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All the Shills

Money Can Buy


HOW KAZAKHSTAN AND AZERBAIJAN USE
USEFUL IDIOTS, CROOKED ACADEMICS, AND
LAW-BREAKING LOBBYISTS TO WHITEWASH
THEIR POLICE STATES

BY CASEY MICHEL
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 1

“Though starkly put, [the] comparison of lobbyists to defense attorneys is in fact


the most common defense offered by lobbyists who work for foreign despots. But
there are of course some rather striking distinctions here. Lawyers represent
clients who may or may not be guilty, and when the evidence against them is
clear, the clients almost always go to prison. Lobbyists for dictators are working
for people whose crimes are generally documented beyond dispute, and when they
succeed, they enhance their clients’ grip on power and ability to continue
oppressing their citizens and pillaging the national treasury. The only people at
risk of going to jail are political dissidents opposing the dictator-clients.”

- Ken Silverstein, Turkmeniscam

“What’s your wife’s name? What school do you go to?


Who funds your scholarship right now? Where do you work?
How do you pay your meals? … What’s your cholesterol count?”

- Dr. Brenda Shaffer


All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 2

Table of Contents

3 – Introduction
16 – Legal Legacies
23 – Media Manipulation
50 – Free Agent Diplomacy
64 – Crooked Academics, Tainted Think Tanks
80 – Innovation as Success?
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 3

Introduction12

Since lobbying first began as a formal entity in the United States – since veterans of the

War of Independence first hired William Hull in order to aid in demands for wartime

compensation3 – innovation has followed suit. Changes in lobbying methodology, influenced by

resultant efficacy, arose with successive administrations and successive demands, with legal

requirements following apace. The origins of the term “lobbyist” in and of itself exists as

testament to innovation; those seeking the ear of US President Ulysses Grant took leave of prior

protocol and instead tailed the president through the lobby of the Willard Hotel, knowledgeable

that the president would not only be free, but was likely to have enjoyed a handful of drinks.4

Enforcement of regulation, or attempts therein, followed thereafter, with the first efforts at

lobbyist regulation arising in 1876.5 Those lobbying for foreign entities shared much overlap in

methods with those lobbying for domestic entities, including providing informational material,

organizing meetings, landing speaking opportunities, and reaching out to media to provide

coverage of assorted related events. However, those acting on behalf of foreign principals stake

one discernible difference from their domestic counterparts: Not only does the Federal Election

1
Silverstein opening quote taken from: Silverstein, Ken. Turkmeniscam. New York: Random House, 2008, 163.
Shaffer opening quote taken from: Michel, Casey. “Brenda Shaffer’s Conflicts of Interest,” 23 Oct. 2014. Retrieved
from, and audio available at, http://www.caseymichel.com/blog/2014/10/23/brenda-shaffers-conflicts-of-interest
(accessed 8 April 2015). Shaffer’s quote came during an on-the-record discussion at Columbia University on 23 Oct.
2014. Opening image courtesy: “Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive
regimes,” Corporate Europe Observatory, 20 Jan. 2015. Full report available at
http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/20150120_spindoctors_mr.pdf.
2
The author would like to express his sincere gratitude to Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, without whom
this report would not be possible, and most especially Dr. Alexander Cooley and Dr. Elise Giuliano. He would also
like to thank the researchers with enough hutzpah to prior cover this topic – Ken Silverstein, most notably – and his
parents, of course.
3
Silverstein, Turkmeniscam, 52.
4
Craig Holman, Origins, Evolution and Structure of the Lobbying Disclosure Act, PUB. CITIZEN, 11 May 2006, 5.
For the sake of this essay, the term “lobbying” will be understood along the lines of Holman’s definition; that is,
“the process of petitioning government to influence public policy.” Holman, 1.
5
Holman, 2-3.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 4

Commission prohibit any foreign national from funding any facets of American elections,6 but

since 1938, such agents have been required to register under the auspices the Foreign Agents

Registration Act (FARA), enacted following on the heels of concerns about Nazi propaganda in

the United States. FARA remains in effect today, with assorted amendments supplemented in the

ensuing decades.

As traditionally understood, lobbying – that is, “the process of petitioning government to

influence public policy”7 – existed under the political science rubric of an “iron triangle.”8

Lobbyists presented the “interest groups” who “often pressur[e]” bureaucrats, while

simultaneously representing organizations and interests that can present electoral support to

Congressmen. Such formulation continues, especially on the domestic front. However, as foreign

lobbyists do not represent an inherent electoral bloc – that is, constituents from their foreign

country are unable to vote – such “iron triangle” stands slightly shifted, relying less upon public

appeals and more greatly upon foreign policy concerns and contingencies. Indeed, the United

States’ 1976 Lobby Law formally can help elucidate this primary difference. The 1976 Lobby

Law divided lobbying between “direct” and “grassroots,” with the former “stating one’s position

on specific legislation to a legislator” – the preferred method among foreign lobbyists – and the

latter appealing directly to the broader public – one of the primary methods of those engaged in

domestic lobbying.9 For decades, traditional methods of lobbying dominated efforts of foreign

entities’ image-management efforts among English-speaking audiences, albeit with a marked

emphasis on the “direct” aspect of lobbying. It may well be argued that, indeed, such methods

6
Further details on such prohibition can be located at the Federal Election Commission’s “Foreign Nationals”
Website. Retrieved from http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/foreign.shtml (accessed 25 April 2015).
7
Holman, 5.
8
Sullivan, Larry. The SAGE glossary of the social and behavioral sciences. Sage Publications, 2009. “Iron
Triangles.”
9
Sullivan, Larry. The SAGE glossary of the social and behavioral sciences. Sage Publications, 2009. “Lobbying.”
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 5

still dominate such efforts, in the sense of outweighing those efforts deemed innovative in both

magnitude and funding. Among the predominance of these traditional methods, lobbyists and

firms engage in outreach to both media and Congress, holding both face-to-face meetings while

also bundling informational material to outlets and politicians (and staffs) alike. Lobbyists also

utilize traditional methods to seek to engage the broader public – although this remains rarer for

foreign lobbyists than domestic lobbyists. Such methods include arranging speaking

engagements, while also helping organize events related to furthering the client’s interests, from

small luncheons to lavish banquets. To be sure, it should be noted that “traditional” should not

denote “prior”; for instance, members of lobbying organizations no longer directly dispense

checks to legislators on the floor of Congress.10

Nonetheless, it may well be argued that innovative tactics stands that much more

necessary in the twenty-first century, due both to the phalanx of regulation surrounding such

policies as well as the sheer expansion of actors seeking to enact policies, or to ameliorate the

reputations of their clients. Much of such innovation, in fact, comes on the heels of increasing

globalization. With increasing ease of communication and travel, foreign entities – many flush

with excess hydrocarbon wealth they have opted to spend abroad, rather than domestically –

have found themselves able to access English-language markets and audiences with far greater

ease than in the decades prior, and with presumed greater ease moving forward. Where an

American audience in the mid-twentieth century would have heard of, for instance, Kazakhstan

through rare coverage in the media, they can now both actively access data on the country via an

online search, but can easily access such information passively, through television commercials

or advertising inserts in English-language publications.

10
Ibid.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 6

Such access comes amidst a remarkable shift within the world of Anglophone journalism,

in which revenue for traditional media – newspapers and magazines, especially – continues to

plummet while new media entities, from Huffington Post to NowThis to BuzzFeed, continue to

expand. However, two stark realities prevent this from being a simple transfer of personnel and

revenue stream. Firstly, the new news entities, while expanding rapidly, do not yet claim nearly

the breadth of operation nor revenue the prior media organizations formerly held. While that may

shift in the mid-term, there is little likelihood BuzzFeed will suddenly enjoy the economic

salience The New York Times once knew. As such, while new media has helped staunch some of

the economic outflow from journalism, much of the revenue – as well as many of the personnel

no longer in journalism, or no longer seeing a future in journalism – has veered toward the world

of public relations. To select but one metric, the Pew Research Center has found that the salary

gap between public relations specialists and news reporters has increased approximately $20,000

per year over the past decade.11 Secondly, outlets comprising the new media grouping do not yet

enjoy the reputation of prior media entities. That is not to say that they have outright earned a

less-than-stellar reputation; after all, Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair worked for The New

Republic and The New York Times, respectively. However, these new media outlets have not yet

built up their reputations to nearly the level of trust accrued through old media counterparts.12

Moreover, these new media outlets enter the market within the general tide of coarsening

11
Williams, Alex. “The growing pay gap between journalism and public relations,” Pew Research Center, 11 Aug.
2014. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/08/11/the-growing-pay-gap-between-journalism-and-public-
relations/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
12
To choose but one example, an October poll from Pew Research Center found that The Economist, BBC, and
NPR were the three most-trusted outlets of the 36 surveyed, while BuzzFeed was the least-trusted outlet. Gottfried,
Jeffrey; Kiley, Jocelyn; Matsa, Katerina; and Mitchell, Amy. “Political Polarization & Media Habits,” Pew Research
Center, 21 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits/
(accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 7

attitudes toward media as a whole.13 As media offerings have proliferated, we have witnessed a

concomitant decrease in trust toward mainstream media – all while public relations specialists

earn that much greater pay than their journalism counterparts. As The Washington Post recently

found, in 2004 there were slightly more than three PR specialists for every journalist in the US.

In 2014, there were nearly five times as many.14

It is within these two trends – the enhancement of innovative tactics within foreign

lobbying and public relations efforts among English-speaking audiences, as well as the

decreasing capacity of journalism outfits to carry their editorial duties – that I have elected to

examine the public relations and image-management innovations brought to bear by the

Azerbaijani and Kazakhstani governments, and related interests, over the past half-dozen years.

The selection of these two nations stems from a variety of factors, including distinct similarities

in hydrocarbon wealth, secular post-Soviet autocratic governance, majority Turkic Muslim

populations, and designs on putative multi-vector foreign policies. Indeed, as will be detailed

through this essay, the images both Baku and Astana seek to craft in the West are remarkably

similar. These nations, they would have English-speaking audiences believe, are glamorous and

progressive, friendly toward Israel and bulwarks against fundamentalists, bastions of stability in

a sea of chaos – all while providing significant outposts of potential energy security. While much

of my research takes place from 2013 onwards, I’ve delimited the time frame to 2009 due to a

handful of factors, not least because this appears the earliest instance of Azerbaijan’s willingness

13
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, “Americans’ confidence in the media's ability to report ‘the news fully,
accurately, and fairly’ has returned to its previous all-time low[.]” Only 40 percent responded that they enjoyed a
“great deal/fair amount” of trust – with those identifying as Republicans registering only 27 percent. McCarthy,
Justin. “Trust in Mass Media Returns to All-Time Low,” Gallup, 17 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.gallup.com/poll/176042/trust-mass-media-returns-time-low.aspx (accessed 8 April 2015).
14
Tankersley, Jim. “Why the PR industry is sucking up Pulitzer winners,” The Washington Post, 23 April 2015.
Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/23/why-the-pr-industry-is-sucking-
up-pulitzer-winners/ (accessed 24 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 8

to work with a lobbying organization at the fore of public relations innovation. While I discuss

methods employed by other post-Soviet nations throughout, I’ve refrained from commenting at

length on their practices, not least because some – say, Turkmenistan – show little appetite for

image-management in the West, while others – say, Russia – maintain far greater resources on

hand.15

In order to further our understanding of traditional methods of lobbying among foreign

principals, especially within the post-Soviet sphere, it is worth briefly examining the traditional

mechanisms of Russia’s approach in the United States. Much like those mentioned above,

Moscow engaged with American public relations firms – most notably Ketchum – to lead

traditional methods of image-management. For Ketchum, according to an investigation from

Politico, the deal was a “coup, even for a big global company. At about $5 million a year, it was

‘one of Ketchum’s top 10 accounts,’ according to a former executive familiar with the Russia

portfolio.”16 As it is, Ketchum pursued methods often associated with public relations firms,

including organizing media sessions and preparing for interviews, as well as engaging with

lobbyists to remove policies deemed detrimental to US-Russia relations, including the Jackson-

Vannik Amendment. Ketchum also helped land a widely read 2013 opinion editorial (“op-ed”) in

The New York Times from Russian President Vladimir Putin.17 Such methods – media outreach,

especially – highlighted the traditional methods of public relations, with organizing meetings on

behalf of assorted policies presenting one of the traditional methods of lobbying.

15
Pomerantsev, Peter and Weiss, Michael. “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information,
Culture and Money,” The Interpreter, 22 Nov. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.interpretermag.com/the-menace-of-
unreality-how-the-kremlin-weaponizes-information-culture-and-money/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
16
O’Brien, Luke. “Putin’s Washington,” Politico, Jan./Feb. 2015. Retrieved from
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/01/putins-washington-113894.html#.VT7v4LNFBYc (accessed 27
April 2015).
17
Putin, Vladimir. “A Plea for Caution from Russia,” The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2013. Retrieved from
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html?_r=0 (accessed 27
April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 9

Prior to this period of examination, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan had also focused most

especially on heretofore traditional methods of lobbying and image-management. Not only were

these methods infused with less innovation than the methods detailed through this essay, but

these traditional methods were also utilized by other nations alongside. These traditional

methods did not cease with the advent of the innovative tactics detailed below; certain of these

methods have continued to the present, often in the employ of both nations. To wit, both

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have continued to put forth “sponsored content” within English-

language publications. “Sponsored context” exists as a journalistically neutral method in which

content favorable to either nation is published alongside the outlet’s primary publication – with a

prominent disclaimer alerting the audience that the “sponsored content” is published through a

mechanism exterior to the outlet’s editorial or reportage arm. Both states have also continued to

utilize paid lobbyists to engage with outlets to publish op-eds by state officials, or by members of

organizations carrying similar interests to Baku and Astana. Within diplomatic efforts,

Azerbaijan has consistently targeted American lawmakers at both state and federal levels,

pushing everything from recognition of Azerbaijani territorial integrity to stronger relations

between Washington and Baku. Kazakhstan, likewise, has focused on international fora,

allowing Astana to land, for instance, the 2010 OSCE Chairmanship. Both nations have also

been involved in donations within the Anglophone scholarly community, donating significant

sums to American university bodies composing reports on the respective nations – and, in certain

instances, receiving favorable coverage consequent.

But this examination will not focus on parsing prior methods of public relations and

image-management; this essay, rather, will look at the recent innovative tactics of the

Azerbaijani and Kazakhstani efforts therein.


All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 10

Methodology

The selection of these two nations also stems from the necessity of public relations and

image-management within Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in expanding their reputational and

economic reach. Such practices arise, in part, to overcome the authoritarian legacies and realities

within either country. Both countries have enacted widely repressive policies against and within

their populations, targeting most especially civil rights advocates, political opposition, and

independent media, among others. Such repression can be found through almost any metric. Both

nations are regularly tabbed as “Not Free” by Freedom House, and both remain within the

bottom third of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index and the bottom

quartile of Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. Indeed, the Committee to

Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently named Azerbaijan the fifth-most censored country in the

world.18 Moreover, such repression has only increased since 2009. Azerbaijan, which The

Economist describes as a “nastier autocracy” than even Belarus,19 currently maintains twice the

number of political prisoners in Russia and Belarus combined.20 According to the International

Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), “Repression of Azeri civil society, NGOs and journalists

has escalated significantly.”21 Baku was also recently the first nation to see its status downgraded

by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative due to its restrictive policies.22 Kazakhstan,

18
“10 Most Censored Counties,” Committee to Protect Journalists, April 2015. Retrieved from
https://cpj.org/2015/04/10-most-censored-countries.php (accessed 21 April 2015).
19
“Belarus and the great bear,” The Economist, 11 April 2015. Retrieved from
http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21648038-russias-antics-ukraine-are-upending-politics-elsewhere-belarus-
and-great-bear (accessed 8 April 2015).
20
“Open Letter Regarding the Human Rights Situation in Azerbaijan,” Freedom House, 13 April 2015. Retrieved
from https://freedomhouse.org/article/open-letter-regarding-human-rights-situation-azerbaijan#.VTZbIbNFBYe
(accessed 21 April 2015).
21
“Azerbaijan: Repression Escalates in Run-up to European Games,” International Federation for Human Rights, 21
April 2015. Retrieved from https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/eastern-europe-
central-asia/azerbaijan/azerbaijan-repression-escalates-in-run-up-to-european-games (accessed 21 April 2015).
22
Denber, Rachel. “A Demotion for Azerbaijan,” Human Rights Watch, 15 April 2015. Retrieved from
http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/15/dispatches-demotion-azerbaijan (accessed 21 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 11

meanwhile, boasts a “postmodern dictatorship,”23 according to the Human Rights Foundation,

while CPJ recently “condemn[ed the] eradication of Kazakh independent media.”24 FIDH

additionally notes that “torture and other forms of ill-treatment continue to be widely used in

Kazakhstan.”25 Kazakhstan also saw government forces kill at least 14 unarmed protesters during

the 2011 Zhanaozen events, a massacre Astana then utilized to enact “a harsh and unprecedented

crackdown on freedom of expression and political plurality[.]”26 Kazakhstan has since continued

jailing opposition leaders and shuttering remaining independent press, with President Nursultan

Nazarbayev, one of the world’s longest-running leaders, set to enter yet another term in office in

2015. According to the US State Department’s most recent human rights report, Kazakhstan

“lack[ed] an independent judiciary” and placed “severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their

government.”27 In Azerbaijan, meanwhile, the US State Department witnessed “[i]ncreased

restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association,” as well as “increased reports

of arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated imprisonment, lack of due process,

executive influence over the judiciary, and lengthy pretrial detention for individuals perceived as

a threat by government officials[.]”28 Nonetheless, both countries prefer to pose a progressive,

23
Halvorssen, Thor. “So Sue Me: DC Henchman of Kazakh Dictator Threatens HRF with Lawsuit,” Human Rights
Foundation, 13 Nov. 2012. Retrieved from http://humanrightsfoundation.org/news/so-sue-me-dc-henchman-of-
kazakh-dictator-threatens-hrf-with-lawsuit-00161 (accessed 25 April 2015).
24
“CPJ condemns eradication of Kazakh independent media,” Committee to Protect Journalists, 21 April 2014.
Retrieved from https://cpj.org/2014/04/cpj-condemns-eradication-of-kazakh-independent-med.php (accessed 25
April 2015).
25
“Kazakhstan: Justice must prevail for torture victim Rasim Bayramov,” FIDH, 28 Jan. 2015. Retrieved from
https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/eastern-europe-central-asia/kazakhstan/16872-
kazakhstan-justice-must-prevail-for-torture-victim-rasim-bayramov (accessed 25 April 2015).
26
“Central Asia: Widespread Rights Abuse, Repression,” Human Rights Watch, 31 Jan. 2013. Retrieved from
http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/01/31/central-asia-widespread-rights-abuse-repression (accessed 8 April 2015).
27
“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 – Kazakhstan,” US State Department. Retrieved from
http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2013&dlid=220395#wrapper (accessed 25
April 2015).
28
“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 – Azerbaijan,” US State Department. Retrieved from
http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2013&dlid=220255#wrapper (accessed 25
April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 12

professional image for English-speaking audiences – while simultaneously existing as two of the

most repressive, predatory regimes extant – for the sake of easing investment concerns and

appeals, especially as it pertains to hydrocarbon extraction and transit. Likewise, from a security

perspective, Azerbaijan seeks to carve a distinct narrative for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

while simultaneously enhancing the putative international threat from Iran. Kazakhstan positions

itself as an “island of stability” in a region buffeted by uncertainty, while simultaneously seeking

to extricate itself from the image and assumptions stemming from other nations ending with the

suffix “-stan.”

