Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What's With The Rajev Fernando Thing?

Rajiv Fernando? Who is that? How does he relate to Hillary? And how the hell does one get an Indian first name and a Hispanic last name?

Well, I'm not going to go into that last part, but many people have questions about Raj Fernando and his relationship to the Clintons. Here's the story:

Raj Fernando is a businessman, securities trader and philanthropist. He's basically a financial and computer geek, and as a result of his success he's raised money for all sorts of causes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to no-kill animal shelters. But he's also raised a substantial amount of money for politicians, and particularly the Clintons, and that is what makes the story about him so sexy with the press.

In 2009, Fernando was appointed to the International Security Advisory Board (ISAB), an agency of the State Department which advises regarding all aspects of arms control, including containing nuclear proliferation, international security, and sensitive diplomacy. As an advisory panel, it has no real power, but the people on the board are usually people with extensive backgrounds in sensitive security matters relating to CBR warfare (chemical, biological, radiological). Former ambassadors, retired congress members, high-ranking military types and nuclear scientists tended to be the usual fare among this group. They nearly always had current or former security clearances. So this "techaccountant" getting appointed to the board raised a few eyebrows. Ostensibly, he was appointed for his expertise in cyber-security. In reality, it looked a lot like favor-trading.

Well, ABC News decided to run an expose on the guy in August of 2011. (You can see the full news story here, but it also contains "revelations about drone strikes" that proved to be nothing, so the story is a bit out of date. Just be warned.) They asked how Raj Fernando got named onto the board. He resigned almost immediately afterward. Over a year later, ABC confronted Fernando about his now-irrelevant appointment. He was clearly startled by the sudden appearance of news reporters asking about something long dead. Clearly, he was used to nobody knowing who he even was. "How do you know my name?" was his very telling knee-jerk response to the questioning. Then he ran away.

I don't blame him. And honestly, I really hate this sort of "gotcha" journalism. It's cheap, and it's unprofessional. But the story does smell a little bit fishy. It makes critics think that Mr. Fernando got named to the ISAB simply because he gave a lot of money. Could this be true?

I find Fernando's appointment odd, yes. But I would find it a little bit more odd if the ISAB would remain under-represented in knowing how terrorists could use the Internet for spying or obtaining a nuclear weapon, as well as how terror cells could move large amounts of money through securities exchanges. Both of these are areas of expertise that Fernando clearly had. So yes, there was solid reason for naming him on the board.

If one looks at the official page for the ISAB, one can see present and former members. Raj Fernando is not even named as a former member. It also does not name any successor. So perhaps the ISAB doesn't think much about him in retrospect. Or perhaps cyber-terrorism experts are kept anonymous because it makes no sense to advertise such valuable people and make them targets of terrorism as well. You can draw your own conclusions.

Also, if this is favor-trading, where are all the other big Clinton donors in government committees? Surely, ABC News could find more than one, couldn't they? And having found one, they must have gone looking for more. Where are they?

Understanding that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it's still a fair question.

But why was Raj Fernando named to the ISAB? Was it the money he gave to Hillary? Well, ABC News again provides an answer:

“The true answer is simply that S staff (Cheryl Mills) added him,” wrote Wade Boese, who was Chief of Staff for the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, in an email to [Jamie] Mannina, the press aide. “Raj was not on the list sent to S; he was added at their insistence.”

This appears to say that Hillary's staffers insisted that Fernando be included. And why was that? Well, apparently he talked his way into it with them, as reported by at least one D.C. news source. One of the emails that has surfaced as a result of the recent leak has Raj Fernando telling Hillary's top aide, Huma Abedin:

“In addition to my previous experiences listed in my resume, I have been meeting with professors from Northwestern, University of Chicago and Yale for the past 6 months. I know I will be able to hold my own and be valued contributor to this board. I promise I will make the secretary look good.”

I don't know what this says to you, but to me, it says that Raj was a smoothie. It's probably one of the things that made him so successful at business and securities trading.

Look, people get named to government committee jobs as a result of donating large sums of money all the time. But this doesn't appear to be one of those instances. Raj clearly had something to contribute to such a sensitive security advisory board, namely the ability to make them smarter in regards to how terrorists might move money and use the Internet to their own ends. He was a nobody at first, but he learned quickly enough to not cause any concern that warranted attention. Not, at least, until ABC News came snooping around, and he decided to quit rather than be a dead-weight. But no dead horse goes unbeaten these days, so ABC News dredged it up again in 2012, and have dredged it up again in 2016.

I don't think Rajiv Fernando got his appointment to the ISAB because he gave a lot of money. But I DO think he got his chance to talk his way onto the board by giving a lot of money! It's not how good you are, it's who you know. And Raj's financial power got him to know a lot of people. He met with Hillary's staffers repeatedly, and then eyed a job that few outsiders ever get a chance to bid for.

It worked. Hillary's staffers wanted Raj on the board. So he got on the board. Don't blame Hillary, it was Cheryl Mills.

And it's not like Fernando hasn't had similar positions to the one he had with the ISAB. He has also held memberships on other national security boards, including the board of directors for the American Security Project, the Foreign Policy Leadership Committee at the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Now, I was unable to find whether he held these positions before his appointment to the ISAB or not. Some have suggested on Reddit that he held at least one of these positions beforehand, which would give him more expertise to lend than merely his financial and cyber-security prowess. But I think it's far more likely that he parlayed his ISAB experience into these other positions. Not even ABC News would have overlooked such positions if he'd held them prior to being named to the International Security Advisory Board.

Hillary-haters will not be content to blame her staffers for the scandal. They will want to paint her as the mastermind behind it. But between plotting the socialization of the United States and working to overturn the second amendment, when on earth would she find time to bother with some appointment to a security advisory panel with no real power?

My determination is, she didn't.



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