If voters squelch Mayor Gavin Newsom's bid to ascend to the position of lieutenant governor, it seems he knows people who may be able to stage a political coup on his behalf. It turns out two of the Newsom campaign's top strategists have been earning hefty paychecks from a deposed sheik accused of plotting to unseat the leaders of a small Persian Gulf emirate.
The sheik in question is Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi of Ras al-Khaimah (RAK), one of the seven states that comprise the United Arab Emirates. The Newsom strategists are Jason Kinney, a partner in the Sacramento firm California Strategies, and Gavin's spokesman for life, Peter Ragone.
Since October 2008, California Strategies has been drawing a $25,000 monthly retainer to run a publicity campaign playing up Khalid as a friend of the free West and portraying the so-called usurpers who booted him out and took over RAK in 2003 as dangerous buddies of Iran and al-Qaida. On Khalid's behalf, California Strategies has mounted billboard campaigns, written favorable blog articles, and, in a move surely close to Newsom's heart, established a Twitter feed. Documents the firm filed with the Department of Justice indicate California Strategies channeled more than $1 million of the sheik's money into this effort between May and October of last year alone.
In addition to goodwill tours, billboards, and voluminous tweets, Khalid has met with numerous U.S. leaders. He attended President Barack Obama's inauguration and has sat down with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (for whom Kinney, Ragone, and fellow California Strategies consultant Chris Lehane all have done work).
The strategists' advocacy for the sheik was reported by the Chronicle last month, when Kinney initiated a federal investigation after files were allegedly "cyberhacked" off his computer. He tells SF Weekly this was undertaken by "a U.S.–based firm comprised of ex-intelligence agents" working for RAK.
Why would RAK-funded spooks be filching Kinney's files? According to a story in the London Guardian last month based on "internal documents," the California Strategies' P.R. blitz is part of a deliberate, years-long attempt to destabilize the current RAK regime, leading to a pending coup (something the Chronicle didn't mention).
Kinney pooh-poohed the Guardian article, but declined to speak on the record. He instead insisted on answering questions in writing. Not surprisingly, he did not give yes-or-no answers to queries such as "Is Sheik Khalid planning a coup?" and "Is regime change desirable in RAK?" The answer to the former noted that the sheik is "the legally recognized Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of RAK and believes rule of law should apply in RAK." The answer to the latter stated that "Respect for the rule of law is desirable in RAK." Kinney also sent SF Weekly no fewer than 25 articles and documents attesting to Khalid's pro-Westernism and all-around great-guyness.
We hear Newsom is also fairly pro-Western. But perhaps his ascent to power will be smoothest if he just wins November's election.