One of President Barack Obama's top advisers, David Plouffe, took money for speeches from a company with ties to Iran, the Washington Post reported yesterday.
David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser who was President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, accepted a $100,000 speaking fee in 2010 from an affiliate of a company doing business with Iran’s government," the paper found. "A subsidiary of MTN Group, a South Africa-based telecommunications company, paid Plouffe for two speeches he made in Nigeria in December 2010, about a month before he joined the White House staff."
But MTN Group does not just have ties to Iran; the company Plouffe profited from also has ties to the Syrian government, a state sponsor of terrorism.
Considering MTN's extensive ties to Syria, and considering the Obama administration has not done anything substantial to help prevent the mass slaughter of civilians who are protesting the Syrian regime, Plouffe's relationship with the telecom group does not reflect well on him or his boss, President Obama.
Starting in January 2001, Syria signed a 15-year contract with what is now MTN Syria to build and operate communications infrastructure that would eventually be handed back to the Syrian regime. The agreement between the state telecommunications company and MTN is a revenue sharing split wherein both parties slip the revenue equally.
And while the Syrian regime has been using vicious means to put down protests for more than a year and a half, MTN has still been meeting with the regime. Indeed, MTN's CEO, Sifiso Dabengwa, is seen here, pictured with high-ranking officials from Bashar al-Assad's government:
"In purpose of enhancing the communication between MTN Syria with the head of the Group in South Africa, MTN Syria has welcomed Mr. Sifiso Dabengwa, the CEO & president of MTN Group, who has come to visit Syria for lasted two days, while he met during it Dr. Adel Safar the Prime Minister, Dr. Imad Saabouni Minister of Communications and Technology and in presence of South African’ Ambassador in Damascus, Where the meeting has discussed the ways to develop the communications’ services, operating systems and settlement some of administrative aspects which allow the company to expand its activities, investments and contribution to the local development process," says a press release from February 9, 2012 announcing the meeting between Syrian officials and MTN Group (via Google translate).
Mr. Anas Al-Khani, Corporate Services General Manager at MTN Syria, Says: “This visit came to ensure the importance of the company position within the group in the Middle East & North Africa, as a result of the efforts of our staff throughout the couple past years, also, this visit gave us an important opportunity to have a discussion about the company business’ strategy, and the best tools to improve the offered service quality in the Syrian market, and bringing it up to the highest levels in light of regional and global experiences.
Within the context of strengthening communication between the company MTN Syria and the parent company in South Africa, has received the MTN Syria Mr. Sifiso Dabengwa, President and CEO of the group who had come to Syria to visit lasted for two days during which he met with Dr. Adel Safar, the Prime Minister, Dr. Imad Saaboubni Minister of Communications and Technology the presence of South African Ambassador in Damascus, where the meeting discussed ways to develop communication services, operating systems and the settlement of some administrative aspects including allowing the company to expand its activities and investments and their contribution to the local development process. also visit included a tour of the departments of the company during which he met with a team of executives and a group of employees. Mr. Anas Khani, Director General of the interests of the company MTN Syria: "This visit underscores the importance of the company's website within the group in the Middle East and North Africa, an outcome sure to the efforts of our employees over the past years, also allowed us to visit an important opportunity to consult on strategy the company's business and the mechanism of improving the quality of service provided within the Syrian market and upgrading them to higher levels in the light of regional and global experience.
The Associated Press reported, on February 9, 2012, that "Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed since early Saturday in the heaviest attack the city [of Homs] has endured since the uprising began in March."
Additionally, MTN is suspected of assisting Syrian regime to interfere with communications. As Bloomberg reported:
As unrest in Syria erupted into public demonstrations and a bloody crackdown that has claimed over 6,000 lives in the last year, the regime of Bashar al-Assad sought to neutralize one of the most potent tools in the protesters’ arsenal: text messages sent via mobile phones.
The Syrian government has ordered blocks on text messages when they contain politically sensitive terms such as “revolution” or “demonstration,” according to two people familiar with the filtering systems. A unit of the Syrian intelligence apparatus, known as “Branch 225,” often issues the instructions on which messages to block, they say.
Syriatel Mobile Telecom SA, the country’s largest mobile- phone operator, conducts the blocking with equipment from Cellusys Ltd., a privately-held company based in Dublin, according to one of the people, who is familiar with the filtering.
Cellusys delivered a filtering system to Syriatel in 2008 as the mobile operator struggled to combat viruses and spam, which can be blocked by such gear, according to Cellusys Chief Executive Officer Dawood Ghalaieny. Syriatel is controlled by Rami Makhluf, cousin of President Assad, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which enacted sanctions against the company last year.
In addition, another Irish company, AdaptiveMobile Security Ltd., which is also based in Dublin, has supplied message- filtering technology to MTN Syria, the country’s second-largest mobile operator, according to four people familiar with that system. While AdaptiveMobile executives declined to comment for this story, in interviews last year concerning the sale of its product to a mobile operator in Iran, they said its technology is for blocking spam, viruses and inappropriate content, not political repression.