From an office park a few miles south of Washington’s Reagan National Airport, a little-known company named Knowledge International LLC does $500 million a year in business.
The firm is among the defense procurement companies owned by the Emirates Advanced Investments group, which is close to the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates. But unlike the other companies in the network, such as Abu Dhabi-based C4 Advanced Solutions, Knowledge International is incorporated in the United States.
Fully licensed as an arms dealer and broker, the company sends American trainers and arms to the UAE, arranging the necessary licenses and agreements with the State Department and the Defense Department.
The company’s strategic advisory board consists of some of the past decade’s brightest names in American land warfare: retired Army Gen. Bryan “Doug” Brown, who headed up the U.S. Special Operations Command; retired Gen. James Conway, former commandant of the Marine Corps and a charismatic figure during the 2003 Iraq invasion; and retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded the International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s Afghanistan command.
A former Special Forces general with a storied career, McChrystal was the architect of President Obama’s Afghanistan war strategy in 2009. But his career ended in 2010 after the publication of “Runaway General,” a Rolling Stone profile that quoted his staff making disparaging remarks about Obama administration officials.
The controversy made him a household name, forced him to resign and sparked a debate over Afghanistan counterinsurgency doctrine. It did not prevent him from following a well-worn path from four-star rank to corporate boardrooms.
The newly retired general founded McChrystal Group, a consultancy, and was appointed chairman of the board of Siemens Government Systems, a German-owned firm, as well as to seats on the board of JetBlue and Navistar.
Unlike these firms, Knowledge International is obscure and a non-public company. Its parent company, EAI, is very close to the government of the UAE and handles major weapon purchases for the UAE military.
Reached for comment, McChrystal’s office referred calls to Daniel Monahan, the managing director of Knowledge International.
In an emailed statement, Monahan wrote, “Gen. McChrystal is a great American and has brought a consistent commitment to excellence to KI. I value his advice and ability to see simple solutions to somewhat complicated scenarios. I’ve benefitted greatly over the past year by his advice and counsel.”
McChrystal’s long-awaited biography, “My Share of the Task,” is due out Jan. 7.
Corporate records show that Knowledge International was registered in Delaware in 2010 by Hussein Ibrahim Al Hammadi, the U.S.-educated CEO of EAI. Hammadi, according to one of the U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, “is a retired Colonel with the UAE Special Operations Command and has close ties to the Abu Dhabi Al Nahayan royal family.”
An email and a phone call to EAI were not returned.
Knowledge International’s first mission has been to help reorganize UAE’s land forces along U.S. lines.
“We’re focused on doing a transformation — an overall transformation — of their armed forces. There are a number of companies over there doing that, but we are the first U.S. company that is Emirati-owned,” Monahan said in an interview.
A former Air Force pilot, Monahan served as senior military adviser to the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, according to his company biography. Before that he was the deputy director of operations at the White House Military Office.
Monahan said that, so far, Knowledge International has had a limited role in UAE’s efforts to develop advanced technology.
“We don’t have anything ongoing with cyber yet,” he said.
Monahan said the firm tried to broker one deal for fiber-optic hardware for its sister company in the UAE, C4 Advanced Systems, but the transaction fell through.
As for the role of the strategic advisory board, Monahan said McChrystal, Brown and Conroy meet every quarter and have taken one trip together to the UAE.
Efforts to reach Brown and Conroy were unsuccessful.
Flush with oil cash, and situated across the Persian Gulf from Iran, the UAE has been on an arms-buying spree, and it relies heavily on international manpower — including European and U.S. companies — for training and servicing.
Some of the training endeavors have brought scandal. In 2011, the New York Times reported on the nation’s $529 million effort, with the involvement of Blackwater founder Erik Prince, to train a battalion of Colombian mercenaries based in the UAE.
The UAE is now the ninth-largest arms importer in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and it’s a major client for U.S. defense contractors. One recent high-level government-to-government deal with the U.S. was the $3.5 billion agreement to buy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile systems.
The UAE is a U.S. ally; it is not free from controversy. When Dubai Ports World, which was owned by the UAE, sought to take control of six major U.S. ports in 2006, the deal generated an extraordinary political firestorm of opposition. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., called the development “deeply troubling,” and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he had “deep concerns.”
This story will appear in the January issue of C4ISR Journal.