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Saudi-Linked Lobby Group Pitched Film to Humanize Child Detention Camp

The firm Qorvis has kept working for Saudi Arabia after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, seen here in a photo as he is remembered by Reporters Without Borders Communications Officer Noni Ghani at a Nov. 12, 2018, memorial service in Washington.


(Image: Photo by Zach Gibson / Getty Images.)

A lobbying group that was one of the few to keep Saudi Arabia as a client after the grisly murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi sought to make a film about the migrant child detention facility in Homestead, Florida, this summer, documents obtained exclusively by The Young Turks reveal.

The video concept appears to be a public relations exercise. It “is not about facts and figures,” instead opting to focus on the “emotive sense of the community” and “speaks to the nature of their caring relationship,” according to a video concept paper dated July of this year and obtained by TYT. The proposed narrative contrasts sharply with what rights groups have said about the facility. In July, the human rights group Amnesty International published a report calling for Homestead to be shut down due to the unlawful conditions witnessed by the group during visits in April and July of this year.

The concept paper, pitched by the lobbying and public relations group Qorvis, is essentially a script that appears to suggest using a short film to cast Homestead’s conditions in a more positive light. Qorvis has strong ties to Saudi Arabia, which has relied on lobbying firms and registered agents to preserve its unusually warm relationship with the Trump administration.

For example, last year Qorvis lobbied against the Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which would have let families of 9/11 victims proceed with litigation against Saudi Arabia. In one elaborate scheme, Qorvis is alleged to have gone as far as tricking veterans into lobbying on behalf of Saudi Arabia against the proposed legislation.

The Qorvis pitch for portraying the Homestead facility reads:

“The HS [Homestead] employee addresses the tight quarters. He or she acknowledges that it may be close but it is clean, warm and safe because welfare is a top priority.

“Maybe there is an anecdote about some of the conditions this [sic] innocent children have come from compared to what they have at homestead. There might be a comment on how what goes on here is very different than what has been happening at CBP facilities.

“We see exteriors of Homestead. It is a former military base but we shoot it to capture as much beauty as possible.”

Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, the only such shelter run by a private, for-profit company, is run by Caliburn International. Caliburn, whose board includes President Trump’s former Chief of Staff and Department of Homeland Security director, John Kelly, was awarded a federal contract worth over $350 million to operate Homestead.

Following Amnesty’s report as well as months of protests, by early August all unaccompanied migrant children had been removed from Homestead and relocated. But a recent report in the Miami Times citing multiple federal government sources says Homestead is expected to begin housing children again as early as October or November.

Tetiana Anderson, a spokeswoman for Caliburn who has defended Homestead, is listed as the director and producer of the video, according to the Qorvis concept paper.

It is unclear what ultimately became of Qorvis’ short film pitch. When asked, neither Caliburn, Qorvis, nor Anderson responded to multiple requests for comment.

Qorvis was the subject of controversy earlier this year due to its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Following reports that the brutal murder of Khashoggi had been authorized by Saudi’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, many of the regime’s U.S.-based lobbyists came under pressure to drop them as a client.

In November, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent letters to 18 lobbying firms demanding that they disclose their ties to Saudi Arabia. Several major lobbying groups ended up dropping the Saudis.

Qorvis, a registered agent of the government of Saudi Arabia, stood by the Gulf kingdom.

The government of Saudi Arabia was Qorvis’ top foreign principal in 2018, having paid $17.9 million to the firm, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Qorvis’ website has a bio page for Anderson, describing her a “strategic advisor.” The page also notes her “distinguished career career as a journalist,” which included “spending extensive time in the Middle East.” Anderson worked for Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia’s state-run media organization, according to her LinkedIn page.

Anderson did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TYT asking about the nature of her relationship with Qorvis.

Ken Klippenstein is a senior investigative reporter for TYT. He can be reached securely via Signal at 202-510-1268, on Twitter @kenklippenstein or via email: [email protected].

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