Mueller Overlooked Mifsud’s Contacts in Western Counterterror Circles

August 28, 2019 Updated: September 11, 2019

The final report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election by special counsel Robert Mueller left out that Joseph Mifsud, an academic it portrayed as suspiciously connected to Russia, actually has numerous connections to former Western officials and experts on counterterrorism and intelligence.

The web of Mifsud’s connections, pieced together by The Epoch Times with the help of political analyst and counterterrorism researcher Chris Blackburn, shines new light on Mifsud’s loyalties and pursuits as well as key events of the counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign.

It was Mifsud who allegedly told a Trump campaign aide in April 2016 that Russians had “dirt” on rival presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails.” This information was ultimately used by the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation that involved extensive spying on Trump campaign staff.

Taking over the probe from the FBI in 2017, Mueller concluded in March that the investigation didn’t establish that President Donald Trump or anybody from his team conspired or coordinated with Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.

Attorney General William Barr has been reviewing the origins of the investigation and whether the spying was properly justified. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to soon release a report delving into the Russia investigation.

The allegations that the FBI improperly spied on the Trump campaign became known as Spygate and the evidence suggesting the validity of the claims has been extensively documented by The Epoch Times.

Who Is Mifsud?

The Mueller report described Mifsud only as a London-based professor who “maintained various Russian contacts.” (pdf)

But, as The Epoch Times has reported, there’s much more to Mifsud, including indications that his contacts with Russia were developed under the supervision, or at least with the knowledge, of Italy’s former interior minister, Vincenzo Scotti. Mifsud helped Scotti found the Link Campus University in Rome, and the two worked together extensively over the past two decades as Link became a mingling place for Western intelligence and security officials and experts.

Just as significant, however, were Mifsud’s engagements in London, where for several years, he headed the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD) and was listed as acting in different capacities at the London Centre of International Law Practice (LCILP). Both institutions have ceased operations since 2016.

LAD

LAD was founded by Nabil Ayad at the London campus of the University of East Anglia, after he joined the university in 2010, he told the Times of Malta. Ayad is a veteran of diplomatic training and, based on photographic evidence, has been involved in training diplomats from the Middle East, Africa, the Carribean, Eastern and Central Europe, Central Asia, and China since the 1980s. He knew Scotti, too.

It appears that sometime in 2012, just as Mifsud lost his position as the head of the Euro-Mediterranean University, Ayad ceded to him the position of LAD director and later left the school. It’s not clear why Mifsud was afforded that honor.

According to two articles in diplomatic periodicals about LAD, the school was accepting 150 students a year and counted many foreign ambassadors among its alumni.

The Diplomat magazine even gave LAD the “Diplomat of the Year” award in 2012 for “distinguished contribution to diplomacy in London.”

LAD boasted a cast of dozens of staff, contributors, and visiting professors including former first deputy president of the European Parliament Gianni Pittella, former British diplomat Charles Crawford (pdf), and Claire Smith, a career UK diplomat and former member of the UK Joint Intelligence Committee (pdf). Smith gave a training course to high-ranking Italian military officials in Rome in 2012, which was co-organized by LAD and Link. Smith was photographed there, standing next to Mifsud.

Also, one of LAD’s contributors was Robert Whalley, former director for counterterrorism and intelligence at the UK prime minister’s department and the domestic security and immigration ministry. He was listed as “professional/guest speaker” in the school’s 2011–2012 documents (pdf).

Another LAD lecturer was Awaf Obaid, former special adviser for strategic communications to Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, while Turki was the Saudi ambassador to the UK and Ireland, and then the United States. Turki had run the Saudi primary intelligence agency throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Obaid used to be a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

The center in May 2017 organized a counterterrorism summit in Riyadh, where the speakers included Richard Barrett, former chief of counterterrorism at UK’s spy agency MI6; Ashton Carter, the last U.S. defense secretary in the Obama administration; Michael Hurley, a career CIA officer and co-author of The 9/11 Commission Report; and Mifsud (pdf).

