Silk Road Reporters: An Independent News Site for Central Asia?

Over the past few months, I've been investigating the links between pro-Kazakh lobbyists and a new, DC-based publication focused on Central Asia. Here are the results:

But Kimer’s links to Central Asia don’t exist solely within this specific consulting firm. He is also listed as one of two “Media Relations Counsels” with the Amsterdam Group, a separate PR firm run by Sam Amsterdam. Amsterdam, as it is, maintains his own intimate contacts with Central Asia – with Kazakhstan, in particular. Amsterdam works for BGR Gabara, one of two firms that, until 2014, represented Kazakhstani interests in Washington. In his position as the head of digital communications with BGR Gabara, Amsterdam led “traditional and social media campaigns” for Kazakhstan. (BGR President Ivo Ilic Gabara told this reporter via email that the company did not work with Kazakhstan in 2014, and denied any involvement with Silk Road Reporters.)

That is to say, the head of a putatively “independent news” outlet – with no obvious means of external funding, as neither subscriptions nor advertisements are available on the site – has worked directly for the man charged with leading Kazakhstan’s media outreach in the United States. ...

In attempting to contact any of these writers, however, myriad obstacles appeared. None of the five appear to maintain any online presence or prior work. Kimer refused to pass along any contact information for these writers, claiming their contact information was “absolutely confidential” and suggesting this reporter contact Irada Guseynova, the site’s former features editor. When reached by email, Guseynova responded that she “had no desire to pass along correspondents’ contact information to an unknown individual. If you need authors, search for yourself.” When asked why the contact information was to be kept secret – the “contributors” were not using pen names, after all – she responded, “I don’t think I need to explain ANYTHING to you.”

Soon after this reporter requested contact information for these writers from Kimer, their names were scrubbed from Silk Road Reporters’s “About Us” page, though they remain available via archive. Likewise, shortly after the interview with Kimer, Silk Road Reporters added a disclaimer that original analyses “may or may not reflect the [publication’s] editorial position,” and that certain writers “may require the use of pen names[.]” One of the employees requiring a pen name, according to Kimer, is “Joe Peerson.” According to information scrubbed from the site after the interview with Kimer, “Peerson” is an American editor based in Astana whose sole task is “collecting aggregated news coverage” on the region. Kimer told this reporter that “Peerson” could only be contacted through Kimer, but why Peerson – an American tasked only with collating regional news – required a pen name, Kimer would not say.