Other Paid Malaysia Bloggers Never Registered With U.S. Authorities

The best line in this article, other than the noose slowing tightening on APCO is this:

“Have you ever had a head of state make you breakfast? I found myself in that unusual position on Sunday morning, when Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi made me his unique Malay porridge.”

Other Paid Malaysia Bloggers Never Registered With U.S. Authorities

Conservative blogger Joshua Trevino’s registration as a foreign agent raises questions about his colleagues.

Rosie Gray

BuzzFeed Staff

Two of the main players in the campaign funded by the Malaysian governmentthat placed undisclosed propaganda in the American press did not file with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), an omission that lawyers say could place them in legal jeopardy.

David All, a Republican online operative whose David All Group originally contacted conservative writer Joshua Trevino, Trevino said, to conduct a PR operation on behalf of the Malaysian government, is not listed in the records. Nor is Jerome Armstrong, a pioneering liberal blogger whose MyDD was for a time a key site, and who took a leading role alongside Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas in Matt Bai’s 2007 book on how bloggers and billionares were remaking the Democratic Party, who Trevino says was engaged by All at the same time as him to run the website MalaysiaMatters.com as part of a paid media push that backed the country’s ruling party and attacked its critics.

A defunct “about” page for Malaysia Matters listed Armstrong among the founders: “Those working on this project include David All, Jerome Armstrong and Joshua Treviño,” the page said.

Trevino, who last week belatedly filed his own foreign agent registration, told BuzzFeed on Sunday that Armstrong was hired to be his liberal counterpart on MalysiaMatters.

“David All also brought in Jerome,” Trevino said. “I stopped working with him when I stopped working with APCO. He did not transition over to FBC [Media].” APCO Worldwide was in charge of the contract with Malaysia and ultimately David All and the writers, and continued working on Malaysia projects after Trevino’s editorial pursuits transitioned under the aegis of FBC Media.

Armstrong did not reply to repeated requests for comment. In 2011, he told BuzzFeed editor (then at Politico) Ben Smith in an email:

I worked on it and blogged about it back then, iirc [if I recall correctly], it was mid 2008, and it was with the former PM, not Najib. Mine was just a temp contract, did a trip over there as a precursor for having other bloggers there; and then they had a shakeup, it never materialized, and I moved on. I didn’t work for Trevino on it (he was there before and much longer after my brief stint), but through David All and …. (I can’t remember the DC PR group, but there was a big press dust-up about it in 09 iirc).

Malaysia has a really strong blogosphere, and I subsequently got involved on my own with continued conversations with some of the activists and political groups there, but is not a country with a free press. That all changed with the internet by the middle of the decade, and there as a brief moment when it was feared that things would go the way of Singapore. In 2008, bloggers were being thrown into jail, and Badawi was hearing from many that he should outlaw blogs/online political speech. So, when I was there talking with him, it was about praising his initiative, and telling him that would be a very good legacy for him to have initiated…. and showed him how Malaysia Matters worked, and tried to get across to him that it could be used by any political party; that he should be meeting with antagonistic bloggers and try to win them over. Badawi seemed to get it, but his communications director listened in, and by the ‘online outreach’ results of the next special election, and his subsequent blogger outreach, it definitely turned out that way.

Asked to comment further, Armstrong said ” I don’t recall the contract, and ours usually have a non-disclosure type of clause in there.”

The David All Group was partly owned by APCO before he closed it in October 2012, he told BuzzFeed.

All’s status as someone working on behalf of the client would normally have been registered with FARA either as a short form registrant or listed on APCO’s filings regarding the Malaysian contract.

“It’s so long ago,” All said when reached by phone on Monday. “The David All Group was owned in part by APCO Worldwide and [Malaysia] was their client, so I just worked with APCO.”

“I’m sort of gathering more information and looking into this a little bit more,” All said. “My goal is not to hide anything. It was not a covert operation.”

All corroborated Trevino’s account of being engaged on the project at the same time as Armstrong, though Armstrong’s involvement ended earlier than Trevino’s.

Armstrong and Trevino were in Malaysia at the same time, according to Flickr photos. They met with the Prime Minister.

