Rand Corp. analyst Laurent Murawiec, who set off an international incident three weeks ago when the WashingtonPost reported the substance of an anti-Saudi briefing he gave in July to the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, seems to have stepped in it again. On Aug. 13, the Dubai news site ITP.net quoted extensively from a telephone interview Murawiec purportedly gave to Arabian Business reporter Massoud Derhally. According to Derhally's story, "Potent words, softly spoken, rock Saudi-U.S. relations," Murawiec said that a gag order prevented him from talking about the Pentagon briefing but offered these observations about the Saudis and the Arab world:
My experience of your part of the world is that most people hate the Saudis' guts, not to make too fine a point about it. Everybody knows they are a bunch of lazy assholes that are arrogant, too big for their shoes, which behave in a consistently disgusting manner. People in your region have told me that for 20 years. But I am not telling you anything new.
A week later in an Agence France-Presse news story, Murawiec denied the statements attributed to him. "I gave no interview neither to that guy ... nor to anybody. The whole story is spurious and void," Murawiec said. IPT.net responded immediately with a story, "Taped interview exposes lies from U.S. analyst," which included this Windows Media sound recording of the purported interview to prove Murawiec talked to them.
Does the voice on the recording belong to Murawiec? Murawiec deflected Slate's query to a spokesperson at Rand, where he still works, and the spokesperson said the think tank's only comment was this statement released last week by Murawiec's boss, Rand President James Thompson: "The comments on the tape recording on the website ITP.net are offensive and repugnant, and Rand repudiates them in the strongest terms. Rand was unaware of these comments until they were reported by ITP.net."
Rand President Thompson's "strongest terms," which neither confirm nor deny that the voice is Murawiec's, surely take the "think" out of "think tank."
For those arriving at the story late, the Rand analyst roiled U.S.-Saudi relations in early August when the Washington Post reported on Page One the gist of his 24-slide, July 10 PowerPoint briefing before the Defense Policy Board, a 31-member, bipartisan advisory committee headed by Middle East hawk Richard M. Perle and comprised of defense and foreign-policy experts. Murawiec's PowerPoint deck, published in "Press Box," portrayed Saudi Arabia as "active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader." He recommended that the United States "target" Saudi Arabia's oil, financial holdings, and even its "holy places" unless the country stamped out anti-U.S. and anti-Israel writings, stopped funding fundamentalist mosques, and prosecuted or isolated "those involved in the terror chain, including in the Saudi intelligence services."
The U.S. damage control brigade assuaged Arabs who convulsed at the Post's scoop. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Saudi foreign minister the briefing had no bearing on U.S. policy. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, under whom the Defense Policy Board toils, similarly distanced himself from the presentation.
Other polite dissociations followed the flap. Perle, who had invited Murawiec to speak to the Defense Policy Board, told Time magazine he didn't know what Murawiec was going to say before the talk. The Rand Corp. stated in a press release that Murawiec's presentation was not paid for or commissioned by Rand and that the views he expressed were his alone. Shortly after the Post story ran, George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs took down the page(http://www.gwu.edu/~elliott/facultystaff/murawiec.cfm) that listed him as a faculty member. Elliott School Associate Dean Kristin Lord says the school decided not to rehire Murawiec as an adjunct professor "around December" of last year and that the disappearance of Murawiec's faculty member page was not related to the controversy. According to Elliott School professor Gordon Adams, Murawiec worked for the school for two semesters and was introduced to it by people at Rand. (A description of Murawiec's fall 2000 course, "Revolution in 21st Century Warfare," remains on the school's Web site.)
The only good news falling on Murawiec these days is the bad news posted on the Web by his former colleagues at the paranoid political organization headed by convicted felon and perpetual presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.
Prior to the Pentagon Powerpoint flap, if the LaRouche organization mentioned Murawiec at all, it treated him as a minor defector who had joined the organization in the early '70s, serving as the "European economics editor" of Executive Intelligence Review before leaving in the late '80s. For instance, in a Jan. 2001 article, LaRouche abuse of Murawiec was limited to this sort of towel snapping: Murawiec was "a real-life 'Beetlebaum' of the legendary mythical horse-race, and a hand-me-down political carcass, currently in the possession of institutions of a peculiar odor."