Qatar’s Use of Hacking and Mass Media To Assassinate Characters of Rivals and to Shut Down Criticism: Implications for Reputational Management

 Character Assassination as Information Warfare in International Relations

Character assassination can be broadly defined as the “malicious and unjustified harming of a person’s good reputation”.  It can, but not always does fall under the legal category of “defamation of character”; however, the smear techniques used to destroy one’s reputation are not always false, nor necessarily carry legal culpability. In international relations, various forms of character assassination have been used as part of information warfare strategy to smear, demoralize, and ultimately, to disarm their opponents. 


Information warfare is not a simple concept to define.  According to some sources, information warfare involves information collection, transport, protection, and manipulation with the aim of gaining a competitive advantage over one’s adversary, whether in the military, intelligence, political, or business context. Other elements may include information disturbance, degradation, and denial.[1] Another way of looking at it is as a combination of  electronic warfare, cyberwarfare, and psy-ops (psychological operations).[2]

Information warfare utilizes cyberspace, advanced computing, mobile networks, unmanned systems, and social media to gather intelligence, disrupt the operational capabilities of the other adversary, and to engage in a variety of tasks to advance the mission of the governmental or non-state actors.[3] Character assassination is an element of information warfare that can be pursued through a variety of disinformation tactics and is generally considered a type of psy-ops. However, as this paper will show, more recently, traditional means of character assassination, has also relied on various types of cyberwarfare, such as hacking to advance the agenda of destroying the reputation of the target.

Psy-ops are “planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of organizations, groups, and individuals.”[4] In contemporary terms, the “battlefield” can be as much the political landscape as any military combat zone.  Political operations can employ the same elements as any military or intelligence operation to deceive the opponents, attract defectors from a different political faction, strengthen the morale of one’s voters, constituents, or political followers during tough election battles, or to sow discord in the ranks of one’s political opposition through deliberately unnerving or distorted information. Regardless of the operational environment, such operations employ specialists who are influence experts. They assess the information needs of a particular target population; they design noncombative means of influencing the state of mind of the targeted individual or entity, and they craft messaging specifically designed in light of intelligence about the adversary, ally, or one’s own needs.

As Sun Tzu’s ancient prototype of warfare “The Art of War” first detailed over 2000 years ago, “All warfare is based on deception.  Therefore, when capable of attacking, feign incapacity; when active in moving troops, feign inactivity.” Underscoring the importance of having accurate information about both one’s own capabilities and motivations and those of the adversary, Sun Tzu further notes: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

With the globalization and increasing sophistications of means of communications and greater access to information tools than ever before, information warfare, too, evolved over time to respond with greater creativity and nuance to the psychological needs of the increasingly diverse populations with greater access to open sources of information.  Simple vilification of the enemy through posters, as what arguably “sold” the United States on the idea of taking an active part in World War I combat is significantly less effective today.[5] Internet memes, with a significantly broader reach and a more humorous and popular culture appeal, play much the same role today.

 Political cartoons were the voice of pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi forces throughout World War II. Rather than relying on recruitment posters, mass media with its ability to reach the average reader and to win widespread support became the favored tool of the propagandists.[6] Animated cartoons through another new/emerging and increasingly accessible medium – the television – also went a long way towards projecting emotive images and government messaging to the public.[7] During the course of the Cold War, the sophistication of various types of psy-ops grew exponentially. The Soviet Union relied more on disinformation and character assassination techniques in particular, than on any form of intelligence gathering or other types of active measures, as Ion Mihai Pacepa depicts in “Disinformation”.

Part of the success of this strategy relied on the inherent vulnerabilities of the Western societies. “The truth is, the Western media are quite easily manipulated, for they often craft their stories from press releases and tend, on the whole, to be indiscriminate about the nature and reliability of their sources” – writes Pacepa. For that reason, planting false stories with the help of the ideological “fellow travelers” in various big-name Western publications and spreading conspiracy theories designed to appear legitimate thanks to the resources devoted to fabricating supporting evidence was not particular difficult.

