Bahrain Feature: The Regime's Public-Relations Army of US and British Consultants (Chan'ad Bahraini 2.0)
UPDATE 0930 GMT: Chan'ad Bahraini 2.0, paralleling the information in EA's LiveBlog this morning, has added a section on Tom Squitieri at the bottom of the article.
UPDATE 0745 GMT: EA has uncovered another PR consultant doing his best to put the case of the Bahraini regime and tarnish the protesters as puppets of foreign powers and sinister opposition leaders --- meet Tom Squitieri in our LiveBlog.
The activist site "Chan'ad Bahraini 2.0" unveils the network of high-power public-relations consultants employed by the Bahraini regime in its effort to quell protests since February:
Since the start of the uprising in Bahrain this year, and the subsequent brutal Saudi-backed crackdown, the government has desperately been trying to sanitize and salvage its international reputation. To this end, it has been pouring the public's money in to contracts with Western PR firms to do this dirty work.
From the looks of it, these PR firms are doing a fairly poor job for their clients. And it doesn’t help when the Ministry of Interior comes out with ridiculously offensive press statements like "Ministry urges families to keep women out of illegal activities".
But I thought it was still worth listing some of these PR firms in one place so there is a record.
Potomac Square Group
Bahrain’s embassy in Washington DC signed a contract with the DC-based Potomac Square Group on the 17th of February, three days after the start of the uprising. The firm is run by Chris Cooper, a former Wall Street Journalist reporter. He writes on his LinkedIn profile: "Clients include a foreign government seeking help in dealing with an internal crisis."
According to the US registration documents, the embassy was to pay him $20,000 (plus expenses) for a month's worth of services (renewable).
Sorini, Samet & Associates
In April, the AFL-CIO filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor calling on it to terminate the Bahrain-US Free Trade Agreement in light of the mass sackings of workers in Bahrain following the protests. To formulate the response to this, Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs hired the services of Sorini, Samet & Associates LLC, a government relations firm specializing in international trade legislation.
The point man at the firm is Andrew Samet, who has previously served as Deputy Undersecretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration. The Bahrain government was to pay the firm an hourly fee ranging between $100 and $550 with an initial non-returnable retainer of $25,000.
Qorvis is a well-known D.C.-based PR firm, notorious for being hired by Saudi Arabia to improve its image after 9/11. The firm was hired by Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in April/May 2011 for a monthly fee of $40,000 (plus out-of-pocket expenses).
The firm's point man for the contract is Matt Lauer (@MattJLauer), a former State Department official. It seems that Qorvis is likely to be the source of the press statements on behalf of the Bahrain government regularly posted on PR Newswire.
Joe Trippi & Associates
Joe Trippi & Associates is a D.C.-based media firm headed by Democratic political strategist Joe Trippi, (@JoeTrippi) who managed Howard Dean's 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign. He was hired some time before August by Dr. Saqer Al Khalifa on behalf of Bahrain's ministry of information.
According to the registration documents, Trippi is tasked with providing "strategic counsel" and assisting "with outreach to members of the media and non-governmental organizations." The documents don't mention how much the Bahrain government is paying for the services.
Joe Trippi hired the services of a D.C.-based PR firm Sanitas International on behalf of the Bahrain ministry of information in July. Sanitas' stated job is to once again "provide strategic council, public affairs and other media communications services" for the Bahrain government. The registration documents do not state the fee that Sanitas receives for its services.
The point-man for the contract is partner Christopher Harvin (@cmharvin), who has formally worked for the White House and several other US government departments. Earlier this year Harvin said in an interview that one of the trends that excites him the most is the wave of democratic reform in the Middle East:
In Egypt, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube facilitated the removal of Hosni Mubarak. Even as the Egyptian government shut down certain channels of communication, the opposition continued to influence, organize and connect through alternative forms of communication. In Syria, social media is fueling mass demonstrations and revolt. In Iran, the Green Revolution began on Twitter.
And yet this guy has no problems about being hired to whitewash the image of the regime in Bahrain that has used Facebook and Twitter in its brutal crackdown against the democratic movement and has arrested bloggers.
Bell Pottinger is a major London-based PR agency that had a number of contracts with the Bahraini government, including one for the Economic Development Board since 2009, believed to be worth a seven-figure sum in pounds annually. The firm came under pressurein February for holding the contracts even after seven protesters had been killed in Bahrain, and in April BP suspended some of its contracts including the EDB one.
The chairman of the agency said "most" --- not all --- of the Bahrain contracts had been suspended, and stressed that it was not necessarily a permanent disengagement.
It is not clear whether Bahrain still has a contract with Gardant, but it is still listed on the UK Public Affairs Council website for now.
Gardant is a London-based PR firm that seems to have been working for the Bahrain government since before the Feb 2011 uprising. It acts as the secretariat for the UK-Bahrain All-Party Parliamentary Group, arranging their paid visit to Bahrain in October 2010.
The point man for this contract is Lord Paddy Gillford, Earl of Clanwilliam, a former advisor to the Conservative Party. In June, Gillford got into a public spat with Anwar Abdulrahman, the editor-in-chief of the Gulf Daily News, a pro-regime Bahraini newspaper, who is regarded as very close to Bahrain's prime minister. Abdulrahman lashed out at him in the newspaper for failing to do enough to protect the regime's international reputation. It's hard to imagine that Abdulrahman's public criticism of a Gillford could have happened without a nod from the government. So unless they kissed and made up afterwards, its quite possible that the contract has been terminated now.
Olton is a UK-based intelligence gathering firm (that also offers "reputation management") run by ex-military men and founded by a Paul Manister (@H4Hkiliclimb). Again, its not exactly clear what their work is in Bahrain, but they do have an office in the Bahrain Financial Harbour, and I have reason to believe that they have a contract with the government.
The group was promoting its "web-trawling' technology" named ORA at the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi this February. An editor at the UAE's The National newspaper who visited the IDEX conference tweeted: "At #Idex2011 a western company is pitching software to monitor social media to identify ringleaders, saying it could head off unrest in Middle East. #Fail"
So there you have it. These are all that I have been able to find, but there may well be even more PR firms on the payroll of the Bahrain government out there. [Ed.: There are --- see top of entry.] But just think about what could be done with all the public money that is currently being wasted on protecting the regime's reputation.
Tom Squitieri (TS Navigations LLC)
Two well-crafted opinion pieces recently appeared in the Huffington Post which desperately seek to show that Bahrain's Al Khalifa regime is not as bad as the world thinks, and that the pro-democracy protesters don't have a mind of their own:
Looks convincing until you read the bio of the author Tom Squitieri (@TomSquitieri) which says he "is a journalist and is also working with the Bahrain government on media awareness." The problem is, as his LinkedIn profile attests, Squitieri has not been a journalist since 2005.
He had to resign from his last journalism position with USA Today for plagiarizing quotes for his stories. After that he joined the PR industry and made a comeback as a Washignton spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Now he has set up his own PR shop in Washington D.C. named TS Navigations LLC where he offers: "In a crisis communication situation, we work to immediately end the negative while building toward a pro-active platform....The world may see bruised tomatoes. We are the chefs who make them into marinara that is irresistible."
How could the regime in Bahrain resist such an offer?
The foreign registration documents of TS Navigation's deal with Bahrain don't appear to be on the Department of Justice website just yet, but it usually takes a few months.