Monitor Group said on Friday that elements of work it conducted for Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime from 2006 through 2008—with support from some members of the Harvard faculty—should have been identified as lobbyist activity according to federal policy, leading one involved Harvard professor to say he was misled.
Monitor, a consulting firm co-founded by Harvard professors in 1983, said in a statement that it would retroactively register its work under the Foreign Agents Registration Act after the internally-hired law firm Covington & Burling concluded that some of the consulting group’s work in Libya violated the 1938 legislation.
The Libyan government paid the group $250,000 per month to identify opportunities for economic and political reform. The firm’s work also included a program that brought influential “thought leaders”—including two prominent Harvard professors—to the nation, according to The Boston Globe.
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Robert D. Putnam, who partook in the Monitor program, told The Globe that he had not known of a lobbying agenda.
“If I had known that a primary purpose of the visit to Libya was to influence public opinion in the United States, I would not have gone,” he said in an interview with The Globe.
Other professors, including former Harvard Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye Jr., said they did not feel misled, according to The Globe.
According to FARA, if any organization engages in political activities for or in the interests of a foreign power or acts in a public relations role for a representative of the power, that firm must register with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Although Monitor said in a leaked 2009 report to the Libyan government that it “is not a lobbying organization,” the Covington & Burling report found that Monitor’s invovlement in Libya constitutes a breach of FARA policies. The consulting firm is moving to register its work with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We made some mistakes,” Monitor’s Managing Partner Stephen M. Jennings said in the statement. “While we stand by the majority of our work in and for that country, we have been resolute in our determination to find the facts, remedy errors, and ensure that we learn from them.”
Computer Science Professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 first raised concerns with Harvard’s connection with Monitor’s activity in Libya at an April 5 meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Lewis called for the University to publicly condemn University Professor Michael E. Porter, a co-founder of the firm, for “taking money” to write a report for Libya that said that Gaddafi’s government is a “popular” and “direct” democracy.
“To put it simply, a tyrant wanted a crimson-tinged report that he was running a democracy,” Lewis said at the meeting, encouraging University President Drew G. Faust to publicly censure Porter. “Shouldn’t Harvard acknowledge its embarrassment, and might you remind us that when we parlay our status as Harvard professors for personal profit, we can hurt both the University and all of its members?”
Faust responded that her responsibilities as University president extend to promoting freedom of speech—and not serving as “public scolder-in-chief.”
In an email to The Crimson yesterday, Lewis repeated his call for University action given the recent developments.
“It does seem to me that with all the Harvard connections that are in these news stories about Monitor, it’s time for the University to say something about it,” Lewis wrote. “It’s awkward and embarrassing for the University to act as though it hadn’t noticed or doesn’t care.”
—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at email@example.com.