WASHINGTON — The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of a Qatari government news site in May, planting a false story that was used as a pretext for the current crisis between Qatar and several Arab countries, according to a Sunday report by The Washington Post.
The Emirati Embassy in Washington released a statement in response calling the Post report “false” and insisting that the UAE “had no role whatsoever” in the alleged hacking.
The report quotes unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying that senior members of the Emirati government discussed the plan on May 23. On the following day, a story appeared on the Qatari News Agency’s website quoting a speech by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in which he allegedly praised Iran and said Qatar has a good relationship with Israel. Similarly incendiary statements appeared on the news agency’s Twitter feed.
The agency quickly claimed it was hacked and removed the article. But Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt all blocked Qatari media and later severed diplomatic ties.
The ongoing crisis has threatened to complicate the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against the Islamic State group as all participants are U.S. allies and members of the anti-IS coalition. Qatar is home to more than 10,000 U.S. troops and the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command while Bahrain is the home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
President Donald Trump has sided strongly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, publicly backing their contention that Doha is a supporter of Islamic militant groups and a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently concluded several days of shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf, but he departed the region without any public signs of a resolution.
Meanwhile, US intelligence has stated that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) deliberately hacked Qatari government, social media and news web sites to make it appear that Doha was actively supporting certain Islamic “terrorist” groups.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt (a non-GCC country), imposed a land and sea blockade on Qatar in early June citing, among a host of reasons, the small emirate’s support of what they described as “terrorist” groups including Gaza-based Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – despite the latter not being listed as a “terrorist organisation” even by Washington.
Citing US intelligence officials, the Washington Post reported on Sunday that the UAE arranged for the web sites to be hacked in late May in order to post false quotes linked to Qatar’s emir – a claim the UAE rejects.
Qatar claimed its emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was falsely quoted as praising Hamas and stating that Iran was an “Islamic power”, the Post reported.
In June Doha further asserted that it had evidence that the recent hacking of its state-run news agency and government social media accounts was linked to the countries that have recently cut ties with it.
“Qatar has evidence that certain iPhones originating from countries laying siege to Qatar were used in the hack,” Ali Bin Fetais Al Marri, Qatar’s attorney general, told reporters in the capital, Doha, on 21 June.
However, despite the UAE categorically rejecting the allegations, US intelligence officials stated that newly analysed information showed that senior UAE government officials discussed the planned hacks on May 23, the day before they occurred.
The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been working with Qatar to probe the hacking scandal and it remains unclear if the UAE hacked the websites itself or paid for the hacking to be carried out by a third party.
Last Thursday Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, returned from a shuttle diplomacy trip to the Gulf region in an effort to resolve the standoff in the Gulf but other than a bilateral agreement between Qatar and the US to fight “terrorism” his efforts yielded little.
Despite the stalemate, proof of a deliberate smear campaign against Qatar is an extremely significant development and it remains to be seen how this will affect the ongoing Gulf crisis. The US State Department has yet to officially respond to the new revelation.
Neither is this incident of hacking the first involving Dubai.
The early June hacking of the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba’s email account, by a group called GlobalLeaks, showed a growing relationship between the UAE and the pro-Israel, neo-conservative think tank called the Foundation for Defence of Democracies (FDD).
Despite the UAE and Israel having no diplomatic relationship, the two countries have worked together against their common adversary Iran. Israel also considers Hamas and the Brotherhood “terrorist” organisations.
Critics have argued that the undemocratic Gulf monarchies are afraid of losing their thrones should the Arab street protests rise up through Islamist organisations as what happened during the Arab spring.
The Arab spring which erupted in Tunisia at the end of 2010/beginning of 2011 resulted in the country holding its first-ever free elections which saw the Islamist Ennadha party come to power and forced autocratic former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt in the country’s first-ever democratic elections in 2012 before former President Muhammad Morsi was overthrown in a military coup the following year..
– African News Agency (ANA)