In a shocking revelation, US intelligence officials have reportedly said that the United Arab Emirates was behind the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani. These posts, originating in late May this year, were later used as Gulf nations to boycott Qatar and impose sanctions.
According to a report in Washington Post, new information gathered by US intelligence agencies have confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials told the Post that it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an "Islamic power" and praised Hamas.
The 'false' statements had a devasting effect on the Gulf region, as soon after the alleged hack, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin.
However, the United Arab Emirates has categorically denied the alllegations. "In a statement released in Washington by its ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE said the Post story was "false"," the report said.
"The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article," the statement said. "What is true is Qatar's behaviour. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Qadafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbours."
The hacking as revealed after a pro-Qatari organisation calling itself GlobalLeaks allegedly hacked into Otaiba's private account and circulated the emails to US media houses over the past several months.
Many of the emails highlight the UAE's determination over the years to rally Washington, DC, thinkers and policymakers to its side on the issues at the centre of its dispute with Qatar.
Qatar has repeatedly charged that its sites were hacked, but it has not yet released the results of its own investigation. Intelligence officials said their working theory since the Qatar hacks has been that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, or some combination of those countries were involved. It remains unclear whether the others also participated in the plan.
The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Donald Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.