“Sam Dealey was concerned about where the money came from. That’s really more CAN’s question than ours,” said Culligan, a top-level business side executive at The Washington Times, who left in May 2010 and was rehired after the Rev. Sun Myung Moon led a group of former executives who bought the paper for $1 plus untold debt on November 2, 2010. “The whole essence of where money came from is tricky, because we’re not Thomas Cromwell’s group.”

For his part, Salhani apparently did not think it was appropriate to question who had financed his work, much of which appeared in the Commentary section.

“I had no idea where the money was coming from,” he said. “I am an employee of the company. Where the company gets their money is none of my business.”

While in the country, Salhani was also reporting for his own book, which he continued working on after Dealey fired him.

“I know there is corruption, I know there are things that aren’t going as they should, but keep in mind that this is a young democracy, a young republic trying to be a democracy,” Salhani said. “When you know the way these new countries, these regimes are working, and then you see the Kazakh model, promoting anti-terrorism, promoting interreligious understanding, I think they were in the right direction in many ways.

“This is something I have been writing on for years now, using religion as a way to counter religious terrorism. I think Kazakhstan understands that. They are one of the few, actually, who understand that.”

At least some editors other than Dealey suspected what was happening. “I gather that the money that funded it came from the Kazakh government,” said another former editor. “My understanding is that they [CAN] were talking very regularly with the Foreign Ministry.”

“It’s certainly not Western journalism, but it is what it is. It’s a third-world subsidized news service,” this editor continued, “It’s useful because it reflects the viewpoint of the government, and tells us what the government is thinking. It’s just important not to confuse it with something that it’s not, which is an independent news organization.”

But Central Asia Newswire represents itself as just that on their website, centralasianewswire.com. The outfit lists an address at 1629 K Street Suite 300,
where lawyers, an international security company, and a for-profit scholarship company rent space for conferences by the hour or day, with shared administrative services available for an extra fee.

“It’s a virtual office,” said John H. Clarke, a lawyer who also shares the suite. “Like a time-share office.”

When The Washington Times withdrew its support for CAN in June, an opaque new company called Global Media LLC was launched from Delaware to take over the newswire. David Demiray, the lawyer for East West Communications, said that he also represented this new firm, but declined to provide any information about its ownership, including whether or not they were the same people that owned East West Communications.

“The person who has ownership interest in Global Media LLC does not want to be known right now,” said Demiray. “I can neither confirm or deny that Mr. Cromwell is an owner of Global Media LLC.”

Nonetheless, several former reporters for CAN said that they believed the owners of CAN and East West Communications had remained one and the same, despite the paper transfer.

One of the reporters who was sent to Astana by East West Communications after the falling out in June between CAN and The Washington Times was Les Neuhaus, a former U.S. Air Force security policeman who said he took the CAN job over a freelance opportunity with CNN.* He did not speak Russian when he was given the job, which he read about on journalismjobs.com.

His initial in-person interview took place at East West Communications’s D.C. headquarters, and was conducted by Cromwell and his partner at East West Communications, Savas Hadjikyriacou, along with CAN’s editor, Patrick Gilsenan. Neuhaus said he asked who the subscribers were, and did not get a straight answer.

“The way that they stated it, they were an upstart agency,” he said. But when they offered him $60,000 a year, untaxed, he leapt at the opportunity. “I really felt dumb after the whole episode.”

Shortly after his arrival in Astana in late June, he said, he began to realize that the company did not operate in a transparent manner.

“When I went to the bureau, there was nobody in there,” he said. “It’s like a ghost office, basically.”

Ethan Wilensky-Lanford is a writer who has specialized in post-Soviet Central Asia, small-town New Hampshire, New York City crime, and Maine politics. His work has appeared in The New York Times and less well-known papers. He will begin doctoral work in cultural anthropology in the fall at Rice University with a specialty of Islam in Central Asia.