The Man Behind Pakistani Spy Agency's Plot to Influence Washington

Each year, starting in 2003, Fai co-hosted a Kashmir peace conference, usually on Capitol Hill. The 2007 conference drew Pitts, a dozen other members of Congress, and various Pakistani dignitaries, as well as a handful of Indian and Indian-American human-rights activists and scholars. Fai covered the expenses of almost all the attendees who traveled to Washington.

About 20 of Fai's guests then flew with him to Montevideo, Uruguay's capital, for a one-day conference on Kashmir. They met with a group of Uruguayan generals and attended sessions that ran over familiar ground.

"(Fai) spoke about the usual things," recalled Angana Chatterji, an Indian-American scholar who attended the event. "He has this list of dignitaries he brings up and issues like the UN treaties and self-determination."

Fai paid for the group's flights. He also covered accommodations at the Radisson, one of Montevideo's nicer hotels, having about $13,000 wired to him to cover the tab in cash, Sabir said.

By last year, Fai was in some ways living the American dream. His second wife, whom he met at Temple, had found a good job at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They had bought a four-bedroom brick house in the Virginia suburbs, for more than $650,000. They had raised two children, one who studied at Ohio State University, the other at Stanford University.

But behind the scenes, things were unraveling.

•       •       •       •       •

As far back as 1991, stories in the Indian press referred to Fai as an "agent." The Indian embassy refused to send anyone to his conferences. Others were also suspicious: How did Fai have so much money? How could a shoestring nonprofit afford an office near the White House and a top-notch PR firm?

"I have always felt, and I know my view is widely shared by others working on the Kashmir issue in the Washington area, that Dr. Fai's Kashmiri American Council was subsidized by the Pakistan government," said Howard Schaffer, a former U.S. diplomat and Kashmir expert who has known Fai for about 15 years.

The Kashmiri American Council never operated like an ordinary charity, according to nonprofit experts. Money--sometimes in large increments of cash--passed through it in unusual ways.

Several council supporters said they had donated regularly, maybe a few thousand dollars at a time, and were unaware of the ISI's purported role in funding the group. But the FBI says the largest donations came from a group of at least 13 "straw donors," Pakistani-American doctors and businessmen who gave cash to Fai or wrote checks to the Kashmiri American Council. Several received tax write-offs for their contributions.

The straw donors were allegedly reimbursed by Zaheer Ahmad with money he received from the ISI.

At minimum, the write-offs violated U.S. tax laws, experts said. "That's not allowed," said Eli Bartov, a research professor of financial accounting at the Stern School of Business at New York University. "You can only get the deduction if you make the contribution."

But there was a larger mystery.

Internal budget documents confiscated by the FBI show far more money flowing through the Kashmiri American Council than reflected in the group's annual IRS filings. In its 2008 IRS filing, for example, the group reported spending $291,807, while the budget documents say it was more than twice that much, $690,380. In 2009, the council's reported spending was $332,706, while its internal records said $662,730.

So far, the government has not offered an explanation for these discrepancies. Fai did not answer questions on the matter.

Pablo Eisenberg, an expert on philanthropy and a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, said there could be several reasons for the conflicting information.

"One is, he wants to downsize for public consumption," Eisenberg said of Fai. "Or ... he's taking the money to use for his own purposes, whether spending it on himself or giving it to some other organization."

It's also possible Fai reported money he received by check, but not in cash, particularly cash transferred to him outside the U.S., said Marcus Owens, the former head of the IRS unit that oversees nonprofits.

Fai's internal budget documents spelled out plans to spend $80,000 to $100,000 a year on campaign contributions to members of Congress, the FBI said.

But donations made by Fai, his associates and board members appear to fall far short of those amounts, campaign finance records show.

Fai has given $28,165 to federal candidates and political parties since 1990, including $10,290 to Burton and $9,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Others connected to Fai and to the Kashmiri American Council's board of directors donated at least $92,556 during those years, including $28,951 to Burton.

So far, the FBI has identified only $4,000 in ISI money that went into campaign contributions, from Ahmad and his nephew. Pitts and Burton received $2,000 each, the FBI said.

Ultimately, the affidavit may only tell part of what the FBI was actually investigating.

Agents first learned of the case in 2005, from an informant who wanted to reduce his jail sentence. The FBI's counterterrorism field office in Washington D.C. started looking into Fai--and more troubling allegations against Ahmad.

A Pakistani-American doctor, Gul Chughtai, who specializes in cancer treatment and clashed with Ahmad while head of the cancer department at Shifa hospital, said he first talked to the FBI about Ahmad four years ago.

Chughtai said he met with four agents at the FBI's Philadelphia office, including one from Washington's counterterrorism field office already investigating Ahmad. Chughtai said the agent has talked to him since, asking several times about a trip that Ahmad allegedly made to Afghanistan with an eccentric Pakistani nuclear scientist named Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood.

Mahmood and another colleague had met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan in August 2001, when the Al Qaeda leaders had allegedly inquired about nuclear weapons. Mahmood was later placed under house arrest and has been largely isolated in Islamabad since.

Presented by

Kim Barker, Habiba Nosheen, and Raheel Khursheed / ProPublica

Kim Barker and Habiba Nosheen are reporters for ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom in New York City that produces investigative journalism. Raheel Khursheed is a Kashmir-based freelancer.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Photos of New York City, in Motion

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Global

Just In