Choosing Its “Gates”: US Punishes Russia but is Giving UAE a Free Pass

It seems that the profits of the U.S. military industrial complex have been put ahead of security, and the relationship between Abu Dhabi and Washington has only grown stronger.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — The Western corporate media peddled claims of direct Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but remains silent on the seemingly provable interference of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Even worse is that the Biden administration, armed with information about the interference, is still selling weapons to Abu Dhabi.

In July, at the beginning of what should really be labeled as “UAE-Gate,” Thomas J. Barrack Jr. — a close aide, Inaugural Committee head, and fundraiser for the Trump campaign — was accused alongside two others as having operated as a UAE spy. The charges against Barrack include conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and lying in an interview with law enforcement; but, most importantly, influencing former President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

Prosecutors believe that Barrack’s influence campaign over the former president was directed by UAE royals and that he received a hero’s welcome in the Emirates just two weeks after the 2016 election. It is alleged that Barrack met the UAE’s crown prince, the country’s national security adviser, and a third, unnamed, royal. The November 2016 meeting was said to have been a secret back-channel effort to influence the foreign policy of the Trump campaign and to increase the UAE’s clout in Washington.

The alleged conspiracy to illegally influence Donald Trump prior to and during the first two years of his administration, specifically involved promoting the idea of a tight relationship with “brilliant young leaders” such as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Two weeks prior to the 2016 election, Barrack published a comment piece in Fortune magazine advocating for “such triumphs as the Nixon-Kissinger pacts with China that isolated the Soviet Union and helped to end the Cold War,” in which he stated:

It’s in the interest of all these [Gulf Cooperation Council] allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, other GCC members, along with Israel, to join forces. That alliance would provide a countervailing balance to the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, the ISIS caliphate and the aggressive aspiration of Turkey, which is further fueled by a renewed Russian push.

It is important to note that the above quoted statement came well prior to any public notion of the normalization deals — dubbed the Abraham Accords — between Israel and Arab States, which included the UAE. In a 2018 exposé published by The New Yorker, entitled “Donald Trump’s New World Order,” it was claimed that Israel-UAE normalization talks had been held in secret since the early 1990’s and that in 2016, just prior to Trump winning election, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv were closer than ever. The New Yorker also revealed the secrecy of the discussions that were taking place between Israel and the UAE prior to Donald Trump’s election, explaining that:

Toward the end of [President Barack] Obama’s second term, U.S. intelligence agencies learned of phone calls between senior UAE and Israeli officials, including calls between a senior Emirati leader and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Then U.S. intelligence agencies picked up on a secret meeting between senior UAE and Israeli leaders in Cyprus. U.S. officials suspect that Netanyahu attended the meeting, which centred on countering Obama’s Iran deal. The Israelis and the Emiratis didn’t inform the Obama Administration of their discussions.

Back in the earliest traceable UAE-Israel meetings, during the Clinton administration, Abu Dhabi sought to attain F-16 fighter jets from Washington as a reward for normalizing ties with Israel, while the 2020 Abraham Accords seemed to be signed with F-35 fighter jets in mind. Although U.S. senators have put up some potential roadblocks for the export of the technology to the UAE, a deal was signed between the U.S. and the UAE for the sale of 50 F-35s and up to 18 drones this past January.

The significance of any UAE collusion with elements of the Trump administration, given what we know about the UAE’s prior intentions to normalize ties with Israel and receive backing in their anti-Iran Middle East strategy, would be a damning indictment. This should also raise questions about the role that the UAE may have played in drumming up major tensions regionally as a result of Abu Dhabi’s alleged influence on U.S. foreign policy.

 

Hackers for hire

In September, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that three former U.S. Intelligence Community and military personnel had agreed to pay $1.68 million to resolve criminal charges, stemming from their work as mercenary “hackers for hire.” The documents released by the Department of Justice stated:

According to court documents, the defendants worked as senior managers at a United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)-based company (U.A.E. CO) that supported and carried out computer network exploitation (CNE) operations (i.e., “hacking”) for the benefit of the U.A.E government between 2016 and 2019. Despite being informed on several occasions that their work for U.A.E. CO, under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), constituted a “defense service” requiring a license from the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), the defendants proceeded to provide such services without a license.

The men charged were said to have been responsible for helping the UAE to spy on targets internationally, including targets inside the United States itself. MIT Technology Review later revealed, through two sources, that not only had the UAE used U.S. citizens to do its hacking, but that the technology used for a 2016 iPhone hack was sold to them by U.S.-based firm Accuvant. According to a report, which Reuters first broke in 2019, in 2016 the UAE’s spying “Project Raven,” formed of a clandestine team including dozens of ex-U.S. intelligence officers, had moved to a cybersecurity firm named DarkMatter. It was here that “Americans involved in the effort say they saw the mission cross a red line: targeting fellow Americans for surveillance.”

 

Barrack’s back channel?

