Ali Soufan could be a character out of the hit TV series Homeland. One of the FBI’s most senior al-Qa’ida hunters, he was deeply involved in chasing down the masterminds of 9/11, the Nairobi embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. His Lebanese background and fluent Arabic made him a prized special agent in US intelligence gathering and interrogation operations.
Now, he runs a lucrative private intelligence organisation in New York, the Soufan Group, which advises multinational companies and governments on geopolitical situations and security risks around the world.
His company, staffed by a senior coterie of fellow ex-FBI special agents, prides itself on getting the inside track on global security issues – intelligence which it then sells to its well-heeled clients.
It has now emerged that Mr Soufan has been paying a British MP with heavy involvement in the Government’s defence and intelligence operations as well as with Nato, as an adviser at a rate of more than £2,000 a month for 13-and-a-half hours’ work.
Mark Pritchard, the Conservative MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, has received fees from Mr Soufan totalling nearly £27,000 in the past year, according to his register of members’ interests.
While his income and work for the company has been declared to parliament, the paid position leaves open the question whether elected politicians involved in national security should be permitted to work for companies who could use such information for commercial gain.
Meanwhile, information gleaned and contacts made on foreign trips in his capacity as an MP, such as a May visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo where he met former leaders of the M23 rebel group, could be seen as valuable to potential Soufan Group clients such as mining and oil companies.
The region is one of the most lucrative for private intelligence companies due to the wealth of untapped mineral resources combined with corruption, security and political risks.
Mr Pritchard threatened to sue the Daily Telegraph this month over allegations about his commercial interests.
Soufan Group’s website boasts of having Mr Pritchard on its books, saying he is “a member of the UK delegation to the Nato Parliamentary Assembly, and is also a member of the UK National Security Strategy Committee.” It notes that he holds a variety of defence, security and intelligence related positions within Parliament.
Hansard reports that he has asked questions in Parliament about the armed services, Afghanistan and peacekeeping operations. One such question involved suggestions about Nato’s capabilities in Istar, or intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance.
Mr Pritchard and Mr Soufan did not respond to questions seeking details about the precise work he had carried out for his £154-an-hour role.
The Soufan Group (TSG) said in a statement: “Mr Pritchard is an adviser to The Soufan Group, which he has fully declared in accordance with Parliamentary rules. TSG is a strategic security company that undertakes important work, most recently holding an international event on strategies for countering the narratives of violent extremism. TSG takes a 360 degree approach to engagements, working with intelligence, law enforcement and military practitioners, together with behavioural psychologists, academics, and subject matter experts to provide an unparalleled perspective.”
Mr Pritchard said: “Like many MPs I hold outside interests and advisory positions. These are all fully and openly declared in Parliament and comply with all parliamentary rules.”
While his work for Soufan is arguably the most exciting of Mr Pritchard’s commercial interests, he earns far more – nearly £70,000 in the past year – advising the Consumer Credit Association (CCA). This is the body which advises so-called door-to-door lenders who offer loans, generally to those unable to access conventional lenders. Interest rates can be as high as 270 per cent a year.
Some analysts say the CCA’s members have suffered from the rise of payday loan companies such as Wonga, whose interest rates and lending practices have led to calls in Parliament for greater regulation of the sector.
Curiously, Mr Pritchard has also recently been paid nearly £7,000 by a management consultancy whose directors include Max Mosley, the former chief of Formula 1, and his former deputy, the ex-Labour MEP Alan Donnelly. Mr Pritchard’s fee was for two lots of 15 hours, billed at £3,333 each.
In September, he set himself up as the director of a new company, Mark Pritchard Advisory, through which to run all his private work.
Mr Soufan is a regular commentator on security matters and has been a vocal opponent of severe interrogation methods such as waterboarding, saying they are ineffective and unnecessary. His public profile shot up when he published a book about the war on terror, The Black Banners, which describes the battle with al-Qa’ida and the conflicts between the various intelligence services of the UK, US and Middle East countries.
The book strikingly described the complacency with which MI5 and the British authorities dealt with the home-grown terrorist threat. It was particularly scathing of MI5’s view that terror suspects should be watched rather than jailed.