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The Good Bad Son


Saif saluting from a Russian tank during a military parade in Tripoli marking the 30th anniversary of the 1969 coup that brought his father to power.  

So in 2002, as Libya secretly negotiated with the British government on dismantling its nuclear- and chemical-weapons programs, Muammar asked Saif to get involved. In London, Saif met with officials from Tony Blair’s cabinet and MI-6, and he is credited by some with broaching the idea of including Washington in negotiations. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, the British contacted CIA assistant deputy director of operations Steve Kappes.

In his memoir, former CIA director George Tenet describes Saif’s presence in the meeting: “[He] started to play the role of tough-guy negotiator, telling Steve and his British colleague what the Libyans expected from us before anything would happen on their end. Steve and the Brit allowed the leader’s son to go on for a while and then cut him off.” By the time Kappes and his MI-6 counterpart went to Libya, Tenet says, Saif had calmed down. After they met with Muammar in Tripoli, Saif invited them to a late dinner at his beach house, where he apparently sat by patiently and listened.

Days after Saddam Hussein was captured, Libya announced it was abandoning its WMD programs. A jubilant Bush administration pointed to the chastening effect of the Iraq war. Those aware of the negotiations knew better, but even they were astonished at Qaddafi’s rapid about-face. Saif bore much of the credit. According to Randa Fahmy-Hudome, a lobbyist who worked for him, “Saif was a ‘no man,’ as opposed to a ‘yes man,’ for his father,” she says. Now Muammar was “testing Saif to see if he had what it took to lead the country.”

With sanctions lifted and signs pointing to the regime coming off the White House’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, the country was suddenly fertile ground. ­Executives from ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Caterpillar, Halliburton, Dow Chemical, and Boeing, to name a few, went to Libya, eager to get at its reserves of light crude and a $100 billion development fund. Now that oil revenue could be invested with foreign banks, Wall Street came calling.

Saif and his father were at the center of the deal-making, and Saif made a few invest­ments of his own. He brought in the K Street consultancy C&O Resources to represent Libya to the Bush administration. He signed the Livingston Group, run by former House Speaker Bob Livingston, to a $2.4 million contract to lobby Congress. For $1.2 million a year, he hired Fahmy-Hudome, a former Department of Energy official, to entice business, and he hired communications firm Brown Lloyd James, along with a former White House special assistant, to handle press relations.

The most ambitious courtier was the Monitor Group, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, consultancy that assists countries with economic reform. Co-founder ­Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, began traveling to Tripoli to meet with Saif, bringing with him energy consultant and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Daniel Yergin. In June 2004, Porter, Yergin, and Fahmy-Hudome attended an economic forum Saif was overseeing at Tripoli’s Corinthia Hotel. Saif, the Americans found, was a refreshing change from Muammar, who, dressed in one of his quasi-military getups, was known to provoke visitors by decrying the hypocrisies of the West. In a natty suit, with shaved head and eyeglasses gleaming, Saif directed the proceedings with the efficiency of an executive. “It was the seminal meeting of launching the new Libya. This was the team that was going to help him do it,” says Fahmy-Hudome.

That night, Saif sent cars to collect the team and bring them to his beach house for a seafood dinner. Having changed out of his suit, he received them in a flowing white thaub and traditional taqiyah cap. They toasted to the future of Libya.

Two years after that toast, in 2006, Porter presented the Qaddafis with a plan for the rehabilitation of the country that called for a “unique model of ‘popular capitalism’ ” starting with the energy sector, which would revive the economy and, eventually, Libyan society. Muammar could do all this, they promised, by 2019, the 50th anniversary of his coup.

For a yearly fee that reached $3 million, Monitor also mounted an international public-relations campaign to “enhance international understanding and appreciation of Libya and the contribution it has made and may continue to make to its region and to the world,” according to a memo. This entailed bringing to Libya a who’s-who gallery of public intellectuals, including Harvard’s Robert Putnam and Joseph Nye and former LSE director Anthony Giddens. Some, like Barber, were paid consulting fees. Others wrote glowing stories about the new Libya in the press, and Monitor offered, for an additional $2.4 million, to ghostwrite a book under Muammar’s name.


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