The report stated that the former agents were lured into the spying mission, conducted under the guise of patriotism, by reportedly “doubling up their salaries”.
American contractors working for Cyberpoint, a US-based cyber security company, engaged in a spying mission for Abu Dhabi that involved breaching emails between Michelle Obama and Qatar’s Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, a New York Times [NYT] report revealed on Saturday.
The report mentioned confessions by David Evenden, a former National Security Agency [NSA] analyst, who was involved in the mission from as far back as 2014, when he started tracking terror cells in the Gulf by monitoring burner phones and messaging apps.
According to the NYT, Evenden was among “two dozen other NSA analysts and contractors” sent to Abu Dhabi after being lured to the UAE “by a boutique Beltway contractor” who promised to “quadruple” their salaries and lead a luxurious “tax-free life”.
Shortly after his ‘terror cell tracking’ mission, Evenden was assigned to breach the emails of Qatari royals and officials to find ways to prove the Gulf state was funding the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The only way to do that, Mr. Evenden told his bosses, would be to hack Qatar,” the NYT report stated.
The report also revealed Cyberpoint hacked the UAE’s “enemies” – including officials at FIFA – to track their flight movements, meetings and their overall whereabouts.
Shortly after, Evenden’s patriotic blindfold fell when he found himself spying on then-first lady Michelle Obama in late 2015. At the time, the former first lady was in contact with Sheikha Moza to arrange an appearance at the annual World Innovation Summit for Education [WISE] to promote her “Let Girls Learn” initiative.
“That was the moment I said, ‘we shouldn’t be doing this’…we should not be targeting these people,” Evenden told Nicole Perlroth, cybersecurity reporter at the NYT, who penned the report.
This light bulb moment prompted Evenden to fly back to the US with his family, as well as several colleagues, who realised they were engaging in an “unpatriotic” mission.
Meanwhile, in another recent report, French investigative journal ‘MediaPart’ revealed the UAE had bribed international journalists to launch a continuous media defamation campaign against Qatar.
MediaPart mentioned claims by Spanish journalist Raul Redondo that Qatar funded Hezbollah and paid large sums of money to militants around the world. The well known French outlet corroborated their statements through a detailed succession of sources.
News of cyber breaches targeting Qatari royals, journalists and agencies go back years before the 2017 blockade, which itself was triggered after the QNA state news agency was hacked and published false statements attributed to the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The false report was used as a justification by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt to impose an an illegal land, air and sea blockade on Qatar, citing terrorism claims. Throughout the three-year crisis, Doha vehemently denied all allegations and said there was “no legitimate justification” for the severance of relations.
Relations between Qatar, the UAE and the other blockading states have calmed in recent weeks after all parties signed the Al Ula Declaration in Saudi Arabia, bringing an an end to the three-year long crisis.