“They said it would be beneficial if he came away from the visit with a positive view of the U.S.,” said Paul Gennaro, spokesman for AECOM, an engineering and architectural design firm based in California that had business contracts with the Libyan government.
The State Department on Friday acknowledged that U.S. officials greeted the young Gaddafi on his arrival in the United States but said the government did not officially sponsor the visit.
Gaddafi is the commander of Libya’s 32nd Reinforced Brigade, a special-forces unit that has been heavily involved in the fighting against rebel groups. There have been unconfirmed reports that he died this week from injuries sustained when a Libyan pilot crashed his plane into an army barracks where the commander was staying.
But just two months ago, Gaddafi was presented to AECOM officials as a future business leader eager to learn Western-style management techniques.
AECOM, which until recently was working with Libya’s government on a multibillion-dollar infrastructure improvement project, was approached by Libyan officials several months ago about creating a custom internship program that would enable the young man to tour a variety of business, military and entertainment sites across the United States. At the time, he was registered as a student at a Spanish university pursuing an MBA degree.
The purpose was to “observe how business is conducted,” said Gennaro, who noted that the visit received no financial support from his firm and included no visits to sensitive military sites. Some details of Gaddafi’s internship were first described in a report by ABC News.
AECOM consulted with the State Department before the month-long visit and was offered encouragement as well as logistical help, AECOM officials said. A State Department employee greeted Gaddafi at the airport when he arrived in the United States, and State officials helped facilitate visits to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Air Force Academy in Colorado, according to an official itinerary for the trip.
A planned Feb. 21 visit to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was canceled when Gaddafi had to hastily return to Libya because of the outbreak of violence there.
The trip was not all work. He managed to squeeze in a tour of Universal Studios in Los Angeles and a tour of the Mall in Washington. While in Denver, he attended a lecture by spiritualist author Deepak Chopra titled, “The Soul of Leadership.”
Gennaro said his company had no knowledge of Gaddafi’s military connections until weeks later, when news reports from Libya identified him as a leader of elite Libyan forces and mercenaries who were battling anti-government groups. He had visited corporate boardrooms and business schools across the United States and had struck his hosts as a typical MBA student, said one corporate officer who interacted with him
“He was very quiet and introverted,” the officer said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.