But in the years since, Olson has come under federal investigation for a pattern of conduct atypical of the upright, protocol-observant world of international diplomacy.
The FBI learned that Olson had arranged for a Pakistani American businessman — who is now serving a 12-year federal prison sentence for illegal campaign donations and tax crimes — to pay $25,000 in tuition bills that enabled the ambassador’s girlfriend to move to New York and attend the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
In recent years, the Justice Department has stepped up its enforcement of foreign-influence laws. Members of Congress have also sought to clamp down on the secretive practice of retired U.S. military personnel working as consultants or contractors for foreign powers.
They resumed contact a few months later. Habib was admitted to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2015 but couldn’t afford the $93,000 she needed to attend. Olson agreed to help by introducing her to Imaad Zuberi, a Pakistani American dealmaker with high-level business and political contacts in Pakistan, China and the Middle East, according to court records.
But emails submitted to the court indicate that the ambassador and the journalist still had feelings for each other.
Olson reported his relationship with Habib to the CIA’s station chief at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad but “did not report his contact with Habib in any other way,” according to notes from a 2019 FBI interview with the ambassador. According to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, diplomats with high-level security clearances are required to report any “intimate/sexual contact” with foreign citizens to diplomatic security officials for counterintelligence purposes.
Olson’s attorney did not respond to questions from The Washington Post about whether he had properly reported his relationship with Habib or how many other women he dated while in Pakistan. Jennifer McKewan, a State Department spokesperson, declined to comment on Olson’s case.
In 2014, someone tipped off the State Department’s inspector general that 11 years earlier, while Olson was serving as the head of the U.S. Consulate in Dubai, the emir of the Persian Gulf city-state had delivered a velvet box to his office, records show. Inside were four diamonds set in white gold — a pendant, a ring and a set of earrings — that federal officials later valued at $60,000, according to court documents. They do not name the emir; Dubai has had two different two emirs since 2003.
Under the standards of the Foreign Gifts and Decoration Act in effect at the time, U.S. officials were required to report gifts with worth more than $285 and could not keep them unless they reimbursed the federal government for the fair-market value.
The State Department closed the investigation without taking personnel action against Jones or Olson after they successfully argued that Jones’s mother was not their dependent for tax purposes and therefore not covered by the gift rules, records show. Even so, in a September 2016 letter, State Department lawyers asked the couple to voluntarily relinquish the diamonds, saying it was “extremely disappointing that you were not sufficiently concerned with the gift to seek guidance from the ethics office.”