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A consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts is trying to explain a multi- million dollar contract it signed with the Libyan government several years ago. The biggest part of the job was giving Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi an image makeover. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: In 2007, TV interviewer David Frost and two academics from the U.S. and the U.K. sat in a studio in Libya. As something crashed off-stage, Frost faced the camera.
DAVID FROST: Hello and welcome to "Libya in the Global Age," a conversation with Moammar Gadhafi, who we're delighted is here.
OVERBY: The two-hour program was part of a, quote, "dialogue around the ideas of Moammar Gadhafi." The idea came from Monitor Group, a consulting firm founded by Harvard professors.
L: to transform Gadhafi from a dictator to a, quote, "individual thinker" on questions of policy and philosophy. That's according to Monitor documents leaked to Libyan dissidents and posted online. So for example, Frost asked about direct democracy...
FROST: Was the inspiration for that Athens and the Athenians, or did you get the idea somewhere else?
OVERBY: Gadhafi's answers were translated into English.
MOAMMAR GADHAFI: (Through translator) No one has the right to have authority and power alone. This is what I came to the conclusion of, as a result of the conflict over power throughout human history.
OVERBY: This all happened during a short golden age of U.S.-Libyan relations. In 2003, Libya took responsibility for the 1988 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. And it agreed to pay the victims' families. The U.S. opened an embassy in Tripoli. Rutgers Professor Emeritus Benjamin Barber, one of the academics on the David Frost show, said on CNN this week that critics forget how things were.
BENJAMIN BARBER: And then try to go back and rewrite history - back in 2006 and 2007, when the Bush administration was working hard to create new alliances - and say those of us who were in Libya, trying to work internally for change, is I think more than dangerous.
OVERBY: But Dartmouth College Professor Dirk Vandewalle, the author of "A History of Modern Libya," says Monitor Group should have been smarter than that.
DIRK VANDEWALLE: I think very few people that had really watched Gadhafi over the years had any illusions whatsoever. But I think there was also the feeling that in a sense there was an enormous amount of money that could certainly be made as the country opened back up.
OVERBY: William Luneburg teaches lobbying law at the University of Pittsburgh. He says FARA was enacted to fight Nazi propaganda in the 1930s.
WILLIAM LUNEBURG: Whether it's burnishing Hitler's reputation or Gadhafi's reputation so that ultimately the United States foreign policy would be consistent with their interests, that seems to squarely sit within what FARA is about.
OVERBY: Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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