New York Post, by Paul Sperry, March 5, 2017:
Agents of the Saudi Arabian government are using US veterans as pawns in a scheme to gut a new law clearing a path for 9/11 families to sue the kingdom for its alleged role in the attacks, several vets complained in interviews with The Post.
“I joined the Marine Corps as a direct result of 9/11, so to be wined and dined by the very people I joined to fight against, that was sickening,” said Timothy Cord, who served as a Marine sergeant in Iraq.
Vets say the Saudi scam involves soliciting them to go on all-expenses-paid trips to Washington — including lodging at the posh new Trump hotel near the White House — to help pressure lawmakers into amending the recently passed bill, Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
Trip organizers Qorvis MSLGROUP, however, are allegedly failing to disclose to participants that the Saudi government is funding the trips through some 75 paid foreign agents it’s hired across the US to oppose the law, which passed unanimously in September.
Vets complain they’re not only being misled but openly lied to. During one recent trip, an organizer denied any “Saudi involvement” in sponsoring the trip, even though federal filings show the organizer has a $100,000 contract with the Saudis and is a registered foreign agent for the kingdom.
In their recruiting pitch to vets, the Saudi lobbyists, who pose as veteran advocates, claim that JASTA exposes them as well as “150,000 [US] military personnel stationed in over 150 countries” to “retaliatory lawsuits” in foreign courts — even though international law experts note that JASTA deals only with the immunity of foreign states, and poses little if any risk to individuals.
Vets felt shock and anger when they found out they were duped into doing “the Saudis’ dirty work,” as one put it.
Thomas J. Hermesman, who was deployed in Afghanistan as a Marine sergeant, joined the Jan. 23-26 trip to Washington flown out of Durango, Colo.,with nearly 50 other vets. “The organizers were definitely keeping stuff from us,” Hermesman said. “We didn’t get the full story. It was pretty shady.”
He said organizers told the vets if they ever traveled again in Iraq or Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, they could be stopped at a checkpoint and taken into custody as a terrorist thanks to JASTA.
A briefing paper for the DC meetings drew some suspicion. In tiny print at the bottom of the second page, it reads: “This is distributed by Qorvis MSLGROUP on behalf of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.”
Former Sgt. Cord said the trip leader, Jason E. Johns, shot down any concerns about Mideast sponsorship as soon as the vets arrived in DC. “He stood up the first night to announce that ‘there are rumors going around about Saudi involvement, and they absolutely aren’t [involved].’ ”
Johns’ bio describes him as president of No Man Left Behind Veterans Advocacy Group. But federal records also list him as a registered Saudi agent making $100,000 to mobilize vets to lobby against JASTA. The primary registrant on his disclosure form is Qorvis MSLGROUP, the Saudi government’s top PR firm in Washington.
“It really pisses me off that vets are being lied to by other vets that are in the Saudis’ pocketbook,” said Cord, who says he wants to alert others in the veteran community that they’re being targeted and set up by the Saudi government. Johns did not respond to requests for comment.
Cord calls the trips to Washington a form of bribery. All travel expenses were covered for his group’s four-day trip — including airfare and taxis, as well as meals and rooms at the $560-a-night Trump International Hotel, where the vets were welcomed with a “reception in The Patton Room.” Even “complimentary drinks will be provided,” the itinerary states.
In exchange, it says, vets were expected to storm Congress and “make members fully aware that veterans have serious concerns regarding JASTA and convince them that JASTA needs to be amended.”
Marine Sgt. David Casler, who was flown in from Sacramento, says a prime target was the House Armed Services Committee. Casler says he and the other vets were warmly received by lawmakers and their staff, some of whom expressed an interest in “fixing” JASTA. “Who is going to turn down a vet?”
President Trump, who strongly supported JASTA during his campaign, would have to sign any amendments into the law.
The head of Qorvis denies he or his Arab client are trying to hide anything from vets they’re recruiting. “My understanding is everything is fully above board and everyone is fully informed of the issues,” Qorvis Managing Director Michael Petruzzello said.
JASTA has cleared a path for two large lawsuits against the Saudi government that could end up in millions of dollars in Saudi assets being seized in a court settlement. The suits will be aided by the recent release of the classified “28 pages” documenting Saudi government officials’ funding and other support for the Saudi hijackers. Saudi Embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir did not return calls seeking comment.
Sperry is the author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.”