Gadhafi Son Wooed in Houston Port Ahead of Revolt

PHOTO Moammar Gadhafis son KhamisCourtesy KTRK
Moammar Gadhafi's son Khamis meets U.S. business executives at the Port of Houston in Texas just a month before a popular revolution threatened to topple his regime.

What a difference two months makes.

In January, American business executives and government officials rolled out the red carpet for Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's 27-year-old son, Khamis, as he toured the port of Houston and American universities.

This week, U.S. officials were describing Khamis as the "bloodthirsty" commander of an elite unit of the Libyan Army. Unconfirmed reports said he may have been killed after a maverick pilot flew his plane into military headquarters in Tripoli.

Khamis' tour of the U.S. was sponsored by an American engineering firm that does business in Libya, AECOM of Los Angeles, according to business executives briefed on the event.

In Houston, Khamis was given a tour and briefing by officials at the city's Port Authority, according to documents and photographs obtained by ABC News, as part of what a spokesperson called "an educational visit" connected to an "internship associated with his Masters of Business Administration" at an unnamed university. The tour included a maritime security presentation by a former U.S. Coast Guard Commander.

CLICK HERE to see a PDF of Khamis Gadhafi's agenda at the Port of Houston Authority on Jan. 26, 2011.

The Houston tour, including photos of a smiling Khamis, were first reported by ABC News' Houston affiliate KTRK.

Khamis Gadhafi pictured at a meeting with Port of Houston Authority executives during a visit in January 2011.

One Houston executive said the group hoped to develop a business relationship with Moammar Gadhafi by giving his son a warm welcome. Business executives said visits to American universities were also on the itinerary, including a trip to Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. During the visit to Kellogg, Khamis participated in an "executive education program," the University told ABC News.

A month later, a popular uprising was sparked that could topple Gadhafi's 42-year reign.

A spokesperson for the Port of Houston Authority told ABC News in a statement, "In January 2011, prior to the recent unrest in Libya, the Port of Houston Authority granted a request to meet with Khamis Gadhafi during an educational visit he made to the United States. The Port Authority was among a number of national and local institutions visited by Mr. Gadhafi in the course of an internship associated with his Masters of Business Administration."

"In recent years, the United States government has eased diplomatic relations with Libya... Port Authority representatives have traveled to Libyan ports, and the Port Authority entered into informal agreements to encourage future trade with the region," the statement said.

Representatives for AECOM did not respond to requests for comment for this report.

Before Air Strikes, U.S. Offered Libya Warm Receptions, Money and Military Training and Equipment

Khamis' visit was not the first time the U.S. has welcomed members of Gadhafi's regime with open arms. A secret diplomatic cable from December 2009 posted on the website WikiLeaks referred to an offer from the U.S. government inviting Khamis to "travel around the United States to tour U.S. military installations."

In the same cable, an unidentified Libyan government representative was "surprised by the number of military exchange an training opportunities on offer," but the cable said there had been no response to many offers.

In February, after widespread protests had already begun in Benghazi, a team of U.S. Air Force maintenance experts conducted a seminar for nearly 50 members of the Libyan air force at a Libyan air base in Tripoli that was "hoped to lead to a continuing training program for Libyan air force maintenance experts," according to a report by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The reported noted, "In the last 18 months, the United States and Libya have made great strides regarding military cooperation," including the signing of a defense Memorandum of Understanding.

In September 2009, three senior Libyan military officers were hosted at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany in hopes of helping the U.S. and Libya "build their military relationship," according to a report by U.S. Africa Command, which is now playing a key role in operations against Gadhafi forces in Libya.

Though U.S. trade policy towards Libya does not allow the import or export of lethal "defense articles," in 2008 and 2009 alone U.S. companies exported over $60 million in military wares to Libya, mostly aircraft equipment, according to two State Department reports. Part of the 2008 deal included more than $1 million in explosives. notes that over the past three years, the U.S. government has also given more than $5 million in direct foreign aid to Libya -- a practice that has been put on hold due to the "current violence and instability."

In April 2009, Mutassim Gadhafi, Khamis' brother and Libya's National Security Advisor, held a private meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upon his visit to the White House. With Mutassim at her side, Clinton told reporters at the time she was "very much looking forward" to broadening and strengthening the relationship between the two nations.

It was Clinton who said Thursday that after firing over a hundred missiles at Libyan government targets, the U.S. and its allies were handing over command of the no-fly zone over Libya to North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"Gadhafi's troops have been pushed back, but they remain a serious threat to the safety of the Libyan people," she said.