Due to the relatively recent nature of Azerbaijan’s and Kazakhstan’s innovative tactics

within public relations and image-management, academic literature on such topics remains

relatively sparse. However, a sequence of critical and investigative accounts have helped shed

light on this phenomenon. In addition to assorted reportage within English-language press, a

series of reports have helped parse the methods and tools present within Azerbaijan’s and

Kazakhstan’s attempts at furthering their reputational and economic reach. For instance, a 2012

report from the European Stability Initiative (ESI) entitled “Caviar Diplomacy” detailed the

methods Azerbaijan utilized to obtain favorable prognoses for recent presidential and

parliamentary elections from the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly (PACE).29

According to ESI, one Azerbaijani source said, “Caviar, at least, is given at every [PACE]

session. But during visits to Baku many other things are given as well. Many deputies are

regularly invited to Azerbaijan and generously paid. … Gifts are mostly expensive silk carpets,

29
“Caviar Diplomacy,” European Stability Initiative, 24 May 2012. Retrieved from
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CB8QFjAA&url
=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.esiweb.org%2Fpdf%2Fesi_document_id_131.pdf&ei=prUtVc_xAsalgwTLmoO4BA&usg
=AFQjCNEKWZHgCPNtkSpKP6NOxx4pNVXBgQ&sig2=5p9arRrIGrGhvFJmLD6ZSA&bvm=bv.90790515,d.eX
Y (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 13

gold and silver items, drinks, caviar and money. In Baku, a common gift is 2 kg of caviar [worth

nearly 3,000 euros].”30 A 2015 report from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) further

detailed the diplomatic lobbying efforts by Azerbaijani- and Kazakhstani-funded entities

attempting to spin the countries’ respective human rights records.31 (Indicative of the reception

CEO received in its investigations, Demir Murat Seyrek, the head of a Brussels-based

communications firm working for the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture, told CEO to “F***

off.”32) Human Rights Watch, likewise, has reported extensively on former British Prime

Minister Tony Blair’s role with Kazakhstan, including a lengthy public correspondence between

Blair and Hugh Williamson, HRW’s director of the Europe and Central Asia division. During

their correspondence, Blair failed to delineate his role in Astana, offering broad, obfuscating

responses in lieu of details – a key factor in the formulation of his model of “free agent

diplomacy,” to be detailed below. As it pertains to academia, investigative reporter Ken

Silverstein has thus far put forth the most illuminating material on the confluence of academia

and funding from the Caspian region, including a handful of articles examining the role

traditional lobbying – viz. funding for academic institutions, especially from Azerbaijan – has

played within coaxing favorable proclamations from certain members of the scholarly

community.33

The essay as follows adds to the growing canon of examinations of public relations and

image-management among Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, but with a more especial focus on the

distinct lack of disclosure among those tasked with buffing the reputations of Baku and Astana –

30
Ibid.
31
“Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes,” Corporate Europe
Observatory.
32
“Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes,” Corporate Europe
Observatory, 25.
33
Silverstein, Ken. “Academics for Hire,” Harper’s, 30 May 2006. Retrieved from
https://archive.is/DjGjR#selection-285.376-285.693 (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 14

both within media and the scholarly community – as well as examining the roles the two

governments have played in utilizing Blair’s presence. That is to say, this essay focuses on

innovative tactics – those employed for the sake of buffing the images of Kazakhstan and

Azerbaijan among English-language audiences, as well as within international bodies. The essay

opens with a brief history of lobbying and image-management among foreign entities within

English-speaking audiences, especially in the United States, and proceeds to examine three

primary areas of innovation, all combining forms of obfuscation for the sake of buffing the

image of Baku and Astana. The first section deals with innovations found within media –

namely, the utilization of online media for the creation of pro-government outlets, as well as the

outright failure(s) of disclosure among lobbyists posing as mere observers. Likewise, this section

discusses the failure of certain publications in question in clarifying these relations – or even in

showing any interest in clarifying. The second deals with the phenomenon of “free agent

diplomacy,” a term I’ve employed to examine most especially Blair’s network – and his

network’s work – within Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. And lastly, I examine the infiltration of

Baku and Astana funding into the world of academia and think tanks – as well as the pairing of

academics and think tanks who have received significant funding from, and published material

sympathetic to, Baku, despite their nominal independence. Throughout this essay, I will be

examining innovative methods employed by Baku and Astana, and those seeking to enhance the

reputational and economic breadth of the autocratic regimes in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan,

within English-speaking audiences. Through this examination, it is clear both Baku and Astana,

as well as attendant parties, have sought to exploit and expand existing trends within journalism

and diplomacy in their attempts to achieve such aims. Such success within this innovation,

however, remains to be seen, and appears to vary based upon the audience targeted. These
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 15

audiences vary from diplomats and policy-makers to scholars and students attempting to examine

the region, as well as occasional attempts at engaging swaths of the broader public. No audience

has been left untouched by Baku’s and Astana’s innovative tactics – and, unfortunately for

audiences and rights advocates alike, there appears little likelihood that such methods will begin

waning in the near future.


All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 16

Legal Legacies
“I CAN TAKE THE FLAK.”
- E D WARD J. VON KL OBER G III
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 17

Before delving into the methods of innovation, it remains necessary to briefly detail the

legal backing and restrictions for foreign entities in attempting to sway English-speaking – and

especially American – audiences.34 Per FARA regulation, those acting on behalf of foreign

agents are required to register their work, and any attendant “informational materials (formerly

propaganda),” with the Department of Justice.35 These agents must likewise disclose such

relations to Congress during testimony.36 Such regulations exist because, after the first attempts

to regulate lobbying came to pass in the United States, an external actor entered into a heretofore

domestic process: foreign nations, or interests therein. In the mid-1930s, the Nazi government

retained the services of lobbyist Ivy Lee, under the auspices of a company called German Dye

Trust. Lee – nicknamed “Poison Ivy” by Upton Sinclair – stood as “the father of modern public

relations,” and worked “to favorably influence American public opinion of the Third Reich.”37

As it is, Lee did not go far to mask his ties to the Nazi government; according to one report from

Time on his appearance before Congress, “Inasmuch as [the Dye Trust] was one of the two early

and potent backers of Adolf Hitler and inasmuch as the German Government has assumed pretty

thorough control of private business, the committee got the impression that Mr. Lee might just as

well have been retained by the Reichskanzler himself.”38 As such, Congress enacted in 1938 the

Foreign Agents Registration Act, an act that demands disclosure of individuals “engag[ing]

within the United States in political activities for or in the interests of such foreign principal” or

“act[ing] within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-

34
Kloberg quote taken from: Silverstein, Turkmeniscam, 9.
35
“FARA Frequently Asked Questions.” Retrieved from http://www.fara.gov/fara-faq.html (accessed 24 April
2015).
36
Ibid.
37
Silverstein, Turkmeniscam, 4-5. Lee had prior served at the behest of Poland, Romania, and – in a display of the
ideological immaterialism of certain of these lobbyists – the Soviet Union. He also represented IG Farben, “a
chemical company later to produce the lethal gas for the death chambers in the concentration camps.” “Spin doctors
to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes,” Corporate Europe Observatory, 9.
38
Ibid.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 18

service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal[.]”39An

“agent” is, broadly, any individual who acts in any “capacity at the order, request, or under

direction or control, of a foreign principal[.]”40 A “foreign principal” includes “a government of

a foreign country and a foreign political party,” a “person residing outside the United States,” or

any organization “organized under the laws of … a foreign country.”41 While perhaps broad,

numerous exceptions remain allowing individuals and organizations to forego registration.42

The motivations for such passage, both in 1938 and thereafter, remain multi-fold.

According to Jahad Atieh, the Act – originally designed solely against “Nazi propaganda”43 –

was “not designed to substantively censor or restrict foreign propaganda; rather, it was designed

to deter its use and adoption through mandatory disclosure requirements and fear of criminal

punishment.”44 Indeed, as the 1987 Supreme Court case of Meese v. Keene delineated, the Act

neither “prohibits, edits, [n]or restrains the distribution of materials” in question.45 The Act

passed with an apparent presumption that public awareness would suffice as preventative

pressure to end ties with unseemly foreign governments. As Silverstein notes, “The idea seems to

be that with the need for disclosure, lobbyists would find it too embarrassing to take on clients

that were hideously immoral or corrupt, no matter how much money they were offered. That

assumption proved to be naïve.”46 Whatever the discrepancy between text and intent, a broad-

39
See Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 U.S.C. § 611.
40
Ibid.
41
Ibid.
42
Atieh, Jahad. “Foreign Agents: Updating FARA to Protect American Democracy,” University of Pennsylvania
Journal of International Law, Vol. 31, 2010, 1062-1063.
43
Holman, 4.
44
Atieh, 1056-1057.
45
U.S. Supreme Court, Meese v. Keene, 481 U.S. 465 (1987). Syllabus available at
https://law.resource.org/pub/us/case/reporter/US/481/481.US.465.85-1180.html.
46
Silverstein, Ken. Turkmeniscam, 5. As Silverstein notes, perhaps no individual punctures this theory to a greater
extent than Edward J. von Kloberg III, who served as a lobbyist at the behest of Saddam Hussein, Laurent Kabila,
Mobutu Sese Seko, Samuel Doe, and Nicolae Ceaușescu. Von Kloberg – whose motto was “shame is for sissies” –
was also the sole lobbyist to respond positively to a Spy Magazine investigation into lobbyists willing to represent a
neo-Nazi organization. See Silverstein, Turkmeniscam, 9; Levine, Art. “Shame is for Sissies,” Mother Jones,
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 19

base rationale for the Act’s passage rests upon the necessity of exposing heretofore non-public

pressures on Congress. Moreover, as such pressures serve foreign powers, “there exists an

inherent fear of the secret perversion of our officials by foreign governments whose interests are

not in line with those of the American people.”47 Amendments to the Act followed thereafter,

including a 1942 amendment clarifying the protection of national defense – as well as the

placement of enforcement under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department48 – and a 1966

amendment that “changed the primary focus of FARA from an anti-propagandist tool into an

instrument of regulation over grassroots lobbying as well as lobbying of Congress by foreign

agents.”49

The predominance of lobbying for foreign principals shares significant overlap with its

domestic counterpart. Many of the lobbyists and firms engage in media and Congressional

outreach, packaging informational material to outlets as well as politicians and staffs alike.

Lobbyists further arrange speaking engagements and help organize events related to furthering

the client’s interests, from small luncheons to lavish banquets. Likewise, the increasing ease of

travel has allowed lobbyists to expand the scope of providing travel arrangements for

Congressmen.50 Cultivating relationships, disseminating information, and approaching attendant

audiences – whether within the diplomatic, scholarly, or broader community – to further the

interests of the clients remains the broader aim of those registered under the auspices of FARA.

Sept./Oct. 2005. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2005/09/shame-sissies (accessed 28 April


2015).
47
Atieh, 1066.
48
Atieh, 1056-1057.
49
Holman, 4.
50
Silverstein highlights one indicative instance: “In 2004 six former members of Congress served as ‘election
observers’ in Cameroon and offered an upbeat assessment of President Paul Biya’s overwhelming reelection victory,
which a local Roman Catholic cardinal described as ‘surrounded by fraud.’ It turned out that the firm of Patton
Boggs, which worked for the Cameroonian government, had arranged the trip of allegedly independent observers,
whose expenses were paid by the Biya regime.” Silverstein, Ken. “Their Men in Washington,” Harper’s, July 2007.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 20

As with domestic lobbying patterns, foreign agents seek, at their base, to improve the image and

standing of their respective clients within assorted circles in America.

As it is, the expansion of wholesale foreign lobbying within the United States has

continued apace since FARA’s inception. Such expansion shouldn’t necessarily be surprising; as

Silverstein writes, foreign governments have realized that “lobbyists are the crucial conduit

through which pariah regimes advance their interests in Washington.” 51 As one former lobbyist

told Silverstein, “It's like the secret handshake that gets you into the lodge.”52 Funds swell, staffs

increase, and approaches within traditional lobbying methods strengthen and expand. The

foreign funds for agents representing foreign principals have expanded spectacularly in the

decades following FARA’s creation. According to the most recent information available, the

governments spending the most on lobbying efforts in the United States include the United Arab

Emirates ($14.2 million), Germany ($12 million), and Canada ($11.2 million) – with

Azerbaijan’s $2.3 million representing the tenth-highest rate in the US.53 However, as Atieh

writes, as “lobbying has grown in the latter half of the twentieth century, its abuses have

followed suit.”54 For instance, a 1958 case found an FBI agent “illegally acting as a foreign

agent” on behalf of the Dominican Republic – though the ruling was later overturned55 – and a

1961 scandal revealed that West Germany hired a public relations firm in order to write speeches

for members of Congress.56 In 1963, further amendments allowed exemptions for attorneys and

51
Ibid.
52
Ibid.
53
Itkowitz, Colby. “Which foreign countries spent the most to influence U.S. politics?” The Washington Post, 14
May 2014. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/wp/2014/05/14/which-foreign-
countries-spent-the-most-to-influence-u-s-politics/ (accessed 25 April 2015).
54
Atieh, 1052.
55
Frank v. United States, 262 F.2d 695 (D.C. Cir. 1958), cited in Atieh, 1058.
56
RUSSELL WARREN HOWE & SARAH HAYS TROTT, THE POWER PEDDLERS: A REVEALING
ACCOUNT OF FOREIGN LOBBYING IN WASHINGTON 22 (1977), cited in Atieh, 1058.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 21

domestic subsidiaries for foreign corporations – providing further avenue for the exploitation of

loopholes.57

The ability to exploit such loopholes stems from a pair of realities. Firstly, Congress has

“done little to alleviate many of the loopholes that exist,” especially as opposed to domestic

lobbying legislation.58 Moreover, the Justice Department’s enforcement – either in ability or

willingness – has been “abysmal.”59 As Silverstein wrote in 2007, “The U.S. General Accounting

Office estimated in 1990 that less than half of foreign lobbyists who should register under FARA

actually do so, and there is no evidence that matters have improved.”60 Not only is the staff

tasked with enforcing FARA far too small to deal with its workload, but FARA inherently rests

upon a self-reporting mechanism. That is, those who do not register under FARA do not need to

notify the Justice Department. “FARA,” as Atieh notes, “is essentially self-policed.”61 FARA is

not quite an honor system, but it lacks both breadth in investigative powers and mechanisms to

enforce reportage. Still, it should be noted that FARA’s range surpasses registration and

enforcement mechanisms within the European Union. According to Corporate Europe

Observatory, “we know far more about the governments contracting lobbyists in Washington

than we do about those in Brussels.”62 Despite its myriad and continued flaws, FARA presents a

relatively broad lens into lobbying methods and attempts within the US, even with the loopholes

present.

It is with this legal background, and with the aforementioned trends among journalism,

that I will turn to my first topic of innovative tactics among Azerbaijan’s and Kazakhstan’s

57
Atieh, 1059.
58
Atieh, 1052.
59
Atieh, 1067.
60
Silverstein, “Their Men in Washington.”
61
Atieh, 1062.
62
“Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes,” Corporate Europe
Observatory, 9.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 22

efforts at public relations and image-management: manipulation within media, and the ethics of

modern journalism.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 23

Media Manipulation
“YOU’RE A SCANDAL MONGER AND I DON’T
WANT TO TALK TO YOU.”
- D AN B URT ON
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 24

As it pertains to English-language media, the most substantive innovative tactics among

the Azerbaijani and Kazakhstani governments, or related organizations pushing identical

interests, lies within the realm of disclosure, or lack therein.63 Likewise, both states have

discovered and utilized outlets who continually fail to clarify relations between lobbyists and

governments and interests in question. But before parsing the editorial innovations and

manipulations extant within the lobbying and public relations efforts to burnish the images of

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, it remains necessary to delineate the means with which these states

have not enacted any forms of innovation. That is, it remains necessary to examine the traditional

methods with which these states have engaged English-language media, and to thus examine

how they have extended in their innovations and manipulations – and why that extension can be

found most especially within the distinct lack of disclosure extant over the past few years.

Both states have recently engaged in “sponsored content” inserts with American

publications. “Sponsored content” remains a ethically neutral journalistic procedure in which

exterior organizations, or those tangential to the publication’s editorial arm, produce content

bundled within the respective publications, with a prominent notification alerting the reader that

the material in question does not stem from the publication’s editorial wing. For instance, on 21

September 2011, the American newspaper USA Today carried a one-page insert on “Kazakhstan

– Central Asia’s leading market.”64 Detailing the myriad aspects of Kazakhstan’s economic

viability, the insert shared statistics on Kazakhstan’s oil reserves and resource potential, as well

as why Kazakhstan “has much to celebrate and a great deal to look forward to.” Nearly four

63
Burton quote taken from: Wemple, Erik. “Former congressman and Azerbaijan advocate finds receptive audience
at Daily Caller,” The Washington Post, 3 April 2015. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-
wemple/wp/2015/04/03/former-congressman-and-azerbaijan-advocate-finds-receptive-audience-at-daily-caller/
(accessed 8 April 2015).
64
“Kazakhstan – Central Asia’s leading market,” USA Today, 22 Sept. 2011. Retrieved from
http://www.theworldfolio.com/files/old/1315923677.pdf (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 25

years later, Washington Times ran a multi-page insert detailing how Azerbaijan, according to the

headline, is a “Thriving U.S. Ally,”65 with further material noting that Azerbaijan is a “strategic

American ally that deserves our full support.”66 To be sure, other post-Soviet governments have

employed such inserts. In 2015, for instance, USA Today ran a similar – and lengthier – insert to

its prior Kazakhstan offering, detailing why Tajikistan is a “[s]table and strategic [country] at the

crossroads of Asia.”67 Throughout all inserts, the publications in question ran prominent

disclaimers, noting that the material within originated exterior from, or tangential to, the

respective publication’s editorial arms. The Kazakhstan insert, for instance, noted at the bottom

that “USA Today is not did not participate in its preparation and is not responsible for its

content,” while The Washington Times’s insert on Azerbaijan specified that the material was

“Prepared By The Washington Times Advocacy Department,” rather than the newspaper’s

editorial department. All inserts present an instance of traditional “sponsored content” – material

published alongside the publication, but produced exterior to the respective publications’

editorial components and with a broad, clear disclaimer to such effect. Kazakhstan has also

approached “sponsored content” deals on television, helping fund a segment on CNN in 2012

that painted the country in a flattering light. The necessary disclaimer, however, stood less

prominent than its print counterpart, appearing only during a “one-minute promo for the

series.”68 In the program CNN additionally featured an “energy expert” who commented on the

65
Wemple, Erik. “Washington Times hearts Azerbaijan,” The Washington Post, 29 Jan. 2015. Retrieved from
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2015/01/29/washington-times-hearts-azerbaijan/ (accessed
8 April 2015).
66
“Topic – Azerbaijan,” The Washington Times. Retrieved from
http://www.washingtontimes.com/topics/azerbaijan/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
67
“Stable and strategic at the crossroads of Asia,” The World Folio. Retrieved from
http://www.theworldfolio.com/news/stable-and-strategic-at-the-crossroads-of-asia/3568/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
68
Fisher, Max. “CNN’s Effusive Coverage of Kazakhstan Is Quietly Sponsored by Its Subject,” The Atlantic, 23
July 2012. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/07/cnns-effusive-coverage-of-
kazakhstan-is-quietly-sponsored-by-its-subject/260149/ (accessed 24 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 26

state of energy affairs in Kazakhstan. This “expert” was also the “chairman of a government-

operated NGO created by” the Kazakhstani president, meaning that CNN, “in a sense,

present[ed] one of its advertisers as an unbiased expert to evaluate the work of that same

adviser.”69 CNN denied any impropriety in its approach, but coverage from The Atlantic and

Eurasianet highlighted the ethical questions extant, providing a hint of the media obfuscation to

come.

These states have also engaged in traditional methods of opinion editorials (“op-eds”) in

English-language publications. Kazakhstan, for instance, has utilized public relations firms to

engage with English-language publications, hiring the London-based firm BGR Gabara in 2010

under the auspices of acting as a “public relations firm.”70 BGR Gabara chief Ivo Ilic Gabara

later noted that “every op-ed that you read that has come out of Kazakhstan … is our work”71 –

including, presumably, a 2012 op-ed from Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev within

The New York Times.72 Likewise, these states have engaged in traditional lobbying efforts among

current Western diplomats – more of which will be discussed later in this essay – that result in

favorable op-eds following such lobbying engagement. 73 For instance, former Rep. Michael

69
Smith, Myles. “Kazakhstan: CNN Blurs Line Between News and Advertising,” Eurasianet, 20 July 2012.
Retrieved from http://www.eurasianet.org/node/65688 (accessed 24 April 2015).
70
US Department of Justice. Registration Statement, BGR Government Affairs, LLC, Foreign Agents Registration
Act. 7 April 2011. Retrieved from. http://www.fara.gov/docs/5430-Exhibit-AB-20110411-35.pdf.
71
Newman, Melanie and Wright, Oliver. “Kazakhstan: PR firm’s plan to target Sting after gig boycott (video),” The
Independent, 8 Dec. 2011. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/kazakhstan-pr-firms-
plan-to-target-sting-after-gig-boycott-video-6273824.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
72
Nazarbayev, Nursultan. “What Iran can learn from Kazakhstan,” The New York Times, 13 March 2012. Retrieved
from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/opinion/what-iran-can-learn-from-kazakhstan.html?_r=0 (accessed 8
April 2015).
73
While not necessarily a sign of innovation, it is worth noting that least one of the governments in question has
managed to hire an American media consultant in direct opposition to said consultant’s political beliefs – further
evidence of erosion of stated or prior principle. Baku engaged Liz Mair, a former aide to former Texas Gov. Rick
Perry and self-described “libertarian,” in late 2014 under the auspices of “provid[ing] public relations services.”
Mair terminated the contract before its stated six-month tenure. “Azerbaijan Hires Veteran U.S. Political
Consultant,” RFE/RL, 23 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaijan-mair-consultant-us-
politics/26652897.html (accessed 25 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 27

McMahon visited Azerbaijan in mid-2013, alongside a contingent of Congressional

representatives on a fact-finding trip. Soon thereafter, McMahon wrote an op-ed in The

Washington Times painting Azerbaijan in a discernibly favorable light, noting that Azerbaijan is

the “only former Soviet bloc country singled out by a doctrine of U.S. foreign policy that is

almost 21 years out of date[.]”74 Organizations affiliated with furthering parallel interests –

though not necessarily at the behest of the governments in question – have also penned multiple

op-eds. Denis Jaffe, for instance, has written multiple op-eds within The Hill that have sought to

hype the military threat emanating from Armenia. One of Jaffe’s op-eds, written in February

2015, stakes that “Armenia … conducted the largest human rights abuses in the entire post-

Soviet history,”75 while a second op-ed from 2014 discussed the “terrorist boasts” of the

Armenian president.76 In both op-eds, The Hill identifies Jaffe as an “analyst” with the “U.S.