The photos above picture Armstrong and Trevino in Malaysia and were posted to Armstrong’s Flickr feed, picturing a trip to Malaysia in June 2008. The Prime Minister at that time, Abdullah Badawi, made his guests porridge, according to an email from Trevino passed along to BuzzFeed by a source that describes the incident and links to a now-broken MalaysiaMatters post: “Have you ever had a head of state make you breakfast? I found myself in that unusual position on Sunday morning, when Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi made me his unique Malay porridge.”

Cached versions of posts Armstrong wrote about Malaysia are still available online (see herehere, and here).

According to the FARA website, federal law requires that agents “register within ten days of agreeing to become an agent and before performing any activities for the foreign principal.”

The act specifies that “failure to register, keep accounts, mark informational materials, provide a congressional committee with a copy of the agent’s most recent registration, and agreeing to a contingent fee based on the success of political activity are violations of the Act.”

“If he’s employed by his own company he should have filed as an agent,” Joseph E. Sandler, a lawyer and FARA expert, said of All. “If he’s not an employee, if he’s a consultant, he should do his own FARA filing.”

APCO, he said, “should have shown their payments to him on their FARA filings.”

“And secondly he should have registered himself as an agent for him because he’s indirectly working for a foreign principal,” Sandler said. As for Armstrong, “if he knew they were acting indirectly on behalf of the Malaysian government, and knew that’s where the money’s coming from, he should have registered.”

Another lawyer who specializes in FARA law and who wished to speak on background said “It sounds like they’re at least close to the line.”

“Generally, you have a registration for the agent itself and for the persons who are directly providing a service for the foreign principal,” the lawyer said. “If you are writing informational materials at the direction or control of a foreign principal,” he said, registration is required.

Adam Williams, spokesman for APCO Worldwide, said the firm, which appears to have orchestrated the propaganda campaign, could not immediately commment.

“We’re looking into it so we make sure that we have all the facts straight. We want to make sure that we’re 100% honest and accurate.”


APCO Revisited

March 2, 2013

APCO Revisited

by Din Merican


As we are already under the onslaught of the UMNO/BN propaganda machine in the weeks leading up to the 13th General Election, a little nugget has popped up that reminds us of the characteristics and attributes of the incoming government.

If you recall in 2008 UMNO-BN began acquiring the services of very expensive international public relations consultants including APCO and FBC. In both cases the contracts were exposed and eventually canceled. But not after much ink and video tape had been spilled on ad hominem attacks on Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition, while blindly extolling the greatness of PM Najib Razak. These articles were portrayed as ‘journalism’ but they were in fact anything but.

This entire fiasco was expertly exposed by SarawakReport.com here and here.

One of the people at the center of this scandal and abuse of government power was the American Joshua Trevino. In January Josh Trevino filed a report with the United States Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Unit. Any American doing work on behalf of a foreign government or politicians has to proactively register these activities with the Department of Justice.

Trevino’s January filing is linked here or here.

In it we see and are reminded of a few interesting things.

  1. Trevino was working on behalf of the Prime Minister’s office through the companies APCO Worldwide (Washington DC), FBC Media (London, now defunct) and the David All Group (Washington DC, now defunct, its employees absorbed into APCO worldwide).
  2. Trevino is no longer doing work for the Malaysian government since at the very least the 3rd quarter of 2012
  3. Trevino received payments totaling $389,724.70 from May 2008 through April 2011 for the blogs he posted at MalaysiaMatters.com (now defunct) and MalaysiaMonitor.com (also defunct) and efforts to place other opinion pieces in US media.
  4. Trevino also was paid to visit Malaysia in 2008 and to attend the 3rd International Conference on the Muslim World and the West as part of his activities related to MalaysiaMatters.com
  5. Josh Trevino was a conduit through which payments were made in 2010 to 10 additional hired writers who published blogs and articles in the United Sates frequently attacking Anwar Ibrahim and the Malaysian opposition. These amounts totaled  $130,950.