Mifsud also attended a seminar co-organized by the center with the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow in October 2017. He sat there to the right of the center’s secretary-general, Saud Al-Sarhan.

Saud Al-Sarhan (R), secretary general of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, and Joseph Mifsud (2nd R), at the seminar “Security Challenges in the Gulf and Prospects for Political Settlement in Yemen” in Moscow
Saud Al-Sarhan (R), secretary-general of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, and Joseph Mifsud (2nd R), at the seminar “Security Challenges in the Gulf and Prospects for Political Settlement in Yemen” in Moscow on Oct. 5, 2017. (Russian International Affairs Council)

Ayad, Mifsud’s predecessor at LAD, knew Turki, too, from training of Saudi diplomats, military, and finance officials in 2003.

Ayad didn’t respond to a request from The Epoch Times for comment regarding his time at LAD.

LCILP

LCILP was set up in 2014 by Nagi Idris, a lawyer of Sudanese origin. He’s listed as a legal consultant at the Saudi law firm of Majed Garoub, who also runs the Saudi Law Training Centre; it’s not clear when Idris joined the firm. The firm didn’t respond to a request for comment.

LCILP quickly expanded and in less than a year, it had 30 experts, consultants, and staff listed on its page, including former UK Crown Prosecutors Arvinder Sambei and Martin Polaine, who co-headed its human rights and criminal justice section.

As a prosecutor, Sambei worked on extradition cases with the FBI as well as counterterrorism, transnational crime, and war crimes cases. She was involved in the Raissi debacle—Algerian pilot Lotfi Raissi was taken naked from his UK home in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and held in prison for five months on an FBI extradition request, based on suspicion that he helped train the pilots who crashed a jet into the Pentagon. A UK court later exonerated Raissi, saying the Crown Prosecution Service made false allegations against him, The Times reported.

At about the same time that the LCILP was set up, Sambei and Polaine were named consultants at and co-heads of a new London office of the Global Center on Cooperative Security (GCCS), a New York-based think tank focused on counterterrorism.

In November 2014, the LCILP held what appears to be its first major conference, “Counter-Terrorism: International Initiatives, Perspectives and Challenges.” It was hosted at LAD and sponsored by the GCCS. Its nine-member expert panel included Sambei, Polaine, LAD lecturer Roger McNally, and Mifsud.

Overview of the November 2014 conference “Counter-Terrorism: International Initiatives, Perspectives and Challenges” organized by the London Centre of International Law Practice, hosted at the London Academy of Diplomacy in London, and sponsored by Global Center on Cooperative Security
Overview of the November 2014 conference “Counter-Terrorism: International Initiatives, Perspectives and Challenges” organized by the London Centre of International Law Practice, hosted at the London Academy of Diplomacy in London, and sponsored by Global Center on Cooperative Security. (Screenshot courtesy of Chris Blackburn)

Starting at least in March 2013, Sambei traveled to Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, and East Africa to give counterterrorism workshops to law enforcement hosted by the United Nations’ Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate. The workshops were organized by the GCCS and funded by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark, according to documents on the GCCS website (pdf, pdf, pdf, pdf).

Until July 2013, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate was headed by Mike Smith, a former Australian diplomat and former chief of staff to Australia’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer. Smith was with Sambei at one of his counterterrorism workshops in April 2014 in Singapore.

Smith and Barrett both sit on the GCCS’s advisory council, according to its website.

Sambei and Polaine have also run their own consultancy firm under different names, the last one being Amicus Legal Consultants. Among other services, the firm offered training on counterterrorism and covert intelligence gathering.

The firm’s website appears to have gone offline sometime after Feb. 16, but it used to include a page saying the firm developed for the U.S. State Department a five-day counterterrorism course that was given to people from intelligence services and law enforcement agencies in Northern Africa.

