The Globe-Trotting Do-Gooder Who Inspired The Philanthropist Is a Shill For Syria's Brutal Dictator

Bobby Sager is a millionaire entrepreneur who has devoted his life—when he's not busy serving as chairman of Polaroid—to traveling the world and helping people with his money. He's pals with Sting, hobnobs with Lady Gaga (pictured), and served as the inspiration for NBC's The Philanthropist. And according to internal emails from the Syrian regime, he's a great friend to that country's butcher of a president, Bashar al Assad.

Sager poses as a regular-guy-made-good from the mean streets of Boston. He made his fortune in the jewelry business, became in investor, met Sting (who calls him a "flamboyant, eccentric, inexhaustible world traveler"), produced independent films, wrote a book, and promoted himself to the point of landing a (shitty) NBC drama about his life. Through his Sager Family Traveling Foundation and Roadshow, he trots the globe, doling out grants wherever he sees a need on an "eyeball-to-eyeball" basis.

And early last year, those travels took him to Syria, according to emails released by a hacking collective calling itself LulzFinancial. Yesterday, the group posted the webmail login information and passwords for a host of senior advisers to Syrian president Bashar al Assad, letting followers log into accounts and post internal emails from the regime around the internet. One of those emails was a March, 28, 2011 note from Sager to Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior media adviser to Assad, thanking her and Assad for hosting him on a visit. The email, which was written two weeks after Syria erupted in a Day of Rage, five days after Syrian troops killed 15 civilians in Daraa, and weeks after Assad's regime arrested several children as young as ten for writing anti-regime graffiti, pledged loyalty to Assad and pronounced Sager "ready to help in any way, at any time, and in any place":

From: Robert Sager [bobby@teamsager.org]
Sent: Monday, March 28, 2011 11:24 PM

To: bouthaina@bouthainashaaban.com; b.shaaban@mopa.gov.sy


Subject: Important: Following Up on Our Meeting


Importance: High





March 25, 2011



Dear Dr. Bouthaina,


I have been very moved by the time I spent with you and with President Assad. 
I take the many insights from our conversations and combine them with first hand perspective I gained from my time spent at Umayyad mosque, the souk, the coffee shops and even the hammam. I leave Syria with a profound sense of connection and a desire to share my understanding with influential friends in the United States and around the world.


The Syria that I spent last week in does not resemble the sensationalist images that are endlessly played and replayed by the international media. Of course there are demonstrations and things that need to be changed, but is the relevant story that thousands of people are demonstrating? Or is it that in a country of approximately 21 million people that less than 1 out of 1000 are participating? The scintillating picture for TV is the mob scene, but the informed perspective is the statistic.


The Globe-Trotting Do-Gooder Who Inspired The Philanthropist Is a Shill For Syria's Brutal DictatorSMy first hand understanding, without the distorting filters of the media or the haze of distance, compels me to speak out about what I have seen and heard and especially how different my experience has been from the images I have seen on TV. 
I feel privileged to consider you and President Assad as friends. As friends, we all find ourselves in a moment of history that requires people of real commitment to stand up and speak loudly in support of constructive change and engagement. History teaches that to be ahead of the curve is to lead the change. I am confident that the change will come in as thoughtful and as prompt a manner as the complex situation allows.

What is important now is for committed friends to be vocal in their support of President Assad's leadership. After all, real friends stand up and speak the truth when it matters most. I will take my first hand understanding into the world and argue loudly and convincingly that President Assad, far from being the problem, is actually the most critical part of the solution. 
Syria's moment of inspiration and quantum leap forward is at hand. Being ahead of the curve is critical. I stand ready to help in any way, at any time, and in any place.



With respect, your friend, 


Bobby Sager



P.S. Dearest Dr. Bouthaina, Please feel free to share this note with President Assad if you feel it is appropriate. If at any time you want to talk to me directly, my personal mobile is +1 857-544-3671. 


Sager did not respond to an email request for comment. The voicemail on his cell phone is full.

Here's how Shaaban responded to the pledge of loyalty:

Dear Bob, 



Thank you so much for your kind and warm message which I relayed to H. E the President. I do feel proud to be your friend and I know how much the president enjoys your company and appreciates your friendship. Your message came at a time that Syria is getting out of the tunnel. HE the president will address the Syrian People tomorrow and today millions of Syrians went out on the streets in most towns to say: NO to sectarianism, and YES to Syria, but during these difficult days we were able to discover our true and lasting friends and allow me to say you are top on the list. 

I hope that you and your family will visit us in the near future and I shall let you know when Ronnie Kasrils will be here as I would love both of you to meet. 


My very best wishes to Elaine, Shane and Tess with my warm regards to you,


My personal phone is 00963944005559

Bouthaina Shaaban


UPDATE: This post initially misidentified Sager as the chairman of Kodak. He's the chairman of Polaroid.

[Images via Facebook (Sager and Sting) and Getty]