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Defense contractors join Turkish lobbying effort in pursuit of arms deals

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The Defense Department's request last week for congressional approval of the sale of $8 billion worth of PAC-3 missiles to Turkey was the latest victory for a disparate group of interests including defense contractors, finance and energy corporations, trade groups, the Turkish government and a well-financed network of domestic advocacy nonprofits. Intersecting interests have led them to join forces and lobby on a number of issues, including the characterization of distant historical events.

Turkey and the domestic advocacy groups that promote the interests of Turkish-Americans did so to protect the Turkey's image, while U.S. companies sought to bolster their own bottom lines. The efforts appear to have been successful for all the parties.

The Turkish government has consistently lavished millions each year on well-connected Washington lobbying firms--including those employing former House leaders--which contacted offices of the lower chamber 1,468 times, according to an analysis of data from Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker of disclosures filed in 2008 by firms under the Foreign Agent Registration Actnearly twice that of the second-highest country, Libya.

Turkey's efforts have now been augmented by a domestic effort launched by a Turkish-American entrepreneur. Yalcin Ayasli founded Hittite Microwave in 1985 as a one-man company with a grant from the U.S. Air Force, and built the electronics company into a firm worth $1.2 billion, with half of its products sold overseas, according to a company presentation. The company had $180 million in revenue in 2008, according to SEC filings.

Since 2004, Hittite Microwave has received roughly $30 million in contracts directly from the government--mostly to sponsor research and development--and has also done business with Lockheed Martin and other prime contractors, many of whom use Hittite electronics in their jets and other equipment, sold to both the U.S. military and Turkey.

In 2007, Ayasli transferred $30 million in stock to fund a new endeavor, the nonprofit Turkish Coalition of America. The organization is headquartered in a Washington suite that has also been listed as the address for the Turkish Coalition USA PAC, the lobbying firm of Lydia Borland (who has represented the Turkish government), and the law firm of Bruce Fein and Associates (Fein comprises half of the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund).

The family of Hittite founder Ayaslin contributed nearly half a million dollars to federal politics in 2007-2008, donating near the maximum amount to the House campaign committees for both parties, but largely neglecting the Senate.

TCA is headed by Lincoln McCurdy, who served as a U.S. diplomat in Istanbul from 1980 to 1984, and also functions as treasurer of the political action committee; he draws an additional retainer as Ayasli's "personal advisor" on "political matters," in his own words. From 1989 to 2004, McCurdy led the American Turkish Council, a lobbying organization funded by membership dues from defense and energy companies with an interest in Turkey, and whose executive ranks include Borland.

In addition to the advocacy done through the ATC (which also funds trips to Turkey for congressional staff), a handful of its members--Citigroup, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Chevron, Textron, United Technologies, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, which spent a combined $80 million lobbying Washington last yearlobbied Congress directly on the genocide resolution and other issues important to Turkey; the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group, helped coordinate the effort.

A matter of historical record

For Turkey and its allies, perception has been everything when it comes to the nearly century-old killings that left more than a million Armenians dead as the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The country has lobbied House and Senate and the executive branch to oppose congressional resolutions to label the incidents genocide, and funded academic programs that bolster the country's image and downplay the role of the government in the killings.

Those programs include the Institute for Turkish Studies at Georgetown University, which received an initial $3 million disbursement from Turkey in 1982 and continues to draw annual financial support from the government, and is chaired by Nabi Sensoy, Turkey's ambassador to the United States. In 2006, a board member, Donald Quataert, resigned from the institute, claiming that after he acknowledged in an academic review that the Armenian killings met the definition of genocide, Sensoy told him Turkish authorities had threatened to revoke the Institute's funding. Sensoy disputed the allegations.

The Turkish American Legal Defense Fund, financed by TCA, aggressively pursues those who threaten the country's reputation, including suing the Southern Poverty Law Center and David Holthouse, a journalist who prepared a report for the nonprofit, for upwards of $8 million on behalf of an academic. In that case, the Foreign Agents Registration Act is at issue. Holthouse suggested that, as part of a group of professors who have enjoyed endowed positions at universities financed directly by the government of Turkey and who have expressed views on the killings outside of the academic mainstream, he was acting as a foreign agent. If true, the academic would be required to file detailed disclosures with the U.S. Justice Department.

Courting Ankara

Since the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003, the U.S. government has been especially wary of riling Turkey, which shares a border with the war-torn country. Despite widespread support for the resolution labeling the Armenian killings genocide, lawmakers have consistently kept it from a floor voteeven in 2007, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed her preference for a vote.

Few members have been as vocal as opposing the resolution as Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who sits on the House Foreign Affairs committee and is a top recipient of Turkish Coalition USA PAC money.

More quietly, U.S. companies with interests in Turkey have lobbied on the resolution. For U.S. defense contractors, the Turkish armed forces are a multi-billion dollar market--Lockheed Martin and Raytheon would benefit from to latest proposed missile sale. Chevron is constructing a pipeline that passes through Turkey. CitiGroup, which has funded development projects in Turkey since 1975, acquired a twenty percent stake in the country's largest private bank in 2006, and acquired an investment brokerage in 2007.

By itself, Turkey boasts a formidable army of Washington lobbyists. The government has employed the Livingston Group, which boasts Bob Livingston, who'd served as chair of the House Appropriations Committee in the 1990s; Dickstein Shapiro LLP, which has former House Speaker Dennis Hastert on its payroll; DLA Piper, which employed former House majority leader Dick Armey, and the Gephardt Group, led by former House minority leader and Democratic presidential candidate Richard Gephardt. With the addition of corporate interests and its network of domestic supporters, it has built a formidable influence operation--one that can prevent legislation from coming to a vote.