"Weapons of Mass Deception"


P.R. Effort By Saudis Sparks Justice Probe

BY JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
December 20, 2004

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into whether Saudi Arabia's efforts to buff its image in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks ran afoul of laws designed to limit the influence of foreign countries on American politics and public opinion.
Earlier this month, FBI agents raided Washington and Northern Virginia offices of the kingdom's main public relations firm in America, Qorvis Communications. In recent weeks, prosecutors have also subpoenaed witnesses and documents before a grand jury pursuing the probe, people familiar with the inquiry said.

The investigation appears to be centering on a 2002 radio advertising campaign run under the name of the Alliance for Peace and Justice. The ads promoted a Middle East peace plan then being advanced by the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah. Some of the radio spots also denounced Israeli military tactics without mentioning Arab terrorist attacks on Israel. "To stop the cycle of violence, we must first end the military occupation of Palestinian towns and neighborhoods," one ad said.

Under a federal law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, American public relations agents for foreign countries must identify the source of funds for advertising or propaganda campaigns that convey political messages to an American audience. The agents are also required to register with the Justice Department and provide copies of materials they distribute in America.

One suspicion expressed by many of those involved in the inquiry is that it stems from an effort by prosecutors to achieve some kind of balance with an ongoing investigation into the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Earlier this month the FBI searched Aipac's offices in Washington.

While early reports suggested that the Aipac investigation involved allegations of espionage on behalf of Israel, more recent accounts suggest that prosecutors may also be looking at whether the pro-Israel group violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Mr. Sandler said criticism of the Aipac probe may have led to the renewed interest in Qorvis's alleged malfeasance. "It may be all the whining" over the Aipac investigation, he said. "They may be trying to even it out."
The Minnesota activist, Mr. Silberfarb, said he also suspects that such a factor could be at work. "It does look rather convenient - spread the misery around," he said.

In a story posted on Newsweek's Web site last week, a Justice Department spokesman called the claim that the agency was looking to balance the two inquiries "absurd."

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Milton Frihetsson, 09:58


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