September 29, 2009 (WASHINGTON) — The Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) has been aggressively devising a strategy to lure former US officials into lobbying on the behalf of Khartoum to normalize ties, the Washington Post reported today.
- Robert McFarlane, former US former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan (The National Press Club website)
The efforts have so far been successful in attracting Robert McFarlane, the former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, the newspaper reported but in a manner that that would not require disclosure on his part.
McFarlane is considered one of the major actors in the notorious Iran-Contra affair and he pleaded guilty to withholding info from the Congress and was sentenced to two years’ probation and a $20,000 fine.
He was later pardoned in 1992 by former president George H. W. Bush.
McFarlane dismisses suggestions that he has done anything improper, saying he has adhered to U.S. restrictions while focusing on his work to unify feuding tribal leaders and help create jobs in Darfur.
McFarlane characterized Sudan as an intermediary in his negotiations with Qatar and said he has not received money or entered any agreement with the Khartoum regime.
“In the course of this work, I have of necessity had periodic contact with Sudanese officials,” he wrote. “However, I do not now, nor have I ever had a business or other affiliation with any part of the Government of Sudan”.
The complex arrangement also involved McFarlane’s former business partner Albino Aboug and Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Hassan Babiker who was identified by Sudan Tribune sources in the region as a Sudanese intelligence officer stationed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia reporting directly to former NISS director Salah Gosh.
The Arab Gulf State of Qatar was to pick the tab for a portion of Sudan’s pursuit by securing a contract for McFarlane Associates based in Arlington, Virginia worth $1.3 million as part of its peacemaking role in the eastern African region, the Washington post said.
Qatar is hosting peace talks between Darfur rebels and Khartoum in one of its high profile peacemaking initiatives.
An Arabic-language memo from Babiker on January 25 refers to the need to “provide the necessary money for the activities of the group,” according to a translation.
A week later, McFarlane sent an electronic copy of the proposed contract with Qatar to Babiker “for your consideration" before it was signed, the documents show.
McFarlane also drafted a letter from Qatar inviting himself to the contract signing, then sent the language to Babiker to pass on to Qatar for approval. The final contract was signed in Doha, Qatar’s capital, on Feb. 9 with Sudanese officials present, according to the records.
McFarlane nevertheless has been adamant on avoiding public links between himself and Sudan in light of the US sanctions and other regulations requiring disclosures for any US citizen acting on behalf of a foreign government.
The former US official has met with special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration and national security adviser James L. Jones to discuss the conflict in the largest country in Africa.
But White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said neither official approved of McFarlane’s consulting plans.
“Both General Jones and U.S. Special Envoy Gration have had conversations with Mr. McFarlane about the urgent need to improve the security situation in Sudan and the need for development in southern Sudan,” Vietor said.
“However, it is inaccurate to characterize those conversations as having been about Mr. McFarlane seeking, or General Jones or U.S. Special Envoy Gration providing, approval for Mr. McFarlane’s efforts” he added.
The Washington Post said that copies of internal e-mails and other documents portrayed a Sudanese government hoping to gain access to the new administration to persuade Obama aides to lift sanctions and remove Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The strategy to approach McFarlane was dubbed “Plan Tragacanth,” named for a natural gum indigenous to the Middle East.
The NISS officer in Addis Ababa played a pivotal role in the arrangements while stressing to his superiors the need to provide funds for McFarlane and others once an agreement was complete, while McFarlane pledged to “work together” toward “restoring a normal relationship between our two countries”.
Furthermore, Sudan asked McFarlane to recruit four other US officials including former Sudan envoys during George Bush’s administration, John Danforth and Richard Williamson.
However none of them agreed to the offers made. Sudan has allocated $100,00 a month to pay them.
Danforth said in an interview that he felt his involvement would create "confusion" among the parties while Williamson, said, "It didn’t make sense for me to get involved."
Robert B. Oakley, a former ambassador to Somalia and Zaire who served as Danforth’s deputy, said McFarlane told him he was “trying to broker some arrangements between the Sudanese government and the Obama administration”.
A memo dated January 14th seen by Sudan Tribune from Babiker to Gosh speaks of phone calls by Albino to secure the purchase of 250,000 sugar bags from Kenana sugar factory “at a reasonable price” to another former US official.
According to the document Albino told Babiker that the details would be ironed out in a meeting with the official’s son present in Dubai.
“He pointed out that [redacted] is currently present in the Hague for a mission related to the International Criminal Court that was pointed out previously [in another memo],” Babiker writes.
“I see it possible that one of the agency’s [NISS] companies to be tasked with this mission and its proceeds to be utilized in the operation currently underway because completing the contract will strengthen the resolve of this group in successfully completing the operation currently underway,”.
“Particularly that [redacted] is part of the group that is headed by Robert McFarlane and the issue at the end of the day is [merely] commercial and that he wants to make money out of and we could win him and connect him [to us] further if he accomplishes it [sugar contract]”.
Sudan Tribune has withheld the name of the official as it has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the document although it falls in line with what the Washington Post reported.
The Sudanese presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Deen acknowledged links of McFarlane with Babiker whom he described as a government official” previously involved in high-profile border talks with southern Sudan, but denied that he is working for Khartoum.
“Any allusion to the possibility would be misguided,” Salah Al-Deen said, referring to McFarlane working for the National Congress Party. “It would be damaging to his reputation. And in the first place, it’s not right”.