Azeris Network,”77 a “non-profit” that remains the “first and largest grassroots advocacy and

voter education network setup by and for the Azerbaijani-American voters in 2007.”78 Again,

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are by no means outliers to such traditional practices.

74
McMahon, Michael. “It’s unfair to hold Azerbaijan to a higher standard than Russia,” The Washington Times, 10
Dec. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/dec/10/mcmahon-its-unfair-hold-
azerbaijan-higher-standard/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
75
Jaffe, Denis. “Hypertopia of the Armenian lobby,” The Hill, 16 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/232823-hypertopia-of-the-armenian-lobby (accessed 8 April
2015).
76
Jaffe, Denis. “Armenia threatens Azerbaijan with missiles,” The Hill, 20 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/215412-armenia-threatens-azerbaijan-with-missiles (accessed
8 April 2015).
77
U.S. Azeris Network Website. Retrieved from http://www.usazeris.org/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
78
U.S. Azeris Network Facebook page. Retrieved from
https://www.facebook.com/USAzerisNetworkUSAN/info?tab=page_info (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 28

Declining Disclosure

But where Jaffe notes his connection to an organization with clear ties to Azerbaijani

interests, other writers have offered op-eds but have claimed that they maintain no interaction

with governmental officials. While no direct link has emerged to the governments, the parallel

natures of these op-eds, alongside the timing and manner of publication, present conspicuous ties

between such authorship and hint at potential coordination. As one expert on journalistic ethics

and international law noted, “There’s a scandal that’s been simmering for many years concerning

the operations of lobbyists and their placement of pieces on editorial pages – particularly as op-

eds.”79 Maayan Jaffe, for instance, has written at least five op-eds in English-language

publications since 2013 that have attempted to paint Azerbaijan in a flattering light, including

highlighting Azerbaijani-Israeli relations,80 noting inter-ethnic tolerance within Azerbaijan,81

and, in two instances, calling in Roll Call for Congress to cut funding for Radio Free

Europe/Radio Liberty due to criticisms of Azerbaijan.82 (The latter op-ed garnered enough

publicity that Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL’s editor in chief, felt it necessary to pen a response to

79
Interview with author, 28 April 2015.
80
Jaffe, Maayan. “Unlikely allies,” Washington Jewish Week, 28 Aug. 2013. Retrieved from
http://washingtonjewishweek.com/5024/unlikely-allies/, (accessed 8 April 2015). Jaffe, Maayan. “Azerbaijan-Israel
relationship is glimmer of hope, model for Muslim-Jewish peace,” The Hill, 3 Nov. 2014. Retrieved from
http://itk.thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/222501-azerbaijan-israel-relationship-is-glimmer-of-hope-
model (accessed 8 April 2015).
81
Jaffe, Maayan. “How to deal with Islamic State? Promote inclusiveness and tolerance,” JNS.org, 16 Sept. 2014.
Retrieved from http://www.jns.org/jns-blog/2014/9/16/how-to-deal-with-islamic-state-promote-inclusiveness-and-
tolerance#.VRc7PLNFBYc (accessed 8 April 2015).
82
Jaffe, Maayan. “Congress Should Stop Using Taxpayer Money to Fund Radio Free Europe’s Attacks on Our
Allies,” Roll Call, 25 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.rollcall.com/news/congress_should_stop_using_taxpayer_money_to_fund_radio_free_europes-235830-
1.html (accessed 8 April 2015); Jaffe, Maayan. “Congress: Support Higher Level of Press Freedoms, End
Propaganda,” Roll Call, 9 Dec. 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.rollcall.com/news/congress_support_higher_level_of_press_freedoms_end_propaganda_commentary-
238569-1.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 29

Maayan Jaffe’s piece.83) Jaffe maintains no public connection to the Azerbaijani government, or

to organizations pertaining to Azerbaijani interests. Within her op-eds, Jaffe is identified with her

prior journalistic credentials: “former editor in chief of the Baltimore Jewish Times,” “senior

writer/editor at Netsmart,” “breaking news editor at the Jerusalem Post,” etc.. When contacted by

this author, Maayan Jaffe declined to answer questions pertaining to her work on Azerbaijan,

citing “Passover” and “full-time” employment as why she “[doesn’t] have flexibility to talk.”84

(Denis Jaffe and Maayan Jaffe do not appear to be related to one another.) A woman named

Norma Zager, likewise, has penned multiple op-eds on similar themes. With no obvious

connection to the Azerbaijani government or organizations pushing Azerbaijani interests, Zager,

identified only as a “journalist and author,” took to The Hill to call for Congress to slash funding

for RFE/RL.85 Zager also wrote additional op-eds pushing Azerbaijani interests – citing

Azerbaijani tolerance,86 burgeoning Azerbaijani-Israeli relations,87 and calling on the US to

increase support for Azerbaijan88 – without any clear interest relating to said topics. When

contacted by the author, Zager noted that she “became interested in Azerbaijan when I met some

of their diplomats while writing pieces about Israel.”89 She clarified that the “diplomats” did not

request that Zager write the aforementioned pieces. When asked about her stance on RFE/RL,

83
Pejic, Nenad. “Radio Free Europe Is Independent Media – Not State Propaganda,” Roll Call, 9 Sept. 2014.
Retrieved from
http://www.rollcall.com/news/radio_free_europe_is_independent_media_not_state_propaganda_letter_to_the-
236105-1.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
84
Email correspondence, 2 April 2015.
85
Zager, Norma. “Friends with money: A new dynamic in foreign affairs,” The Hill, 28 July 2014. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/213364-friends-with-money-a-new-dynamic-in-foreign-affairs
(accessed 8 April 2015).
86
Zager, Norma. “The Circle of Friendship: Azerbaijan and Israel,” Jewish Times, 28 Aug. 2013. Retrieved from
http://jewishtimes.com/10778/the-circle-of-friendship-azerbaijan-and-israel/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
87
Zager, Norma. “One Muslim Nation’s Brave Support of Israel,” PJ Media, 28 Aug. 2010. Retrieved from
http://pjmedia.com/blog/one-muslim-nations-brave-support-of-israel/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
88
Zager, Norma. “Azerbaijan and the ‘Bear’ next door,” The Hill, 19 April 2014. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/203871-azerbaijan-and-the-bear-next-door (accessed 8 April
2015).
89
Email correspondence with author, 9 April 2015.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 30

Zager said she did “not recall one about radio free Europe [sic],” and stopped answering

questions thereafter.

Nonetheless, Zager’s pieces present discernibly similar themes to those of Maayan Jaffe.

Maayan Jaffe’s op-eds on Azerbaijan ran from August 2013 through December 2014, while

Zager’s ran from August 2013 to July 2014. Coordinating op-eds has taken place domestically

prior: In the 1930s, Alabama Senator Hugo Black “held a congressional hearing on the source of

… telegrams and discovered that lobbyists impersonated constituents by dictating hundreds of

unique telegrams to Western Union associates.”90 Likewise, as Silverstein found, the firm APCO

“had someone on staff who ‘does nothing but’” place op-eds – and APCO “actually wrote the

pieces and then went out and found ‘signatories’ for its in-house work.”91 A second firm,

Cassidy & Associates, “would recruit friendly authors – a ‘well-respected scholar’ … – for op-

eds it could plant in newspapers.”92 Interestingly, on at least one instance, one of the publications

saw fit to notify its readership that the author in question did not carry any affiliation with

organizations pushing Azerbaijani instances. In a March 2015 op-ed in The Hill, former

Mississippi Rep. Ronnie Shows writes that he hopes “policy makers in the United States will

continue to realize that Azerbaijan is an ally and it is in our interests to work together.”93 When

listing Shows’ credentials, The Hill noted that he “works for the lobbying firm AUX Initiatives.

Azerbaijan is not an AUX client.” The delineation of AUX Initiatives’ clientele is a welcome

move toward transparency, but stands largely neutered within The Hill’s myriad instances of

90
Holman, 3.
91
Silverstein, Turkmeniscam, 30.
92
Silverstein, Turkmeniscam, 155.
93
Shows, Ronnie. “In global war on terror, US must strengthen ties to Azerbaijan,” The Hill, 13 March 2015.
Retrieved from http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/235530-in-global-war-on-terror-us-must-
strengthen-ties-to (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 31

failing to disclose those writers for whom their respective companies maintain Azerbaijan as a

client.

Kazakhstan has also seen writers pen pro-government pieces without any clear

connection to the government. In March 2015, Sara Grillo wrote a piece in the investment

publication ValueWalk detailing the myriad ways in which there are few things “hipper” than

Kazakhstan.94 Within the piece, Grillo – identified as “CFA, President at Grillo Investment

Management” – notes that she is “tired of Kazakhstan getting wrongfully lumped together with

the other ‘-Stan’ countries” and that the country was on the “on its way to becoming a world

player.”95 Neither Grillo nor her investment firm carry any clear connection to Kazakhstan or

Central Asia, and when asked by the author why she saw fit to describe Kazakhstan on the “up

and up” economically – especially in light of the significant economic downturn in 2015 – Grillo

was oblique. “Some guy called me from the some UN project or something and wanted to know

what I thought of central asia [sic]. It got me thinking,” she replied.96 Indeed, the past few

months have seen a decided uptick in individuals with no clear ties to the region seek to paint

Kazakhstan in a flattering light. (These individuals’ hagiographic descriptions of Kazakhstan’s

2015 presidential election will be discussed later.) In April 2015, in the aftermath of an election

in which Nazarbayev took 98 percent of the vote, Penn State Prof. Sophia McClennen took to

Salon to note that “there are certain things the Kazakhs are getting right – things that we in the

United States get wrong,” including campaign scheduling and campaign-finance limits.97

94
Grillo, Sara. “Kazakhstan Is The New Black,” ValueWalk, 13 March 2015. Retrieved from
http://www.valuewalk.com/2015/03/kazakhstan-investing/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
95
Ibid.
96
Email correspondence with the author, 18 March 2015.
97
McClennen, Sophia. “Our stunted democracy could learn from Kazakhstan: Another Bush/Clinton race doesn’t
look free to the rest of the world,” Salon, 27 April 2015. Retrieved from
http://www.salon.com/2015/04/27/our_stunted_democracy_could_learn_from_kazakhstan_another_bushclinton_rac
e_doesnt_look_free_to_the_rest_of_the_world/ (accessed 28 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 32

Another writer, Darius Sinai, published a piece in GQ magazine in late 2012 headlined, “How

Astana could lead the world.”98 Published nearly a year to the date after the deadliest

government-led massacre Kazakhstan has seen since independence, Sinai noted that the

“peacefully, multiculturally Muslim” country could be “a beacon for future global policy[.]” GQ

identified the writer as the “Editorial Director of Conde Nast Contract Publishing and Editor-in-

Chief of Conde Nast's Baku magazine, a global contemporary art quarterly.”99 Little further

information about Sinai exists online, aside from an October 2012 photo at the opening a new art

gallery – in which Sinai is standing next to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s daughter, Leyla

Aliyeva, presenting one of the more public moments of consilience between Azerbaijani and

Kazakhstani interests.100

These methods – including sponsored content and engaging public relations firms to

place op-eds – present relatively traditional, commonplace methods of public relations in the

West. And without a firm connection to the governments in question, it remains impossible to

confirm that individuals penning pieces polishing Azerbaijan’s and Kazakhstan’s images are part

of an organized campaign. But where these nations have excelled and innovated stands within

the realm of disclosure, or lack therein. These states, largely in conjunction with US-based

lobbyists, have foregone disclosing relations and ties, muddying links between governmental

funding and individuals such that readers remain unaware of potential exterior motivations for

the material – be they op-eds or entire outlets – in question. That is, these nations, and those

individuals they have hired, have speared a distinct, novel approach of foregoing ethical

98
Sinai, Darius. “How Astana could lead the world,” GQ, 19 Dec. 2012. Retrieved from http://www.gq-
magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2012-12/18/astana-future-energy-expo-2017 (accessed 8 April 2015).
99
Ibid.
100
Photo available at http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/darius-sanai-and-leyla-aliyeva-attend-baku-
cellar-164-news-photo/167359924 (accessed 26 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 33

requirements for the sake of utilizing English-language media to burnish their reputations. As

journalism shifts and capacities therein degrade – as staffs shrink, as editors see less time to

research potential failures of disclosure, and as the talent pool of public relations operations

concomitantly expands – these states and respective lobbyists have attempted to exploit such

trends that much more. Such shift comes to the detriment of the publication and readership alike,

and to the presumed benefit of the governments in question.

One instance of such lack of disclosure exists within the digital publication Silk Road

Reporters. While other digital publications have arisen through foreign lobbying efforts – for

instance, the firm JWI launched the digital Myanmar Monitor at the behest of the Burmese

government101 – Silk Road Reporters, launched in January 2014, presented itself as an

“independent news website” with a stated focus on “providing coverage of Central Asia.”

Indeed, the publication stood largely welcome at its open, with its coverage – which included

examinations of Kyrgyzstan’s “shadow economy”102 and power brokers within Central Asia103 –

helping to expand the scant English-language coverage in existence. Soon, however, the

publication began pushing a distinct string of nominally objective pieces that painted Kazakhstan

in a distinctly flattering light. For instance, one piece from October, written by John C. K. Daly,

staked that Kazakhstan deserved a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council,

as Kazakhstan existed as a “progressive, peaceful country … that will bring perspectives to the

UNSC that have yet to be heard.”104 Another piece highlighted Kazakhstan’s “new and dynamic

101
Silverstein, Turkmeniscam, 52.
102
Aydaraliev, Mirbek. “Kyrgyz Shadow Economy a Hinderance to Development [sic],” Silk Road Reporters, 24
Feb. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2014/02/24/kyrgyz-shadow-economy-hinderance/
(accessed 8 April 2015).
103
Kamilov, Marat. “Clans Make Kings,” Silk Road Reporters, 26 Jan. 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2014/01/26/clans-make-kings/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
104
Daly, John C. K. “Kazakhstan Seeks UN Security Council Seat,” Silk Road Reporters, 27 Oct. 2014. Retrieved
from http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2014/10/27/kazakhstan-seeks-un-security-council-seat/ (accessed 8 April
2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 34

economy,”105 while another noted that the nation served as a “shining example of a developing

economy in Central Asia.”106 (As with Grillo’s piece above, these analyses come during

Kazakhstan’s most noteworthy economic downturn since the 2008-2009 financial crisis.) Daly,

likewise, contributed further still to the hyperbole, claiming that Kazakhstan maintained a

constitution with “prophetic foresight” that allowed the country to exist as a “prosperous and

stable multiethnic state … anchored in its constitutional development,” all while maintaining a

judiciary that “need not feel a decision would affect [its] future due to political pressure.”107

While such hyperbole could otherwise be ascribed to ignorance or contrarianism, links

between Silk Road Reporters’s management and lobbyists seeking to better Kazakhstan’s image

in the West cast doubts on the publication’s claimed objectivity. From its inception, Silk Road

Reporters existed without an obvious form of funding, as neither advertisements nor

subscriptions stood available on the site. James Kimer, the site’s “owner and editor,” claimed

that funding came from an “inheritance” from his grandmother.108 To be sure, it remains entirely

possible that Kimer was, indeed, funding his coterie of writers with an inheritance from his

grandmother. Nonetheless, a series of links to Astana, and to those tasked with burnishing

Kazakhstan’s image, suggests other ties as well.109 In addition to Silk Road Reporters, Kimer

105
Daily, John C. K. “Kazakhstan Looks to Become Central Asia’s Silicon Valley,” 6 Oct. 2014. Silk Road
Reporters, Retrieved from http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2014/10/06/kazakhstan-looks-become-central-asias-
silicon-valley/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
106
Silk Road Reporters Facebook page. Retrieved from
https://www.facebook.com/silkroadreporters/posts/1562358137326117 (accessed 8 April 2015).
107
Daily, John C. K. “Kazakhstan Celebrates its Constitution,” Silk Road Reporters, 28 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2014/08/28/kazakhstan-celebrates-constitution/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
108
Michel, Casey. “Silk Road Reporters: An Independent News Site for Central Asia?” The Diplomat, 11 March
2015. Retrieved from http://thediplomat.com/2015/03/silk-road-reporters-an-independent-news-site-for-central-asia/
(accessed 8 April 2015).
109
It remains worth noting that Kimer’s connection to Central Asia predates his work with Silk Road Reporters. He
had prior worked with the law firm that represented Mina Corp., the fuel company accused of providing kickbacks
to the autocratic Bakiyev family toppled in Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 revolution. “Artisan Gateway Serves Demand for
Arbitration Against EPT East, Inc.” PR Newswire, 12 Sept. 2011. Retrieved from
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a9x9sOm0lSCI (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 35

runs K Social Media Consulting, a Washington-based PR firm that presents itself as a “new

breed of public relations” agency.110 Likewise, Kimer is also listed one of two “Media Relations

Counsels” with the Amsterdam Group, a separate American public relations firm.111 Amsterdam

Group, as it is, is run by Sam Amsterdam – who, in turn, works for the aforementioned BGR

Gabara. As the head of digital communications with BGR Gabara, Amsterdam was charged with

helming “traditional and social media campaigns” for Kazakhstan in the United States.112 That is

to say, the head of a nominally independent outlet focus on Central Asian news is listed as

working directly for the man charged with leading Kazakhstan’s media campaigns in the United

States. Kimer denied any links between Kazakhstan and Silk Road Reporters, and – contrary to

Silk Road Reporters’s aforementioned descriptors of Kazakhstan – also denied “any kind of

beneficial coverage whatsoever from the way we do news.”113

Questions extended beyond the site’s slant, however. Two of the authors contacted –

Daly and Joshua Noonan – declined to comment on their work with Silk Road Reporters, and

none of the other contributors appeared to carry any online track record, nor any evidence of

existence whatsoever. While Kimer noted that all of the “contributors” listed on the page’s

“About Us” page used their real names, he cited their contact information as “absolutely

confidential” and suggested contacting Irada Guseynova, the site’s former features editor, in

order to contact these contributors.114 Guseynova, however, wrote that she “had no desire to pass

along correspondents’ contact information to an unknown individual. If you need authors, search

110
K Social Media Website. Retrieved from http://ksocialmedia.com/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
111
Amsterdam Group “About Us” Website. Retrieved from http://amsterdamgroup.net/about-us/ (accessed 8 April
2015).
112
BGR Gabara, Samuel Amsterdam Website. Retrieved from http://www.bgrgabara.com/x-bios/bgr-
amsterdam.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
113
Michel, “Silk Road Reporters: An Independent News Site for Central Asia?”
114
Silk Road Reporters “About Us” Website. Retrieved from http://www.silkroadreporters.com/about-us/ (accessed
8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 36

for yourself.”115 In a follow-up email, Guseynova added, “I don’t think I need to explain

ANYTHING [sic][.]”116 Following the requests for contact information, Silk Road Reporters

erased the “contributors” from the “About Us” page, though they remained available via Internet

archive.117 The publication also scrubbed information pertaining to American editor “Joe

Peerson,” the only employee, according to Kimer, who used a pen-name and whose sole task

consisted of “collecting aggregated news coverage” of the region. (Kimer did not answer

questions as to why an American simply collating information required a pen-name.) After its

links to Kazakhstani lobbyists came to light, Silk Road Reporters hired a pair of regional writers

with a discernible online track record – highlighted by Kseniya Bondal, a writer best known for

her work with U.S. Central Command’s regional propaganda site, Central Asia Online.118

Likewise, Silk Road Reporters promptly began running advertisements, and noted that the site

received “private and institutional support for its operations,” but did not specify from whom.

