Harmful habits

It’s not a stretch to believe that since the earliest versions of democracy were introduced in Ancient Greece, there have undoubtedly been incidents of political corruption and unlawful conduct. It’s also safe to state that the United States has not been immune to such wrongdoings. Politicians are chosen by the people. Supporters of politicians are given jobs. Supporters take use of their newfound power to generate funds for themselves. Finally, supporters become reliant on politicians, even if it means sacrificing integrity and decency in office.

Given this predictability, it’s reasonable to assume that cronyism in politics eventually leads to deception, as leaders increasingly rely on unqualified sycophants who will always put the interests of their commander on a higher shelf than the interests of the country. This is a cycle that is not just unimaginative, but also almost fully predictable at this time. And that is regrettable.

The Trump administration was littered with layer after layer of cronyism and, predictably, the illegal activity that followed. In August 2020, Steve Bannon was accused with orchestrating a fraudulent fundraising scheme. Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in jail for a litany of offences, including the payment of hush money to two women who allegedly had affairs with Trump. In November 2019, Roger Stone was found guilty of lying to Congress and intimidating a witness who threatened to go public with information that could have jeopardized Trump’s campaign.

And this is the aberrant zone where Trump stood head and shoulders above everyone else. He successfully transformed the bullying that existed on the streets of Washington, D.C. into a white-collar art form that took place on a regular basis within the sacred walls of some of the country’s most historic buildings.

In 2016, Dr. Haroon Ullah found himself in the Trump administration’s crosshairs. Dr. Ullah gathered a wealth of information regarding the Trump administration’s approach while working as an assistant to the US ambassador in Afghanistan and began to speak with colleagues and superiors about the policy abuse he was experiencing, particularly in the Middle East. Based on his years of graduate-level study in the Middle East’s intricate history, Dr. Ullah was regarded as a rare authority on US-Afghanistan relations at the time. Dr. Ullah was detained on a fabricated allegation connected to an administrative violation when his dissatisfaction became public.

Worse, despite an exceptional career as a diplomat and risking his life to protect both Americans and American interests (including being held at gunpoint while serving at the US Embassy in Pakistan), Trump investigators worked to portray Dr. Ullah as “un-American”.

During the investigation, authorities began questioning Dr. Ullah’s coworkers about his patriotism, specifically if his allegiances were to the present Trump administration’s political course or to the interests of foreign parties. Despite a 20-year career against terrorism, counseling two Secretaries of State on combating Islamist extremism, publishing three best-selling counterterrorism books, and receiving multiple State Department awards, this is the case.

An in-depth study of the probe, including a review of papers obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that Trump’s sleuths went to great lengths to ridicule, blackball, and destroy Dr. Ullah. They questioned Cameron Munter, the former US Ambassador to Pakistan, who later wrote to US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, saying that Dr. Ullah “was truly a standout, someone whose extraordinary knowledge and remarkable gifts made a real difference to American interests during this difficult time.” Dr. Ullah also received a letter of support from former US Marine Corps General John Allen, who described him as “one of the most brilliant young scholars and operations experts that I have come across in my nearly fifty years in the field.”

Munter went on to say that this investigation reminded him of the smear campaign that took place during the 2000 Republican presidential primary between George W Bush and John McCain, when the electorate was distracted by a false racist diversion involving John McCain’s illegitimate African American child.

The case of the United States Open Technology Fund (OTF), the Office of Internet Freedom, and the encryption software dubbed Ultrasurf was also found through documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Dr. Ullah was named Director of the Office of Internet Freedom and given the task of modernizing the office. According to a recent NPR investigation, Trump appointee Michael Pack sidelined officials in order to fund and grant Ultrasurf software development contracts. The issue was that the OTF had previously exclusively financed open source software, and Ultrasurf was no longer in operation. Dr. Ullah saved the US government almost $2 million in bloated contracts with OIF and prevented the illegal funding of Ultrasurf, according to FOIA papers. Dr. Ullah ended up in the crosshairs of the administration and those wanting to sponsor an extremist religious outfit as a result of this reporting action.

History may show that the Trump administration’s tendency to retaliate against whistleblowers had a real-world impact on the ability to expose any and all illegal political conduct and other forms of political corruption to the general public, all while attempting to destroy a vital mechanism in the “checks and balances” system of the US democracy established by the country’s founding fathers more than two centuries ago.

Dr Matthew Pajares-Yngson
Dr Matthew Pajares-Yngson
Datu Matthew Pajares Yngson is the Representative Councillor of the Caribbean ASEAN Council, and Diplomatic Affairs Envoy of the Eastern Caribbean-Southeast Asia Chamber, an organization recognized by the United Nations through the UN-OHRLLS. Datu Yngson holds a Doctorate in Professional Studies in International Relations and Diplomacy, and a Master of Arts in International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy. He is the only Filipino-Dominican alumnus of H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conferences since its establishment in 1956. Datu Yngson is also the Royal Ambassador of The 35th Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo and was bestowed the princely title of "Rajah of Tambulian Island" for his humanitarian work in supporting the Tausug people of the Sulu Archipelago.