A rare FBI investigation into a powerful and influential think tank has put a retired four-star general in hot water. Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who previously led US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is being accused by the US government of making false statements related to a foreign lobbying campaign investigation centered on the wealthy Gulf country of Qatar.
The retired four-star was tapped to lead Brookings Institution starting in 2017 fresh off overseeing the Afghan war. Brookings is widely considered to be among the most influential foreign policy think tanks in the world. Based in D.C., its other most visible international headquarters is in Doha, Qatar. The Qatari government has further long been among Brookings’ biggest financial backers.
Oil and gas-rich Qatar, though a tiny nation by size, has had an outsized influence over much of the past decade, given its extensive D.C. lobbying efforts and recent involvement in places like Syria, where it played a lead partner nation role in CIA and Pentagon programs to train and equip anti-Assad militant groups.
Allen in his lead role at Brookings is accused of a cover-up regarding Qatar’s efforts to exert influence over the US government: The FBI has seized the electronic data of a retired four-star general who authorities say made false statements and withheld “incriminating” documents about his role in an illegal foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of the wealthy Gulf nation of Qatar.
The time period that is the focus of the investigation covers the prior years of a severe Saudi-Qatar spat, which involved an outright economic and diplomatic war which threatened to unravel the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The rift endured from 2017 to 2020, and included tit-for-tat accusations of fueling Islamic militancy, also with Doha charged by the Saudis with being soft on Iran.
A court 77-page court filing which the AP obtained details the following:
The court filings detail Allen’s behind-the scenes efforts to help Qatar influence U.S. policy in 2017 when a diplomatic crisis erupted between the gas-rich Gulf monarchy and its neighbors.
“There is substantial evidence that these FARA violations were willful,” FBI agent Babak Adib wrote in a search warrant application, referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Allen also misrepresented his role in the lobbying campaign to U.S. officials, Adib wrote, and failed to disclose “that he was simultaneously pursuing multimillion-dollar business deals with the government of Qatar.”
The FBI has said Allen gave a “false version of events” during a 2020 interview and that he concealed related emails he was ordered to hand over by a grand jury subpoena. Importantly, it’s believed that Allen’s lobbying efforts proved successful on Qatar’s behalf, given that in 2017 then President Trump sided firmly with the Saudis against the Qataris at the height of the feud.
The AP reviews that “Shortly after the blockade was announced, then-President Donald Trump appear to side against Qatar.” And now, “The court papers say Allen played an important role in shifting the U.S.’s response. Specifically, authorities say Allen lobbied then National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to have the Trump administration adopt more Qatar-friendly tone.”