However, nowhere on the site did Kimer disclose his link to Amsterdam, the man who had been

tasked with leading Kazakhstan’s image-buffing in the United States.

Kimer’s Silk Road Reporters appears to be the lone nominally independent outlet that has

failed to disclose its ties to those pushing Kazakhstani interests. But where Kimer could

plausibly note that no direct compensation from the Kazakhstani government has come to light –

and as Kazakhstani lobbyists have prior preferred to simply fund trips for writers to

Kazakhstan119 – the man charged with helping lead Azerbaijan’s media approach within the

115
Michel, “Silk Road Reporters: An Independent News Site for Central Asia?”
116
Ibid.
117
Silk Road Reporters “About Us” Website, dated to 27 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from
https://web.archive.org/web/20140827141801/http:/www.silkroadreporters.com/about-us/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
118
Trilling, David. “Propagandastan,” Foreign Policy, 22 Nov. 2011. Retrieved from
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/11/21/propagandastan (accessed 8 April 2015).
119
Silverstein, Ken. “The prospect of oil adds a sheen to the Kazakh regime,” Alexander’s Gas & Oil Connections,
12 March 2004. Retrieved from http://www.gasandoil.com/news/central_asia/6d8dda77700094e1e4c6dfe46cdd691f
(accessed 8 April 2015). One of the writers, Georgie Anne Geyer, insisted that Kazakhstan’s willingness to fund the
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 37

United States cannot stake such claim. Jason Katz acts as the “founder and principal” of The

Tool Shed Group, LLC.120 According to Katz, The Tool Shed Group, founded in 2008, “is a full

service strategic communications, public relations, public affairs, business development and fund

raising firm” that “specializes in international affairs, politics, policy and business development

for governments, quasi-governmental entities, NGOs, not-for-profit organizations, executives

and corporations throughout the world.”121 In 2009, The Tool Shed Group began providing

“consulting services related to business development, strategic communications and public

affairs” to Azerbaijan’s Consulate General, the only foreign principal for whom Tool Shed

Group works.122 Soon thereafter, Katz penned multiple op-eds for Huffington Post detailing, for

instance, the merits of Azberaijani “democracy”123 and the strength of Azerbaijani-Israeli

relations.124 Katz wrote five such pieces with Huffington Post over a period of less than one year,

all pushing Azerbaijani interests, all clearly part of his work for Baku. According to his

biography on Huffington Post, Katz serves “as a senior advisor to the Republic of Azerbaijan,

their Consulate General in Los Angeles and Ministry of Information Technology and

Communications.”125 In his penultimate piece with Huffington Post, however, those observing

the region began to take note of Katz’s effusive praise for Baku. After Katz described Azerbaijan

as “a progressive, cosmopolitan, open, secular and Western-oriented society” that “makes for an

trip for her and her three colleagues – only two of whom disclosed the source of the trip’s funding – had no bearing
on her writing. “I’m a little beyond that,” Geyer noted.
120
Jason Katz LinkedIn Website. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonkatztoolshedgroup (accessed 8
April 2015).
121
Ibid.
122
US Department of Justice. Registration Statement, Tool Shed Group, LLC, Foreign Agents Registration Act. 9
March 2009. Retrieved from http://www.fara.gov/docs/5916-Registration-Statement-20090309-1.pdf.
123
Katz, Jason. “A Game Played Smarter,” Huffington Post, 18 March 2010. Retrieved from
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-katz/a-game-played-smarter_b_422401.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
124
Katz, Jason. “Azerbaijan and Israel: Not a Typical Relationship,” Huffington Post, 22 May 2010. Retrieved from
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-katz/azerbaijan-and-israel-not_b_509229.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
125
Jason Katz Huffington Post Biography Website. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-katz/
(accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 38

ideal vacation destination,”126 Silverstein, then with Harper’s, described the piece as a “PR

handout — or blow job, to be less polite — for his firm’s client[.]”127 Katz soon ceased writing

for Huffington Post.

However, it appears possible Silverstein’s critique may have had the opposite of its

intended effect. Instead of ending his writing, Katz, following Silverstein’s analysis of Katz’s

“PR handout,” simply ceased disclosing his relationship with Azerbaijan in any of his op-eds

outside Huffington Post. Indeed, such move away from disclosure may have been hinted at

within Katz’s early filings with FARA, as it does not appear that any of his Huffington Post op-

eds were filed along with Tool Shed Group records. And within this decision lies one of Katz’s,

and Azerbaijan’s, most distinct innovations within its approach to image-management in

English-language media: the utter lack of disclosure between public relations specialists and

Azerbaijan. After his final piece with Huffington Post in 2011, Katz contributed at least nine op-

eds to English-language publications. He has published four op-eds with Roll Call and three op-

eds with The Hill, as well as an additional write-up in The National Review and the Spanish-

language La Opinion.128 All of these pieces discuss Azerbaijani interests. His first piece in The

Hill, for instance, focused on the strength of Azerbaijani “democracy,”129 while his first piece in

Roll Call called for a mending of American-Azerbaijani relations.130 In another offering, Katz

126
Katz, Jason. “An Odd Voice from a Noble Land,” Huffington Post, 14 June 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-katz/an-odd-voice-from-a-noble_b_538351.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
127
Silverstein, Ken. “Huffington post Allows Lobbyists to Take Dictator Out for Spin on its Site,” Harper’s, 15
June 2010. Retrieved from http://harpers.org/blog/2010/06/huffington-post-allows-lobbyist-to-take-dictator-out-for-
spin-on-its-site/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
128
Katz, Jason. “Política exterior en California,” La Opinion, 11 Oct. 2014. http://www.laopinion.com/blogs-
prioridades-legislativas-california-politica-exterior (accessed 8 April 2015).
129
Katz, Jason. “Democracies don’t just spring up,” The Hill, 8 Oct. 2013. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/327199-democracies-dont-just-spring-up (accessed 8 April
2015).
130
Katz, Jason. “America and Azerbaijan: Strained Relations Must be Mended,” Roll Call, 17 Dec. 2013. Retrieved
from http://www.rollcall.com/news/america_and_azerbaijan_strained_relations_must_be_mended_commentary-
229654-1.html?pg=2 (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 39

wrote that “Washington is too eager to criticize Azerbaijan,”131 while he separately noted that the

“U.S. can learn much from a nation like Azerbaijan.”132 In his piece in The National Review,

Katz manages to spin an ostensible piece on mourning the loss of colleague Alexandros Petersen

into a denigration of Azerbaijan’s geopolitical antagonists: “The Armenians, Palestinians, and

Iranians are all true believers, as is the Taliban.”133 Legally, there is little amiss with Katz’s

decision to write; acting as a FARA-registered lobbyists does not preclude Katz from

contributing op-eds. However, Katz makes no attempt to disclose his relationship with

Azerbaijan in any of these nine op-eds. He readily discloses that he is the “principal”134 of Tool

Shed Group, a “consultancy that advises foreign governments, NGOs and corporations in the

realms of strategic communications, politics and policy.”135 He often adds further that he “is also

the former head of Public Affairs and Public Relations for the American Jewish Committee,

based in Los Angeles.” However, in none of the nine pieces written – all, again, highlighting or

pushing Azerbaijani interests – does Katz disclose that Azerbaijan serves as Tool Shed Group’s

primary foreign client.

There does not exist any legal component within non-disclosure – that is, there appears

no potential legal ramifications to Katz’s lack of disclosure – and Katz complied with FARA

regulations in listing his op-eds within supplemental materials among Tool Shed Group’s FARA

131
Katz, Jason. “America’s lack of leadership is feeding global instability,” The Hill, 18 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/217930-americas-lack-of-leadership-is-feeding-global-
instability (accessed 8 April 2015).
132
Katz, Jason. “U.S. can learn from Azerbaijan,” The Hill, 17 Feb. 2014. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/198445-us-can-learn-from-azerbaijan (accessed 8 April 2015).
133
Katz, Jason. “Don’t Throw Afghanistan to the Wolves,” The National Review, 7 Feb. 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/370574/dont-throw-afghanistan-wolves-jason-katz (accessed 8 April 2015).
134
Ibid.
135
Katz, Jason. “If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Grimm Situations May Occur,” Roll Call, 30 May 2014. Retrieved
from http://www.rollcall.com/news/if_it_aint_broke_dont_fix_it_grimm_situations_may_occur_commentary-
233410-1.html?pg=2&dczone=policy (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 40

registry.136 However, journalistic ethics demand the reasonable disclosure of any and all interests

pertaining to either author or publication, allowing the reader to form a more informed opinion of

the material at hand.137 Noted one expert on journalistic ethics, “A journalist is supposed to be an

agent of free inquiry for the public, not someone who is tied to these lobbyists.”138 When

contacted by the author, certain of the publications in question updated the pieces to reflect

Katz’s relationship with Azerbaijan. National Review updated Katz’s biography, noting his link

to Azerbaijan, while The Hill now carries a trio of corrections, all reading that “Katz is paid to

provide strategic advice to Azerbaijan. This note was added after Katz’s foreign agent

registration was brought to the attention of The Hill.”139 As The Hill’s Editor-in-Chief Bob

Cusack said, “Jason Katz didn’t identify himself as representing Azerbaijan. … We conduct

independent research on the people who submit pieces to us. However, because we receive

hundreds of op-ed submissions per month, the vetting process is thorough though not

exhaustive.” The editor-in-chief of Roll Call declined to comment on the record, however, with

Katz’s articles reading as if Katz were an unbiased observer.140

An editor with Capitol Weekly, meanwhile, provided the author with a correspondence

with Katz, in which Katz attempted to pitch an op-ed discussing the California legislature’s

commentary on Armenia, but without disclosing his relationship with Azerbaijan. Identifying

only his relationship to Tool Shed Group, Katz writes,

I am writing, as I would like to submit to you the attached op-ed. I wrote it and it
concerns the Legislatures recent (and really odd) foray into U.S. foreign affairs [sic].

136
US Department of Justice. Supplemental Statement, Tool Shed Group, LLC, Foreign Agents Registration Act. 29
Oct. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.fara.gov/docs/5916-Supplemental-Statement-20141029-11.pdf.
137
According to the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics, journalists – and, by extent, those writing
for the publication – should “[d]isclose unavoidable conflicts.” “SPJ Code of Ethics,” Society of Professional
Journalists. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp (accessed 25 April 2015).
138
Interview with author, 28 April 2015.
139
XX
140
Email correspondence with author, 14 April 2015.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 41

It begs the question of whether the Legislature had the right or if it was proper to do
so and why they were not doing the business of the people of the State.141

Capitol Weekly did not publish Katz’s op-ed, though Katz managed to publish a Spanish-

language version with La Opinion one month later – again, without disclosing his relationship to

Azerbaijan, yet another egregious breach of journalistic ethics. When presented with Katz’s lack

of disclosure, Ann Cooper, the former executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists,

noted, “Full disclosure would demand revelation of [Katz’s] Azeri tie. It should make a

difference to the reader to know whether someone is writing out of pure conviction, or because

his company works for the country whose interests he’s writing about.”142 Jay Rosen, a New

York University journalism professor and noted commentator on journalistic ethics, responded

bluntly: “You don’t need a journalism professor to provide an ethics ‘ruling’ about this one. You

can do it yourself. … If I’m reading an op-ed of yours, what do I need to know about you to

understand where you’re coming from on this? Would, ‘hey, my firm works for the country I’m

writing about’ fall under that heading?”143 In Katz’s recent op-eds, it appears he has made no

effort to offer such disclosure to the respective publications – nor have the publications done

their due diligence in researching Katz’s work and clientele. While he dutifully registered his

documentation and write-ups with FARA, Katz helps highlight one of the innovative tendencies

Azerbaijan had brought to bear within English-language media: a failure to disclose a

relationship any reasonable reader would otherwise expect.

But Katz’s knack for innovative tendencies for the benefit of Azerbaijan did not stop with

his own lack of disclosure. In June 2014 Capitol Weekly published a piece on Nagorno-Karabakh

141
Email correspondence between Jason Katz and John Howard, 10 September 2014.
142
Email correspondence with author, 8 April 2015.
143
Email correspondence with author, 8 April 2015.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 42

written by a woman named Mallory Moss.144 Detailing how “Armenian and Russian forces

annihilated the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly,” Moss identifies herself as a “Board Certified

Nurse Practitioner of Psychiatry and a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatric nursing.” Moss also

penned two additional pieces with The Hill – in April 2014145 and June 2014146 – on Khojaly,

identified only as a “noted commentator” and “board-certified Nurse Practitioner,” respectively.

While peculiar – there seems no obvious reason why a background in nursing should allow one

to opine on the geopolitics of Nagorno-Karabakh – such descriptors, on their face, do not present

any journalistic or legal breach. However, myriad links between Moss, Katz, Tool Shed Group,

and Azerbaijan not only present severe ruptures of journalistic ethics, but appear to stand

contrary to FARA regulation. A search of domain registration reveals that Moss has registered

multiple Azerbaijan-related URLs since 2013, including BakuWoman.com,

MeetAzerbaijan.com, and AboutAzerbaijan.org, among others, as well as the notably misspelled

SouthernCaucuses.com.147 In each instance, Moss lists her name, address, and telephone number.

And in each instance, Moss lists her registrant organization as The Tool Shed Group. That is to

say, Moss, according to database registration records, either works or worked in the employ of

Tool Shed Group. (Moss likewise created an “Azerbaijani Olympic Athlete” Facebook group in

early 2014.148) Moreover, on multiple instances in April 2015, Katz referred to Moss as his

“wife”149 on his Facebook, and in April 2015 Moss changed her name on Facebook to “Mallory

144
Moss, Mallory. “Mental health and an Assembly resolution,” Capitol Weekly, 13 June 2014. Retrieved from
http://capitolweekly.net/mental-health-assembly-resolution/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
145
Moss, Mallory. “The language of genocide,” The Hill, 24 April 2014. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/204175-the-language-of-genocide (accessed 8 April 2015).
146
Moss, Mallory. “Boko Haram and the relevance of genocide,” The Hill, 16 June 2014. Retrieved from
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/209317-boko-haram-and-the-relevance-of-genocide (accessed 8 April 2015).
147
Domain registry available at whois.domaintools.com.
148
Azerbaijani Olympic Athletes Facebook Website. https://www.facebook.com/groups/274894489330337/
(accessed 8 April 2015).
149
Jason Katz Facebook Website. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/jason.katz.127 (accessed 8 April
2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 43

Moss Katz.”150 To sum: Katz claims Moss as his wife, and Moss has made repeated statements –

available via domain registry – highlighting her employment with Tool Shed Group. Moss

ignored repeated requests to clarify her relationship with Katz and Tool Shed Group. When

asked to clarify his relationship with Moss and Moss’s relationship with Tool Shed Group, Katz

did not answer, but instead blocked this author on Facebook.

However, not only has Moss failed to disclose these relationships in her op-eds, but both

she and Katz did not appear to disclose these op-eds and this relationship within the FARA

database. A request for a search of FARA revealed “NO records of any registration(s) under

FARA for a Mallory Moss[.]”151 A Department of Justice lawyer noted that the “department does

not issue advisory opinions to third parties regarding the activities of other persons or

organizations.”152 In light of fact that Katz has disclosed his series of op-eds to FARA, it stands

to reason the Moss’s op-eds must, or should, likewise be disclosed. According to one lawyer

working with FARA litigation, Moss should have likewise registered with FARA, via a Short

Form Registration Statement as a member of Tool Shed Group.153 “It certainly sounds as if Mrs.

Moss should have filled out a Short Form Registration as an employee of or consultant to Tool

Shed,” the lawyer said. “In terms of materials, the op-eds should have been included in Tool

Shed’s regular filings, at least.”154 After being contacted by the author, The Hill added a note that

a “firm that is paid to provide strategic advice to Azerbaijan submitted this op-ed. This note was

150
Mallory Moss Facebook Website. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/mallorymoss (accessed 8 April
2015).
151
Email correspondence with author, 9 April 2015.
152
Email correspondence with author, 9 April 2015.
153
Per FARA, any “partner, officer, director, associate, employee, and agent of a registrant” who “engages in [any]
activities in furtherance of the interests of the registrant's foreign principal” must fill out a Short-Form Registration
Statement. The only exception among those required to sign a Short-Form Registration Statement are those “in a
secretarial, clerical, or in a related or similar capacity.” Further details on Short Form Registration Statement can be
found at “Short Form Registration Statement Pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.” Retrieved
from http://www.justice.gov/doj/resource/short-form-registration-statement-pursuant-foreign-agents-registration-act-
1938 (accessed 24 April 2015).
154
Interview with author, 23 April 2015.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 44

added after information was brought to the attention of The Hill.” The firm in question? Tool

Shed. Nonetheless, the tandem have managed to pen a dozen op-eds in English-language

publications over the span of nearly two years in favor of Azerbaijani interests – all while failing

to disclose that Azerbaijan stands as one of the primary clients of Tool Shed Group.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 45

Dan Burton’s Diplomacy

To be sure, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are not the lone former Soviet nations to employ

individuals within English-language media outlets, or to see such individuals employed by

organs and organizations close to the former Soviet governments. For instance, Hilary Kramer, a

self-described investment advisor, wrote four op-eds in Forbes that, according to a Eurasianet

investigation, “portray Tajikistan in a favorable light.”155 One such piece detailed the necessity

and benefit of Tajikistan’s planned Rogun Dam, which would stand as the highest dam in the

world upon completion.156 Eurasianet linked Kramer to Fabiani & Company, a lobbying agency

hired by Talco, a state-run aluminum plant that is currently Tajikistan’s largest company.157 As a

representative from Fabiani told Eurasianet, “We go to [Kramer] when there’s an investment

angle.” When notified of Kramer’s lack of disclosure about her relationship with Tajikistan,

Forbes removed all of Kramer’s posts about Tajikistan.158 Nonetheless, while other post-Soviet

countries have utilized individuals within English-language media who have failed to disclose

relations to these respective nations, they have not engaged in such practice – in such innovation

– to the extent of Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan.