 Pacepa explains how many Westerners readily bought into the mythology about the Catholic Church’s supposed aiding and abetting of the Nazis, thanks to the sophisticated yarns spun by the Soviet intelligence, which included plays and books produced just to solidify the impression created by the rumors.  Pacepa likewise explains how the Soviet Union took advantage of the authoritarian nature of various Middle Eastern regimes at the time to spread propaganda and conspiracy theories, particularly about Jews and the Elders of Zion and to create a long lasting anti-Western sentiment and fear of the American intelligence in the Arab street.  Some of these conspiracy theories live on through the anti-Semitic cartoons propagated by popular Arab media such as Al Jazeera, to this day.[8]

Soviet disinformation, however, did not stop at simple propaganda. The active measures that were aimed at discombobulating their Western opponents included increased surveillance of rare visitors, and intelligence officers, physical harassment of diplomats and operatives (which has returned to Moscow and Eastern European countries in recent years), as well as smear tactics against various targets.  Manipulation of photos to embarrass targets was one such intelligence tactics. Initially, the Soviets used airbrushing techniques to manipulate history and to erase enemies du jour out of the picture.[9]

In general, the United States was not particularly effective in responding to Soviet Active measures, but one committee, an interagency Active Measures Working Group, did show positive results in countering disinformation, responding to active measures, and inoculating the press and the American public from Soviet intelligence efforts. For instance, they proved effective in countering a fake report by the Soviets that US was supposedly behind the AIDS epidemic and developed the virus to destroy African populations.[10]

Today, Photoshop and other advanced techniques have made such manipulations tantalizingly simple, and the old smear campaigns concocted by the Soviet intelligence have taken on a new life through the proliferation of fake news online, sophisticated data-driven influence campaign, and advancing narratives with the assistance of the mass media and social media echo chambers. However, new actors are in the game now. While Russia has continued spreading chaos through election meddling and televising propaganda through its mouthpieces such as RT, Qatar, with its bountiful funding, has played an increasingly prominent role in terms of character assassination and other forms of information warfare in the West, as much as in the Middle East.

And unlikely the 1980s, there is no well-coordinated interagency group of narrowly focused experts with the sole task of countering the stream of disinformation proliferating through the press and online. How has information warfare involved from the print and TV media to the information age particularly in open societies with free access to a spectrum of diverse and international sources? Has the democratization of journalism and the failure of the traditional print media aided the proliferation of fake news? Is there something about the 24-hour infotainment cycle that aids openness to smear campaigns and fact free reporting?

All of these factors certainly facilitate the spread of unverified and unverifiable information and rumors. Untrained citizen journalists, deterioration of the authority of traditionally trusted sources of information, and erasure of journalistic scandals in a world driven by the need to deliver and the rise in political activism through the press all have aided the process. And they are all part of the phenomenon that Qatar, just as the Soviet Union back in the day, has made expert use of – populism.

How Populism Can Aid Disinformation

The rise of populism in the United States and Europe has corresponded to more sophisticated character assassination attacks against critical thinking, Western values, and liberal democratic republican systems of governance by rising populist groups and state actors.  A sense of separation from seemingly self-interested elites, whether they are defined as 1 percenters, or “intellectuals” has facilitated conspiratorial thinking, a sense of social isolation, and openness to alternative sources of information even in highly educated Western countries. Coupled with economic issues, social tensions, and elements of populism formerly used to manipulate public opinion by the Soviet Union and its allies in the academic and non-profit spheres created a predisposition to emotionalism, appeal of incendiary and extreme rhetoric, demagoguery across the political spectrum, and the breakdown of traditional political boundaries and social norms.

 New forms of authority, including that of each individual’s own opinion, challenges traditional sources of authority such as self-described or publicly acknowledged experts, government institutions, and mass media. At the same time, there is no evidence to show that reliance on assorted alternative media sources has led to a better-informed public. Rather, lack of critical thinking skills and ability to discern among relative reliability of various sources of information has led to the proliferation of foreign funded information campaigns and sources on social media – with the 2016 election meddling being but one of them. Other instances included proliferation of Iranian “sources” and manipulation of information. Proliferation of more independent media sources has not necessarily led to greater diversity of opinions and independent voices, however, has aided the growth of echo chambers which intensify social and political divisions and enforce confirmation biases.

What is Populism?

Populism has a range of definitions, but at core it is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups. It is frequently but not always marked by appeal to emotions which can be positive (“hope and change”) or negative (appeal to fear of immigrants, economic issues, or identity politics.) Populism crosses political boundaries; in the West, it exists both on the left and on the right. On the right, it is largely of reactionary nature, fueled by concern over lack of opportunities for white blue-collar workers, illegal immigration, and the appeal of economic protectionism. On the left, populist rhetoric stems from academic disciplines such as critical race theories, and intersectionality, and identity politics, as well as the appeal of democratic socialism and various “Social justice” causes aimed at highlighting economic disparity. 

