Monitor Group and Qaddafi: Still Spinning?

| Thu Mar. 3, 2011 5:38 PM EST

Earlier today, Siddhartha Mahanta and I broke the story that the Monitor Group, a Harvard-tied consulting firm in Boston, recruited (and on some occasions) paid prominent academics to visit Libya in 2006 and 2007 and meet with dictator Muammar Qaddafi as part of a campaign to rehabilitate the autocrat's image. (At the time, Qaddafi was signaling he might be interested in reforming his rogue-ish ways.) The Monitor's $3 million project, as we reported, yielded pro-Qaddafi stories in The New Republic, The Guardian, Newsweek International, The Washington Post, and other publications. (The firm also proposed writing a pro-Qaddafi book for a $1.65 million fee.)

We also reported several days ago that Monitor conducted research for a PhD dissetation written for the London School of Economics by Saif Qaddafi, a son of the Libyan autocrat. Initially, Monitor would not discuss the specifics of its work for Libya, and it released a brief statement saying, "Our work was focused on helping the Libyan people work towards an improved economy and more open governmental institutions."

After our latest Monitor story was published this morning, the firm sent out a more elaborate statement:

Our work was aimed at two primary outcomes—substantive improvement of the country's economic performance in the global economy, and therefore the prosperity of its citizens; and accelerated modernization and increased openness of government institutions and governance models.

The vast majority of our paid work related to the provision of two main services. First, a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the Libyan economy and identification of and plans for potential sources of competitive and comparative advantage for the country's future. Second, in-depth training in management and leadershp for several hundred high-potential leaders, drawn from many sectors. We undertook these efforts in good conscience within the then climate of optimisim for the country's future, and firmly believe that this was responsible and appropriate activity at that time.

During the same period Monitor also accessed its extensive network of political and social thought leaders representing a broad array of perspectives (some of them well known figures whose names have been mentioned in multiple media sources recently) and oversaw their introduction to the leaders of Libya, including Muammar Gaddafi.

The purpose of these visits and conversations was to facilitate, inform and speed up the processes of reform and modernization which were so clearly required—and, we believed at the time, possible. We also believed that these visits could boost global receptivity for Mr. Gaddafi's stated intention to move the country more towards the West and open up to the rest of the world. Sadly, it is now clear that we, along with many others, misjudged that possibility.

In the course of our work in Libya, and in the spirit of enabling the country's reintegration with the global community, we at one point proposed to help write a book representing the views of Mr. Gaddafi. During subsequent discussions regarding this proposal it became clear to us that it was a serious mistake on our part, and the work did not proceed. We sincerely regret having initiated this suggestion, and readily acknowledge it was a poor decision.

As acknowledged in his final thesis, Monitor also provided research support to Saif Gaddafi in the production of his London School of Economics PhD dissertation. We now regret our involvement in this work which we acknowledge was ill-considered.

The statement does contain what appears to be genuine regret. But it sidesteps a key part of the story: the group's PR campaign for Qaddafi. The consulting firm may well have devoted much time to economic-related projects in Libya, but it also mounted projects specifically designed to clean up Qaddafi's image. As we reported, the firm's goal, according to its own internal documents, was

to produce a makeover for Libya and to introduce Qaddafi "as a thinker and intellectual, independent of his more widely-known and very public persona as the Leader of the Revolution in Libya." In a July 3, 2006, letter to its contact in the Libyan government, Mark Fuller, the CEO of Monitor, and Rajeev Singh-Molares, a director of the firm, wrote,

Libya has suffered from a deficit of positive public relations and adequate contact with a wide range of opnion-leaders and contemporary thinkers. This program aims to redress the balance in Libya's favor.

The key strategy for achieving these aims, the operation summary said, "involves introducing to Libya important international figures that will influence other nations' policies towards the country."...[O]ne primary outcome of Monitor's pro-Qaddafi endeavors, the operation summary said, was an increase in media coverage "broadly positive and increasingly sensitive to the Libyan point of view."

Monitor's mea culpa is limited, with the group trying to depict its Libyan endeavor as geared toward economic development and reform. Its latest statement says, "Monitor believes that the vast majority of our work in and for Libya was appropriate and responsible; but we did make mistakes." Perhaps another one is not fully acknowledging that it pocketed millions of dollars for selling Qaddafi to the West.