WASHINGTON, DC – On June 30, 2022, the U.S. Department of State announced that it is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information on foreign interference in U.S. elections. The cash reward is offered through the department’s “Rewards for Justice” (RFJ) program, which is administered by the Diplomatic Security Service. According to the announcement, “Foreign election interference includes certain conduct by a foreign person that violates federal criminal, voting rights, or campaign finance law, or that is performed by any person acting as an agent of or on behalf of, or in coordination with, a foreign government or criminal enterprise.”
The reward notice is timely as Americans across the country prepare for the upcoming mid-term elections on November 8, 2022, the results of which will determine control of Congress.
Foreign interference in American politics has gained increased attention in recent years following the 2016 presidential election where American intelligence officials confirmed foreign interference occurred. However, such interference is not unheard of, especially when it comes from smaller nations looking to ingratiate themselves with power brokers in Washington. Such is the case with Turkey and Azerbaijan, whose activities in the nation’s capital over the last two decades have had some of the most powerful figures in the U.S. government scrambling to shield themselves from the authoritarian regimes and their illegal activities.
A few days following the State Department’s announcement last month, The Hill reported that the “Department of Defense is seeking to recoup thousands of dollars from former national security advisor Michael Flynn after determining that the retired general failed to disclose foreign payments. Flynn, who served for three weeks under then-President Trump, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Turkish and Russian entities in 2015 without approval from the U.S. government, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.”
In January, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) raided the home and Loredo office of Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), as part of a federal grand jury probe into organizations with ties to Azerbaijan, the Texas Tribune reported. Rep. Cuellar serves as the Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Azerbaijan and as such, he, his wife, and Congressional staff have received thousands of dollars worth of trips to the Caspian Sea-based nation.
Nine years ago, the U.S. House Ethics Committee began investigating 10 members of Congress who traveled to Baku in May 2013 with foreign funding – a probe that was dropped in 2015, but not without a heavy dose of intrigue given the Committee Chairman’s own ties to the Azerbaijan state-owned oil company behind the funding.
In 2018, Houston businessman Kemal Oksuz, the former president of a Texas-based non-profit who organized Congressional trips to Azerbaijan pleaded guilty “for his role in a scheme to conceal the fact that a 2013 Congressional trip to Azerbaijan was funded by the Azerbaijan government,” the FBI said.
After the Office of Congressional Ethics probe, privately funded Congress member trips to Turkey came to an all but grinding halt. While Turkey and Azerbaijan have come under the microscope in the U.S. in recent years, their international influence peddling campaign, dubbed “Caviar Diplomacy,” continued despite calls from the Armenian Council and other international human rights organizations.
Other instances of illicit foreign interference in American elections have caught the attention of law enforcement in recent years. In 2011, two individuals – Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, a U.S. citizen and resident of Fairfax, Virginia, and Zaheer Ahmad, 63, a U.S. citizen and resident of Pakistan – were charged with “participating in a long-term conspiracy to act as agents of the Pakistani government in the United States without disclosing their affiliation with the Pakistani government as required by law,” the FBI said. Fai and a non-profit organization he directed received over $4 million from the Pakistan government over the years, including “$100,000 for contributions to members of Congress” in 2009, according to the FBI’s affidavit.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is “designed to ensure that the U.S. government and American public know the underlying source of information and identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. policy and laws. The defendants are accused of thwarting this process by concealing the fact that a foreign government was funding and directing their lobbying and public relations efforts in America,” said Assistant Attorney General Monaco.
“Foreign governments who try to influence the United States by using unregistered agents threaten our national security,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin. “Mr. Fai’s alleged conduct illustrates the risk to our fair and open government. The charges underscore the dedication of Special Agents who enforce laws – like the FARA violations charged here – that are designed to detect and defeat those who attempt to surreptitiously exert foreign influence on our government by using agents who conceal their foreign affiliations.”
The Armenian Council of America supports the U.S. government’s efforts to identify and root out FARA violations and other corrupt activities, and likewise encourages Armenian Americans who become aware of any foreign influence activities to report it to the FBI here.
As a grassroots organization, ACA is dedicated to working with all political leaders, offering Armenian related news, analysis and resources for policymakers, media, students and activists, advocating issues important to Armenian Americans. The ACA also aims to strengthen U.S. – Armenia and U.S. – Artsakh ties, the development of programs promoting sustainable economic growth and good governance in Armenia, while promoting the values and responsibilities of global citizenship.