The mainstreaming of narrow formerly academic doctrines to fuel movements, increasingly marked by extreme rhetoric and even occasional violence is nothing new. Civil rights movements in the 1960s coincided with the rice of student movements on campus, “black nationalist” movements such as the Black Panthers, and other organized groups. At the same time, however, the campus atmosphere of rebellion against the traditionalist values of the 50s, segregation, and various forms of social discrimination was likewise fueled by class-oriented rhetoric stemming from fellow travelers and radical left academics who have largely displaced more conservative faculty, as they flocked to education in opposition to the Vietnam draft.

 Populists define their vision of the present through conflict, be it culture or economy- oriented.  Samuel Huntington once described the distinction between the left and the right-wing populists in his 1993 Clash of the Civilizations:  “The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.”7 Right-wing populists instinctively grasp this point. The Left by contrast, continuing a debt (however remote) to Marxism, tends to view history as a clash of classes—a dominant class that owns and controls the means of production and a subordinate class that does not” These distinctions are increasingly being erased if they ever held true.

For instance, left wing populism at its core centered around “Cultural Marxism”[11], and right-wing populists in the United States today have cited economy as one of their chief concerns. We have seen similarities between the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which cited to vague economic anti-globalist grievances, without ever fully describing the scope and the exact nature of its demands with the much more defined rise of blue collar supporters of Donald Trump[12], whose economic interests were subverted by regulation of particular industries, movement of industrial jobs abroad as a result of globalization, and imposition of international norms on issues of national or local concern.

These movements have mirrored the rise of populism in Europe, a sign that populism is an increasingly global phenomenon. Populism in Europe has largely been driven by a response to what was widely perceived by excessive regulation and universalization of local issues, which resulted in Brussels driven imposition on national sovereignty, opposition to the open border policy, protectionist concern over the perceived takeover of limited jobs by immigrants in light of stagnant European economies, national security concerns as a result of the mass migrant crisis of 2015, resulting in movements away from European unity such as Brexit, with some claims more coherent than others, and with the situation further fueled by social media meddling by interested foreign states such as Russia.

In some instances, this populism resulted in the rise and empowerment of fringe movements, resulting in the rise in bigotry and violent incidents against minority groups. The Yellow Vest movement in France, which quickly spread across Europe, has been an amalgamation of various anti-government grievances, without any concrete proposals, and marked by continuous protests and violence. At different points in time, the protesters made alliances with climate change demonstrators and other groups.[13]  At the core, however, Western populist movements are grassroots driven, even if frequently hijacked by meddling foreign states.

By contrast, populism in the Middle East has been fueled and controlled by authoritarian governments or quasi-governmental insurgent revolutionary groups, organizations, and movements with power-oriented goals.  Upon rise to power, the leaders of such groups continue to rely on populism, particularly through education, the media, use of slogans, and incendiary speeches to maintain popularity and power, and to distract from other problems, such as corruptions, economic failings, military weakness, or political problems. Middle Eastern populism has manifested itself through secularist (socialist, pan-Arabist), and quasi-religious revolutionary (Muslim Brotherhood, which originated in Egypt, the Islamic Revolution in Iran). Nasserism, the Ba’ath parties in Iraq and Syria, the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries, and the rise and populist rhetoric of President Erdogan in Turkey are all examples of the diverse populist movements which despite ideological differences share the revolutionary mindset, the demagogue approach of their leaders, the scapegoating of assorted group, and growing authoritarianism even when elected by popular vote.

 In some cases, revolutionary leaders rose on the coattails of populist movements united against corruption, authoritarianism or economic problems, but quickly displaced the old system of government with a new form of tyranny. President Morsi in Egypt came to power as a result of mass demonstrations against President Mubarak; the Islamic Revolution in Iran hijacked the communist opposition to the Shah; the social unrest in Morocco did not displace the monarchy, but resulted in the rise of Islamist political parties. Social media has in recent years played the role of the traditional media in fueling the Arab Spring[14] and other social movements in the Arab World. However, upon rise to power, Arab leaders continue to rely on traditional media to carry their message.

