Secret no more
Inside the Pentagon's Iraqi PR firm.
Justin Fox, FORTUNE editor at large

(FORTUNE Magazine) - If you've read anything about the Lincoln Group, the Washington, D.C., firm that has been hiring Iraqi clerics and paying Iraqi newspapers to run articles written by U.S. soldiers, you might be wondering, "Who are these people?" In most news accounts Lincoln is referred to as a PR firm, but nobody in the PR business had heard of it before December. That has led to whispers that Lincoln might be a front for the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.

The truth may be, if anything, even stranger. The firm is by all appearances the creation of two very young men--a serial entrepreneur from England and a former Marine from Sacramento--who saw opportunity in post-invasion Iraq and jumped at it. At least, that's what founders Christian Bailey, 30, and Paige Craig, 31, say. They met through a mutual friend in 2003. Bailey was looking to launch a defense industry buyout fund, and Craig--who says he dropped out of West Point and then spent five years in Marine intelligence, mostly in East Asia--was doing consulting jobs in D.C. They hit it off and concluded that the President's plans to remake the Middle East amounted to a big business opportunity. Craig caught a plane to Amman, Jordan, then a taxi to Baghdad with the idea of assisting the Western businesses sure to flood Iraq. "We didn't expect that the government would want to contract with us at all," Craig says. But Craig did odd jobs for military folks he met in Iraq, and as the insurgency grew and commercial work dried up, military contracts started to pour in. The firm says it has entered into more than 20 Defense Department contracts (the biggest of which could be worth as much as $100 million) and a similar number of commercial and nonmilitary government deals. It has more than 40 employees in the U.S. and 200 overseas, mostly in Iraq, doing research, communications, and even some investing.

Englishman Bailey runs things at the firm's Washington HQ, now on K Street but soon to move to larger quarters in the Pennsylvania Avenue building that housed Jack Abramoff's famous restaurant, Signatures. Since graduating from Oxford in 1997, Bailey has tried his hand at starting an Internet company in Silicon Valley and running a hedge fund in New York (he is nothing if not in touch with the Zeitgeist). He was involved with a Republican group called Lead21, but as a noncitizen he can't vote or give to campaigns, and he comes across as more networkaholic than partisan--his circle includes such notables as New York Times writer Jennifer 8. Lee and Gawker Media chief Nick Denton. The question now is whether he and Craig can steer the "PR firm" they have so improbably created through a PR crisis of its own. Top of page