155
Trilling, David. “Tajikistan Using DC Proxies to Build Support for Rogun Dam,” Eurasianet, 13 Feb. 2014.
Retrieved from http://www.eurasianet.org/node/68042 (accessed 8 April 2015).
156
Kramer, Hilary. “Importance of Rogun Dam for the War on Terror,” Forbes, 4 March 2013. Retrieved from
https://web.archive.org/web/20130312013531/http://www.forbes.com/sites/hilarykramer/2013/03/04/importance-of-
rogun-dam-for-the-war-on-terror/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
157
US Department of Justice. Supplemental Statement, Fabiani & Company, Foreign Agents Registration Act. 22
July 2013. Retrieved from http://www.fara.gov/docs/6045-Supplemental-Statement-20130722-5.pdf.
158
A second Forbes writer, Mark Adomanis, also maintains ties with the post-Soviet image-management operations,
having worked in 2014 for Russia’s foremost propaganda outlet, Rossiya Segodnya. Adomanis has not disclosed
such relationship in any material published through Forbes. Forbes’ blogging platform has long been critiqued for
maintaining far less oversight than traditional blogging outgrowths within traditional news outlets. For more, see
Mark Adomanis Sputnik Biography Website. Retrieved from http://sputniknews.com/authors/mark_adomanis/
(accessed 8 April 2015); Kirchner, Lauren. “Forbes.com Gets a New Slant,” Columbia Journalism Review, 6 Aug.
2010. Retrieved from http://www.cjr.org/the_news_frontier/forbescom_gets_a_new_slant.php?page=2 (accessed 24
April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 46

Fortunately, Kramer provides a convenient link between these post-Soviet states – and

points to further innovative tactic yet. She elected to extend her lack of disclosure within Forbes

to at least two pieces on Azerbaijan, noting in one that “Azerbaijan has charted a path for itself

that is not ideological, but open.”159 Further, she has offered praise for the Azerbaijan America

Alliance (AAA), which, as Eurasianet points out, is also a Fabiani client. Indeed, it is within the

AAA that we discover confirmation of the willingness of those pushing Azerbaijani interests to

do so without disclosing their ties. The AAA describes itself as a “non-partisan, non-profit

organization” seeking to “to foster an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect between

the people of Azerbaijan and America[.]”160 Soon after its formation in May 2011, the AAA

hired former Republican Congressman Dan Burton as its new Chairman of the Board.161 As

Burton said at the time, “The friendship between our countries is very important and I shall work

hard to make it even stronger.”162 Initially, it appeared Burton’s placement as AAA’s public face

would remain relatively limited, focused largely on speaking engagements under large banners

of former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev.163 However, as with Kramer, Katz, and Moss,

Burton soon found himself published in English-language media without the requisite disclosure

alongside. Burton’s wrote his first piece pushing Azerbaijani interests in June 2013, detailing the

159
Kramer, Hilary. “America, Meet Azerbaijan,” Forbes, 7 Nov. 2012. Retrieved from
http://www.forbes.com/sites/hilarykramer/2012/11/07/america-meet-azerbaijan/ (accessed 8 April 2015); Kramer,
Hilary. “Azerbaijan: A Metaphor for Sustainable Change,” Forbes, 25 Nov. 2012. Retrieved from
http://www.forbes.com/sites/hilarykramer/2012/11/25/azerbaijan-a-metaphor-for-sustainable-change-2/ (accessed 8
April 2015).
160
Azerbaijan America Alliance “About Us” Website. Retrieved from http://azerbaijanamericaalliance.org/mission
(accessed 8 April 2015).
161
“The Azerbaijan America Alliance Announces Former Congressman Dan Burton as Chairman of the Board,” PR
Newswire, 13 Feb. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-azerbaijan-america-
alliance-announces-former-congressman-dan-burton-as-chairman-of-the-board-191097441.html (accessed 8 April
2015).
162
Ibid.
163
Azerbaijan America Alliance Facebook photo. Retrieved from
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=651514518195797&set=pb.296931403654112.-
2207520000.1373460531.&type=3&theater (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 47

burgeoning relations between Azerbaijan and Israel in The Washington Times.164 Instead of

highlighting his position as the head of the AAA, however, The Washington Times described

Burton solely as “a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of its

Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats subcommittee.”165 Likewise, Burton also wrote a piece on

the benefits of constructing Tajikistan’s Rogun Dam without – as with Kramer – highlighting

links to Fabiani.166

Much like Kramer, however, Burton’s pretense as a disinterested observer soon faltered

through external media coverage. After Burton published his third piece without disclosure – this

time on Azerbaijani tolerance,167 and in conjunction with the Azerbaijani “sponsored content”

insert mentioned above – The Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple pointed out the lack of

disclosure.168 The Washington Times issued a clarification reflecting Burton’s relationship with

AAA. However, but a few weeks later, the Daily Caller publication committed an identical

oversight. Burton wrote an op-ed denigrating Armenian interests in Daily Caller, and identified

himself solely as a former Congressman.169 When Wemple attempted to investigate why Burton

failed to identify his position with AAA, he found an audience that was less than receptive. Not

only did Daily Caller fail to respond to Wemple’s questions, but Burton took to epithets in

response:

164
Burton, Dan. “The peril of stiffing a rare friend in the Caucasus,” The Washington Times, Retrieved from 26 June
2013. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jun/26/the-peril-of-stiffing-a-rare-friend-in-the-
caucasu/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
165
Ibid.
166
Burton, Dan. “Tajikistan’s clean energy resources,” The Washington Times, 7 March 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/mar/7/burton-tajikistans-clean-energy-resources/?page=all#pagebreak
(accessed 8 April 2015).
167
Burton, Dan. “Why Azerbaijan is important to America and the free world,” The Washington Times, 28 Jan.
2015. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/28/dan-burton-why-azerbaijan-is-important-
to-america-/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
168
Wemple, “Washington Times hearts Azerbaijan.”
169
Burton, Dan. “Is Armenia America’s Ally or Iran’s?” The Daily Caller, 12 March 2015. Retrieved from
http://dailycaller.com/2015/03/12/is-armenia-americas-ally-or-irans/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 48

In a short phone chat with Burton, the advocacy group chairman asked, “Are you the one
who’s been calling everyone about my op-eds?” Yes, responded the Erik Wemple Blog.
“I don’t really want to talk to you,” said Burton. Why not? “Because you’re a scandal
monger and I don’t want to talk to you. I have no desire to talk to you,” he said. A plea to
hear out the Erik Wemple Blog fetched no response.170

Strikingly, in December 2013 Burton penned a letter to The Washington Times in which he

explicitly lays out his position as AAA chairman.171 Moreover, this is not the first time The

Washington Times has been found behaving suspiciously viz. the amelioration of post-Soviet

regimes. In 2011, Columbia Journalism Review detailed The Washington Times’s relationship

with Central Asia Newswire, noting that the paper “apparently agree[d] to lend an air of

authenticity to a subscription newswire whose only paying client … seems to have been the

Kazakhstan government itself[.]”172 Even with Burton’s letter and the Columbia Journalism

Review report, however, The Washington Times only clarified Burton’s relationship with

Azerbaijan following questioning from a The Washington Post reporter. Likewise, while editor

John Solomon told the author in early April 2015 that Burton’s June 2013 write-up – in which

Burton notes that “few places in the world … are as welcoming to Americans as Azerbaijan”173 –

would be updated to reflect his connection to AAA, the op-ed remains unchanged.174 Burton’s

piece on Rogun has also not yet been updated to reflect his relationship with Fabiani, nor has his

article in Daily Caller.175 That is to say, The Washington Times has only updated the lone article

170
Wemple, “Former congressman and Azerbaijan advocate finds receptive audience at Daily Caller.”
171
Burton, Dan. “Promoting A lasting partnership between Azerbaijan and America,” The Washington Times, 10
Dec. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/dec/10/burton-promoting-lasting-
partnership-between-azerb/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
172
Wilensky-Lanford, Ethan. “News for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” Columbia Journalism
Review, 23 March 2011.
173
Burton, “The peril of stiffing a rare friend in the Caucasus.”
174
Email correspondence with author, 7 April 2015.
175
AAA, it should be noted, also appears to engage in a traditional form of lobbying in order to generate positive
press coverage of Azerbaijan. AAA helped host a 14 June 2013 event, entitled “US-Azerbaijan Strategic Dialogue,”
for the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Following the event, David J. Smith, identified as a “senior fellow at the
Potomac Institute for Policy Studies,” penned a piece in The Hill on “Azerbaijan mov[ing] toward democracy”.
Azerbaijan America Alliance Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Azerbaijan-America-
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 49

on which The Washington Post has written. All other articles in question have remained

available and unchanged. Kramer’s pieces on Tajikistan have been removed entirely, but her op-

eds on Azerbaijan remain available for public consumption.

And this, then, is perhaps the greatest finding within these attempts at innovative tactics

in English-language publications. It’s not simply that these individuals tied directly to

Kazakhstani and Azerbaijani governments have failed to disclose those links; rather, even when

presented with this information, certain of the publications in question fail to clarify these

relations. Forbes, National Review, The Hill, and The Washington Times only partially rectified

their descriptions of the writers, or rectified the biographies months later. Other publications

mentioned above – Roll Call and Daily Caller, especially – both failed in due diligence on the

writer’s potential interests, and have done nothing to clarify these links in the months and years

since. Despite the clear necessity of disclosure, it appears that editors remain as uninterested in

disclosing links as the writers – and respective countries – do, to the detriment of their

publication and their readership alike. These lobbyists and governments have innovated through

their lack of disclosure – and the publications, by and large, seem largely unconcerned.

Alliance/296931403654112?sk=events (accessed 8 April 2015); Smith, David and Woolsey, James. “Azerbaijan
moves toward democracy,” The Hill, 7 Aug. 2013. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-
policy/315855-azerbaijan-moves-toward-democracy (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 50

Free Agent
Diplomacy
“[KAZAKHSTAN] IS A COUNTRY THAT IS
ALMOST UNIQUE I WOULD SAY IN ITS
CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND THE WAY IT BRINGS
DIFFERENT FAITHS TOGETHER, AND CULTURES
TOGETHER.”
- T ON Y BL AIR
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 51

When formulating innovative tactics within the realm of media outreach, organizations

involved with improving the images of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan were attempting to reach a

relatively broad, diffuse audience. 176 However, such an extensive readership – in terms of

geography and background alike – does not present the lone audience for those who would seek

to help Baku and Astana ameliorate their reputations in the West. Rather, diplomatic efforts, and

utilizing diplomatic ties, remain a key component for these governments. But before examining

innovative tendencies within these campaigns, it remains necessary, as above, to delineate

traditional methods employed by these respective governments. Azerbaijan, for instance, has

consistently targeted American lawmakers at both federal and local levels in lobbying efforts. At

the state level, the governments have lobbied on a state-by-state basis for support of everything

from Azerbaijani territorial integrity to rote recognition of strengthening relations between the

United States and Azerbaijan, as was recently seen in Washington state.177 Kazakhstan,

meanwhile, has engaged in assorted lobbying efforts to land positions within international

organizations, as with the 2010 OSCE Chairmanship or with current efforts to earn a non-

permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.178

As with media efforts, both approaches have been tainted by discernible lacks of

disclosure. For Kazakhstan, see the instance of Silk Road Reporters above lobbying for the

UNSC seat. For Azerbaijan, meanwhile, examine a 2013 SOCAR-sponsored trip that saw ten

Congressmen and 35 staffers land an all-expenses-paid trip to Baku. As a later Houston

Chronicle investigation found, the reports filed by the lawmakers showed that “none disclosed

176
Blair quote taken from: “Tony Blair’s star turn in Kazakhstan video,” BBC, 24 April 2012. Retrieved from
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17827773 (accessed 8 April 2015).
177
Washington State Senate Resolution 8661. Further details can be found at
http://app.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2015-16/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Resolutions/8661-
Azerbaijan%20Republic%20Day.htm (accessed 17 April 2015).
178
“The sultan takes over,” The Economist, 17 Dec. 2009. Retrieved from
http://www.economist.com/node/15127669 (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 52

any sponsorship of their Baku conference trips by corporations, foreign governments or

lobbyists,” and that taking “a foreign trip to a conference sponsored by corporations that employ

lobbyists appears to be a violation of congressional ethics rules, according to the House ethics

manual.”179 (As one journalist in attendance wrote, the trip appeared to be “the biggest

concentrations of American political star power ever seen in the Caucasus.”180) According to the

United States’ Office of Congressional Ethics, there exists “[o]verwhelming evidence” SOCAR

managed to funnel $750,000 to fund the congressional trip – and that the non-profits that claimed

to sponsor the trip misled the House Ethics Committee.181 The obfuscation was relatively

straightforward. One month before the convention, SOCAR created a non-profit whole-cloth, to

which it funneled three-quarters-of-a-million dollars with “directives that funding be spent on

hotels, flights, and other costs associated with travel,” according to the OCE. Those on the trip

also received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts.182 Such sponsorship transits back

into the media sphere – into the aforementioned descriptors of traditional engagement in order to

craft positive images in the media – and can be seen most especially in a comment from

179
Olsen, Lise and Tucker, Will. “Lawmakers’ trips to Baku conference raise ethics questions,” Houston Chronicle,
26 July 2014. Retrieved from http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Lawmakers-
trips-to-Baku-conference-raise-eithics-5649142.php?cmpid=twitter-premium&t=3a9014c8757fcfd54e (accessed 8
April 2015).
180
Luxner, Larry. “Azerbaijan Rolls Out Red Carpet For Visiting U.S. Lawmakers,” The Washington Diplomat, 26
June 2013. Retrieved from http://www.washdiplomat.com/index.php?option=com_content&id=9391:azerbaijan-
rolls-out-red-carpet-for-visiting-us-lawmakers&Itemid=428 (accessed 8 April 2015).
181
“OCE Referral Regarding Rep. James Bridenstine.” Retrieved from
http://oce.house.gov/disclosures/Review_No_15-6068_Referral.pdf (accessed 12 October 2015).
182
Crites, Alice; Higham, Scott; and Rich, Steven. “10 members of Congress took trip secretly funded by foreign
government,” The Washington Post, 13 May 2015. Retrieved from
http://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/10-members-of-congress-took-trip-secretly-funded-by-foreign-
government/2015/05/13/76b55332-f720-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html (accessed 14 May 2015). However, at
least two members of Congress were nonplussed with their gifts. “[New Mexico Representative Michelle] Lujan
Grisham told ethics investigators that she did not disclose the rugs because she did not think they were particularly
valuable. She also thought that they were unattractive. “It’s not a carpet I would have purchased,” the
congresswoman said.” Rep. Danny Davis further claimed his rug maintained “no personal value.” Korecki, Natasha.
“Danny Davis defends trip under U.S. ethics review; says lavish rug still rolled up in his house,” Chicago Sun-
Times, 19 May 2015. Retrieved from http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/7/71/616441/danny-davis-fine-rug-part-
oil-company-gift-still-rolled-unwrapped (accessed 19 May 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 53

Maryland lawmaker Tawanna Gaines, who noted during the trip to Baku, “They’ve asked for

nothing in return. What they expect is to educate us, and for us to spread the word.”183 Baku-

related agencies have also funded trips for British MPs to Azerbaijan,184 and have likewise

engaged in what has been termed “Caviar Diplomacy” in order to coax more palliative prognoses

for its election results from PACE.185 Undisclosed sponsorship, subtle gift-giving, the

expectation that such effusive treatment will result in both legislation and positive domestic

coverage for an English-speaking audience – these methods are not necessarily especial to

Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, but nonetheless comprise a notable swath of these countries’ efforts

at image-management.

Where Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have proven innovative, however, is in helping refine

the notion of what I will term “free agent diplomacy.” Such construct exists as a recent

phenomenon, or in a refined state as a recent phenomenon, and is seen most especially within

former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s post-premiership tenure in attempting to expand the

reputational and economic reach of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. “Free agent diplomacy,” with

the current, most refined iteration we are witnessing with Blair’s work in Azerbaijan and

Kazakhstan, carries a handful of components. Similar to the “revolving door” phenomenon exists

between domestic actors and domestic organizations, the actor seeks to enjoin his name and

reputational reach to a foreign government in question, regardless of reasonable humanitarian

concern, while offering little discernible response to subsequent public outcry and failing to heed

calls to return funds accrued from the authoritarian government (or related entity).186 Moreover,

183
Luxner, “Azerbaijan Rolls Out Red Carpet For Visiting U.S. Lawmakers.”
184
Doward, Jaime and Latimer, Charlotte. “Plush hotels and caviar diplomacy: how Azerbaijan’s elite wooed MPs,”
The Guardian, 23 Nov. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/24/azerbaijan-caviar-
diplomacy-for-mps (accessed 8 April 2015).
185
“Caviar Diplomacy,” European Stability Initiative.
186
Holman, 2.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 54

not only does the foreign government enjoy the actor’s extended network, but the actor

purposefully enjoys an unclear mission within the country while simultaneously employing

financial obfuscation and failing to publicize the funds received in toto. As to the governments

for whom such actor is willing to work, Blair set the threshold in a 2015 interview with

Newsweek: “The prerequisite for us to work in a country is that we think the leadership is trying

to do the right thing.”187 The definition of “right thing” remains unclear; as evidenced above, if

Kazakhstan’s leadership “is trying to do the right thing,” it stands feasible that nearly all

countries are available for engagement. Blair encapsulates this notion of “free agent diplomacy”

wholly – and his work with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan provides the necessary relationship for

reifying such concept, as I will attempt to illustrate below.

In 2011, Kazakhstan hired Blair as an “official adviser.”188 This position is not Blair’s

sole foray into international efforts following the end of his ministership in 2007. According to

Bloomberg, Blair “presides over a network of companies and charities that operate in more than

20 countries, with financing from a tangle of private, corporate and government sources.”189

Blair has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in post-premier consultancy work, and his

clients have included Rwanda, Albania, and Kuwait. Blair has additionally employed convoluted

corporate tax structure in order to obfuscate the extent of his role(s). He has muddled his

finances, in part, due to his claims about media interest, saying, “There’s a section of the media

187
Perry, Alex. “Inside the Mind of Tony Blair,” Newsweek, 10 April 2015. Retrieved from
http://www.newsweek.com/2015/04/17/democracy-isnt-working-inside-blair-inc-320933.html (accessed 8 April
2015).
188
Lewis, Jason. “Oil rich dictator of Kazakhstan recruits Tony Blair to help win Nobel peace prize,” The
Telegraph, 9 Oct. 2011. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/8857689/Oil-rich-
dictator-of-Kazakhstan-recruits-Tony-Blair-to-help-win-Nobel-peace-prize.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
189
Baker, Stephanie. “Blair Scorned at Home Builds Business Empire Abroad,” Bloomberg, 4 April 2013. Retrieved
from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2013-04-04/blair-scorned-at-home-builds-business-empire-abroad.html
(accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 55

that will go after anyone connected with me, and I can’t operate like that.”190 However, it is

believed that Blair’s contract with Astana is “potentially [his] most lucrative.”191 Bloomberg

reported that, “[s]ince the spring of 2011, the Nazarbayev government has paid 8 million pounds

($12.9 million) a year to [Blair].”192 According to sources in Kazakhstani media, the figure could

reach as much as 16 million pounds (approximately $25 million) annually,193 a figure recently

reported by Daily Mail.194 Blair has denied such figure, and has said that the extent of

remuneration “is obviously confidential.”195 He has added that he sees no personal profit from

his venture in Kazakhstan, and that all funds are “instead [used] to fund his charities.”196 While

Blair continues to decline to confirm the income related to his work with Kazakhstan, it appears

Windrush Ventures, one of Blair’s primary corporate vehicles for his cluttered work with Astana,

is one of the former prime minister’s most profitable companies.197

Just as the fiscal features of the deal are blurred by secrecy and conflicting reports, so too

are the aims and purposes of Blair’s presence in the country. In addition to opening an office of

190
Ibid.
191
Gizitdniov, Narlman. “Kazakh Billionaire Says He’s Got Nothing to Hide,” Bloomberg, 13 Nov. 2013. Retrieved
from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-13/kazakh-billionaire-says-he-s-got-nothing-to-hide.html (accessed
8 April 2015).
192
Ibid.
193
“Тони Блэр продлил контракт с правительством Казахстана,” Kazakhstan Today, 2 Feb. 2012. Retrieved
from http://www.kt.kz/rus/government/toni_bler_prodlil_kontrakt_s_praviteljstvom_kazahstana_1153563381.html
(accessed 8 April 2015). Full quote in Russian: “При этом господин Блэр пересмотрел стоимость своих услуг и
увеличил цену вдвое. Теперь Казахстан будет платить ему 16 млн фунтов стерлингов в год, сообщает
телеканал КТК.”
194
Drury, Ian. “Speak on hunger for 20 minutes? That'll be £330,000, said Blair: Plans for speech at world hunger
conference dropped over fee,” Daily Mail, 31 May 2015. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-
3104684/Plan-Tony-Blair-address-world-hunger-conference-abandoned-333-000-fee-20-minute-speech.html
(accessed 1 June 2015).
195
“Correspondence Between HRW and The Office of Tony Blair Regarding His Work With the Government of
Kazakhstan,” Human Rights Watch. 30 Oct. 2013. Retrieved from
http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/10/30/correspondence-between-hrw-and-office-tony-blair-regarding-his-work-
government-kazak (accessed 8 April 2015).
196
“Democratic reforms, TBA,” The Economist, 16 Nov. 2013. Retrieved from
http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2013/11/tony-blair-kazakhstan (accessed 8 April 2015).
197
Mendick, Robert. “Tony Blair’s fortune boosted £13m by 'bumper year',” The Telegraph, 4 Jan. 2014. Retrieved
from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/10551183/Tony-Blairs-fortune-boosted-13m-by-bumper-
year.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 56

Blair Associates in Astana, Blair has formulated a “Policy Advisory Group,” an organization

whose composition remains unknown. 198 According to his office, Blair’s focus was found in a

2012 speech in Kazakhstan: “The work my team does within the Policy Advisory Group, and

outside experts, focusses on areas such as de-centralisation, public procurement, judicial and

other reforms to do with the Rule of Law, precisely those types of things identified by the EU

and others as necessary for Kazakhstan’s future development.”199 Emphasizing his advisory role,

as well as his role as facilitator within the Policy Advisory Group, Blair has delineated his focus

as a logical outgrowth of reforms deemed apt by the EU. His work, he claims, parallels efforts by