Frequently, the populist element is aimed at attacking their rivals in other states. Media wars between Egypt and Turkey[15], or between Turkey and the UAE[16] are just some examples. In other instances, third party elements, such as pro-Muslim Brotherhood political factions and media, take advantage of tensions between non-populist governments (such as the monarchies in Morocco and Saudi Arabia), to instigate media-fueled crisis through leaks and misrepresentations of statements attributed to government officials. [17] In these instances, populism has been used to identify and then maintain grievances, rather than to address ongoing systemic failures where domestically or in foreign policy.

Some would argue that Western populism suffers the same fate, citing the avoidable border security funding dispute between the Republican President Donald Trump and the Democratic House majority, as one such example. Regardless of the specifics, however, populism can and does foment passions and is a favored tool of state and non-state manipulators. Qatar has benefited from both Middle Eastern and Western populism in furthering Doha’s agenda, and has made understanding the nature of this phenomenon an asset in understanding both its own relative strengths and the vulnerabilities of its adversaries, which it has then successfully exploited.

In both the Middle East and the West, populism is cultivated or proliferated through the establishment of echo channels and lack of intellectual diversity, or nuanced, fact-based perspectives in the media. In the Middle East, the media is largely managed by the governments, though in recent years, some classical liberal influences from the West and some level of independent reporting so long as it falls in line with the overall government agenda has flourished through a few outlets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

In the West, the press is not state-controlled; however, increasing numbers of people are relying less on traditional news sources and more on alternative news sites, in part due to erosion of trust in the media[18]. Conspiracy theory hubs, such as Alex Jones’ Infowars have grown in influence and in numbers. Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, have become favored and controversial platforms for exchanging news stories and opinions. Both have been criticized for the algorithms that facilitate divisions[19] and echo chambers mentality[20].

Many more adults enter the workforce lacking basic critical thinking skills; confirmation biases facilitate the echo chambers.  Although critical thinking could be developed in any academic setting, it is increasingly absent from US K-12 public education and colleges[21]. In that manner, adults leaving the classrooms are no different in the lack of discernment between opinions and facts, and lacking the ability to analyze and ask critical questions – and becoming increasingly similar to their counterparts in the authoritarian educational system, where critical thinking skills are not taught because an educated questioning public is not likely to believe conspiracy theories propagated by government-backed media.

Although the roots of populism in the West and in the Middle East are different, the outcome – increasing number of people likely to believe in fake news and conspiracy theories – increases due to the same root cause: inability to analyze and question the news. Furthermore, the self-perpetuating cycle continues when such mentality feeds demands for simple, emotionally appealing, short items in the print press, entertaining and emotionally appealing segments on TV, with pundits who support existing narratives and confirmation biases, and who push for or at least go along increasingly facile and diluted education for their children. Education, which appeals to narratives rather than to analytical thinking contributes to the rise of populism.

 Coupled with the need to juggle different priorities, and lack of interest in serious analysis for every news story, individuals already disillusioned with the media are likely to read the news passively with little interest or to turn to sources that will provide them with the information that is appealing to existing preferences. All of these developments are easily observable by an outsider, particular when that outsider contributes to the very educational system that shapes these narratives and suppresses critical thinking skills.[22] 

An authoritarian emirate, which seeks to introduce a particular perspective about itself to school age students is not likely to aid in developing the critical skills needed to question the value of such education. Thus, disinformation comes from two sources: the ability to influence or take advantage of early education, and access to adults, who lack the critical thinking skills to resist demagoguery, populist appeals, and confirmation biases, and who are more likely to believe fabricated or distorted information that nevertheless appeals to preexisting biases and sensitivities.

There is no hard evidence to show that Russian meddling has changed the outcome of the 2016 election. Existing grievances and domestic media issues led to the popularity of Donald Trump; political miscalculations by other candidates led to their downfall and insufficient support in key states. However, the effect of the meddling by Russia and other states was damaging and revealing in key ways: it showed that public opinion can be manipulated online and through others sources when there is an existing distrust and wariness of the existing media to harden existing positions and to further that distrust.

Second, this meddling paved way for additional interference and subtle shaping of public opinion through political campaigns by other states, such as Iran, which created a network of mirror sites to push particular items with the assistance of troll farms, modeled after the Russian prototype[23] These influence campaigns fed off Western populism. However, Qatar’s experience and extraordinary success with the Middle Eastern populism, created a particular brand of appeal in the United States and elsewhere that even Russia and Iran have not been able to imitate.

