Back in May, a story appeared on its news and social media sites that contained pro-Iranian and other controversial statements attributed to the emir in a speech that he denied making. Qatar claimed their sites had been hacked, but the false report became the pretext to start the Saudi-led campaign. According to a new Post report, the UAE has been identified as the culprit behind the hacks:
The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.
If this latest report is accurate, it would fit with what we know about the crisis. The Saudis and Emiratis were interested in settling scores with Qatar, they interpreted Trump’s embrace in Riyadh a couple days earlier as a green light for them to do what they liked, and they just needed to fabricate a reason to launch their punitive campaign. Trump was in Riyadh on May 21, the report claims that UAE officials discussed the plan on May 23, and then the hacks took place on May 24.
The false report provided the excuse for the Saudi-led bloc to ban Qatari media in their countries, and within two weeks of the alleged hack the effort to isolate Qatar was in full swing. Assuming that the UAE was doing this to lay the groundwork for the blockade, that casts the Saudi-led campaign in an even worse light and makes Trump’s support for it even more foolish. For the record, the UAE ambassador and foreign minister have denied the report, but they would have to.
The new report raises a number of questions. When did Trump and Tillerson learn about alleged UAE involvement in the hacks? Was anyone in the administration aware of the plan to hack Qatari sites before it happened? What effect, if any, did this revelation have on Trump’s credulous support for the campaign? Given the timing of the hacks so soon after Trump’s visit to Riyadh, did Trump unwittingly give them a green light to do this with his speech, or did he knowingly approve of their plan ahead of time? Whatever the answers may be, this latest report confirms that these client states are reckless and irresponsible, and the U.S. should be looking for ways to reduce or eliminate our support for them.