Local consultants aided Khadafy

Cambridge firm tried to polish his image

By Farah Stockman
Globe Staff / March 4, 2011

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CAMBRIDGE — It reads like Libyan government propaganda, extolling the importance of Moammar Khadafy, his theories on democracy, and his “core ideas on individual freedom.’’

But the 22-page proposal for a book on Khadafy was written by Monitor Group, a Cambridge-based consultant firm founded by Harvard professors. The management consulting firm received $250,000 a month from the Libyan government from 2006 to 2008 for a wide range of services, including writing the book proposal, bringing prominent academics to Libya to meet Khadafy “to enhance international appreciation of Libya’’ and trying to generate positive news coverage of the country.

As the crisis in Libya deepens, Monitor’s role in Libya has come under increasing scrutiny.

“The really nefarious aspect of this is that it reinforced in Khadafy’s mind that he truly was an international intellectual world figure, and that his ideas of democracy were to be taken seriously,’’ said Dirk Vandewalle, associate professor at Dartmouth College and author of “A History of Modern Libya.’’ “It reinforced his reluctance to come to terms with the reality around him, which was that Libya is in many ways an inconsequential country and his ideas are half-baked.’’

Yesterday, Monitor Group acknowledged in a statement that its paid work included helping Khadafy’s son Saif with his doctoral dissertation at the London School of Economics.

The firm said that assistance and the book proposal were mistakes. But its statement stressed that the firm’s main effort was designed to help Khadafy’s dictatorship bring about change. Many of the firm’s internal memos had been revealed on a Libyan opposition group website in 2009.

The fallout over relations between high-profile academics and Libya has already taken a toll. Sir Howard Davies resigned yesterday as a director at the London School of Economics, which said it would start an inquiry into the school’s ties with the Khadafy family.

Professors sent to visit Khadafy included luminaries such as Joseph Nye, former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; Lord Anthony Giddens, former head of the London School of Economics; Francis Fukuyama political philosopher from Stanford University; and Benjamin Barber, who has written extensively about democracy.

Barber said much of Monitor’s work tried to bolster change.

“I’m sure Khadafy thought having intellectuals like Fukuyama and Joe Nye and Giddens and myself there was a way of proving to the world that he wasn’t stupid,’’ said Barber, adding that he accepted a fee for consulting work, which included looking at a draft constitution that Monitor was overseeing. “What he gained was some glamour from interaction with the West, but what we gained was protection for people who were pushing for reforms.’’

The activities of Monitor — a company with 1,500 employees and 29 offices around the world that boasts governments, nonprofits, and companies as clients — also raise questions about the line between academic research and advocacy.

“People who do these consultancy jobs don’t hesitate to mention Harvard and so forth, but is it really academic work?’’ said Ronald Bruce St John, author of academic books on Libya who served on the International Advisory Board of the Journal of Libyan Studies.

Monitor’s work in Libya began when Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor who is among the country’s top theorists on management strategies, received a call from Saif Khadafy around 2001, according to Porter. Saif, a Western-leaning doctoral student who US officials hoped would become the next leader of Libya, asked for his expertise to help change Libya’s battered, Soviet-style economy.

Porter met Saif and several Libyan ministers in London but said he could not help until Libya resolved the issues that had earned it international condemnation, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The terrorist attack killed all 259 passengers and crew and 11 villagers.

“I remember telling Saif, ‘We can’t do anything until you settle your dispute with the rest of the world,’ ’’ Porter recalled in a recent interview.

In the next few years, Libya offered compensation to the Lockerbie victims and gave up its nuclear weapons program, putting it on a path of normalized relations with the United States.

So in 2005, Porter agreed to be a senior adviser on a program to lay out a blueprint for reforms.

Porter brought in Monitor, a firm he had helped found, along with other associates including former Harvard professors Mark Fuller, who is now the firm’s chairman, and Joseph Fuller, who works at Monitor and also collaborates on research with some Harvard professors. (Porter says he is no longer directly involved in its management.)

Monitor sent about a dozen consultants to Tripoli to produce the strategy for economic reforms, which Porter unveiled in a speech in Tripoli in front of Libyan officials in 2007. He realized, however, that the reforms were going nowhere when a person who opposed them was appointed head of the group charged with implementing them. Porter quit a few months later.

Monitor continued its work with Libya. It asked for an “open budget’’ to pay for the trips of prominent people to Libya, and in some cases offered compensation for their time, according to internal memos published by the Libyan opposition group.

“As far as I could tell, Monitor wanted to introduce Khadafy to Western thought,’’ said Nye, who was paid a consulting fee, which he did not disclose, for two trips. He also said he commented on a chapter of Saif’s thesis for free.

Fukuyama did not return a call and e-mail requesting comment. Giddens could not be reached for comment.

Visitors included Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT professor who founded the university’s Media Lab and started the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child to match poor students worldwide with technology. Negroponte said in an e-mail that Monitor did not pay for his trip or give him a fee but he considered himself part of the program to introduce distinguished people to Libya.

“I was willingly and proudly part of the USA effort to raise the level of discussion between the two countries, as well as help the Libyan people with their primary education,’’ he wrote, adding that Khadafy kept him waiting in the desert for six hours for the talks.

In 2007, Monitor wrote a proposal seeking about $2 million in expenses and fees for the Khadafy book, according to the memos.

“The book will allow the reader to hear Khadafy elaborate in his own words, and in conversation with renowned international experts,’’ the proposal states. It said that Barber would “clarify several questions from previous conversations with Khadafy’’ while Giddens “will visit to deepen understanding of the merits and problems of direct democracy vs. representative democracy.’’

Barber, who is described in Monitor memos as a “subcontractor,’’ said he refused to work on the book, which was later abandoned by Monitor.

He said he was not ashamed of working on the Monitor project, because it was worth trying to bring change to Libya. “I wish it had succeeded, and maybe the events of the last few weeks might not have happened,’’ he said.

Clarification: This story on professors doing consulting work with Libya was unclear on what Joseph Nye, former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, declined to disclose regarding his compensation. Nye disclosed to the Globe that he had received a consulting fee for his work, but he did not reveal how much the fee was.