A page on the Amicus Legal Consultants website describing counter-terrorism training developed for the U.S. Department of State
A page on the Amicus Legal Consultants website describing counter-terrorism training developed for the U.S. Department of State. (Screenshot courtesy of Chris Blackburn)

The State Department didn’t answer questions from The Epoch Times about any involvement with Amicus by the press deadline. Attempts to reach Sambei and Polaine for comment were unsuccessful.

Cue Papadopoulos

In March 2016, the LCILP sent a delegation to Link, which included George Papadopoulos, at the time a newly minted adviser to the Trump campaign, who said he was recruited by Idris to the LCILP just a few months earlier.

According to Papadopoulos’s book, “Deep State Target: How I Got Caught in the Crosshairs of the Plot to Bring Down President Trump,” Idris and others at the LCILP were displeased when he told them he was joining the campaign.

Within 24 hours, however, Idris approached him with a completely changed attitude, telling him Papadopoulos had to take the trip to Rome first, before leaving for the campaign. Idris also introduced him to Sambei, telling him that she could arrange for him to meet a “very important person … who knows many people,” the book states.

That person turned out to be Mifsud.

Mifsud said that Link’s director, Scotti, asked him to co-host a table at an upscale dinner in Rome. At the table were Papadopoulos, Idris, and others from the LCILP—this is how Mifsud and Papadopoulos first met, according to Mifsud’s May 2018 deposition with his lawyer, Stephan Roh, who is also a minority owner of Link.

Papadopoulos, however, said Mifsud was introduced to him by Idris before the dinner and that Mifsud was the one who invited him to the dinner—shortly after asking whether Papadopoulos had contacts in Russia.

“I stand by my story,” Papadopoulos said in a Twitter message, when asked to comment on the difference between his and Mifsud’s portrayal of the events.

Roh acknowledged he noticed some differences, too. “We have been looking at this from a forensic point of view but are not yet able to present a conclusion,” he said via email.

An attempt to reach Idris for comment was unsuccessful.

Mifsud and Papadopoulos remained in contact and, ultimately, the two met in London, where Mifsud allegedly conveyed the Clinton “dirt” information.

Into Thin Air

The LCILP continued to operate for the better part of 2016.

Former FBI deputy general counsel Lisa Osofsky attended one of its expert roundtables in London in September that year, according to the website of her current employer, risk management company Exiger.

In 2017, however, both LAD and the LCILP vanished. Some of their figures, including Mifsud, Idris, Obaid, and McNally then appeared to receive teaching jobs at Link. Their names seem to have since been removed from Link’s faculty page.

Mifsud later said that it was Scotti and Idris who suggested to him that he should introduce Papadopoulos to his Russian contacts, according to Roh, who referred to “declarations of Mifsud made in front of our team.”

Mifsud has denied to the FBI that he told Papadopoulos anything about Russians having Clinton’s emails or information damaging to her.

Even after Mifsud was questioned by the FBI in February 2017, he was still communicating with at least one of his Russian contacts, Ivan Timofeev, while having Scotti in the loop, according to a March 13, 2017, email from Timofeev to Mifsud, which has Scotti, as well as others at Link, in carbon copy.

Timofeev, an academic with a think tank tied to the Russian foreign affairs ministry, was the only person with ties to the Russian government whom Mifsud introduced to Papadopoulos.

After Mifsud’s name came out in media reports about the Russia investigation later in 2017, Link supposedly cut ties with him.

“I can’t afford to have the university embroiled in shady situations,” Scotti told The Washington Post.

But Mifsud was still living in Rome until May 2018, in an apartment apparently provided by Link, according to an April 18 report by Italian list Il Foglio.

Roh said in an earlier email to The Epoch Times that he lost contact with Mifsud a few months ago.

The Epoch Times wasn’t able to determine Mifsud’s current whereabouts.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed who hosted, organized, and funded the counterterrorism workshops in Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, and East Africa in 2013 and 2014. The workshops were hosted by the United Nations’ Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and organized by the Global Center on Cooperative Security with the financial support of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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