Qorvis

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Qorvis Communications is a public relations/lobbying firm based in Washington, DC which specializes in representing high-profile overseas clients - including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Brunei. They are fond of editing Wikipedia to make their clients look better, as documented by Business Insider and Project PM.

According to a media release on 9 Aug, 2000, Qorvis was:

'Formed through the merger of three well-known and highly regarded companies: The Poretz Group, an investor relations firm serving technology companies; The Weber/Merritt Company, a public affairs and grassroots firm; and JAS Communications, a public relations and marketing communications company. Main mover in the formation of Qorvis was Michael Petruzzello, former CEO of Shandwick North America, who will be the new firm's managing director. The company launches with approximately $14 million in revenues and 22 employees. In addition, powerhouse law firm Patton Boggs has established an exclusive strategic alliance with Qorvis and is the company's lead investor.'[1]

Much of the criticism and speculation directed at Qorvis involves its "Geo-Political Solutions" division, which is believed to have targeted activists in Bahrain and elsewhere via dishonest use of social media.

Bahrain

Qorvis acquired its Bahrain account from Bell Pottinger in July 2010, for whom it served as a subcontractor until August 2011. [2] In its November 2011 FARA statement, the firm declared having rendered the following services to the Kingdom:

  • monitoring daily media coverage relevant to Bahrain;
  • conducting press activities for government officials
  • drafting/distributing fact sheets, op-ed pieces speeches and news articles by e-mail in order to position Bahrain as a committed player in the war on terror, an agent of peace in the Middle East and other unspecified issues "pertinent to the Kingdom."[3]

Service began approximately one month prior to a major crackdown on Shiite opposition figures and domestic media outlets.[4] The New York Times speculated that the clampdown was part of the lead-up to the October 2010 parliamentary elections in which the Sunni establishment was expected to lose power to representatives of the Shiite demographic majority.[5]

Qorvis sparked criticism in March, 2011, after issuing a misleading press release on behalf of the Bahraini government.[6] After a draconian crackdown in which security forces in the Bahraini capital violently dispersed unarmed demonstrators, interrupted telecommunications services and reportedly hindered the treatment of injured civilians, Hilary Clinton issued a strong criticism of the government's actions.[7] Qorvis responded by issuing a press release that emphasized Clinton's positive comments by presenting them out of context, while completely skirting her critical statements:[8]

      PARIS, March 19, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today emphasized the 
      commitment of the United States toward Bahrain and her hope for the success of the National Dialogue in the island 
      kingdom. She also affirmed the "sovereign right" of Bahrain to invite security forces from allied countries, and 
      stated that the U.S. shared the goals of the GCC regarding Bahrain.
      
      Since the uprising in Bahrain began, Bahrain's Crown Prince has called on all parties to engage in a dialogue to 
      reconcile differences. Secretary Clinton said the goal of the United States is "a credible political process that can 
      address the legitimate aspirations of all the people of Bahrain."
      
      Ambassador Houda Nonoo appreciated the Secretary's comments that dialogue should unfold in a peaceful, positive 
      atmosphere that ensures that students can go to school, businesses can operate and people can undertake their normal 
      daily activities. Said Ambassador Nonoo, "The government of Bahrain has consistently maintained that differences 
      should be resolved peacefully around the negotiating table, but unfortunately, the opposition has not responded to 
      this offer and instead has chosen to continue along the path of violence and disruption of normal life in Bahrain. It 
      is my government's belief that wisdom will prevail among the opposition and they will come to the negotiating table to 
      resolve all differences peacefully."
      
      This has been issued by Qorvis Communications on behalf of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States.

      SOURCE Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States*

Aside from misleading press releases and an incident described below involving activist Maryam al-Khawaja, the extent of Qorvis' role in the regime's managing of foreign perceptions may perhaps best be summed up via two specific incidents:

1. A 2012 event in D.C. in which three pro-regime youth were portrayed as embodying "the leading voice for change and reform" despite criticizing the more widespread opposition movement, and despite the event having been overseen by Qorvis and promoted by staffer Adam Croglia.

2. A 2012 Washington Post profile of Bahrain's ambassador to the U.S., Houda Nonoo, in which Nonoo consented to the interview only under the condition that a Qorvis representative would be in the room during its entirety.


Recent media:

  • 'How Bahrain works Washington' from Salon (Dec 9, 2011)[9]
  • 'Meet Bahrain's Lobbyists' from The Hill (Dec 9, 2011)[10]

Attack on Maryam al-Khawaja

In May, 2011, Bahrani human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja was invited to speak as part of a panel discussion 'Dawn of a New Arab World' at the Oslo Freedom Forum.[11] Writing in the Huffington Post, Oslo Freedom Forum founder and CEO Thor Halvorssen[12] notes that 'the Bahraini government has been aided by a coterie of "reputation management" experts, including professionals from the Washington, D.C., offices of Qorvis Communications and the Potomac Square Group, in addition to Bell Pottinger out of their offices in London and Bahrain.' He goes on to describe:

'Within minutes of Maryam's speech (streamed live online) the global Bahraini PR machine went into dramatic overdrive. A tightly organized ring of Twitter accounts began to unleash hundreds of tweets accusing Maryam of being an extremist, a liar, and a servant of Iran. Simultaneously, the Oslo Freedom Forum's email account was bombarded with messages, all crudely made from a simple template, arguing that Maryam al-Khawaja is an enemy of the Bahraini people and a "traitor." Most of the U.S.-based fake tweeting, fake blogging (flogging), and online manipulation is carried out from inside Qorvis Communication's "Geo-Political Solutions" division.
The effort is mechanical and centrally organized, and it goes beyond the online world. In fact, right before Maryam was to give her speech, she noticed two young women in the crowd who stalk her speeches and heckled her a few days earlier at an event in the U.S.
More so than intimidation, violence, and disappearances, the most important tool for dictatorships across the world is the discrediting of critics like Maryam.'[13]

