Definers, Facebook’s shady PR firm, is a registered foreign agent for the UAE.
Foreign Agents Registration Act paperwork filed in December 2017 shows Definers was hired by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP to do work for the UAE for $20,000/month.
Definers Public Affairs is the PR firm hired (and now fired) by Facebook, Qualcomm, and other tech companies to bring dirty political tricks tactics to Silicon Valley.
Definers Corp registered as a foreign agent of the United Arab Emirates on December 19, 2017. The filing lists the Foreign Principal as “Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP on behalf of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates.” The filing lists Matthew Rhoades as CEO and Joseph Pounder as President of Definers.
Akin Gump first filed FARA paperwork representing the UAE in 2007.
The initial Definers FARA Short Form filings list Brian J. Rogers and Joseph S Pounder as the people working for Akin Gump. Both Short Forms describe the work they will do as follows: “Strategic communications support and guidance in furtherance of the interests of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, with an emphasis on strengthening bilateral relations and regional security of the United Arab Emirates.” An additional Short Form was filed March 22, 2018, for Christian Hertenstein.
Exhibit AB of the initial registration contains a copy of the contract between Akin Gump and Definers Corp. It states that Akin Gump will pay Definers $20,000/month for “Consulting Services” on a “month-to-month” basis.
Definers filed a Supplemental Statement on July 30, 2018, which described their activity on behalf of their client as follows: “Registrant provided strategic communications support and guidance in furtherance of the interests of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, with an emphasis on strengthening bilateral relations and regional security of the United Arab Emirates, in particular including issues relating to client’s termination of relations with Qatar and accuracy and transparency of Qatar government-owned media. Activities and support engaged in by the registrant in furtherance of these efforts included one-on-one interactions with members of the news media in the United States to support and promote the aforementioned interests of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates.”
The Supplemental Statement shows payments from Akin Gump to Definers, totalling $100,000. Akin Gump’s Supplemental Statement from July 2018 lists contacts on behalf of the UAE with members of the media who work for Fox News, Newsmax, and Daily Caller. The subject is listed as, “Issues relating to client’s termination of relations with Qatar and accuracy and transparency of Qatar government-owned media.”
However, the “members of the news media” with whom Definers had “one-on-one interactions” to “support and promote” the “interests” of the UAE are not listed on Definers’ Supplemental Statement. Thus, we don’t know what specific news coverage has potentially been shaped by this registered foreign agent. We do, however, know that members of Definers targetted Qatar, and Wired reported Definers’ Google Analytics ID is connected to the websites qatarcrisisnews.com and partnershipforpeace.org, both of which “were taken offline in recent months, but can still be found on the Internet Archive.” As Wired reports, the Google Analytics ID linkage “strongly suggesting that the PR firm is behind those operations, too.”
The connection of Definers to the aforementioned websites calls this statement in the Supplemental Statement into question: “The registrant did not arrange, sponsor, or deliver speeches, lectures, or radio or TV broadcasts on behalf of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates. No informational materials were distributed by the registrant during the reporting period.”
Perhaps the Qatar-smearing websites were run out of their British company, the UK Policy Group (also connected via the same Google Analytics ID, per Wired), as a way to get around FARA laws. I’m not a lawyer so I’ll leave that question up to the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES) in the National Security Division (NSD) of the Department of Justice, as they are responsible for enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
I will note, however, that the imagery for Qatar Crisis News is strikingly similar to the Informational Materials filed by SCL Social Limited in its FARA paperwork for the National Media Council of the UAE via Project Associates (SCL was the parent company to Cambridge Analytica) in October 2017.
An Amendment was filed July 2, 2018, stating, “Short Form registrant Brian J. Rogers is no longer acting on behalf of foreign principal “Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP — on behalf of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates.” The effective date for this change is July 2, 2018.”
An additional Amendment was filed August 29, 2018, stating, “Short Form registrant Joseph S. Pounder is no longer acting on behalf of foreign principal “Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP on behalf of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates.” The effective date for this change is August 29, 2018.”
No amendment has been filed on behalf of Christian Hertenstein, nor has a termination of contract been filed, so I believe it is safe to assume Definers has received an additional $100,000 from the UAE, via Akin Gump, since their last supplemental statement (assuming $20k each month for July, August, September, October, and November 2018).