In the Thomas Barrack case, one of the co-conspirators, Matthew Grimes, was a former executive at Barrack’s company who got slapped with a seven-count indictment. Also charged was Rashid al-Malik, who has been described as a businessman from the UAE. Al-Malik supposedly worked as a direct connection between Barrack and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed. Interestingly, al-Malik’s name popped up in a probe by U.S. federal prosecutors into illegal foreign funding of the Trump inaugural fund and a pro-Trump Super PAC in 2018. In 2019 The Intercept stated that sources confirmed that the U.S. Intelligence Community had concluded al-Malik was a UAE intelligence source since 2017. It was claimed that “Al-Malik reported to UAE intelligence about aspects of the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, according to a former U.S. official and documents viewed by The Intercept.”

Written in the 46-page indictment of the three alleged UAE agents are charges that Emirati government officials:

…tasked the defendants … with, variously and among other things, (a) influencing public opinion, the foreign policy positions of the [Trump] Campaign and the foreign policy positions of the United States government; (b) obtaining information about foreign policy positions and related decision-making within the Campaign and, at times, the United States Government; (c) developing a backchannel line of communication with the campaign and, at times, officials of the United States government; and (d) developing plans to increase the United Arab Emirates’ political influence and to promote its foreign policy preferences. 

Besides the record-breaking weapons sales and Israel normalization deals, it is also important to note that Barrack, and his co-conspirators, allegedly played a role in pushing the Trump administration to back the Saudi-UAE-led blockade of Qatar in 2017. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain all severed diplomatic ties with Doha. Later that September, Tom Barrack was said to have persuaded Trump not to hold a summit, at Camp David, to address the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis. This came following an announcement by the president to bring rivals to the White House to work on ending the dispute.

The dispute between Qatar and its Persian Gulf Arab neighbors was reported at the time to have been to do with Doha’s funding of alleged terrorist groups, namely Hamas, and additionally its relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, the blockade was eventually lifted and proved to be completely ineffective, with Qatar coming out of it unscathed in January of this year.

 

Jilting Jordan

The blockade, however, did not pass by without causing any knock-on effects, one of which was the sidelining of the decades-long, reliable U.S. ally Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan broke with its two year stance against Doha in 2019, when Amman restored full economic ties.

Donald Trump’s staunch support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE had led to the U.S. coming to loggerheads with its traditional ally, especially after King Abdullah II of Jordan caught wind of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman perhaps taking seeking to take over the Hashemite ruler’s symbolic role as the Guardian of Jerusalem al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

This April a plot to “destabilize the country,” according to the Jordanian government, was launched by a number of Jordanian nationals, including King Abdullah’s half-brother, Prince Hamzah. Also part of the alleged plot, which was dubbed a coup attempt at the time, was Bassem Awadallah, an influential businessman who also served as an adviser to the Saudi crown prince and resided primarily in the UAE. The meddling in Jordanian affairs was a plot organized by Saudi Arabia, along with the United States and Israel, according to sources quoted by David Ignatius at The Washington Post. The damage that such events have led to, in terms of the relationships formed regionally, has had major implications and, although the Biden administration has sought to undo the harm that was done, it has kept on with some of the same strategies.

While Doha and Riyadh have grown closer, since the end of the blockade, the United States has grown closer with Abu Dhabi — this as the UAE seems to be breaking away from their Saudi allies. The Biden administration has not acted against the UAE over the allegations that it did much of what the Democratic Party, along with much of the U.S. media, was furiously claiming Russia did in 2016. President Biden and his fellow Democrats, instead of voicing concern, seem only to be embracing a closer relationship with the Emirates and seeking to build off of the Trump-era Abraham Accords.

 

Profit über alles and a double standard

Thomas Barrack claims that he is an innocent man but if he or any of his alleged co-conspirators are convicted, it would establish that the United Arab Emirates is responsible for doing much of what the U.S. media and Democratic Party were claiming Russia was doing, during the presidency of Donald Trump. This would mean that while the focus was on Russian collusion during the Russia-Gate scare, many of the same conspiracies that were said to have been taking place in that case, were happening in the case of the UAE. Even without these men sentenced to prison, there is enough evidence there to prompt an immediate investigation, but instead it seems that the profits of the U.S. military industrial complex have been put ahead of security, and the relationship between Abu Dhabi and Washington has only grown stronger.

All this begs the question as to whether influence is currently being exerted over the Biden administration and why it is so difficult for the president to take a stand. It also demands an answer as to why the Persian Gulf monarchy is continuing to have arms funneled to it, with less resistance than to the arms sales approved for Saudi Arabia. The UAE is the third largest purchaser of U.S. weapons, behind Australia and Saudi Arabia. The relationship between the U.S. and UAE, however, seems to be based on much more than just weapons trade, and maintaining a close diplomatic relationship seems to enjoy bipartisan consensus; nevertheless, if there was in fact UAE collusion, shouldn’t the response be similar to what we saw enacted against the Russian government?

Feature photo | Tom Barrack, the chair of former President Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, allegedly conspired to influence U.S. policy to benefit the United Arab Emirates, even while he was seeking a position as an American diplomat. Barrack, center, leaves Brooklyn federal court in New York, July 26, 2021. Mark Lennihan | AP

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts Press TV’s show ‘Palestine Files’. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe’. Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47.