Middle East Populism and the disintegration of the Mass Media in the West

Unlike the largely grassroots Western populism, frequently manipulated by rising demagogues and assorted groups, Middle Eastern populism has been carefully cultivated by authoritarian leaders with the agenda. Revolutionary leaders and organizations, such as Gamal Abdul Nasser, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Turkey’s Erdogan have used populist rhetoric to rise to power, sometimes through popular democratic means and through a broad base of social support – distinguishing themselves from military juntas and dictators, as well as from monarchs.  Appearance of support in elections or through social movements frequently gave them initial legitimacy and support in Western countries, where elections, rather than the existence and growth of civic institutions, signaled a democratic and popular direction of governance. These leaders and organizations, having gained support through the promise of social programs and a reflection of economic and political needs, then created media mechanisms to stoke populist emotions while eschewing critical analysis in educational system and in the press.

These methods of popular manipulations resulted in greater proclivity towards populism, conspiracy theories, internal and external, and manipulation by the government through the press. Thus, populism in the Middle East is frequently government controlled. In Western countries, with the deterioration of quality journalism due to business miscalculation and the rise of technocratic corporate control over means of information distribution, political agendas come to influence and dominate the coverage and the reporting. 

With the rise of populism throughout society, the Western media increasingly fell under control of parties with specific agendas and interest, and due to a need for consistent funding, over time has become increasingly similar to Middle Eastern populist vehicles of message control and manipulation – which also ensured that more Western journalists and columnists would gravitate towards foreign government media, or would be open to foreign government influence on the Western press. These echo chambers are strengthened by the proliferation of political operatives and agenda driven members of foreign policy circles, who exploit the tendencies of some to rely exclusively on authority and confirmation biases, without thoroughly examining the evidence.

The rise of Nasserism predicated itself on promises of social and economic equality. Arguably, the populist movement, which is associated with Gamal Abdel Nasser, who came to power as a result of Free Officers revolt in Egypt in 1952 is associated with the reaction to the fall of the Ottoman Empire early 20th century and a growth of nationalism throughout the Arab world. Nasserism incorporates elements of anti-imperialism, pan-Arabism, and Arab socialism, and called for liberation of all Arab lands from colonial rule.[24] Nasser’s socialist policies left Egypt’s economy in ruins. His view of nationalism took a dangerous turn resulting in the expulsion of Egypt’s Jewish minority.

His foreign policy cost Egypt in fruitless wars against Israel; and while Egypt continued to play an important role in Africa and the Middle East, the rise of oil-driven Gulf States made it much more difficult for the struggling economy to be seen as the leader of pan-Arabist policies. Yet, echoes of Nasserism persisted in Egypt long after Nasser himself died in 1970, a failure. For instance, Nasserist policy elements and symbolism persisted in the anti-Brotherhood demonstrations in the twilight of President Morsi’s short lived tenure. Arguably, these elements remained, in popular imagination, associated with the aspiration to dignity and assertion of national will from foreign-imposed colonialism[25], although Nasserist policies brought in a new form of suffering.

One of the common elements of populism movements is a  – frequently mythical – restoration of purportedly dethroned national or group pride.  Populist rhetoric incorporates emotive, easily accessible slogans which speak to the troubled times and offer appealing, seemingly common sense solutions which disregard the complexity of advancing a particular agenda, and place the interests and identities of particular aggrieved groups above all others.  Nasserism attempted to unite all Arabs around a common identity and on the basis of secular, socialist policies but at the expense of ethnic and religious minorities. 

The rise of Ba’athism in Iraq and Syria, which followed the same principles, but with greater influence from fascist ideology reflected in the same trends.  Broadly defined, Ba’athism is is an Arab nationalist ideology that promotes the development and creation of a unified Arab state through the leadership of a vanguard party over a progressive revolutionary government. A few years ago, when Assad’s regime appeared on the verge of collapse, experts prematurely predicted the demise of this revolutionary ideology; arguably some former die-hard Ba’athists in Iraq and Syria became the leadership of the Islamist terrorist organization ISIS. 

Iraq’s Ba’athism under Saddam Hussein spoke to the popular sentiment regarding Arab unity but at the cost of lives to Kurdish population, and anti-Iranian, anti-Kuwait, and anti-Shi’s policies.[26] The rise of Islamism in both Sunni and Shi’a countries starting with the Muslim  Brotherhood in Egypt, and encouraged by the West in counterweight to the Soviet-backed pan Arabism, nationalist, and socialist movements around the world, operated under the same principles, using religion, rather  than ethnocentrism and Marxism as basis for popular appeal.

