Pakistan’s Military Plotted to Tilt U.S. Policy, F.B.I. Says
By CHARLIE SAVAGE and ERIC SCHMITT
July 19, 2011
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Pakistan’s military, including its powerful spy agency, has spent $4 million over two decades in a covert attempt to tilt American policy against India’s control of much of Kashmir — including funneling campaign donations to members of Congress and presidential candidates, the F.B.I. claimed in court papers unsealed Tuesday.
The allegations of a long-running plan to influence American elections and foreign policy come at a time of deep tensions between the United States and Pakistan — and in particular its spy agency — amid the fallout over the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound deep inside Pakistan on May 2.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation made the allegations in a 43-page affidavit filed in connection with the indictment of two United States citizens on charges that they failed to register with the Justice Department as agents of Pakistan, as required by law. One of the men, Zaheer Ahmad, is in Pakistan, but the other, Syed Fai, lives in Virginia and was arrested on Tuesday.
Mr. Fai is the director of the Kashmiri American Council, a Washington-based group that lobbies for and holds conferences and media events to promote the cause of self-determination for Kashmir. According to the affidavit, the activities by the group, also called the Kashmiri Center, are largely financed by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, along with as much as $100,000 a year in related donations to political campaigns in the United States. Foreign governments are prohibited from making donations to American political candidates.
“Mr. Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose — to hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the U.S. government’s position on Kashmir,” Neil MacBride, the United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, said. “His handlers in Pakistan allegedly funneled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to U.S. elected officials, fund high-profile conferences and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”
A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy denied any connection to matter, saying, “Mr. Fai is not a Pakistani citizen, and the government and embassy of Pakistan have no knowledge of the case.”
Law enforcement officials said Pakistan used a network of at least 10 unnamed straw contributors, which Mr. Ahmad helped organize, to make the campaign contributions and donate the bulk of the Kashmiri Center’s annual operating budget. The ISI would reimburse them — or their families in Pakistan — for the donations, the officials said.
Most of the straw donors who made contributions to the Kashmiri Center and to politicians in the United States were identified only by code in the court document, though the investigation was continuing and eight F.B.I. field offices executed 17 or 18 search warrants related to other suspected donors on Tuesday, an official said.
The goal of the group, according to internal documents cited by the F.B.I., was to persuade the United States government that it was in its interest to push India to allow a vote in Kashmir to decide its future. The group’s strategy was to offset the Indian lobby by targeting members of the Congressional committees that focus on foreign affairs with private briefings and events, staging activities that would draw media attention and otherwise to elevate the issue of Kashmir — the disputed region between India and Pakistan that each country controls in part but claims entirely — in Washington.
The F.B.I. said that there was no evidence that any of the lawmakers who received campaign funds from Pakistan were aware of its origins, and it did not name any of the recipients.
However, a search in Federal Elections Commission databases for contributions by Mr. Fai showed that he has made more than $20,000 in campaign contributions over the past two decades. The bulk of his donations went to two recipients: the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Representative Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana.
Mr. Fai made numerous — though smaller — contributions to Democrats as well, including to Representatives James P. Moran of Virginia, Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Gregory W. Meeks of New York, and $250 donations to the 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns of Al Gore and Barack Obama.
Mr. Ahmad also donated to Mr. Burton, records show. For at least 15 years, Mr. Burton has been a champion for Kashmiri causes in Congress, appealing to Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama to get more involved in attempting to mediate a settlement between India and Pakistan over the border region. He has also endorsed allowing the Kashmiri people to vote on their own fate.
Mr. Burton said he was “deeply shocked” by the arrest of Mr. Fai, because he had known him for 20 years and “in that time I had no inkling of his involvement with any foreign intelligence operation and had presumed our correspondence was legitimate.” He said he would donate the funds provided to his campaign to the Boy Scouts of America.
Both Mr. Fai and Mr. Ahmad also donated to Representative Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican who visited the region in 2001 and 2004, meeting with Pakistani and Indian leaders and calling for a cease-fire. He also introduced a resolution in 2004 calling for President George W. Bush to appoint a special envoy to help negotiate peace.
A spokesman for Mr. Pitts said he had donated $4,000 — an amount equal to the donations his campaign received from the two defendants — to local charities in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
Among the evidence that Mr. Fai was working for Pakistan, the affidavit said, are annual budget requests he allegedly submitted to his handlers along with lists of accomplishments and strategic-planning documents. Other documents and intercepts showed that they sometimes quarreled over reimbursing him for the costs of trips or about contracts for which he had not gotten advance approval.
The board of the Kashmiri American Council comprises mostly physicians and lawyers from across the United States, and election records show that several board members have made significant donations to lawmakers who have championed peace in Kashmir.
Gulam Hassan Butt, a retired California physician and member of the council’s board whose name does not appear in the donor database, said in a phone interview that the council carried out a “regular, honest, open campaign” with lawmakers and the State Department to get the United States to help resolve the Kashmir issue.
He also said he was unaware of any money that Pakistan’s government might have provided to the Kashmiri American Council, but Mr. Fai did not inform board members about all the sources of the council’s revenue: “Where does he get the money?” Mr. Butt said. “I don’t know. Who gives him the money? I don’t know.”