Brussels – efforts to ingratiate Kazakhstan into the World Trade Organization, into the OSCE,

into the modernizing world of liberal democracies. But Blair’s rhetoric stands in stark contrast to

a series of competing claims as to his actual purpose in Kazakhstan.200 As the Financial Times

reported upon Blair’s initial signing, the efforts of the former PM, who “was often described as a

master of spin during his time as British prime minister,”201 would center on how to help

Kazakhstan “present a better face to the west.”202 Kazakhstani media expanded upon such

claims: According to a former spokesman for the Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry, Blair’s work

198
Lewis, Jason. “Tony Blair, Kazakh police and human rights questions,” The Telegraph, 17 March 2013.
Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/9935000/Tony-Blair-Kazakh-police-and-
human-rights-questions.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
199
“Tony Blair urges Kazakhstan to ‘evolve and reform’ as it moves to the next level of political and economic
development,” The Office of Tony Blair, 26 May 2012. Retrieved from
http://www.tonyblairoffice.org/news/entry/tony-blair-urges-kazakhstan-to-evolve-and-reform-as-it-moves-to-the-
next-le/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
200
It is worth noting that Kazakhstani opposition figures claim Blair’s work, stated or otherwise, will not actually
result in any measureable change. “The Interior Ministry is very much in control of the situation in Kazakhstan, and
believe me they will never let these Western consultants get close to understanding the real problems of our system,”
said opposition leader Zhambolat Mamai. Lewis, “Tony Blair, Kazakh police and human rights questions.”
201
Lillis, Joanna. “Britain’s Master of Spin to Burnish Kazakhstan’s Image,” Eurasianet, 24 Oct. 2011. Retrieved
from http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64361 (accessed 8 April 2015).
202
Pickard, Jim; Gorst, Isabel; and Pfeifer, Sylvia. “Blair works on makeover for Kazakhstan,” Financial Times, 21
Oct. 2011. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/290ce292-fc03-11e0-b1d8-
00144feab49a.html?siteedition=uk (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 57

“will increase the investment attractiveness of the republic.”203 However, it is not necessarily the

nation-wide image alone that Blair may be expected to help rehabilitate. Silverstein wrote that a

“source with inside knowledge of Kazakhstan’s leadership told me that the former prime

minister is expected to help buff Nazarbayev’s personal image internationally.”204 As such, it

doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable that, as The Economist noted, “many thought [Nazarbayev]

might be seeking help to win himself a Nobel Peace Prize” by hiring Blair. After all, Blair, in a

correspondence with Human Rights Watch, claimed that Kazakhstan “is the only country to have

given up nuclear weapons”205 – a notably false claim, considering Ukraine and Belarus also

simultaneously released a post-Soviet nuclear stock. Moreover, Blair has also acted as a de facto

speechwriter for Nazarbayev, recommending approximately 500 words of text for one of

Nazarbayev’s speech – while attempting to sidestep governmental responsibility for the massacre

at Zhanaozen.206

Despite the questions about the purpose of his role in Kazakhstan, it is clear Blair has

taken numerous opportunities to help buff the image of Kazakhstan internationally. An hour-long

2011 video, produced by Agentsvo Khabar, features Blair pandering to the government officials

203
“Сотрудничество с Тони Блэром повысит инвестиционную привлекательность Казахстана – МИД,”
Novosti-Kazakhstan, 24 Oct. 2011. Retrieved from http://newskaz.ru/economy/20111024/2042755.html (accessed 8
April 2015). Full quote in Russian: “Сотрудничество правительство Казахстана с бывшим премьер-министром
Великобритании Тони Блэром, который будет консультировать Астану по экономическим и политическим
вопросам, поможет повысить инвестиционную привлекательность республики, сообщил официальный
представитель МИД Казахстана Алтай Абиббулаев.”
204
Silverstein, Ken. “Buckraking Around the World With Tony Blair,” The New Republic, 14 Sept. 2012. Retrieved
from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/magazine/107248/buckraking-around-the-world-tony-blair
(accessed 8 April 2015). Despite his accolades, Blair has not gone as far as other Western politicians still in office in
brushing Nazarbayev’s image. US Representatives Darrell Issa and Eni Faleomavaega, as well as a handful of
Japanese politicians, have gone so far as to nominate Nazarbayev for the Nobel Peace Prize, citing his work in the
nuclear sphere. Likewise, Texas Congressman Joe Barton, in 2002, was discovered inserting language drafted by
Patton Boggs on Kazakhstan’s behalf into the Congressional Record. See Silverstein, Turkmeniscam, 52.
205
Correspondence Between HRW and The Office of Tony Blair Regarding His Work With the Government of
Kazakhstan.”
206
Mendick, Robert. “Tony Blair gives Kazakhstan’s autocratic president tips on how to defend a massacre,” The
Telegraph, 24 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/11052965/Tony-
Blair-gives-Kazakhstans-autocratic-president-tips-on-how-to-defend-a-massacre.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 58

who have hired him.207 “In the work that I do there, I find [Kazakhstanis] really smart people,

capable, very determined – and very proud of their country,” Blair says. “It's a country that is

almost unique I would say in its cultural diversity and the way it brings different faiths together,

and cultures together.” Blair repeats such talking points in subsequent interviews with Wall

Street Journal208 and Vanity Fair.209 In each of these interviews, and in his additional

correspondence with Human Rights Watch, Blair avoids criticizing the Kazakhstani government.

Rather, he seeks to paint the notion of a secular, tolerant, Muslim-majority nation that remains

“strategically important” for the West.210 Blair’s avoidance of criticism in the midst of its

discernible rights backslide stands glaring – as does his seeming lack of concern about

associating with the Kazakhstani government, key components of Blair’s construction of free

agent diplomacy.

Blair’s public correspondence with HRW helped highlight the obfuscations inherent in

his position within Kazakhstan. Penned by HRW’s Williamson, the organization’s original letter

noted the discernible civil rights decline Kazakhstan has witnessed since Blair began his

involvement: “Over the last two years there has been a marked decline in respect of fundamental

freedoms such as freedom of religion, freedom of association, assembly, and speech, freedom

from torture, and the right to a fair trial.”211 Addressing Blair’s role, HRW attempted to delineate

Blair’s “terms of reference for [his] work in Kazakhstan,” as well as the “role and composition of

the Policy Advisory Group.” However, in response, Blair failed to address either question, noting

207
“Tony Blair’s star turn in Kazakhstan video,” BBC.
208
Fidler, Stephen. “Tony Blair on Israel-Palestine, Putin, Eurozone, ‘Brexit’ and Kazakhstan,” Wall Street Journal,
25 Nov. 2014. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/brussels/2014/11/25/tony-blair-on-israel-palestine-putin-
eurozone-brexit-and-kazakhstan/ (accessed 18 April 2015).
209
Ellison, Sarah. “Tony Blair Defends His Legacy in Response to Recent Criticism,” Vanity Fair, 4 Dec, 2014.
Retrieved from http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/12/tony-blair-profile (accessed 8 April 2015).
210
Ibid.
211
“Correspondence Between HRW and The Office of Tony Blair Regarding His Work With the Government of
Kazakhstan,” Human Rights Watch.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 59

only that his “work is completely in line with the direction the international community wants

Kazakhstan to take.” Additionally, Blair cited Kazakhstan’s struggles with “extremism,” without

clarifying how such concern would affect his work. His final communique with HRW also

sidestepped related questions. In covering the back-and-forth, Eurasianet’s Joanna Lillis notes

that between Zhanaozen, increased media and political persecution, and a stifling religious law,

“what is indisputable is that Kazakhstan’s democratization record is far poorer today than it was

when [Blair] started.”212 The wife of jailed opposition figure Viktor Kozlov summed the success

of Blair’s purported position: “I haven’t seen any results from Blair’s work as adviser to

Nazarbayev. And I definitely won’t see any.”213 There has been little reason for optimism

surrounding recent methods out of Astana. As Williamson followed up, “From what we know,

[Blair] has been indifferent to those suffering abuses and has given a veneer of respectability to

the authorities during a severe crackdown on human rights.”214 Blair’s efforts – or lack thereof –

seem to back Williamson’s statements.

Still, Blair’s work in buffing Kazakhstan’s image does not end with his advisory role.

Since Blair’s hire in 2011, individuals connected closely with Blair have lent their efforts to the

Kazakhstani government. For instance, Omnia Strategy – a law firm run by Blair’s wife, Cherie

– recently received nearly $600,000 from the Kazakhstani government for reviewing investment

treaties.215 Jonathan Powell, likewise, serves with Blair’s Policy Advisory Group – and is best

known for his time as Blair’s chief of staff during the latter’s tenure as prime minister. Moreover,

212
Lillis, Joanna. “Kazakhstan: Blair Criticized for Cozying Up To Astana,” Eurasianet, 15 Nov. 2013. Retrieved
from http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67770 (accessed 8 April 2015).
213
Lillis, “Kazakhstan: Blair Criticized for Cozying Up To Astana.”
214
Peev, Gerri. “Blair advises Kazakh dictator on liberty – and repression gets worse,” Daily Mail, 10 Nov. 2013.
Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2498993/Blair-advises-Kazakh-dictator-liberty--repression-
gets-WORSE-Former-PM-accused-helping-preside-reversals-human-rights.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
215
Mendick, Robert. “Cherie Blair signs deal to act for Albania where her husband is official adviser,” The
Telegraph, 7 March 2015. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/11457121/Cherie-
Blair-signs-deal-to-act-for-Albania-where-her-husband-is-official-adviser.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 60

such connections have allowed Astana to also “retain[…] the services of Alastair Campbell, the

former Downing Street communications chief.”216 Simultaneously, Sir Richard Evans, a “close

associate” of Blair,217 serves as chairman of the Kazakhstan’s state holding company, Samruk –

and was initially introduced to Nazarbayev by Blair.218 Worth approximately $81.9 billion in

2011, Samruk – which was headed by Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev – also

managed to hire Lord Mandelson for a pair of effusive speeches, in which he bizarrely

highlighted the “special role [Samruk] played as a savior of the world economy.” Additionally,

not only is it worth noting that Kulibayev purchased Prince Andrew’s former marital home for

$3 million more than the asking price – and subsequently allowed it to decay, generating further

discussion on corruption and money laundering219 – but, more importantly, it is worth recalling

that Mandelson was the “architect of Mr Blair’s election victories.”220

The most prominent member of Blair’s extended network involved in aiding

Kazakhstan’s image, however, appears to be Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. (Wales married

Blair’s former diary secretary, Kate Garvey, with Blair and his wife, Cherie – who later helped

Wales cut the cake to celebrate Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary – attending. 221 Wales has also

advised on Internet strategy for Blair’s Faith Foundation.222) In 2011, Wales awarded Rauan

Kenzhekhanuly as the inaugural Wikipedian of the Year for his work on the Kazakh-language

216
Lewis, “Oil rich dictator of Kazakhstan recruits Tony Blair to help win Nobel peace prize.”
217
Ibid.
218
“Q&A with Richard Evans, Chairman of Samruk,” Euromoney. Retrieved from
http://www.euromoney.com/Article/1844163/Q-A-with-Richard-Evans-Chairman-of-Samruk-Our-mandate-is-to-
make-two-and-two-add-up-to-more-than-four.html (accessed on 1 Dec. 2013).
219
Leigh, David and Bates, Stephen. “Prince Andrew and the Kazakh billionaire,” The Guardian, 29 Nov. 2010.
Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/nov/29/prince-andrew-kazakh-billionaire (accessed 1 Dec.
2013).
220
Lewis, “Oil rich dictator of Kazakhstan recruits Tony Blair to help win Nobel peace prize.”
221
Cowan, Matt. “Fail study: Jimmy Wales and Nupedia,” Wired, 1 April 2011. Retrieved from
http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/05/features/fail-study-jimmy-wales/viewgallery/266408 (accessed
18 April 2015).
222
“Reflection from our 2011 Faiths Act Fellow Lorne,” Tony Blair Faith Foundation, 11 Aug. 2011. Retrieved
from http://www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/news/2011/08/11 (accessed 18 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 61

platform WikiBilim.223 However, multiple users noted WikiBilim’s distinct lack of criticism

among multiple topics – the article on Nazarbayev contained no notable critiques of his decades-

long rule, while Zhanaozen’s entry contains nothing on the massacre – while simultaneously

receiving government funding.224 At the time, Wales said he didn’t believe Kenzhekhanuly’s

NGO was “politicized.” However, after Kenzhekhanuly returned to an official position in the

government, Wales said that he regretted giving the award to Kenzhekhanuly. 225

In his work with Kazakhstan – in utilizing his position and network as former prime

minister; in his attempts at muddying financial clarity – Blair has refined the concept of free

agent diplomacy. However, while Blair’s work with Kazakhstan stands as what appears to be his

most lucrative post-premier venture, his concurrent work with Azerbaijani interests points to the

innovative tendencies linking these two governments, and the role free agent diplomacy plays

within such innovation. Blair’s work in pushing Azerbaijani interests is neither as lucrative nor

as lengthy as his work with Astana, but both work in concert with one another. In 2014, the

consortium heading construction of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline – set to help transit Azerbaijani

gas to a European market – hired Blair. As with Kazakhstan, Blair’s role and mission remains

largely unclear; it appears he was hired to assuage remaining concerns about the pipeline

construction.226 As it is, the pipeline project, set under the broader rubric of the Southern Gas

Corridor, remains a key party of Azerbaijan’s foremost international energy and economic

project. Blair has yet to comment publicly on his work with the consortium, nor has he specified

223
Rauan Kenzhekhanuly, LinkedIn. Retrieved from http://www.linkedin.com/pub/rauan-
kenzhekhanuly/24/8b7/b16 (accessed 18 April 2015).
224
Smith, Myles. “Kazakhstan Wikipedia Controversy Raises Questions About the Crowd,” Eurasianet, 27 Dec.
2012. Retrieved from http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66343 (accessed 8 April 2015).
225
Michel, Casey. “Wikipedia Founder Distances Himself from Kazakhstan PR Machine,” Eurasianet, 2 April
2015. Retrieved from http://www.eurasianet.org/node/72831 (accessed 8 April 2015).
226
Chazan, Guy, “Tony Blair to advise on Azerbaijan gas project,” Financial Times, 17 July 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/28b699ae-0d9f-11e4-815f-00144feabdc0.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 62

funding received. Nor, additionally, has he clarified whether he donated funds received for a

2009 speech in Baku, in which he received nearly $150,000.227 (In 2009 David Plouffe, the

former senior advisor to US President Barack Obama, also received $50,000 for speaking in

Baku – but he later donated the sum following pressure from human rights groups.228) As with

Kazakhstan, Blair has avoided criticizing Azerbaijan, but has, rather, opted to lend his

reputational weight to an authoritarian nation in order to ameliorate the reputation of these

respective governments within the West, as well as augment the economic reach of these

nations.229

Blair has employed such methods elsewhere, but is within these two former Soviet

nations, and within Kazakhstan most especially, that Blair has helped perfect this notion of free

agent diplomacy. He has dismissed or ignored criticism from the human rights community; he

has obfuscated corporate details, such that his compensation remains unclear; he has further

failed to stake the objective of his work; and he has served at the behest of authoritarian regimes,

and concomitant bodies, who have only grown more repressive during his tenure. Kazakhstan

and Azerbaijan, and related organizations alongside, are certainly not the first authoritarian

regimes to employ former Western statesmen – see former German Chancellor Gerhard

Schröder’s recent work in Russia, for instance. But Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have reaped the

putative benefits of Blair’s innovation within free agent diplomacy, and have aided Blair in

formulating the innovation to further their own reputational and economic ends. They have

227
“Azerbaijan: Tony Blair’s Baku Appearance Stirs Controversy,” Eurasianet, 7 Dec. 2009. Retrieved from
http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/news/articles/eav120809c.shtml (accessed 8 April 2015).
228
Simpson, Glenn. “Plouffe to Donate Speaking Fee to Pro-Democracy Groups,” Wall Street Journal, 10 Feb.
2009. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123421448248665029 (accessed 8 April 2015).
229
Mendick, Robert and Meo, Nick. “Tony Blair told by Azerbaijan victims: ‘Give your £90,000 speaker's fee to
charity’,” The Telegraph, 13 Dec. 2009. Retrieved from
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/azerbaijan/6795896/Tony-Blair-told-by-Azerbaijan-
victims-Give-your-90000-speakers-fee-to-charity.html (ccessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 63

allowed the expansion and refinement of such a role, with little indication that such relationship

– or that such employment of free agent diplomacy – will cease anytime soon.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 64

Crooked Academics,
Tainted Think Tanks
“SOME THINK TANKS IN WASHINGTON ARE
OPENLY CONVEYING THAT THEY CAN SERVICE
ONLY THOSE FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS
THAT PROVIDE FUNDING.”
- IN TERN AL REP ORT C OMM I SSI ONE D
BY T HE N OR WEGI AN F OR EIGN MINISTR Y
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 65

As detailed above, Azerbaijan’s and Kazakhstan’s most recent innovative tendencies

within media rest upon their lobbyists’ failures to disclose ties to the respective governments.

Likewise, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have allowed Tony Blair to refine his concept of free

agent diplomacy, in which he lends his reputational reach to furthering the interests of Baku and

Astana.230 However, it is within the sphere of academia and think tanks that we see the twinning

of such trends – the lack of disclosure, and the co-opting of prior reputation – in attempting to

augment Kazakhstan’s and most especially Azerbaijan’s repute and economic reach within

English-speaking audiences. Where the aforementioned lobbyists don’t necessarily rest upon

their reputations in their media write-ups, and where Blair doesn’t necessarily fail to disclose his

ties to either Kazakhstani or Azerbaijani interests, it is within academia that we have recently

seen a largely concurrent pairing of the two. Combining the lack of disclosure with the individual

and organizational reputations within certain Washington-based academics and think tanks,

Azerbaijan – and Kazakhstan, to a lesser extent – has stood at the forefront of a disconcerting

trend, calling into question the integrity and forthrightness of nominally independent actors, with

potential ramifications only just now coming to the fore. And as we’ve seen recently, such trend

has extended into the broader world of nominally independent think tanks, threatening to

undercut reputation and independence alike. Moreover, Azerbaijan appears to be one of the

foremost actors within an additional trend therein, which will be discussed at the end of this

section: the pairing of academics with distinct interests in furthering Baku’s causes to those think

tanks potentially sharing and pushing parallel interests.

230
Internal report quote taken from: Confessore, Nicholas; Lipton, Eric; and Williams, Brooke. “Foreign Powers
Buy Influence at Think Tanks,” The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2014. Document in available at
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1284105-1-aaa-general-doc-viewer_new.html#document/p5/a176108
(accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 66

To be sure, the marriage of post-Soviet interests and nominally independent academics

has existed as a phenomena for a relatively extended period. To pick but one example, S.

Frederick Starr, the founding chairman of Johns Hopkins’ Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and

Silk Road Studies Program, has seen his sympathetic analyses to regional governments linked to

funding from interests therein.231 But such abject lack of disclosure as we’ve seen recently post-

dates such accusations. On an individual level, perhaps no academic better encapsulates such

trend than Brenda Shaffer, a University of Haifa political science professor and visiting

researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies.

According to her publicly available biographies, Shaffer is a “specialist on energy and foreign

policy, energy security policies, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus, Caspian energy and Eastern

Mediterranean energy issues,”232 and had prior served as Research Director of the Caspian

Studies Program at Harvard University.233 Shaffer further served as president of the Foreign

Policy Section of the American Political Science Association as well as visiting professor at the

Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy,234 and was named in 2015 a Nonresident Senior Fellow with

the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center.235 Shaffer’s listed biographies – no public CV

seems to exist – also note that she has worked in governmental capacities, having served “as an

advisor to the Government of Israel’s Zemach Committee for natural gas policy and Israel’s

Ministry of Energy and Water.”236 As her myriad publications, testimonials before Congress, and

231
Silverstein, Ken. “The Professor of Repression,” Harper’s, 24 May 2006. Retrieved from
http://web.archive.org/web/20060612235816/http://www.harpers.org/sb-professor-repression-3284828.html
(accessed 8 April 2015).
232
Brenda Shaffer University of Haifa Biography Website. Retrieved from http://lecturer.haifa.ac.il/showen/1232
(accessed 8 April 2015).
233
Brenda Shaffer Georgetown University Biography Website. Retrieved from
http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/bss51/?action=viewgeneral&PageTemplateID=360 (accessed 8 April 2015).
234
Georgia Tech “Energy as a Tool of Foreign Policy” Event Website. Retrieved from
http://www.gatech.edu/hg/item/49707 (accessed 8 April 2015).
235
Brenda Shaffer Atlantic Council Biography Website. Retrieved from
http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/about/experts/list/brenda-shaffer (accessed 8 April 2015).
236
Shaffer Georgetown Biography.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 67

numerous media appearances attest, Shaffer is widely considered one of the foremost experts on

the field of European, Caspian, and Mediterranean energy security.

