient shortcut to face-lift the government. But seriously, can we really trust a mercenary to serve our national interests?

And ultimately, if 1Malaysia, as the government claims, is about fulfilling a shared destiny of Malaysian people, we should not need any external intervention to shape our country’s future.

(Tian Chua is the MP for Batu and the strategic director for PKR)


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