Barely a week after more than 50 Muslims were murdered by unprovoked attacks from violent Hindu mobs in the streets of New Delhi, United Arab Emirate’s flagship newspaper, Gulf News, tried to whitewash the root driver of the violence – militant Hindu nationalism. In an op-ed titled, “Stop Blaming Modi For Delhi Riots and All Things Evil in India,” the piece raised further questions about the Emirates’ hand in promoting global instability, undermining democracy, and encouraging Islamophobia.
These questions should also lead to a closer examination of the US-UAE relationship.
When American audiences think of the Emirates, they typically think of Dubai and its iconic property developments, including the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, luxurious Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel, and the artificially built Palm Islands. Less known, however, is the oversized influence its defacto ruler – Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) – plays in shaping the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) has used this wealth to procure the most advanced military in the Arab world, buying hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, training, and other security assistance from the United States.
MBZ is not only “one of the most influential voices in Washington DC,” but also arguably the world’s wealthiest individual, given he controls a fortune estimated at greater than $1.3 trillion, making him the world’s only trillionaire. He has used this wealth to procure the most advanced military in the Arab world, buying hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, training, and other security assistance from the United States.
“We have created a little Frankenstein,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former US State Department official and fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the New York Times.
According to David Kirkpatrick, a former Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times, MBZ’s influence in US foreign policy “appears greater than ever.” Kirkpatrick argues the Crown Prince has “frequently” convinced President Trump to adopt his views on Qatar, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, “even over the advice of cabinet officials or senior national security staff.”
In 2019, Trump vetoed a bipartisan bill to end US support of the Saudi led war in Yemen, a war in which MBZ was one of the chief architects and remains one of the primary belligerents. MBZ’s goal in Yemen is to create a client state in the southern part of the country, where he hopes to establish a link between the Emirates and the Horn of Africa. Instead, he’s helped create what is described as the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis,” one which has killed roughly 100,000 children through disease and starvation alone since 2015.
Last year, a United Nations panel declared that the UAE, alongside Saudi Arabia and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are all responsible for war crimes in Yemen.
Last year, a United Nations panel declared that the UAE, alongside Saudi Arabia and the Iranian backed Houthi rebels are all responsible for war crimes in Yemen.
This year, a US court sued UAE and its criminal warlord in Libya, General Khalifa Haftar, who leads some of the most violent militias on the African continent, for alleged war crimes against pro-democracy and anti-dictatorship Libyans.
Lost in the fog of MBZ’s disastrous and criminal execution of UAE foreign policy, however, have been revelations regarding the monarchy’s secret counter espionage program known as Project Raven, which recruited more than a dozen former US intelligence operatives to spy on human rights activists, journalists, and anyone else the UAE authorities deemed a potential threat, according to an explosive investigation by Reuters.
High profile targets included the Emir of Qatar, Turkey’s former deputy prime minister, and Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor.
More alarming still is the fact the UAE’s clandestine surveillance operation targeted US citizens, meaning a foreign country employed US citizens to spy on US citizens in order to protect that foreign country’s strategic interests.
The UAE’s clandestine surveillance operation targeted US citizens, meaning a foreign country employed US citizens to spy on US citizens in order to protect that foreign country’s strategic interests.
“I am working for a foreign intelligence agency that is targeting U.S. persons,” Lori Stroud, a former intelligence analyst for the US National Security Agency (NSA), told Reuters. “I am officially the bad kind of spy.”
Stroud joined Project Raven only two weeks after leaving her position at the NSA in 2014, and was joined by more than a dozen other US government employees. Their surveillance work was conducted from a converted mansion in Abu Dhabi, known as “The Villa.”
Initially, the surveillance operation was conducted by a US-based cyber security contractor, but by 2016 Project Raven had been moved to a UAE cyber security firm named Dark Matter.
“Before long, Stroud and other Americans involved in the effort say they saw the mission cross a red line: targeting fellow Americans for surveillance,” according to Reuters.
Project Raven used a hacking tool called “Karma,” which can access pretty much any kind of cell phone, but particularly iPhones, without the target clicking on the link. It does this by exploiting an “undisclosed vulnerability” in Apple’s iMessage system.
“Some days it was hard to swallow, like [when you target] a 16-year-old kid on Twitter,” said Stroud.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have used similar tools to attack critics and opponents under the guise of “defeating terrorism.” In 2018, both Arab countries procured a spyware called Pegasus from Israeli company NSO Group. The Israeli government approved the transaction.
The spyware allows customers to hack targeted phones, allowing them to eavesdrop calls, record keystrokes, read messages, track the user’s search history, and enable the target’s camera and microphone. It was implicated in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at the order of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
It was later revealed the UAE essentially performed the role of “broker” in introducing the Saudis with the phone hackers, but ultimately the murder of Khashoggi went unpunished as a result of the Trump administration enabling the Saudi cover up.
The United Arab Emirates runs counter to official US positions on China, with the UAE green lighting China’s Muslim concentration camps in Xinjiang, and India’s revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.
Beyond the realm of the United States and Middle East, the Emirates runs counter to official US positions on China, with the UAE green lighting China’s Muslim concentration camps in Xinjiang, and India’s revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, but MBZ continues to have Trump’s ear on Iran, Qatar, Yemen, and Libya.
If spying on US citizens, killing a US-based journalist, and playing a lead role in producing the ongoing human catastrophe in Yemen and Libya isn’t enough to cause Trump to rethink his uncritical and unconditional relationship with MBZ, then we can expect further foreign policy miscalculations and loss of human life.