Last week, the Washington Post published a lengthy investigative article titled: “Air Force feared generals’ foreign consulting jobs would cause scandal” by journalists Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones. The article disclosed Azerbaijan’s offer to hire two retired US Air Force generals. The Post went to extensive legal battles with the US Air Force to reveal the concealed details of this scandalous transaction.
Between 2016 and 2021, the Post submitted four Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the US government seeking the documents in this matter. However, the Air Force either did not respond or claimed that it could not find any documents. Finally, the Post had to file a lawsuit in court which resulted in the judge ordering the Air Force to release 400 pages of internal documents revealing the details of these two generals’ attempts “to profit” from their previous military contacts with Azerbaijan and the “Pentagon’s struggles to police such behavior,” according to the Post.
The Washington Post wrote that “during the height of war in Afghanistan, US military leaders flocked to…Azerbaijan to embrace its president, Ilham Aliyev” who was compared by the US Embassy in Baku to the “mafia boss in the ‘Godfather.’” The newspaper added: “Corruption flourished under the Aliyevs, with the CIA describing it as ‘pervasive’ and the State Department calling it ‘systemic.’” Nevertheless, the Pentagon persuaded Aliyev to open Azerbaijan’s airspace for US and NATO military supplies to go to Afghanistan. “In exchange, US officials promised a closer diplomatic partnership with Aliyev and steered $369 million in defense contracts to Silk Way Airlines, an Azerbaijan cargo carrier that US investigators say was controlled by the government.”
“Two US Air Force generals—Duncan McNabb and William Fraser III—who oversaw the supply routes from 2008 and 2014, after retirement, tried to cash in on their Azerbaijan connections,” the Washington Post wrote. The United States Transportation Command (Transcom) “had awarded 2,230 cargo airlift missions to Silk Way during McNabb’s tenure, plus 1,117 missions while Fraser was in command, for a total cost of $369 million.” Upon retiring from active duty, the four-star generals negotiated valuable consulting deals with Silk Way Airlines.
The US military routinely approves such jobs after retirement; however, it denied permission to General McNabb because it had serious concerns that it would be “a potential embarrassment and a risk to national security…fearing that the consulting jobs would trigger a scandal,” according to Air Force internal documents. General McNabb went to great lengths to fight the Air Force’s rejection of his job. According to a 2015 memo, General Fraser warned the US military that “if the US government prevented him from working for Silk Way, it would face ‘blow-back’ from Azerbaijan, and that Aliyev’s government might even block US and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan in retaliation.”
Philip Deaver, a civilian Air Force lawyer, wrote in his objection that since the US had given Silk Way Airlines $369 million, and since the two generals had managed the supply routes via Azerbaijan, it might look like McNabb and Fraser knew “that a perk of office is a lucrative advisory contract from Silk Way upon retirement.” McNabb said he had visited Azerbaijan five or six times.
General McNabb told the Washington Post, “he once hosted a Silk Way executive for dinner at his home at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.” After retiring from the Air Force in December 2011, he said, “officials with Silk Way Airlines contacted him about a possible business venture. Silk Way wanted to modernize its operational control center at Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku. The firm invited McNabb to return to Azerbaijan in June 2013 for a visit and offered to hire him as an adviser.” That same month, “he set up a consulting firm, Ares Mobility Solutions, partnering with a retired Air Force colonel and a captain in the Navy Reserve who had worked in the airline industry. Ares signed a contract with Silk Way that paid a monthly retainer of $10,000 plus expenses, documents show. Under the deal, McNabb was expected to travel to Baku every three to five months to work for a few days at a time.”
After assuming his Air Force position at Transcom in 2011, General Fraser flew to Baku and met with Pres. Aliyev. “Over the next three years, Fraser met with Aliyev twice in Azerbaijan and once in New York, according to the Azerbaijan’s government.”
In April 2014, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States, Elin Suleymanov, visited Scott Air Force Base in Illinois to tour Transcom headquarters. He told Fraser, who was nearing retirement, that “there are many opportunities for future military and commercial cooperation” between the United States and Azerbaijan, according to a US military press release.
Within days of his retirement, Fraser received a job offer from Silk Way Group. Fraser sought in advance permission from the Air Force, stating that he “would be a consultant/advisor providing subject matter expertise” and would “help develop future business opportunities” for the pay of $5,000 a day. However, the Air Force rejected his request. Fraser submitted a second application which was also turned down. “Fraser did not mention in his application that his son, William Fraser IV, also worked in the aviation business in Azerbaijan,” the Washington Post wrote. His son, “a former US Marine sergeant had taken a job two years earlier as an assistant to the president of Azerbaijan Airlines, the state-owned carrier, as a public relations and strategic communications specialist.”
US federal law requires that military personnel, who have served at least 20 years, obtain permission before they accept anything of value from a foreign government or companies controlled by foreign governments. When the Air Force found out that McNabb had not sought permission in advance of his work in Azerbaijan, his subsequent application was denied. He was told that he had violated US law. “There is no criminal penalty for breaking the law, but the military can withhold retirement pay from those who do so. McNabb confirmed that the Defense Department docked his pension but declined to say how much,” the Post wrote.
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