Shaffer, however, maintains an additional role, one that points to the innovative tactic of

twinning a lack of disclosure to the reputational credentials of an academic in order to push

Azerbaijani interests. In 2014, Shaffer became one of the few academics for whom both The New

York Times and The Washington Post were forced to issue clarifications or corrections due to the

author’s lack of disclosure. According to The New York Times, Shaffer discussed Azerbaijani

affairs without revealing her work as an “adviser to Azerbaijan’s state-run oil company,” thus

breaking a contractual obligation to “disclose conflicts of interest, actual or potential.”237 The

Washington Post quickly followed, adding a clarification to Shaffer’s op-ed on European energy

that her piece “should have noted that the author has consulted for … Azerbaijan’s state-run oil

company, SOCAR.”238 Unfortunately, such addenda were not written at the behest of Shaffer,

but came about only after Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty exposed Shaffer’s link to SOCAR in

September 2014.239 Within its report, RFE/RL revealed that Shaffer has served as an “Advisor to

the President of SOCAR for Strategic Affairs” since at least March 2013, when she presented

herself in such capacity at an energy workshop in Budapest.240 According to the Harvard

Crimson, Shaffer has continued to serve in such capacity with SOCAR.241

237
Shaffer, Brenda. “Russia’s next Land Grab,” The New York Times, 9 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/opinion/russias-next-land-grab.html?_r=1#addendums (accessed 8 April
2015).
238
Shaffer, Brenda. “Stopping Russia from cornering Europe’s energy market,” The Washington Post, 3 Nov. 2014.
Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stopping-russia-from-cornering-europes-energy-
market/2014/06/15/5cf1ea02-e82e-11e3-afc6-a1dd9407abcf_story.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
239
Coalson, Robert. “Azerbaijan’s Opinion-Shaping Campaign Reaches ‘The New York Times’,” Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty, 18 Nov. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.rferl.org/content/azerbaijan-lobbying-western-
media-brenda-shaffer/26592287.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
240
Draft Program, “Workshop on Contractual Issues Related to Energy Trade,” 18 March 2013. Retrieved from
http://www.encharter.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Conferences/2013_March_20/Budapest_workshop_agenda.pdf
241
Zhuang, Victoria. “Panelists Weigh Implications of Cyprus Natural Gas Reserves,” The Harvard Crimson, 21
Oct. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2014/10/21/cyprus-natural-gas-impact/ (accessed 8
April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 68

However, to date, there appears no public record of Shaffer attempting to disclose this

fact outright – neither in published op-eds, nor in multiple Congressional testimonials, nor in any

of her appearances as a putatively disinterested energy analyst. According to her Georgetown

biography, Shaffer has published 21 articles and op-eds since 2013, three of which discuss

Azerbaijan directly in the headline, and almost all of which discuss energy and regional

hydrocarbon security.242 In none of the publicly available articles, however, does Shaffer

disclose her affiliation with SOCAR. For instance, in a 2014 policy brief with the German

Marshall Fund on energy security in the greater Middle East, Shaffer is identified only as a

“specialist on energy and foreign policy, energy security polices, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus,

Caspian energy, and Eastern Mediterranean energy issues.” 243 In a 2015 analysis discussing

Caspian energy opportunities with The Washington Institute, Shaffer is identified only as “a

specialist on international energy issues.”244 According to one analysis, none of Shaffer’s 25 op-

eds prior to her New York Times op-ed noted her role with SOCAR.245 Likewise, no records exist

within FARA of Shaffer registering her relationship with SOCAR. A search of the Sunlight

Foundation’s Influence Exporter revealed three instances of Shaffer’s name within FARA

records, all as an individual contacted by DCI Group, LLC, a public relations organization

registered on behalf of the Embassy of Azerbaijan.246 Two of the filings note that DCI Group

242
Brenda Shaffer Georgetown University “Publications” Website. Retrieved from
http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/bss51/?action=viewpublications&PageTemplateID=360 (accessed 8 April
2015).
243
Shaffer, Brenda. “Can New Energy Supplies Bring Peace?” German Marshall Fund, 11 March 2014. Retrieved
from http://www.gmfus.org/publications/can-new-energy-supplies-bring-peace (accessed 8 April 2015).
244
Shaffer, Brenda. “A Nuclear Deal with Iran: The Impact on Oil and Natural Gas Trends,” The Washington
Institute, 27 Jan. 2015. Retrieved from http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/a-nuclear-deal-
with-iran-the-impact-on-oil-and-natural-gas-trends (accessed 8 April 2015).
245
Bruckner, Till. “U.S. Foreign Policy Manipulation via Media Is Systemic, Warns Expert,” Huffington Post, 22
Nov. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/till-bruckner/us-foreign-policy-
manipul_b_5842272.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
246
Brenda Shaffer, Sunlight Foundation Influence Exporter. Retrieved from
http://foreign.influenceexplorer.com/contact-table?recipient_id=165890 (accessed 24 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 69

met with Shaffer on 5 Dec. 2012 – three months before the first public confirmation of Shaffer’s

role with SOCAR – to “introduce her to media.” Why DCI Group deemed it necessary to

“introduce [Shaffer] to media” remains unclear.

As aforementioned, there is nothing legally impermissible with failing to disclose links to

foreign governments or foreign entities within op-eds, analyses, or interviews. However, as

detailed above, legal discrepancies exist between disclosure for op-eds and for Congressional

testimony – as well as FARA records. On two separate instances in 2014, Shaffer testified before

Congress.247 In June, she spoke before the US Helsinki Commission, where, according to

RFE/RL, “she was identified only by her Georgetown affiliation.” 248 Early on in her testimony,

Shaffer echoed many of the same talking points that Katz, Moss, and other Azerbaijani lobbyists

have delineated:

Azerbaijan is a Muslim-majority country that has not established any special status for
Islam, observes complete separation of religion and state, and protects equal rights for
citizens regardless of religious or ethnic origin. The Republic of Azerbaijan not only
allows religious freedom, but observes freedom from religious coercion. During its short
period of independence prior to being conquered by the USSR, Azerbaijan in 1918 was
the first Muslim-majority state to grant women suffrage, two years before the United
States and long before most of Europe.249

Within her testimony, Shaffer also expends considerable effort discussing the benefits of the

Azerbaijan-led Southern Gas Corridor:

At the end of 2013, Azerbaijan and a number of international investors announced their
final investment decision on the Southern Gas Corridor, which is designed to bring

247
Shaffer also spoke before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Dec. 2012 – discussing “Iranian Influence
in the South Caucasus” – a few months before public record reveals she began her tenure with SOCAR. Shaffer
spoke alongside none other than Dan Burton. Brenda Shaffer testimony before House Committee on Foreign
Affairs. Testimony available at http://archives.republicans.foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearings/view/?1481 (accessed 8
April 2015).
248
Coalson, “Azerbaijan's Opinion-Shaping Campaign Reaches 'The New York Times'.”
249
Brenda Shaffer testimony before US Helsinki Commission, 11 June 2014. Testimony available at
http://csce.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=ContentRecords.ViewWitness&ContentRecord_id=1570&ContentType=D&
ContentRecordType=D&ParentType=H&CFID=24776527&CFTOKEN=1740e9c894c03e2-B5E2BED5-9D95-
6297-D6E4E3269CF29317 (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 70

Azerbaijan’s natural gas volumes into Europe. This ambitious project will provide the
first new volumes of natural gas into Europe in decades and allow a number of states
along the route to improve the security of their energy supply and lower their dependence
on Russia. This $45 billion project that crosses seven countries and six regulatory
jurisdictions is being built in such a way that it can easily be expanded, and can thus
transit additional volumes of gas from new sources in the future. At the same time,
adjoining pipelines can be built to reach additional markets that need to improve their
security of supply, such as the Balkans. The Southern Corridor will be the catalyst for
natural gas interconnectors in Southern Europe. For a number of years, the European
Union has spoken about the importance of interconnectors, and this project has
encouraged the development of these connecting pipelines between different European
countries.250

One month later, Shaffer spoke in front of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,

Subcommittee on European Affairs.251 Once more, Shaffer identified herself as an academic

alone; in a video of the testimony, Shaffer is introduced only as an academic and author of

“numerous books.”252 And as before, Shaffer spends a notable amount of time discussing the

benefits of the Southern Gas Corridor:

[The Southern Gas Corridor] will bring significant investment and create tens of
thousands of jobs in southern Europe. The Southern Gas Corridor is an energy
superhighway that can facilitate transport of increased volumes of gas from different
sources, such as additional fields in Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Iraq, and potential
production in the eastern Mediterranean. Spurs can be built from the Southern Corridor to
reach additional markets in Europe, such as the Balkans. The project is being built with
double the capacity that is needed for its current supply contracts and can be scaled up to
a capacity of 60 BCM (2.2 tcf) annually in order to serve as a conduit for additional
supplies into Europe. The Southern Gas Corridor will also serve as a catalyst for new
interconnectors in Southern Europe and thus should help improve the supply situation in
this region.

Shaffer illustrates the importance of Azerbaijan’s role within the Southern Gas Corridor via a

highlighted map included within her testimony. Conveniently, the SOCAR-led Trans-Anatolian

250
Ibid.
251
Brenda Shaffer testimony before US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on European
Affairs, 8 July 2014. Testimony available at http://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Shaffer_Testimony1.pdf.
252
Video of Brenda Shaffer testimony before US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on
European Affairs, 8 July 2014. Video available at http://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/renewed-focus-on-
european-energy-07-08-14p (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 71

Pipeline also stands as one of the Southern Gas Corridor’s primary projects.253 As

aforementioned, no public record appears to exist of Shaffer’s disclosure of her relationship with

SOCAR; neither her transcripts nor her “Truth in Testimony” disclosure form, dated to

December 2012, share such information.254 Likewise, as per FARA regulation, “Any agent

testifying before a committee of Congress must furnish the committee with a copy of his [or her]

most recent registration statement.”255 However, as no record of Shaffer’s relationship with

SOCAR – which remains an “entity … having its principal place of business in a foreign

country”256 – appears to exist within FARA records, it remains unlikely such documentation was

presented to Congress.

Despite coverage in the media, Shaffer has continued to make public appearances in her

capacity as an academic, rather than alerting her audience to her role as adviser with SOCAR.

Moreover, Shaffer has opted to carry this role – and this lack of disclosure – within scholarly

spheres. She spoke alongside SOCAR’s Deputy Vice President Vitaliy Baylarbayov at Harvard’s

Kennedy School of Government in March 2014, without clearly disclosing her relationship.257

That fall, she spoke at Columbia University alongside Baylarbayov once more on the Southern

Gas Corridor, identifying herself as a “moderator” rather than a SOCAR adviser. When asked

253
“Azerbaijan and the Southern Gas Corridor to Europe,” Conference Report, The Jamestown Foundation, 13 Sept.
2013. Retrieved from
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CD0QFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2
Fwww.jamestown.org%2Fuploads%2Fmedia%2FConference_Report_-
_Azerbaijan_and_the_Southern_Gas_Corridor_-
_FINAL_web_version.pdf&ei=7iAvVdH_HeySsQTA_oCADg&usg=AFQjCNHIHgzMlrU6-
PcrPFkZcVvelmsGTg&sig2=ECWn-gz0gg5Z-zc3gfyz5g&bvm=bv.91071109,d.cWc (accessed 8 April 2015).
254
Brenda Shaffer “Truth in Testimony” Document, available at
http://archives.republicans.foreignaffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA14-TTF-ShafferB-20121205.pdf.
255
“FARA Frequently Asked Questions.”
256
Ibid.
257
“SOCAR Deputy Vice President gives lecture at John F. Kennedy School of Government,” Newz.Az, 20 March
2014. http://news.az/mobile/articles/87014 (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 72

whether or not Congress was aware of her relationship with SOCAR when she testified, Shaffer

instead responded with commentary about cholesterol and marital status:

[H]aving worked on energy as a researcher and every side of the table for governments,
for companies, I’m very proud of my role, and I don’t think that just like, for instance, a
professor of law probably couldn’t teach law well if he’s never been to the court, or a
professor of MBA – if he hadn’t been involved in or engaged in business probably
couldn’t teach, you know, how does a negotiation work, how do you do a contract. I think
my students benefit from the fact that I have been on every side of the table. On the other
hand I think that, you know, part of the American way is a right to privacy. Like, if I
asked you, OK – ‘What’s your wife’s name? What school do you go to? Who funds your
scholarship right now? Where do you work? How do you pay your meals? … What’s
your cholesterol count?’ – there’s nothing to be ashamed of in any of those answers. But
the idea that you come in and try to you know, well, pick apart everything in my
background, or whatever, why don’t you, instead of shooting the messenger, why don’t
you look at my message?258

It appears Shaffer defended her position not to disclose her role with SOCAR due to a “right to

privacy.” While such right certainly exists, claiming such right when opining on a project as a

nominally neutral actor – despite carrying very obvious interests in the success of such project –

does not fall under the rubric of “privacy,” but as a conflict of interest demanding disclosure in

both academic and professional capacities. This exchange at Columbia appears to be the closest

Shaffer has yet come to publicly acknowledging her role with SOCAR – but even then, she

failed to confirm such role.

Shaffer, again, is not the first academic to have worked in the employ of a foreign entity.

But the innovative tactic doesn’t lie within the simple funding – and attendant apologia – for

Azerbaijan. Indeed, in 2006, Harper’s Silverstein wrote that Shaffer was “eager to back regimes

in the [Caspian] region,” most especially Azerbaijan, after the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of

Commerce helped donate $1 million to launch Harvard’s Caspian Studies Program.259 Rather,

258
Michel, “Brenda Shaffer’s Conflicts of Interest.” Shaffer’s quote came during an on-the-record discussion at
Columbia University on 23 Oct. 2014.
259
Silverstein, “Academics for Hire.”
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 73

the innovative tactic rests within the twinning of foreign entities employing the reputation of an

academic – especially one as credentialed as Shaffer – with the concomitant lack of disclosure.

However, such pairing, as we’ve seen over the past few years, does not necessarily need to lie

within a sole academic, but can expand organizationally. And as we’ve seen recently, it can exist

within the broader world of well-regarded, and heretofore nominally independent, think tanks.

Foreign principals, through lobbyists, have attempted to groom relations with think tanks

since at least the mid-1970s, when Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly maintained contacts with

think tanks on behalf of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. Ketchum even “connect[ed] with

American think tanks” on Russia’s behalf.260 Lobbyists remain within their legal rights to

arrange meetings, speaking engagements, and even sponsorship of scholarly reports – so long as

such engagement is likewise reported within FARA documentation. However, it remains

contingent upon the think tank to disclose such funding or relationship for the sake of

transparency, much in the same manner as journalistic outlets. And within that necessity of

disclosure, of transparency, we can unearth the innovative tactics brought to bear by involvement

of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In late 2014, The New York Times revealed a lengthy

investigation into the recent phenomenon of foreign governments injecting funding into

Washington-based think tanks. The study revealed that more than two dozen of these think tanks

had received nearly $100 million from at least 64 “governments, state-controlled entities or

government officials” over the past few years, though the total funding “is certainly more.”261

(Such funding comes in an atmosphere of decreasing space for individual think tanks; according

to one study, the number of Washington-based think tanks expanded from 100 to 306 from 1970

260
O’Brien, “Putin’s Washington.”
261
Confessore; Lipton; and Williams. “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks,” The New York Times, 6
Sept. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/us/politics/foreign-powers-buy-influence-at-think-
tanks.html?_r=0 (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 74

to 1996.262) According to the Times, “The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements

they have reached with foreign governments. And they have not registered with the United States

government as representatives of the donor countries, an omission that appears, in some cases, to

be a violation of federal law[.]” Much of the fallout from the investigation focused on Brookings

Institution, to which Qatar recently pledged a $14.8 million donation. At least one visiting fellow

at the Brookings Doha Center revealed he “had been told during his job interview that he could

not take positions critical of the Qatari government in papers.” Brookings denied any and all

censorship of its scholars,263 but in September Rep. Frank Wolf wrote an open letter noting that

think tanks “are considered to be independent sources of information and their policy

recommendations are expected to in the national interest, rather than their special interest. … I

hope you will end this practice of accepting money from Qatar and other foreign

governments.”264 It remains unclear whether any of these tanks cited have ceased accepting

funds from foreign governments or agents therein. As it is, the rationale behind governments’

willingness to fund think tanks is relatively straightforward: Such funding appears to enjoy far

less stringent oversight than directly funding lobbyists. An internal report commissioned by the

Norwegian Foreign Ministry summed the logic as such:

In Washington, it is difficult for a small country to gain access to powerful politicians,


bureaucrats and experts. Funding powerful think tanks is one way to gain such access,
and some think tanks in Washington are openly conveying that they can service only
those foreign governments that provide funding.265

262
Drutman, Lee and Teles, Steven. “Why Congress Relies on Lobbyists Instead of Thinking for Itself,” The
Atlantic, 10 March 2015. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/when-congress-cant-
think-for-itself-it-turns-to-lobbyists/387295/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
263
“Brookings Statement on New York Times Article Examining Foreign Government Funding of U.S. Think
Tanks,” Brookings Institute, 6 Sept. 2014. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/about/media-relations/news-
releases/2014/0906-foreign-government-funding-us-think-tanks (accessed 8 April 2015).
264
Frank Wolf letter to Brookings Institute, 9 Sept. 2014. Letter available at
https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1301186/rep-frank-wolfs-letter-to-strobe-talbott-at.pdf.
265
Confessore; Lipton; and Williams. “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.” Document available at
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1284105-1-aaa-general-doc-viewer_new.html#document/p5/a176108
(accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 75

Think tanks, as Wolf notes in his letter, are “supposed to be different” from lobbyists.266 Their

breadth of impact relies on their reputation, and their reputation relies upon their independence.

It is within this formulation that foreign governments have injected their funding, hoping to

subvert and utilize think tanks’ independence while failing to disclose such ties.

In addition to Brookings, The New York Times singles out Atlantic Council as one of the

think tanks at the fore of such innovation. According to the Times, foreign funding makes up “as

much as 20 percent of [Atlantic Council’s] budget, because of special, one-time gifts from

certain foreign nations in recent years.”267 One researcher focusing on foreign funding for think

tanks was less diplomatic in his observation: “Of all entities involved, of all the big think tanks,

the one that seems to be the most engaged, the one run most like a bordello, is Atlantic Council.

Atlantic Council just doesn’t seem to care, and they seem to operate by taking huge sums from

foreign sovereigns, and then preparing programs for foreign sovereigns. … Atlantic Council is

an absolute floozy, and it’s completely ridiculous that it doesn’t even seem to care.”268 Atlantic

Council insists that such funding does not degrade or impugn their research and reputation.

“Most of the governments that come to us, they understand we are not lobbyists,” Atlantic

Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe said. “We are a different entity, and they work

with us for totally different purposes.” Kempe did not specify what these purposes were, but The

New York Times detailed how foreign funding resulted in “limits to [the] independence” of the

founding director of Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. In total, Atlantic

Council has accepted funding from at least 25 different foreign governments since 2008, but has

266
Frank Wolf letter to Brookings Institute.
267
Confessore; Lipton; and Williams. “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.” Document available at
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1284105-1-aaa-general-doc-viewer_new.html#document/p5/a176108
(accessed 8 April 2015).
268
Interview with author, 28 April 2015.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 76

not disclosed the total amount.269 Two of these foreign governments, according to the Times, are

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.270

Astana has prior experience helping fund think tanks in Washington, including engaging

with lobbyists to help fund Starr’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in 2008 to produce three

reports on Kazakhstan. At the time, the institute failed to disclose the funding from Kazakhstan,

a reality that compounded the fact that all three reports painted Astana in distinctly flattering

lights – despite the fact that Starr claimed his team maintained complete editorial freedom.271

Kazakhstan has also helped fund at least one task force run by American think tanks recently.

