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Now that Republicans have narrow control of the House of Representatives, the GOP is investigating the Biden administration with gusto.
Still, Republicans seem not to have noticed one major foreign policy scandal that’s hiding in plain sight.
As I recently reported, the rising scandal surrounding retired FBI senior official Charles McGonigal is perhaps the worst in the bureau’s history. Multiple sources have told me that McGonigal, while still serving with the FBI as head of counterintelligence in New York, shook down Balkan business people, most of them Albanian, in an audacious political corruption scheme worth many millions of dollars.
McGonigal apparently pulled off this unprecedented scam in collaboration with Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama, whose Socialist Party has ruled that small country for a decade. Contrary to Rama’s carefully cultivated image as a pro-American NATO stalwart and even corruption fighter, during his rule, Albania has in fact become the leading narco-state in Europe. As the Washington Examiner has reported, Rama’s Albania has grown into an analog to Manuel Noriega’s Panama in the 1980s. For whatever reason, the Biden administration doesn’t appear to care.
Now others are starting to notice.
This week, the Financial Times reported on Rama’s misguided governance, dropping subtle hints of troubling events behind the scenes, noting that “Rama’s reputation overseas has also been tainted by his contacts with a disgraced U.S. law enforcement official,” i.e., McGonigal, “accused of having helped the Albanian leader persecute political rivals.” The outlet gently noted that many average Albanians “believe the government co-operates with drug traffickers.
Yes, they do. And people should start asking why Washington goes out of its way to defend Rama’s narco-friendly government against its critics.
The drug running isn’t the worst of it. Albania is a U.S. ally and valued NATO member, yet the Biden administration has repeatedly interfered in the internal politics of a friend and ally for reasons that are difficult to decipher. The heart of the scandal involves Sali Berisha, the country’s former president and prime minister. Although Berisha is a stalwart of the center-right Democratic Party, he was sanctioned by the United States in 2021 for alleged corruption. While trying to find a corruption-free politician in Albania is as challenging as finding a squeaky-clean Chicago alderman, nobody who’s informed about Albania — as the former technical director of the National Security Agency’s Balkans Division, I’ll include myself on that list — thinks Berisha and his Democrats are more corrupt than Rama and his Socialists. (Most would say less.)
The Financial Times hinted at what’s going on here: “Berisha, a former president and prime minister, claimed his own blacklisting by the U.S. in 2021 was the result of Rama’s alleged contacts with McGonigal. The U.S. decision, ‘eight years after I left power… is based entirely on the lobbying power of Edi Rama.'” Although McGonigal’s Balkan shakedown started under the Trump administration, the Biden White House has overseen deeper and more suspicious American intervention in Albanian politics to help Rama and hurt Berisha. Take the case of Ylli Ndroqi, an Albanian media magnate and Rama critic who was sanctioned by Washington (for alleged “destabilizing behavior”) and then had his TV station confiscated by the Socialists over alleged corruption.
Ndroqi further claims that his political enemies in Albania, including Rama ally Erjon Veliaj, mayor of the capital city, Tirana, bullied him by asserting that they had the full force of Washington behind the Socialists. Per Ndroqi’s account, Veliaj threatened him with further retaliation by the Americans — which, considering that Rama co-opted a top FBI official to be his heavy, seemed like a credible threat to Ndroqi.
Neither are Ndroqi’s claims an isolated incident. U.S. diplomats have threatened Albanians, as well as Americans who are pro-Berisha, that they are exposing themselves to undefined legal jeopardy if they persist in criticizing Rama and the Socialists.
Worst of all, in October 2021, Ambassador Yuri Kim directly told Albanian media owners that they had to cease all national TV reporting that was critical of Prime Minister Rama or pro-Berisha. Multiple sources attest that this meeting happened and what Kim threatened. Since when is it acceptable for any American diplomat to tell foreigners, especially in a friendly allied country, what they can and cannot say? Asked for comment, a State Department spokesperson stated that there is “no truth to these claims about Ambassador Kim.”
None of this can be explained in any normal fashion. Outside unimportant fringes, Albanian politics is solidly pro-American and pro-NATO. Whether Democrats or Socialists are in power, Tirana’s policies toward Washington and Brussels will continue unchanged. Why, then, is the Biden administration so determined to push one Albanian political party at the expense of the other?
Moreover, Kim is a career Foreign Service officer. In fact, she was dispatched to Tirana by then-President Donald Trump. It’s impossible that she decided, on her own, to push Rama and diminish Berisha. The State Department and Washington just don’t work like that. On whose orders, then, is Kim acting, in such a nakedly partisan manner, regarding a loyal U.S. ally?
One month ago, I stated, “Congress must ask questions soon since McGonigal’s corruption may have infected more FBI officials than just himself.” It’s now evident that Congress needs to ask the State Department and the Biden White House some questions about Albania too. Ndroqi asserts that he filed complaints with the State and Treasury departments regarding his rough handling by friends of Biden. What happened to them? That might be a good place for Congress to start digging.
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