Apr 1, 2019

Report: UAE used U.S.-trained hackers to spy on journalists at Al Jazeera, BBC

A United Arab Emirates cyber espionage contractor staffed with several former U.S. intelligence agents hacked journalists or news executives at Al Jazeera, the BBC, Al Arabi and others throughout June 2017, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Previous reporting on the contractor DarkMatter and the espionage operation "Project Raven," including stories in The Intercept and Reuters, raised concerns about the UAE's espionage against journalists, including one in London and three in the U.S. But the full extent of the country's targeting reporters is still being determined.

Details: At a minimum, the number of reporters appears to be much higher than four.

  • Reuters reports that the UAE instigated digital surveillance on six journalists over a three week period in June.
  • That date corresponds with regional strife between several nations and Qatar which included a UAE blockade of Qatar, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE blocking the Qatar-funded news network Al Jazeera.
  • Days after all the reporters were hacked, the UAE demanded Qatar cease funding any media networks and shutter Al Jazeera.

The intrigue: The goal of the hacking operations was to try to find a nexus between Qatari funding, the Muslim Brotherhood and reporters critical of the UAE.

  • Victims included Azmi Bishara (founder of Al-Araby Al Jadeed), Giselle Khoury (a host on BBC Arabic), Abdulrahman Elshayyal (CEO of Al-Araby Al-Jadeed), Faisal al-Qassem (a host on Al Jazeera), Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani (chairman of Al Jazeera) and Abdullah Al-Athba (editor of the Al-Arab newspaper).
  • Also targeted was the Al-Hiwar television network. Al-Hiwar's founder, Azzam Tamimi, who publicly acknowledges ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

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