CIA not spying on UAE despite 'rogue operations' abroad

CIA not spying on UAE despite 'rogue operations' abroad
A new Reuters investigation revealed the CIA does not keep tabs on the UAE, despite the Gulf state's new-found ambitious interventionism across the region.
4 min read
26 August, 2019
The UAE is involved in rogue operations across the region [Getty]
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) does not spy on the UAE government, a new Reuters investigation has revealed, in what sources within the agency have dubbed to be a dangerous blind spot.

The risky move is despite the UAE's ambitious military and political meddling in the region, including covert operations and financial play, which have caused tension between the small Gulf state and other nations.

In Libya, the UAE props up a rogue military leader in his battle against the UN-recognised government, in a conflict that has left hundreds dead.

In Yemen,
the UAE is taking on two roles; the first of which spearheading a military coalition battling Houthi rebels alongside its ally Saudi Arabia. In the south it is fighting against the UN-recognised, Saudi-backed government in their bid to support southern secessionists.

Meanwhile in the Gulf, the UAE has joined a Quartet of nations - including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt - in imposing a land, air and sea blockade on US ally Qatar.

The Reuters investigation also revealed the UAE has even hired US National Security Agency as elite hackers to spy on Americans.

But despite its activities, the CIA has no eyes on the increasingly-ambitious UAE.

The CIA's failure to adapt to the Abu Dhabi's growing military and political ambitions amounts to a "dereliction of duty", a former CIA official.

But the US is not completely oblivious to the Gulf state's activities, two sources with knowledge of National Security Agency operations told Reuters.

They added that the NSA conducts electronic surveillance - a lower-risk, lower-reward kind of intelligence-gathering - inside the Gulf state.

Sources also said the CIA works with UAE intelligence in a "liaison" relationship to obtain information on common enemies, including the Al-Qaeda militant and Iran.

CIA agents collect information on all but five countries across the world, including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada and the UAE - all of which form an intelligence coalition called "The Five Eyes", according to four former CIA officials.

Even Saudi Arabia, the US' closest Arab ally, is often targeted by CIA surveillance, according to two former CIA officials and a former intelligence officer for a Gulf nation.

Sources confirmed several CIA agents have been caught by Riyadh while trying to recruit Saudi officials as informants.

Those caught are "quietly ejected" from the kingdom without making a public fuss, said the former intelligence official for a Gulf nation.

Robert Baer, a former CIA agent and author described the lack of human intelligence on the UAE as "a failure".

"If you pride yourself on being a world service, it's a failure," he said. "The royal families are crucial."

Meanwhile, a former official in the Trump administration slammed the lack of UAE intelligence as alarming, accusing the desert monarchy of operating as a "rogue state" in strategic nations such as Libya and Qatar and further afield in Africa.

"You turn over any rock in the horn of Africa, and you find the UAE there," the former Trump administration official said.

The UAE watched with concern in 2011 when millions of Arabs citizens across the region joined mass movements to rid their respective countries of long-time dictators.

Abu Dhabi has since attempted to fight off the rise of pro-democracy movements and the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2012 it cut off all financial support to Egypt after Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was elected to power.

Egypt's army then launched a coup against the country's first-democratically elected president, prompting the UAE to resume support for the country by pumping billions to support the generals' rule.

The UAE has asserted itself as a financial and military power in areas "far from its immediate neighbourhood", said Sara Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.

"Whether Somalia, or Eritrea or Djibouti, or Yemen, the UAE is not asking for permission," she said.

Vittori, of the Carnegie Foundation, acknowledged some continuing shared goals between Washington and Abu Dhabi but said those interests are diverging as the UAE monarchy focuses on self-preservation.

"When the goal is regime-survival at all costs," she said, "it's not one that's going to align with the US".

The CIA, the NSA and the White House declined to comment on US espionage practices in the UAE, while the Gulf states' foreign ministry and its US embassy did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

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