An earlier Huffington Post article on Qorvis, linked to by Halvorssen, states:

'One of the methods used by Qorvis and other firms is online reputation management -- through its Geo-Political Solutions (GPS) division, the firm uses '"black arts" by creating fake blogs and websites that link back to positive content, "to make sure that no one online comes across the bad stuff," says the former insider. Other techniques include the use of social media, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.'[14]

Attacks made on Maryam al-Khawaja through Twitter were numerous at that time and this, from @ActivateBahrain, is representative: #OFF2011 Maryam Al Khawaja is presenting a falsified presentation in #oslo about #Bahrain it is a package of lies and exaggerations.[15]

Another, from @Dand00na86, and posted to the #Bahrain hashtag included two phone numbers and the message Let Maryam Al-Khawaja know what you think of her lies by calling her direct![16]

Thor Halvorssen also writes that a second Bahrani blogger, Ali Abdulemam, had also been invited to speak at the 2011 Forum:

'Ali was imprisoned by his government in September 2010 for "spreading false information." After being released on February 23, he enthusiastically accepted his speaking invitation and plans were made for his travel. And then he disappeared. No one has seen or heard from him since March 18.'

The Geo-Political Solutions division of Qorvis is under the supervision of partner Matt J Lauer.

Yemen

To date, Qorvis' work in Yemen has come about through their association with UK firm Bell Pottinger which is reported to have held contracts with Yemen’s National Awareness Authority and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[17]

On November 29, 2010, Qorvis' lodged a statement with the US Department of Justice's register of lobbyists which outlined its role as a subcontractor to Bell Pottinger on a 'one off basis'[18]. The work required Qorvis 'to place an opinion article by a Yemeni official in a news outlet'.[19]

A second statement was lodged on August 4, 2011. Qorvis was to be 'subcontracted to provide media outreach for print and television media and strategic communications consulting' and this would last 'for the duration of Bell Pottinger's engagement by Yemen'. The contract was worth a 'payment of $30,000 monthly'[20].

Involvement With Saudi Government's 9/11 Response

Three of Qorvis's founding partners - Judy Smith, Bernie Merritt and Jim Weber - left in December 2002, probably due to the firm's taking $200,000 a month from the Saudi government to aid in downplaying the links between Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda after September 11th, 2001.[21]

Equatorial Guinea

Since May 2010, Qorvis has provided various public relations services to the regime of Equatorial Guinea in exchange for a reported $60,000 in addition to expenses. Think Progress reported in March of 2012 that the firm had produced several dozen upbeat press releases under its contract with President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, whose government consistently ranks among the worst of human rights offenders by monitoring organizations.

Contact Information

  • 1201 Connecticut Avenue Northwest #500 Washington D.C., DC 20036-2612
  • PO Box 62081 Baltimore, MD 21264 [as of 03/04/2011]
  • Phone: (202) 496-1000
  • Fax: (202) 496-1300
  • Website: http://www.qorvis.com
  • Email: [email protected]

Other:

Major Players

Managing Partner & CEO:

Partners:

  • Stan Collender
  • Sam Dealey - Former editor of the Washington Times
  • Ron Faucheux
  • Greg Lagana - Former SVP for communications and marketing at DynCorp International; previous to that, worked for second Bush Administration at the Coalition Information Center. Lagana has been heavily involved in dealing with nation-state clients.
  • Matt J Lauer - Former executive director of U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy @ Department of State.
  • Rich Masters - Talking head. Manages client teams for the House of Saud as well as big pharma and the sugar industry.
  • John Reid - Partner and managing director for the Middle East.
  • Esther Thomas Smith
  • Karen Vahouny

Chairman:

  • Abdenbi Abdelmoumen

Vice Chairs:

  • Chuck Conconi
  • Nader Ayoub

Official exec bios plus other info compiled here

Media Reports

  • 'Yemen’s butcher, Ali Saleh hires PR firm Bell Pottinger (& Qorvis) amid murder of journo and protesters'[22]
  • 'Lobbyists Jump Ship In Wake Of Mideast Unrest'[23]
  • 'PR Mercenaries, Their Dictator Masters, And The Human Rights Stain'[24]
  • 'Extreme Makeover: Mideast Autocrat Edition: From Moammar Qaddafi to the house of Saud, six repressive rulers who hired PR firms to help clean up their images'[25]
  • 'Spinning Bahrain, the Qorvis way'[26]
  • 'State of Virginia employing PR firm used by Middle East regimes accused of human rights abuses'[27]
  • 'Who would like to provide PR for a brutal, US-backed dictatorship?'[28]
  • 'Qorvis Working with Bahrain’s Ruling Family to Improve Image'[29]
  • 'Qorvis Announces Appointment of New Partners'[30]

Further Research

Equatorial Guinea and Obiang:

  • The campaign for Theodorin

Egypt and Ahmed Ezz:

  • The two-year contract with Ezz

Saudi Arabia:

  • Introduction to campaign:
    • 'Did Saudis Deceptively Finance Ad Campaign?'[31]
  • FBI raid:
    • 'FBI Searches Saudi Arabia's PR Firm'[32]

Other:

  • Astroturfing - Twitter, Blogs & PACs
  • Political Contributions
  • Petruzzello and John Edwards
  • Relationship with Patton Boggs
  • Relationship with Gulf Law Group/Brewer Law Group (Both Qorvis and Brewer occupy the same DC suite)