What General John Allen was Doing in Tampa Helps Us Understand the Newly Announced FBI Investigation
Underpaid military men like Allen may be vulnerable to money, to charm, to all sorts of things that they don’t face in the battlefield—and perhaps have much less training for.
Vicky Ward Investigates is a reader-supported publication. To receive the headlines straight from the source, please consider becoming a subscriber.
On May 20, I told you that there could be a looming crackdown coming in DC on the “swamp,” especially regarding people who work for foreign countries without disclosing it—a breach of “FARA” (Foreign Agents Registration Act) laws.
I told you that it was important to link three different legal cases: former ambassador to UAE and Pakistan Richard Olson’s plea deal regarding lobbying of Qatar; the charges against Trump crony and real estate developer Tom Barrack of illegally lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of the UAE and lying to the FBI about it; and charges by the FBI against Trump crony Steve Wynn, who is accused of lying about acting as an unregistered agent for the Chinese. (Wynn has said he didn’t need to register and Barrack has denied the charges.) I told you to watch for more indictments by the FBI.
What I didn’t say—because it wasn’t yet in plain sight—is that new legal documents show there is a task force at work in DC expressly to stop the washing of foreign money—especially to prevent Gulf states from influencing former U.S. government officials.
As the latest exhibit of this, it emerged last night that the FBI has seized data going back to 2016 of General John Allen, one of the country’s most distinguished military men and now the president of the prestigious DC think tank Brookings (though perhaps not for much longer, given what’s going on. At the time of this writing, Allen was placed on administrative leave according to an email from Brookings, per the New York Times). The FBI claims that Allen, just like Barrack, was acting on behalf of a foreign Gulf country (this time Qatar) without registering and with potentially millions of dollars in personal upside.
Gen. John Allen testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, October 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
The FBI claims that, after emailing with Olson and a jailed political donor named Imaad Zuberi, Allen flew first-class to Qatar with Olson, on Zuberi’s dime, right after the Saudis and Emiratis led a blockade against Qatar in the summer of 2017. Now, Qatar is where the Al Udeid airbase is, so U.S. security was on the line. I know from my reporting for Kushner, Inc. that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were horrified to learn of the blockade, which they quickly figured had been endorsed by MBS buddy (and now business partner) Jared Kushner.
So, politically it was important to get Trump (who I reported in Kushner, Inc. as saying “we have an airbase there?” upon hearing the news of the Qatar blockade) to see that U.S. security was at risk here.
The problem is that Allen, who knows the region well and who is arguably a perfect fit for the role of mediator, was not appointed to do what he then did. Allen has claimed he went to Qatar to talk with the Qatari Emir and then come back to the White House and talk to National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster to influence Trump to prevent a war from breaking out, which, he has said was perfectly appropriate, given the national security risks. (The FBI documents note Kushner was in Allen’s meeting with McMaster, but not Kushner’s specific reaction to what was said, which would have been interesting to know, given the course of his subsequent business dealings and alliances in the region, but I digress.) According to the legal papers, the FBI claims Allen also talked with members of congress who were anti-Qatar.
But what Allen didn’t say, according to the FBI investigator FBI agent Babak Adib who wrote in court papers that Allen had been chasing money—from Zuberi, who is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption, plus, according to Adib, “he was simultaneously pursuing multimillion-dollar business deals with the government of Qatar.”
THAT would be the rub.
This is not the first time I’ve stumbled across Allen in a sticky situation—and both times, it’s been related to money.
I first became aware of how vulnerable our senior military brass are to wealth and wealthy people when I spent time in Tampa in 2015. Tampa is where Central Command (Centcom), Special Operations (Socom), and the Coalition Forces are all based and where many senior generals are appointed to run and spend their time when not in the field abroad. It’s also a porous town where everyone mixes with everyone—especially people who have money and a lot of clout.
Against that backdrop, I chronicled the story of the downfall of Allen’s friend and former colleague, the former Four Star Gen. David Petraeus who was forced to resign as CIA director after he was exposed as having been embroiled in a messy extramarital affair during which he shared classified secrets with his lover and then denied it. Back in 2012, while the affair was on-going, Petraeus’s biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell had sent hate-mail to one Jill Kelley, a socially ambitious housewife of apparent means in Tampa. Kelley—and her twin sister—had gotten close not just to Petraeus but also to Allen, who had been deputy commander at Centcom while Petraeus was commander, and also received one of Broadwell’s missives. Broadwell was sending warnings to all to stay away from the Kelleys, who were perceived as such ruthless social climbers that their nicknames in town were “the Kartampians.” And yet Allen, it emerged, had had voluminous email correspondence with Jill Kelley, the discovery of which sparked an investigation and put his nomination to become supreme commander of the NATO Forces under Barack Obama on hold while the investigation played out. Allen was ultimately cleared but decided not to take the promotion because his wife, Kathy, had a worsening chronic illness.
While I was reporting that piece, several Tampa residents told me they had felt protective of Allen and they’d have been horrified if he hadn’t gotten the NATO job because of Jill Kelley’s perceived machinations. One of the most poignant moments in my story was when I was told that Kathy Allen phoned a prominent Tampa figure, Marc Rosenthal, and asked him to beg Jill Kelley to stop bombarding her husband. It became very clear to me in the week I spent there was just how vulnerable men like Allen may be to money, to charm, to all sorts of things that they don’t face in the battlefield—and perhaps have much less training for.
One of the great problems I heard over and over again in Tampa was how little money U.S. generals make while serving, which arguably creates a troubling pressure on them when they leave the military or, sometimes, even during it.
So, when I heard of Allen’s current troubles, I thought back to Tampa. What happened there and what happened in Qatar is not un-related. It will be interesting to see what develops as this all unfolds…