Sunday, August 25, 2019

The State of Qatar’s Hack of Our Democracies, by RICHARD MINITER

Award-winning journalist and three-times best-selling author Richard Miniter exposes how in one of the largest state-sponsored computer hacks ever detected, Qatar’s proxies cyber-attacked more 1,400 high-status and ordinary citizens who were exercising their free-speech rights in democracies globally according to U.S. court filings, computer-forensic reports and expert testimonies.


In one of the largest state-sponsored computer hacks ever detected, Qatar’s proxies cyberattacked more than 1,400 high-status and ordinary citizens who were exercising their free-speech rights in democracies across North America, the Middle East, Asia and Europe, according to U.S. court filings, computer-forensic reports and expert testimony provided in pre-trial motions.

The targets included current and former U.S. government officials, ambassadors and United Nations officials, as well as actors, international soccer players, activists, executives, fundraisers, diplomats, generals, dissidents, scholars, journalists, rabbis and imams from around the world. Even members of royal families and heads of state — e.g. Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa and United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) Her Highness Sheikha Hind Bint Maktoum Bin Juma al Maktoum (wife of Dubai’s ruler and niece of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum) — were among those affected.

The list of prominent Middle Eastern, European and North American targets also included: Sami Hafez Anan, Egypt’s former Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces; Secretary-General of the Arab League and former Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit; Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League and former Egyptian ambassador Hossam Zaki; UAE official and diplomat Sheikh Maktoum Bin Bhutti al Maktoum; Saudi Arabian Minister of State for African Affairs and former Egyptian ambassador Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan; Egyptian Cabinet Member and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mohammed Gargash; Wolfgang Pusztai, security and policy analyst, and former Austrian defense attaché; James Lamond, managing director and senior policy adviser at the Center for American Progress, and former director at Glover Park Group; American Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; and Kristin Wood, former senior analytics adviser at the Open Source Center, Central Intelligence Agency, who led the Terrorism Analysis team examining al-Qaeda’s ties to Middle Eastern countries at the Counterterrorism Center (CTC).

At a time when the U.S. media has been consumed by speculation about Russian interference in its 2016 presidential elections, and Hollywood is still reeling from North Korea’s computer attacks on Sony Pictures, the depth of Qatar’s digital strikes has gone largely unrecognized. 

Here the details of the hack are revealed in full for the first time.

Qatar’s Cyber War: The Background

Qatar’s computer warfare is unprecedented in its duration (stretching over a four-year period from 2014–2018), geographic reach (including attacks on victims in three continents — Asia, Europe and North America), and scope (afflicting more than 1,400 people).

And although they are united in the effects of these attacks, the victims have no other personal or professional ties to each other, apart from remarks some have made that were publicly critical of Qatar.

These critics of the Qatari regime were engaging their constitutionally protected rights to speech rights within the Western democracies or countries they hail from when their offending remarks were made. They cited Qatar’s open, traceable and public financial support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas — designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., the EU, Canada and Israel — and the Qatari government’s use of its Al Jazeera broadcasts to normalize terrorist viewpoints.

They also mentioned Qatar’s harboring of Hamas and other terrorist leaders inside luxury hotel complexes within the Qatari capital, Doha. In other words, the country’s critics and the targets of its hacking operations only cited information that is publicly available and undisputed.

Yet the accuracy of the criticism is not in doubt. Qatar has officially acknowledged its financial support for Hamas and its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Any review of Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language broadcasts will reveal that Yusuf al Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s spiritual guide, had a weekly show called “Sharia and Life” for years, which was watched by millions of viewers and on which he still appears as a guest. During one of his controversial appearances as a studio guest, he was asked by the anchor if he supported suicide bombings in Syria. An impassioned Qaradawi shamelessly responded that jihadists should not blow themselves up unless the operation is endorsed by the Brotherhood.

The Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI), a non-profit group that monitors Arabic-language media and translates its output, has presented many examples of Al Jazeera presenting pro-terrorist viewpoints. Alberto Fernandez, vice president of MEMRI, offered this balanced assessment: “My personal views on Al Jazeera are complicated, even though it is obvious that much of its content is deeply disturbing.

“The truth of Al Jazeera is rather more than those who want to shut it down and those who defend it. It is BOTH a legitimate, historically important news operation, and an open and constant exercise in Islamist agitprop. [Islamic scholar] Fouad Ajami perfectly captured the tone and nuance of the station in 2011 when he noted that, ‘day in and day out, Al Jazeera deliberately fans the flames of Muslim outrage.’ ”

Living as they did in free, democratic countries, Qatar’s critics had every reason to expect that their nations’ laws and traditions would safeguard their rights to speak freely. Now Qatar’s hacks have changed those expectations.

“If true, and the story seems to be strongly corroborated, it would constitute a dangerous and direct attack by a foreign government against American citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights,” American Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said in a statement to Breitbart. “It would constitute an assault against a Rabbi and his wife, a mother of nine, for speaking out against the Jewish lobbyists who took millions of dollars to help cleanse Qatar of its terror-funding record.”

Still, Qatar’s leaders appeared to be alarmed that critics might shift U.S. or EU policy against the gas-rich peninsula. These fears also have a strong basis in fact. Indeed, some American critics who were hacked, such as American Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, had called for changes to U.S. policy, including shuttering the U.S. military base in Qatar and taking a harder line against the country. So, Qatar apparently authorized a wide-ranging hack and attack on its international critics, as court documents show.