Whereas criticisms of Saudi Arabia, Iran, or the Assad regime in Syria serve as predictable applause lines on the stump for any aspiring United States presidential candidate, the actions and policies of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) tend to fly under the radar. Indeed, most ordinary Americans associate the country more with luxury hotels and malls than roguish and illicit state behavior.
Therefore, when a former US State Department official referred to Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) by saying, “We have created a Little Frankenstein” by transferring so many billions of dollars’ worth of weapons and surveillance technology to the UAE over the course of the past two decades, it barely caused a ripple.
But the recent arrest by federal agents of Thomas Barrack, is the splash critics of the Emirati government have been waiting for. The real estate investor, who chaired former President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee in 2017, was indicted for conspiring to act as a foreign agent on behalf of the UAE during the 2016 to 2018 period.
Thomas Barrack was indicted for conspiring to act as a foreign agent on behalf of the UAE during the 2016 to 2018 period.
Barrack, along with Matthew Grimes, a US citizen, and Rashid Sultan Rashid al-Malik al Alshahhi, an Emirati national, capitalized on Barrack’s status as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign to “advance the interests of and provide intelligence to the UAE while simultaneously failing to notify the Attorney General that their actions were taken at the direction of senior UAE officials.”
According to the indictment handed down by the Department of Justice (DoJ), Barrack referred to Alshahhi as the UAE’s “secret weapon” to promote its foreign policy agenda in the United States; inserted language praising the UAE into a campaign speech about US energy policy, and then sent an advance draft of the speech to UAE officials via Alshahhi.
“I nailed it…for the home team,” Barrack emailed Alshahhi, referring not to the US but to the UAE.
Barrack also used an encrypted messaging service on his cell phone to communicate directly with senior UAE officials about his efforts to influence the incoming Trump administration in 2017.
This latest criminal effort by the UAE to shape US policy in its favor is only the tip of the iceberg, however. It’s important to remember that the Emirati Crown Prince told Donald Trump Jr. – via his emissary, George Nader – that he, along with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), were eager to help Trump win the 2016 US presidential election against Hilary Clinton.
“It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the President’s first national security adviser,” noted the New York Times in 2018.
At the time, Nader, with the help of former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, was also pushing members of the Trump administration to green light the use of private military contractors to destabilize Iran, the UAE’s archrival in the Middle East.
It’s worth mentioning that Nader was convicted and imprisoned for sexually abusing 10 boys in the Czech Republic in 2003 and pleaded guilty in the US to sex trafficking a minor and transporting child pornography in 2020.
Over the course of the past decade the UAE has emerged to be one of the most powerful and influential forces in Washington, DC.
The main point here, however, is that over the course of the past decade the UAE has emerged to be one of the most powerful and influential forces in Washington, DC, and at great cost to democracy and human rights.
In February, the Arabic language online magazine Sasapost published a report titled “Hajj (Pilgrimage) to Washington” (الحج إلى واشنطن), which reviewed 766 documents relating to the UAE from the US Justice Department’s database under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The files show the “Emirati Lobby” – a term used to describe individuals, corporations, government, and private parties working to advance UAE interests – has paid out more than US$132 million since 2011 in disclosed payments to secure Emirati interests in Washington, DC — making it the largest spender among Middle East countries.
“The UAE has risen to fame in the Middle East,” observe the authors of the report. “It has relentlessly stood against Arab revolutions and the Arab Spring of 2011, placing it at the forefront of Arab kingdoms and states. . . . [It] has not only led the ‘counter-revolution’ efforts within the region, but has also moved the battle abroad to the world’s most important political capital – Washington.”
The Emirati Lobby has been successful in establishing partnerships with the leading US-based think tanks.
The Emirati Lobby has also been successful in establishing partnerships with the leading US-based think tanks, specifically those that work on projects related to the Middle East, knowing that these institutes form the foundational knowledge for the foreign policy initiatives and directives of both major political parties.
Interestingly, many of these think tanks are aligned with pro-Israel, US right-wing groups and the “Islamophobia Industry,” as noted by Inside Arabia.
These revelations – along with the arrest and likely conviction of Thomas Barrack and his accomplices on what would be the equivalent of espionage charges against the US – reveal the UAE’s willingness and enthusiasm to destabilize governments around the world, including those of its closest allies.
It’s likely we will learn far more about the sordid nature and criminality of the UAE’s influence operations in the US during Barrack’s trial. And it can only be hoped that such findings will lead to more public awareness and political scrutiny.