In Turkey, Islamism, which started to rise in the 1990s, offered a promise of democratic reforms against the authoritarian, secular, but ethnocentric Kemalism.[27] However, the roots of Islamism in Turkey date back to the opposition to communism which was backed by the Soviet Union, particularly within Kurdish nationalist ranks and leftist Turkish circles. Ultimately, the Western support for Islamism was a failure, as Islamist movements had a strategy for spreading their ideas far beyond the vanquish of the Soviet threat, and in many cases were more interested in proselytizing their ideology than in fighting Communism.[28] As with any populist movement, Islamists promised democracy and equality on the basis of religious principles. The Islamic Revolution in Iran rejected both Eastern and Western influences, although at early stages, Khomeini made temporary allies with the Soviet Union and learned a great deal from the USSR, particularly in terms of intelligence.

Just as with the Soviet Union, the central tenet of Iranian Islamism was the exportation of the Revolution abroad[29]. Ultimately, the Revolution disillusioned many of its early followers. Far from resulting in social equality, it brought about long-term wars with Iraq, proliferation of terrorism, international isolation, poverty, corruption, and domestic tyranny, not to mentioned continued repression of minorities on ethnocentrist ultranationalist principles, which the ayatollah-led regime used to divide the opposition in combination with promoting revolutionary Khomeinist Shi’ism. As with other Islamist movements around the same time, the US may have assisted in Khomeini’s return to Iran by holding back the army from launching a military coup. Perhaps, having given up on the shah, the Carter administration found Khomeini preferable to the success of a communist-run uprising.[30]

Later, the Iran-backed Hezbullah militia, which started out as a guerrilla force to evict Israel from Lebanon, and morphed into a sprawling organized apparatus, rose to political power and even a level of international legitimacy despite its organized terrorist attacks, with the promise of providing generous social welfare programing.  Hezbullah’s “social jihad” gave dual purpose to its network of resistance organization, which, like Muslim Brotherhood fronts in the West and the Middle East[31], benefited from money laundering[32] and illicit financing to provide some limited and increasingly disputable[33] social benefits to the poor members of the society, while creating dependency on its services and profiteering for its militant and terrorist activities from the rest.[34] Once the economics and the politics of populist movements and organizations fail – whether due to flawed models, corruption, channeling of funding for external needs such as terrorism or foreign adventurism, or some combination thereof – the governments and organizations increasingly rely on the use of force and disinformation or populist rhetoric in the media to maintain order and control.

Islamist and revolutionary regimes have sought to portray themselves as democratic alternatives to military juntas and monarchies in the Middle East and North Africa region, as well as other African states[35]. In Egypt, following a familiar model, Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi hijacked the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime’s corruption and stagnant economy to rise to a short-lived power through democratic elections[36]. His brief tenure was marked by violence against Egypt’s Christian Coptic minority, as well as cooperation with the Shi’a Iranian regime.  Islamist media reflects the same top-controlled approach to disseminating populist rhetoric, disinformation, and spin as the press governed by military juntas and monarchies.

 Such press is state-controlled, or reflects support for particular entities, often extreme, even cartoonish in vilification of opponents, frequently distorts or misreports facts and quotes, and appeals to emotions. For instance, in post-colonial Algeria, at this time led by a military junta, and facing a wave of social unrest in the face of its President Bouteflika’s announcement of a fifth-term bid, the leaders have traditionally identified the press with intelligence, and thus thought to fill the media with their own appointees, reflecting official government position and exercising tight control over the flow of information[37].

Egypt’s Nasser utilized the media to his advantage, spreading his agenda in the far flung regions of the country both to support his rise as a charismatic leader, and consequently to promote his ideology and to suppress alternative voices.[38] State controlled media does not mean that there is no diversity of voices, however, even in such instances publications or channels promote the overall government or party agenda, and do not run too far afield of particular preferences, nor do they attack the leadership or its policies.

The diversity of voices generally reflects perspective on internal issues or events abroad, so long as they do not run afoul of the overall policy. Similar diversity can be seen today in the media of various Middle Eastern and African monarchies and republics; they allow for limited diversity, but red lines are drawn with respect to direct criticism of leadership; furthermore, frequently, scapegoating of the country’s opponents or designated groups and organizations is deliberately promoted by channels or publications with a nod from the governments. Such attacks could be observed in the negative portrayal by Egyptian and Saudi press of each other’s leaderships, for instance. [39] Such media wars are usually temporary and frequently give way to new alliances once foreign policy changes.

