Yesterday, the Washington Post published a report by John Hudson on the UAE’s interference with domestic U.S. politics, mentioning almost nothing at all about the American interference in the UAE’s and other countries' domestic politics or the even more pervasive interference by Israel in U.S. politics.
Last week, Haaretz ran an OpEd, AIPAC’s Fallen Crown: The Arrogance and Absurdity of America’s ‘pro-Israel’ Lobby. Daniel Brad wrote “AIPAC’s version of what ‘pro-Israel’ means– a reckless enabling of the most abhorrent currents in Israeli politics, its total embrace of the GOP and evangelicals, its smearing and spending against good faith criticism– isn’t doing Israel any favors.” In fact, the conservative-leaning but bipartisan AIPAC has pretty much come out as an arm of the Republican Party. They are thoroughly hated by progressives anymore and more Democrats are beginning to understand they are the enemy— even if shill like Hakeem Jefferies and Sean Patrick Maloney don’t. Last year, Orange County Congresswoman Katie Porter introduced a bill that would PACs from accepting money from lobbyists registered with a foreign country. There’s no carve-out for Israel.
“U.S. intelligence officials [the National Intelligence Council],” wrote Hudson, “have compiled a classified report detailing extensive efforts to manipulate the American political system by the United Arab Emirates, includ[ing] illegal and legal attempts to steer U.S. foreign policy in ways favorable to the Arab autocracy. It reveals the UAE’s bid, spanning multiple U.S. administrations, to exploit the vulnerabilities in American governance, including its reliance on campaign contributions, susceptibility to powerful lobbying firms and lax enforcement of disclosure laws intended to guard against interference by foreign governments… The report is remarkable in that it focuses on the influence operations of a friendly nation rather than an adversarial power such as Russia, China or Iran. It is also uncommon for a U.S. intelligence product to closely examine interactions involving U.S. officials given its mandate to focus on foreign threats.” In other words, members of Congress who are being bribed by foreign governments, be they the UAE (or Israel).
The relationship is unique. Over the years, the United States has agreed to sell the UAE some of its most sophisticated and lethal military equipment, including MQ-9 aerial drones and advanced F-35 fighter jets, a privilege not bestowed on any other Arab country over concern about diminishing Israel’s qualitative military edge.
Some of the influence operations described in the report are known to national security professionals, but such activities have flourished due to Washington’s unwillingness to reform foreign-influence laws or provide additional resources to the Department of Justice. Other activities more closely resemble espionage, people familiar with the report said.
The UAE has spent more than $154 million on lobbyists since 2016, according to Justice Department records. It has spent hundreds of millions of dollars more on donations to American universities and think tanks, many that produce policy papers with findings favorable to UAE interests.
There is no prohibition in the United States on lobbyists donating money to political campaigns. One U.S. lawmaker who read the intelligence report told The Post that it illustrates how American democracy is being distorted by foreign money, saying it should serve as a wake-up call.
“A very clear red line needs to be established against the UAE playing in American politics,” said the lawmaker. “I’m not convinced we’ve ever raised this with the Emiratis at a high level… [T]he activities attributed to the UAE in the report go well beyond mere influence peddling.
One of the more brazen exploits involved the hiring of three former U.S. intelligence and military officials to help the UAE surveil dissidents, politicians, journalists and U.S. companies. In public legal filings, U.S. prosecutors said the men helped the UAE break into computers in the United States and other countries. Last year, all three admitted in court to providing sophisticated hacking technology to the UAE, agreeing to surrender their security clearances and pay about $1.7 million to resolve criminal charges. The Justice Department touted the settlement as a “first-of-its-kind resolution.”
It did not involve prison time, however, and critics viewed the financial penalty as paltry given the substantial payments received by the former U.S. officials for their work, raising concerns it did little to dissuade similar future behavior.
Those seeking reform also note the federal trial of Thomas Barrack, a longtime adviser to former president Donald Trump, who was acquitted this month of charges alleging he worked as an agent of the UAE and lied to federal investigators about it.
