Joel Mowbray

Perhaps former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) Ned Walker said it best when he told the Washington Post, “Let’s face it, we got a lot of money out of Saudi Arabia.” Walker meant “we” as in the U.S. government, but he easily could have used it to refer to former State Department officials who benefit financially after retirement. Some do it directly—and in public view, because of stringent reporting requirements—while most, including Walker, choose a less noticeable trough.

  In researching my new book, Dangerous Diplomacy, I discovered that Saudi cash has created a circle of sympathizers and both direct and indirect lobbyists—which is precisely the intended effect.  Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador the United States, was quoted in the Washington Post as having said, “If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you’d be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office.”

  Among the first former Foggy Bottom officials to work directly for the House of Saud was former assistant secretary for Congressional Affairs Frederick Dutton, starting in 1975. According to a 1995 public filing (mandated for all paid foreign agents), Dutton earns some $200,000 per year. Providing mostly legal services, Dutton also flacks for the House of Saud and even lobbies on the royal family’s behalf from time to time. One of his successors as head of Congressional Affairs, Linwood Holton, also went to work for the Saudis, starting in 1977. Rounding out the current team of retired State officials now directly employed by the Saudis is Peter Thomas Madigan, deputy assistant secretary for Legislative Affairs in the first Bush administration.

  Most of the Saudi money, though, goes indirectly to former State officials, most commonly by means of think tanks. This approach pays dividends in many ways: Foggy Bottom retirees get to have their cake—without the public realizing they’re eating it—and the Saudis get to have “indirect” lobbyists, who promote the Saudi agenda under the cover of the think tank label. Three organizations in particular are the primary beneficiaries of Saudi petrodollars, and all are populated with former State officials: the Meridian International Center, the Middle East Policy Council, and the Middle East Institute.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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