 For instance, the imposition of the blockade against Qatar in 2017, united the otherwise rivaling anti-Terrorism Quartet, which consists of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain.  The media of these countries has since adopted a more conciliatory tone and played down foreign policy differences among the countries and their leaders. Media squabbles against other governments, as can be seen from the recent Morocco-KSA tensions in the press, frequently play to populist, usually nationalist sentiments, and emotions to portray the positions of officials from the state in question as insulting the dignity and impugning the national sovereignty of the home state. Personal character assassination against particular figures is not out of the question.

Objective reporting has been rare, although most recently has been on the rise, particularly in the English-language versions of these states, which seek increasing legitimacy and readership in the West. Ironically, just some level of liberalization and greater diversity of voices, particular of Western perspectives (so long as they are generally in line with the foreign policy of particular states), the state of the mass media in the West has started to lose independence from particular interests, and although not state control, has become increasingly reminiscent of the stereotypes associated with their counterparts in the Middle East.  First, the rise of social media has challenged the flow of information and globalized the ability of states to extend their reach far beyond their borders, often aided by the policies of tech giants, which have been operating increasingly as content suppliers and regulators.

“Totalitarian regimes are increasingly turning to the Internet as a way to control their own publics and as a tool to use to undermine democracies and threaten dissidents abroad. It is becoming increasingly difficult to critique some of these regimes, as major social media companies such as Facebook and Google cater to requests regimes to remove content, ban users, or make it difficult to find content.[40]“ Another issue includes mismanagement of the journalism business model in the West, which has led to budget cuts, staff reduction, and disappearance of in-depth investigative reporting and foreign policy coverage, to the benefit of state-backed media conglomerates, such as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. ” Large, state-funded media enterprises with well-heeled newsrooms and the resources to send undercover reporters around the world. This all sounds great, but the dark side is that all the talk of “democracy” and “free speech” comes with a catch. Does Al Jazeera send undercover reporters to look for corruption among the royal family of Qatar? Does it report critically about Qatar? Does it support “democracy” in Qatar? Does it “shine the light of transparency” on Doha? Al Jazeera speaks truth to power only outside Qatar.”[41] 

Lee Smith, a US journalists, describes a climate, where political activism increasingly takes the place of objective reporting in the West, propelling the US media to become increasingly similar to Middle Eastern outlets, which reflect positions of particular factions, rather than neutral, fact-based approaches traditionally associated with professional journalism. ” The new generation of state-controlled media aims to consolidate domestic opinion by enhancing the prestige of what used to be understood—by outsiders and citizens alike—as propaganda. Many Russians believe the news and analysis on RT is legitimate if a program also features American talking heads. Similarly, many Arabs believe that Al Jazeera must be like real news, because the production values are similar to those of CNN.”[42]  Lee Smith describes Western the degradation of Western journalism, which coincides with the rise of the Middle Eastern authoritarian outlets with Western production values.

Over five years later, however, the situation appears to have deteriorated further. Smith draws examples of several political campaigns in recent which ran through the Western press, frequently with the “assistance” of various political operatives and intelligence leaks, with the aim of influencing public opinion on US foreign policy. Comparing these instances to the Lebanese press, where the reader reads news coverage not for the news, but to understand the perspective of a particular group, he writes:” Blurring the lines between journalists/analysts and officials/operatives is not simply a matter of convenient nomenclature. It’s part of a conscious strategy to legitimize the nature and structure of information operations by obscuring their political character. How dare Trump strip John Brennan’s security clearance! He’s infringing on the former CIA director’s free speech rights—as a journalist. Branding political operatives and intelligence officials as “press” is also intended to shield these newly minted “analysts” from possible prosecution. Evidence of their crimes and abuses may be found in the steady stream of classified intelligence illegally leaked to a complicit press corps for the purpose of marketing the Russia collusion narrative. By relabeling government officials as “journalists,” the media is protecting both its clandestine confederates and itself.”[43]