Atlantic Council, however, appears to be the lone Washington-based think tank to whom

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have directly donated funding over the past few years.272 While

Kazakhstan donated directly through governmental auspices, Azerbaijan donated governmental

funding through SOCAR. 273 Indeed, the Times singled out Azerbaijan’s usage of helping fund

Atlantic Council as a prime example of such innovation.274 In 2012, according to FARA records,

Azerbaijan engaged the lobbying firm DCI Group to “build relationships with think tanks on

behalf of Azerbaijan.” The agreement further notes that “US think tanks are vital contributors to

269
Ibid.
270
Confessore; Lipton; and Williams. “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.” Infographic available at
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/09/07/us/politics/foreign-government-contributions-to-nine-think-
tanks.html?_r=0 (accessed 8 April 2015).
271
Such funding presents one of the instances in which FARA documentation contributed to transparency, as such
funding was uncovered through the FARA filings of lobbyist APCO Worldwide. Schwartz, Emma. “Kazakhstan
Pays for Academic Reports,” ABC News, 29 Sept. 2015. Retrieved from
http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=5908348 (accessed 25 April 2015). One of these reports, as it is, was written
by John C. K. Daly – the same individual affiliated with flattering Kazakhstan in Silk Road Reporters.
272
Kazakhstan paid $290,000 prior to its 2010 OSCE Chairmanship for the creation of a task force – managed by
both the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Institute for New Democracies – that would create reports
on Astana’s chairmanship. The reports later received noted criticism for downplaying certain context that would
have undermined the progress in Kazakhstan staked within the reports. Kucera, Joshua. “Kazakhstan: Report
Focuses Attention on Astana's OSCE Priorities,” Eurasianet, 9 Dec. 2009. Retrieved from
http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav121009a.shtml (accessed 25 April 2015).
273
Confessore; Lipton; and Williams. “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.” Document available at
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/09/07/us/07thinktank-docs4.html?_r=1 (accessed 8 April 2015).
274
Ibid.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 77

the formulation of US policy and serve as validators of official policy positions,” and DCI Group

will in turn “[d]evelop a core group of think tanks for outreach.” (The documents do not specify

what “[d]evelop” will explicitly entail.) Following both the SOCAR donation and the hiring of

DCI Group, Atlantic Council, according to the Times, hosted at least one event that “focused on

the exact themes that the Azerbaijani lobbyists had been hired to promote” – in this case, a July

2014 panel discussing Azerbaijan’s “concerted efforts in recent years to demonstrate its value as

a NATO partner country,” as well as the West’s “strategic asset” of the Southern Gas Corridor.

When contacted by the Times regarding SOCAR’s involvement with Atlantic Council, Kempe

responded, “None of [SOCAR’s] funding has been applied to DC programming or activities.

They are not an active, current funder of any of our activities, so no reason to mention them at

our recent event on Azerbaijan's partnership-for-peace NATO activities.”275 According to

Kempe, since SOCAR’s funding had not been directed toward Washington, no disclosure stood

warranted.

This lack of direct funding for “DC programming or activities” may well be the case, but,

as the Times discusses, the event directly echoed Azerbaijan’s public relations goals. Moreover,

during the July 2014 event, Atlantic Council hosted a SOCAR adviser on the panel without

disclosing her role with the energy company: Shaffer, who was identified only by her

Georgetown affiliation. That is to say, SOCAR helped fund a nominally independent think tank

that then hosted an event that echoed SOCAR’s pitch on Southern Gas Corridor, during which

the think tank presented one of SOCAR’s advisers as a nominally independent academic. And

the relationship between Atlantic Council and Shaffer does not stop there. As aforementioned,

Atlantic Council hired Shaffer in early 2015 as a Nonresident Senior Fellow, without disclosing

275
Ibid.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 78

in her biography that she serves as an adviser to SOCAR. On 21 April, Atlantic Council hosted

an event entitled, “Global Ramifications of the European Energy Union,” with Shaffer –

identified by only her Atlantic Council and Georgetown affiliations – speaking.276 Technically,

Azerbaijan will likely not be a member of any forthcoming European Energy Union. But

SOCAR has noted that the company will play a “vital role” in the creation of the European

Energy Union,277 and European ministers have already called on Azerbaijan to participate in the

formation of such union.278 Nonetheless, it doesn’t appear that Atlantic Council believes such

relationship between SOCAR, Azerbaijan, and the European Energy Union warrants the

disclosure of Shaffer’s role as an employee of SOCAR. According to an Atlantic Council

spokesperson, Shaffer disclosed her relationship with SOCAR to Atlantic Council, and “will not

work on Azerbaijan-related issues as part of her fellowship.” When asked why the European

Energy Union discussion was not considered “Azerbaijan-related,” the spokesman noted that

should “anything related to Azerbaijan arise, [Shaffer] will disclose her relationship with

SOCAR. Her affiliation with SOCAR is ongoing.”279 That is to say, not only was Atlantic

Council knowingly failing to disclose Shaffer’s role with SOCAR, but they confirmed that

Shaffer’s “affiliation” with the Azerbaijani company is “ongoing.” Shaffer did not return

multiple requests for comment.

This consilience – this marriage of Azerbaijan’s simultaneous co-opting of both

academics and think tanks, with lack(s) of disclosure apparent – presents the latest development

276
Atlantic Council “Global Ramifications of the European Energy Union” Event Website. Retrieved from
http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/events/upcoming-events/detail/global-ramifications-of-the-european-energy-union
(accessed 8 April 2015).
277
SOCAR press release. “EU Releases Introductory Video on European Energy Union,” 14 Feb. 2015. Retrieved
from http://socarusa.com/eu-releases-introductory-video-on-european-energy-union/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
278
Rafigoglu, Agshin. “Latvian Minister: ‘Azerbaijan should participate in creation of European Energy Union’,”
APA, 6 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from http://en.apa.az/xeber_latvian_minister_____azerbaijan_should_par_222738.html
(accessed 8 April 2015).
279
Email correspondence with author, 13 April 2015.
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 79

within Azerbaijan’s innovative techniques in academia and scholarship. (While Kazakhstan has

donated directly to Atlantic Council, the efficacy and result of this specific move – whether in

presentations or hiring non-disclosed agents – remains unclear.) Both Shaffer and Atlantic

Council, now working in concert with one another, seemingly mutually reinforce one another’s

reputational reach.280 Azerbaijan, in turn, benefits that much more from the strengthening of the

standing of these two clients. In turn, with both failing to disclose – with Shaffer failing to

disclose her role with SOCAR, and with the Atlantic Council failing to disclose one of its senior

fellows’ ties to Azerbaijan – both expand a prior pattern of non-disclosure. In this pairing of

Shaffer and Atlantic Council, we can witness the foremost front of this pattern of innovative

tactic within Azerbaijani lobbying and public relations efforts within the United States. Such

relationship features the innovations of non-disclosure in media efforts, alongside the co-opting

of heretofore respected individuals (and organizations) for the furtherance of public relations

goals. The new pairing of Shaffer and Atlantic Council features the best – or worst – aspects of

Azerbaijan’s innovations, to the detriment of any audience exposed to their work.

280
So, too, do instances in which Shaffer, Katz, and Burton all appear with one another, as they did at 2014’s US-
Azerbaijan Convention – all without, according to program material, disclosing their relationships with Azerbaijan.
For more, see: “U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention: Part II,” Turkic American Convention, 30 April 2014. Retrieved from
http://turkicamericanconvention.org/u-s-azerbaijan-convention-part-ii/ (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 80

Innovation as
Success?
“TONY BLAIR ABSOLUTELY SHOULD BE
SLAMMED FOR TAKING MONEY FROM
KAZAKHSTAN. I CONDEMN IT WITHOUT
RESERVATION.”
- J IMMY W ALE S
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 81

The purposes of these aforementioned innovations – in helping Blair refine his policies of

free agent diplomacy; in foregoing disclosure within op-eds, within academic ventures, within

Congressional testimony – is not, of course, innovation for innovation’s sake.281 Rather, these are

methods for the furtherance of certain goals, found within the realms of reputational and

economic reach. These are innovations for the sake of buffing the images of Kazakhstan and

Azerbaijan among English-language audiences, as well as within international bodies. As it

pertains to the latter, the ability to evaluate success stands a bit more accessible. That is, we can

say that, for instance, Kazakhstan’s lobbying and image-management efforts aided in its landing

the 2010 OSCE Chairmanship and 2017 World Expo. Likewise, Baku managed to land the

inaugural European Olympic Games, set to begin June 2015. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan remains

one of two finalists for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as well as

one of two finalists to land the 2022 Winter Olympic Games – a move that, if successful, may

well be regarded as the most distinct accomplishment of Kazakhstan’s lobbying to date.

But the links between landing such positions and the aforementioned innovations within

lobbying efforts remains tenuous. Evidence linking lack(s) of disclosure, or Tony Blair’s

concomitant network and networking skills within his free agent diplomacy, to landing the

World Expo or the European Olympic Games stands far from convincing. Likewise, absent a

wider polling of English-language audiences as to their views on Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, it

remains unlikely we can determine whether such efforts at swaying a broader body politic stands

effective – although it is worth noting that such broad populace does not remain the primary

target audience for such innovation. As such, we should examine a few distinct policies that we

281
Wales quote taken from: Michel, “Wikipedia Founder Distances Himself from Kazakhstan PR Machine.”
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 82

can tie to specific innovations detailed above, and seek to answer the question: Is such

innovation worth the effort?

If we are to examine Azerbaijan’s and Kazakhstan’s usage of non-disclosure within

media to further their aims, we cannot look at publications alone; we must, likewise, examine the

responses therein. It is difficult to discern the efficacy of such media program – again, we lack

polling mechanisms among readership or English-language audiences to examine correlation

between non-disclosure and views on Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan. But when such lobbyists are

outed in separate media – as Burton has now been, twice – it stands clear that such innovative

tactic is undermined that much more. Moreover, where these lobbyists have managed to utilize

the general, or perceived, degradation and relaxation of journalistic norms to further excuse their

lack of disclosure, they seem to have overlooked two key components: comments and social

media. Where prior public response to such writings could only have been found in letters or

responding op-eds – for which the same editors would need to give their go-ahead in order to

publish – readers can now examine public responses to the lobbyists’ op-eds within the

comments section or via Twitter. And those who seek to out such lobbyists’ lacks of disclosure

are eager to utilize both. In five of Katz’s op-eds in which he discusses Azerbaijani interests,

readers have left comments below pointing out that Azerbaijan stands as Tool Shed Group’s

clients. In one example from The Hill, a commenter notes, “Did they forget to say this article was

funded by the government of Azerbaijan?”282 Observations continue on social media, as well. On

Twitter, Freedom House Program Officer Nate Schenkkan Tweeted, “After @RFERL exposed a

paid shill for Azerbaijan writing in the NYT, another paid shill attacks them in The Hill” – which

was promptly re-Tweeted by everyone from Human Rights Watch’s European media director to

282
Katz, “U.S. can learn from Azerbaijan.”
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 83

a Huffington Post writer.283 In Katz’s most recent offering in Roll Call – and as the top comment,

no less – a commenter writes, “It is simply absurd that Mr. Katz would accuse anyone of

‘shilling’ for another entity or group – considering that, according to U.S. Department of Justice,

he is currently a paid foreign agent of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”284 Just as it remains unclear

the potential impact of Katz’s op-eds, it remains likewise unclear of how many readers find their

ways to the comments or Tweets. Nonetheless, the information unveiling relations between

lobbyists and foreign governments remains not only publicly available, but attached directly to

the op-eds in question. There are also outright responses to pro-governmental op-eds,

highlighting the blinkered analyses written by those buffing Astana’s or Baku’s image. Jonathan

Chait, the most widely read writer currently at New York magazine, approaches McClennen’s

defense of Kazakhstan’s 2015 election in exegetical fashion, defusing each of her points. As he

writes, “Indeed there’s no campaign drama at all [in Kazakhstan], if you define drama to mean

such things as permitting political rallies or media that criticizes the regime or any doubt about

the outcome of the election. Those things can be quite distracting.”285 The responses on Twitter

almost unanimously sided with Chait’s write-up. The Daily Beast’s Jamie Kirchik likewise took

US Rep. Robert Wexler to task for whitewashing the election. Wexler had prior observed the

election was “quite impressive” and that he “do[es] not know of anywhere else in the world

today where there is such diversity and yet there seems to be such harmony.”286 According to

283
Nate Schenkkan Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/nateschenkkan/status/512852958447669248.
284
Katz, Jason. “Can Members of Congress Shill for Constituents?” Roll Call, 25 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from
http://blogs.rollcall.com/beltway-insiders/can-members-of-congress-shill-for-constituents-commentary/?dcz=
(accessed 8 April 2015).
285
Chait, Jonathan. “The Inevitable Salon Defense of Kazakhstan’s Election System Is Finally Here and It’s More
Amazing Than You Could Have Imagined,” New York, 28 April 2015. Retrieved from
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/04/salon-defense-of-kazakh-election-is-finally-here.html (accessed 28
April 2015).
286
Michel, Casey. “The Rise of the Zombie Monitors,” The Diplomat, 30 April 2015. Retrieved from
http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/the-rise-of-the-zombie-monitors/ (accessed 1 May 2015). Wexler was by no means
the lone Western individual to approve of the election. Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman “welcomed the openness”
of the vote; Latvian journalist Juris Paiders claimed the election was “a very important democratic event”; and
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 84

Kirchick, Wexler noted that “Kazakhstan is in a special place in terms of its development as a

country[,]” and that “election day – in terms of the mechanics of the vote, in terms of its fairness

– was nothing short of impressive, in terms of turnout itself, civic responsibility[.]”287 Observed

Kirchick, “it is beyond pathetic that [Wexler] … would issue a clean bill of health to a Central

Asian police state where the same man has been president for 26 years.”

As it pertains to Blair, if we are to take his claims at their face – if we are to believe

Kazakhstan hired him, prowess and reputation attendant, to help push Kazakhstan toward

European norms – we can safely stake that his presence appears to have been an abject failure.

Kazakhstan has enacted a series of stifling civil rights laws since Blair’s hire, sliding

significantly within corruption and press freedom indices since he joined Astana. (Suffice it to

say, despite claims and assumptions otherwise, the likelihood of Nazarbayev landing a Nobel

Prize stands even less likely now than before Blair was hired.) Likewise, if Blair was to increase

Kazakhstan’s investment attractiveness, as the Foreign Ministry official stated, he likewise

seems to have faltered: Kazakhstan has dropped a thirty places within the World Bank’s Ease of

Doing Business rankings since 2012.288 While other former diplomats – including former Polish

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, former

Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer – have served as members of Nazarbayev’s

“International Advisory Board,” none appear willing to follow in Blair’s footsteps of operating

British writer Rupert Goodman noted that he “did not observe anything that led me to question the integrity of the
voting process.” Likewise, according to KazInform, Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute,
claimed that “Washington believes the presidential elections were conducted properly.”
287
Kirchick, Jamie. “Former Congressman Bob Wexler’s Shameful Dictator Shilling,” The Daily Beast, 11 May
2015. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/11/former-congressman-bob-wexler-s-
shameful-dictator-shilling.html (accessed 11 May 2015).
288
World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” Rankings, Rankings available at http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 85

under the rubric of free agent diplomacy, either in breadth or compensation.289 And the

reputational hits to Blair – whether within media coverage of his Kazakhstani obfuscation, or

with Wales noting that Blair “absolutely should be slammed to taking money from Kazakhstan”

and that Wales “condemn[s] it without reservation”290 – have accelerated in the years since his

hire. Blair has seen untold compensation for his efforts, but the benefits Kazakhstan has accrued

from this refinement of free agent diplomacy remain, at best, questionable. The Trans-Adriatic

Pipeline likewise remains stalled in discussion and debate.

As it pertains to the innovative lack of disclosure within academia and think tanks, we’ve

seen relatively significant fallout when such actors’ ties to Baku or Astana are outed. To wit,

multiple articles have been written since 2014 attesting to Shaffer’s role with SOCAR, including

multiple articles by RFE/RL alone. Terming her work as part of “Azerbaijan’s opinion-shaping

campaign,” RFE/RL ran through the list of publications within which Shaffer did not disclose her

relationship with SOCAR. While her work with Atlantic Council has not yet received external

coverage, multiple public comments from individuals affiliated with Freedom House and Wall

Street Journal have already noted this failure of disclosure. Likewise, while the Congressional

Azerbaijan Caucus has grown considerably over the past decade, it remains too early to tell

whether or not Shaffer’s lobbying for support for the Southern Gas Corridor will prove

successful – or even whether this lobbying played any direct role in any potential support

Washington will lend to the furtherance of the Southern Gas Corridor.291 Nonetheless, Shaffer’s

relationship with SOCAR, now exposed, remains readily available in the public sphere.

289
Mayr, Walter. “What Human Rights Problems? European Politicians Shill for Kazakh Autocrat,” Der Spiegel, 13
March 2013. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-social-democrats-lobby-for-
kazakhstan-autocrat-a-888428.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
290
Michel, “Wikipedia Founder Distances Himself from Kazakhstan PR Machine.”
291
“U.S. Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus expands,” AzerNews, 10 July 2013. Retrieved from
http://www.azernews.az/azerbaijan/56594.html (accessed 25 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 86

It is worth noting that these innovative tactics aren’t necessarily meant solely for external

consumption among English-language audiences. These are also methods meant for domestic

consumption – to display to domestic audiences the respect, the reach, the reputation engendered

in the West of the regimes in Baku and Astana. For instance, aforementioned analyses from

Shaffer, Katz, and Burton have already received positive coverage within Azerbaijani press,

utilized as evidence of Baku’s supposed positive image abroad. Commenting on Shaffer’s

Congressional testimony, an Azerbaijani publication noted that “Shaffer spoke extensively about

Azerbaijan’s ability in stopping the efforts of outside powers to use religion as a tool to

destabilize the country.” Covering Burton’s Washington Times piece, another Azerbaijani

publication discussed Burton’s claim that “the rest of the free world need more friends like

Azerbaijan.”292 The same publication also interviewed Katz in February 2015, allowing the

lobbyist to speak at length about Azerbaijani victimhood during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Needless to say, none of the Azerbaijani press disclosed relations.293

But if we turn back to influencing Western audiences, and all the difficulties and

shortcomings of these innovations, we also find something – from both journalistic and academic

perspectives – that much more dispiriting. While we can point to comments and Tweets and

coverage consequent from these lack(s) of disclosure, or while we can point to Blair’s apparent

failures within stated or presumed goals in Kazakhstan, it does not appear as if such fallout has

yet reached the vehicles utilized for such innovation. That is to say, while Katz and Blair and

Shaffer have all been widely maligned for their work, their work continues nonetheless. Blair is

still in the employ of Kazakhstan, even as Kazakhstan continues its rights backslide. Katz and his

292
Badalova, Aygun. “Dan Burton: US needs more friends like Azerbaijan,” Trend, 29 Jan. 2015. Retrieved from
http://en.trend.az/azerbaijan/politics/2358626.html (accessed 8 April 2015).
293
“Helsinki Commission holds hearing on several dimensions of US-Azerbaijan ties,” News.Az, 12 June 2014.
Retrieved from http://www.news.az/articles/politics/89310 (accessed 8 April 2015).
All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 87

coterie have continued writing op-eds without disclosing their relations to Azerbaijan. Shaffer,

likewise, has not only continued offering her regional energy analyses, but Atlantic Council has

seen fit to have her opine on the European Energy Union – a union, again, for which SOCAR

said it would play a “vital role” – without publicly disclosing her role as a SOCAR employee.

And perhaps this is the greatest, or most substantive, takeaway from the innovations examined

above. This conclusion is not to be found within how many readers are convinced, or how many

policies are directly enacted as a result. It’s found in how the vehicles in question – the

newspapers publishing these shills; the think tanks hiring these non-disclosing employees – seem

to care so little about the hits to their reputation, or to the veracity of their content. Katz

continues to write. Silk Road Reporters continues to avoid disclosing its leadership’s links to

Kazakhstani lobbyists. Shaffer continues to speak on Azerbaijani energy. Atlantic Council – and

Georgetown – continues to allow Shaffer a platform. Their relationships with lobbyists, their

interests in furthering Azerbaijani and Kazakhstani causes and reach and economic swell, remain

publicly and readily available. And yet, nothing is done – and all continue to work and write and

speak as nominally independent actors. Perhaps it’s too early to tell; perhaps, since these

innovative tactics have come only recently, these publications and academic institutions have not

yet come to full realization of how they have been (mis)used by those seeking to buttress Baku

and Astana. Or, more distressingly, perhaps they don’t care. Perhaps they’re willing to forego

such disclosure because of inertia, or because they feel the reputational hit will be greater should

they admit such links. These innovations may not have swayed millions, and they may not have

enacted the specific policies in question, but they’ve taken root in heretofore independent,

largely reputable institutions. And certain these institutions appear disinclined – not unable, but

unwilling – to do anything about it.


All the Shills Money Can Buy Michel 88

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