U.S. prosecutors accused Barrack of exploiting his access to Trump to benefit the UAE and working a secret back channel for communications that involved passing sensitive information to Emirati officials. The evidence introduced in court included thousands of messages, social media posts and flight records, as well as communications showing that Emirati officials provided him with talking points for media appearances in which he praised the UAE. After one such interview, Barrack emailed a contact saying, “I nailed it … for the home team,” referring to the UAE.
Barrack, who never registered with the U.S. government to lobby for the gulf state, vehemently denied the charges, and prosecutors failed to convince a jury that his influence-peddling gave rise to crimes. An assistant of his, Matthew Grimes, was also acquitted. Barrack, though a spokesman, declined to comment.
The UAE is far from alone in using aggressive tactics to try to bend the U.S. political system to its liking. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Taiwan and scores of other governments run influence campaigns in the United States in an effort to impact U.S. policy.
But the intelligence community’s scrutiny of the UAE indicates a heightened level of concern and a dramatic departure from the laudatory way the country is discussed in public by U.S. secretaries of state and defense and presidents, who routinely emphasize the “importance of further deepening the U.S.-UAE strategic relationship.”
The UAE is a federation of sheikhdoms with more than 9 million people including the city-states of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Since 2012, it has been the third-biggest purchaser of U.S. weapons and built what many consider the most powerful military in the Arab world by cultivating close ties to the U.S. political, defense and military establishment.
The UAE’s armed forces have fought alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The country also hosts 5,000 U.S. military personnel at al-Dhafra Air Base and U.S. warships at the Jebel Ali deep-water port.
Boosters of the gulf state in U.S. think tanks and military circles often hail it as “Little Sparta” for its military prowess while sidestepping its human rights record and ironclad kinship with Saudi Arabia.
There are no elections or political parties in the UAE, and no independent judiciary. Criticism of the government is banned, and trade unions and homosexuality are outlawed. Freedom House ranks the gulf state among the least free countries in the world.
The stifling political environment stands in stark contrast to the country’s opulent cosmopolitan offerings, including the world’s tallest building, ski slopes inside a shopping mall and Ferrari World, a theme park inspired by the Italian sports car manufacturer. Its largest city, Dubai, is a tax-free business hub with glitzy five-star hotels, nightclubs and DJ concerts that feel incongruous to the nearby religious zeal of Saudi Arabia. In recent years, U.S. officials and independent watchdogs have warned that smuggling and money-laundering in the UAE have allowed criminals and militants to hide their wealth there.
Focus on the UAE’s role in Washington grew following the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. The CIA concluded his killing was done at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, a revelation that caused Washington lobbying firms and think tanks to sever their financial ties to Riyadh. Though the UAE had no involvement, the crown prince’s status as a protege of Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the ruler of the United Arab Emirates known as MBZ, invited greater scrutiny.
“MBZ was a big part of the crowd who said the Saudi crown prince would be a reformer, make Saudi Arabia a more normal country, give women the right to vote— all of which crashed when Khashoggi was killed,” Riedel said.
Concerns about the UAE among human rights groups grew with its military involvement in the brutal war in Yemen, from which it has since withdrawn. The gulf state also angered U.S. officials after the Defense Department’s watchdog said the UAE may have been financing the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary army close to the Kremlin that has been accused of atrocities in Libya, Ukraine and Africa. The UAE denies the charge.
Though the UAE has maintained strong bipartisan support in the United States, it cultivated a particularly close connection to the Trump administration, which approved the $23 billion sale of F-35s, MQ-9s and other munitions to the gulf state. The transfer, which has faced resistance by congressional Democrats, has not moved forward yet but is supported by the Biden administration.
Last month, The Post revealed the UAE’s extensive courtship of retired high-ranking U.S. military personnel. The investigation showed that over the past seven years, 280 retired U.S. service members have worked as military contractors and consultants for the UAE, more than for any other country, and that the advisory jobs pay handsomely.