The FBI has seized electronic data from retired four-star Marine Corps General John R. Allen concerning alleged illegal activities tied to foreign lobbying.

Specifically, illegal foreign lobbying on behalf of Qatar.

The investigation is reportedly an effort by the Department of Justice to crack down on FARA violations.

FARA is the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a transparency effort that requires individuals to disclose when they are working on behalf of a foreign power. 

The investigations and, in particular, these allegations against General Allen – who led the U.S. military in Afghanistan until 2017 – raise serious questions on the perceived revolving door of political and military influence of those in uniform.

Influence that not only seems to yield considerable power but also substantial financial rewards.

Setting The Scene, The Gulf 2017

To understand where the allegations against General Allen come from, it’s essential to take a quick trip back to the Gulf region circa 2017. In 2017 Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had announced a blockade against Qatar due to claims the Qatari government at the time was tied to terror groups.

President Trump initially voiced support for the two countries’ blockade. However, the FBI alleges that emails have surfaced between Mr. Allen, who had retired by this time, and then-National Security Advisor, retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster. 

A particular email stressed the Qatari government’s desire for the administration to issue a statement to the region calling for restraint.

Two days later, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement to Gulf countries to “ease the blockade against Qatar” and that “there be no further escalation by the parties in the region.”

General Allen asserts that his efforts at the time were motivated by the desire to prevent a war in the Gulf that would put American men and women in uniform in danger. He claims he wasn’t acting as a Qatari agent but merely a retired military mind working as a patriot attempting to keep the peace.

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What Exactly Is A Foreign Agent?

Before moving on to the juicy aspects of this story, it’s essential to understand what a foreign agent is.

According to the Department of Justice website, a foreign agent or ‘agent of foreign principle’ is “any person who acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant, or otherwise acts at the order, request, or under the direction or control of a ‘foreign principal.'”

The agent engages in, among other things influencing U.S. government officials regarding domestic or foreign policy.

It is required for those who are agents of a foreign principal to be registered with the Justice Department. 

And this is where the story gets sticky.

Caught In An Expanding Investigation

General Allen might not have been caught up in any wrongdoing if not for his ties to two other characters in this intrigue; former ambassador to the UAE and Pakistan Richard G. Olson and political money man Imaad Zuberi.

Last week Mr. Olson pleaded guilty to federal charges, and Mr. Zuberi is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges. 

Mr. Allen took a trip in 2017 to Qatar with Mr. Olson on Mr. Zuberi’s dime in what appears to be a multi-tasking trip to advise the Qatari government on how to influence U.S. policy in the region, and in the process make a buck or two.

While on his trip, Mr. Allen advised the Qatari government to “use the full spectrum” of information operations and to use “black and white” operations. A “black” operation refers to covert operations that are often illegal and could include such acts as hacking systems for information.

Before taking his first-class flight to Qatar, Mr. Allen emailed Mr. Olson and Mr. Zuberi, suggesting he get paid $20,000 as a ‘speaker fee’ for his work. He ended up not getting his $20,000, but he did go on to state they should “work out a fuller arrangement of a longer-term relationship.” 

So what did he do wrong other than what appears to be a self-concerned retired General? He never registered with the Department of Justice. Thus making it seem like he was a confidential or secret agent of the Qatari government.

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It’s Good To Be A Retired General

FBI agent Babak Adib said there is “substantial evidence” that Allen willfully and knowingly violated FARA. Moreover, there is more besides the email evidence and other documentary proof of his trip to Qatar and his relationship with Mr. Olson and Mr. Zuberi.

The affidavit says:

“At the same time he was lobbying U.S. government officials on behalf of Qatar, Allen pursued at least one multi-million dollar business deal with the Qatari government on behalf of a company on whose board of directors he served.”

Mr. Allen had sat on the board of a Texas artificial intelligence company called SparkCognition. While in Qatar, he allegedly tried to grease the wheels on a $30 million contract with Qatar on behalf of the company.

In an email to the CEO of SparkCognition upon his return, he said, “The brief is in their hands.”

But wait, there’s more. The Israeli security company, Fifth Dimension, agreed to pay Mr. Allen $10,000 a month plus a 1.5% commission on any new business he wrangled for them.

The FBI says they have evidence that Mr. Allen tried to take credit for Qatar signing a $72 million contract while on his trip with Mr. Olson. Had he gotten the credit, he would’ve earned a $1 million commission.

A Never-Ending Cycle of Influence

The news of this investigation and the allegations against retired General Allen raises fresh questions about how our defense and political systems operate. Besides all the positions above and opportunities afforded Mr. Allen thanks to his service, until this week, he was the President of the premier Democratic think-tank Brookings Institute.

Mr. Allen earned $1 million a year for his position at Brookings. Up until 2019, Brookings was receiving donations from none other than Qatar.

While it appears that Mr. Allen didn’t follow proper ‘protocol’ with his dealing in Qatar, his activity isn’t necessarily unique to retired military Generals.

Retired General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis received approval to work as an adviser for the UAE and was a fellow at the Hoover Institution. 

Retired General and former National Security Advisor James Jones received approval to work with Ironhand Security which does business with Saudi Arabia.

And finally, retired General and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was on the board of defense contractor Raytheon. Additionally, he was a partner at Pine Island Capital Partners, which regularly gobbles up small defense contracting companies, and on the board of directors for Nucor. Nucor is the largest steel producer in the nation and provides steel to two defense contractors.

While there is, as far as is known, nothing illegal about what General Mattis, Jones, and Austin have done, it begs the question…where are their interests aligned?

It sure seems like it pays well to be a retired General and that if you are in the business of war… business is good.

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