Home / World / UAE hacked Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to US intelligence officials – Chicago Tribune

UAE hacked Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to US intelligence officials – Chicago Tribune

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.

The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Donald Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.

Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State.

The statements attributed to the emir first appeared on the Qatar News Agency’s website early on the morning of May 24, in a report on his appearance at a military ceremony, as Trump was wrapping up the next stop on his nine-day overseas trip, in Israel. According to the Qatari government, alerts were sent out within 45 minutes saying the information was false.

Later that morning, the same false information appeared on a ticker at the bottom of a video of the emir’s appearance that was posted on Qatar News Agency’s YouTube channel. Similar material appeared on government Twitter feeds.

The reports were repeatedly broadcast in Saudi Arabian government outlets, continuing even after the Qatari alert said it was false. The UAE shut down all broadcasts of Qatari media inside its borders, including the Qatari-funded Al Jazeera satellite network, the most watched in the Arab world.

The first week in June, the Saudi-led countries severed relations, ordered all Qatari nationals inside their countries to leave, and closed their borders to all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar, a peninsular nation in the Persian Gulf whose only land connection is with Saudi Arabia.

In addition to charges of supporting terrorism and promoting instability inside their countries, they accused Qatar of being too close to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival for regional power and, according to the United States, the world’s foremost supporter of global terrorism. Iran conducts robust trade with most of the gulf, including the UAE, and shares the world’s largest natural gas field with Qatar.

The day after the boycott was announced, Trump indirectly took credit for it. “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with King and 50 countries already paying off,” he tweeted. “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar.”

At the same time, Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for negotiations and a quick resolution of the dispute. When the Saudi-led group released a list of 13 “non-negotiable” demands of Qatar – including shutting down Al Jazeera and expelling a number of people deemed terrorists – the State Department suggested that they were unreasonable and that the terrorism funding issue was a smokescreen for long-standing regional grievances that should be resolved through mediation and negotiation.

Qatar rejected the demands. Tillerson appeared to agree that they were draconian. But when he called for the boycott to be eased, saying it was causing both security and humanitarian hardship, Trump said the measure was harsh “but necessary.”

The one concrete result of Tillerson’s stops in the region last week was a new bilateral agreement signed with Qatar on stopping terrorism financing, the only one of the gulf countries that had responded to an invitation to do so, Hammond said.

Speaking to reporters on his plane flying back to Washington on Friday, Tillerson said the trip was useful “first to listen and get a sense of how serious the situation is, how emotional some of these issues are.” He said that he had left proposals with both sides that suggested “some ways that we might move this forward.”

All of the countries involved, Tillerson said, are “really important to us from a national security standpoint. . . . We need this part of the world to be stable, and this particular conflict between these parties is obviously not helpful.”

Asked about Trump’s tweets and other comments, he noted that being secretary of state “is a lot different than being CEO of Exxon,” his previous job, “because I was the ultimate decision-maker.” He knew what to expect from long-standing colleagues, he said, and decision-making was disciplined and “highly structured.”

“Those are not the characteristics of the United States government. And I don’t say that as a criticism, it’s just an observation of fact,” Tillerson said. While neither he nor the president came from the political world, he said, his old job put him in contact with the rest of the world and “that engagement . . . is actually very easy for me.”

For his part, Trump agreed in the Christian Broadcasting Network interview that he and Tillerson “had a little bit of a difference, only in terms of tone” over the gulf conflict.

Qatar, Trump said, “is now a little bit on the outs, but I think they’re being brought back in.” Asked about the U.S. military base in Qatar, Trump said he was not concerned.

“We’ll be all right,” he said. “Look, if we ever have to leave” the base, “we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one, believe me. And they’ll pay for it.”

Kareem Fahim in Istanbul and Carol Morello in Washington contributed to this report.

Source: world

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