In the latest scandal to rock the U.S. government’s international media networks, the Obama-appointed chief’s right hand man has pleaded guilty to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the government. The disgraced senior government official at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Haroon K. Ullah, admitted that he fraudulently obtained $40,000 in government funds by falsifying hotel invoices, fake taxi receipts and by billing Uncle Sam for personal travel. “Additionally, Ullah admitted that he created a falsified letter from a real medical doctor purportedly claiming that Ullah needed to fly in business class at government expense because of a sore knee,” according to a Justice Department statement. “By submitting the forged letter from the doctor, Ullah fraudulently obtained costly business class upgrades at government expense, including on lengthy international flights. Ullah admitted to creating many of the false documents on his government-issued laptop computer.”
Ullah, who is described as an educator, scholar and diplomat, was handpicked by USAGM Chief John F. Lansing in 2017 to be the agency’s chief strategic officer. The author of a book called “Vying for Allah’s Vote,” Ullah oversaw several divisions at USAGM and was the key liaison charged with positioning the media networks within the broader U.S. government. As Lansing’s top assistant, “Ullah’s main responsibility was to lead USAGM to become a more strategically relevant agency within the national security, foreign affairs, internet censorship and global media spheres,” according to his biography on the agency’s website. Before getting recruited by Lansing, Ullah, a Harvard graduate, worked at the State Department. He recently pleaded guilty to theft of government money and faces up to a decade in prison, though it is unlikely he’ll serve that much time. Ullah is scheduled to be sentenced in October.
The senior USAGM official’s crimes mark the latest embarrassment for the taxpayer-funded media conglomerate which is comprised of five international networks—Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia and Middle East Broadcasting. The media outlets get about $685 million a year from American taxpayers and reportedly reach 345 million people worldwide in 59 languages. The global media agency was created to counter disinformation spread by oppressive regimes abroad. The USAGM website states that its mission is “to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”
Under Lansing’s tenure USAGM has deviated from that mission repeatedly, making it difficult to understand why the Trump administration has not replaced him. Earlier this year Lansing utilized Stalinist techniques to retaliate against journalists behind a broadcast critical of leftwing billionaire George Soros. The Spanish-language segment aired in May 2018 on Television Martí and was available for months online. A scandal-plagued Democratic senator tried for bribery and corruption eventually heard about it and ordered Lansing to punish the employees responsible for the Soros broadcast. In an October 31, 2018 letter to Lansing, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez ordered an immediate investigation into the Soros broadcast as well as a broader audit and Lansing quickly obliged. A few years ago, Menendez was charged with federal bribery and corruption stemming from his relationship with a crooked south Florida eye doctor that lavished him with cash, gifts and trips in exchange for political favors.
At Menendez’s request Lansing took action, firing eight reporters and editors and ordering a review of all content to address “patterns of unethical, unprofessional, biased, or sub-standard journalism.” Ironically, a few weeks later Lansing proclaimed his support for “press freedom” as part of World Press Freedom Day. In a dramatic and widely distributed statement, Lansing assured the world that his agency “will continue to report the truth,” though it cost USAGM journalists their jobs weeks earlier. The USAGM Soros broadcast accurately focused on his efforts to cripple sovereign governments in Latin America. Judicial Watch was cited as a source because it investigated State Department funding of Soros groups in Colombia and published a report on Soros’ initiatives to advance a radical globalist agenda in Guatemala.