These individuals included

  • Brad Jackson (received $24,700) who published articles attacking Anwar Ibrahim at the conservative blog RedState.
  • Ben Domenech (received $36,000) who published articles attacking Anwar Ibrahim and his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at the conservative blog RedState including this one and this one on the Huffington Post.
  • Claire Berlinski  (received $6,750) who published essays attacking Anwar Ibrahim at the conservative blog Ricochet.com here.
  • Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld (received $30,000) who published essays at FamilySecurityMatters.org attacking Anwar Ibrahim an Georgetown University here; a contributing editor and director of the New York City based American Center for Democracy and one of the key proponents of Islamophobia-fear in America.
  • Seth Mandel (received $5,500) who viciously attacked Anwar Ibrahim at FrontPageMagazine, the National Review, Daily Caller and other conservative blogs.
  • Chuck DeVore (received $3,000) former member of California State Assembly who ran for the US Senate in 2010 and lost in the Republican primary. Currently works at a conservative Think Tank. He sent out emails and published essays attacking Anwar Ibrahim and was debunked here.
  • Rachel Motte (received $9,500) who attacked Anwar Ibrahim frequently at a now defunct blog called the New Ledger. One of her essays was so outrageous that she had to remove it when she was threatened with a law suit by a former US Ambassador for its libelous statements. (see my blog here). Rachel also posted at the Daily Caller and other conservative sites.
  • Christopher Badeaux (received $11,000)
  • David Brown (received $2,500)
  • Kevin Holtsberry (received $2,000)

Let us repeat. All of these individuals were paid BY THE MALAYSIAN GOVERNMENT to publish essays that praised the Malaysian government and attacked Anwar Ibrahim in AMERICAN MEDIA and make it appear like they were independent, UNBIASED writers. This is a breach of journalistic integrity at RedState, Huffington Post and every other outlet that carried these frivolous essays.

This also reflects the ethics of the Malaysian government and its belief that it can throw a few million dollars to paper over the massive corruption taking place under its purview simply by slinging some mud at its political opponents.

Furthermore, the irony of the propaganda is amazing. In Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim is regularly attacked as being a Jewish agent and American agent. However in many of these articles the paid writers attack him for being a terrorist sympathizer, an agent of the nefarious Muslim brotherhood and and frontman for radical Islam, who hides behind a facade of moderate Islam.

Trevino himself has become the target of some ridicule. He was about to join the staff of the Guardian when information about his writing-for-hire activities was revealed to the British paper, which promptly cancelled his contract.

Looking Back @BERSIH2.0

April 27, 2012

Looking Back @BERSIH2.0

by Political Observer

Last year the Bersih rally was a complete and utter disaster for the UMNO-BN government. The arrest of 2000 people and use of excessive force on so many left UMNO in an unenviable position with 2011 being the year of the Arab Spring. Immediately after the demonstration Prime Minister Najib Razak held an interview with CNN International Host John Defterios. 

(Remember that since this interview was conducted it was revealed that FBC communications, the company that John Defterios was the Vice President of) had been hired by the Government of Malaysia to place favorable content about the country in major international news outlets. BBC formally apologized for airing content that was essentially paid-for advertising by the Malaysian government. CNBC and CNN International have not admitting to any wrong doing, although the extent to which corporate sponsors fund those two organizations is fairly obvious and well known.)

In the soft-ball interview at around 2:00 in Defterios asks Najib about the demonstrations in Malaysia. Rather than make reference to the Police brutality, arrests, use of tear gas and water cannons, possible attack on a hospital, Defterios decided to completely shirk his journalistic responsibility and tossed a softball to Najib. Defterios’ demeanor also suggests he’s somewhat mocking or belittling the BBERSIH movement. 

Najib was then able to completely evade the issue and say that Malaysia is a democracy and the fact that UMNO lost 5 states in the  2008 general election is enough evidence as such. 

Defterios, rather than follow up with what was obviously the most important story of the day vis-a-vis Malaysia, and even raise some of the points BERSIH was demanding.The most hilarious part is immediately after airing clips of tear gas, water canon and police officers beating up demonstrators, Najib is asked if he was satisfied with the security response and he says, 

‘It was quite mild…because although they were taken in…they were released after eight hours and they were treated very well. There was no undue use of force and the demonstrators were dispersed using minimum force.”

Such comical detachment from reality can only remind us of the classic moment from BERSIH1.0 when Information Minister ZAM was on Al Jazeera opposite Anwar Ibrahim responding to questions about the use of force in 2007:

There seems to be a pattern emerging of Malaysian government spokespersons looking quite foolish on international media news broadcasts.