Ironically, some of these campaigns coincided with the Arab Spring and other populist social upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa. The Obama administration supported Morsi’s election and opposed his deposition by the future President El Sissi, under the premise that the initial upheavals were expressions of popular, democratic will and that the voice of the people had to be respected by other states. Given the Morsi regime’s failure to protect the rights of the minorities, and arguable, the prevalence of political ideas, which showed little respect for minorities, the wisdom of equating the democratic process of a one-time election with popular support could be at best described as inaccurate, potentially baseless, and politically naïve. Other examples where giving a democratic platform to illiberal and undemocratic factions did not work out well with the vote in Gaza which led to the election of Hamas, in power for the last ten years, and known for its ruthless propaganda, support for terrorism, acceptance of funding from foreign regimes such as Iran, and gross human rights violations, such as using children as human shields.[44]

 The Houthi uprising in Yemen, although initially aimed at responding to vast government corruption and ensuring the rights, particularly of Mohammed Al-Houthi’s faction, was coopted by Iran and used to abscond with humanitarian aid and spread terror throughout the devastated country, suffering from the effects of the civil war. The social unrest in Morocco brought the Islamist PJD to parliamentary power in Morocco, which has then used Moroccan media to instigate low-grade and diplomatic tensions with the anti-Muslim Brotherhood Saudi Arabia. And in Tunisia, the Islamist party that came to power and even gave equal inheritance rights to women, once again failed to address the economic grievances which contributed to its initial rise, and likewise failed to reign in the spread of jihadism throughout the country.

But although the misguided Western support for populist Middle Eastern and North African movements did nothing to help build relations with the governments that followed or to address the initial issues or to spread pro-Western ideas (Sissi, ironically, a beneficiary of Western education, on his own promoted not so much political liberalization as elements of classical liberalism and capitalism in the economy, leading to a great improvement in the internal economic situation[45], despite lack of a liberal democracy), they did end up benefit one actor, which was both involved in these events and watched the unfolding developments in the West just as closely – Qatar.

Middle Eastern Conflicts Migrate to the Western media

Following the imposition of the economic blockade against Qatar by the Anti-Terrorism Quartet (KSA, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt), as well as some of their allies, the information war among these countries has increased, with UAE and Qatar accusing each of hacking to manipulate initial political messaging regarding that development. The battle of PR agencies and hired consultants resulted in proliferation of articles supporting each side in mainstream media, as well as the battle over the White House response to this event. As the blockade war on, conspiracy theories against the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began to proliferate from media sources linked to Qatar, and have affected even such reputable publications as the WSJ and NY Times, which in some cases were even forced to withdraw articles based on speculative or poorly sourced information.  The failure to conduct proper vetting of sources or to corroborate information turned the propaganda war of the Middle Eastern powers into a free-for-all, which with time, dragged in assorted influencers, political operatives, and opinionmakers.

Over a relatively short period of time, Qatari operatives succeeded in reaching top lobbyists and outplaying the Saudi/Emirati PR apparatus (Bahraini and Egyptian voices played a negligible role in this campaign in the West). The so-called Gulf Crisis spread across the world – geopolitically, affecting African allies, and increasing the visibility of the standoff over political issues.  However, the substantive discussion was largely relegated to the back burner in the Western media, as political battles raged in the press, and the effect on domestic matters became more pronounced. The overall effect on US media was increasingly populist and partisan, with little fact checking of substantive issues, and little effort made to counter hyperbolic claims or to see beyond flattering or deceptively critical imagery of the Saudi Crown Prince, whose visit to the United States became less about economic and political issues related to US foreign policy and more about his personal image and reputation in terms of the media messaging.

Qatar Learned from Both Middle Eastern and Western Populism

Qatar is a traditional emirate, yet used Al Jazeera to the greatest populist effect, creating an impression that it is an independent medium which, unlike many similar outlets by other the junta and monarchy led states in the region, can criticize the leadership of those states and highlight ongoing conditions. Qatar’s claim to fame with Al Jazeera has also the apparent freedom in inviting a spectrum of speakers, including terrorists and Israelis.  Whether members of Al Qaeda and other such organizations should have a platform to express their views has been subject to heated debate; however, Qatar has exploited this space and uncertainty with great advantage to itself in terms of earning viewers across the region, and much to the annoyance of the anti-Terrorist Quartet, the leaders of which came to believe that Qatar is deliberately stirring up trouble and riling up the Arab street against them. Qatar somehow managed to utilize populist methods despite its traditional form of government, acting both populist and authoritarian to its own population at the same time.

It also observed the vulnerabilities of the transparent Western media and exploited the litigiousness of the US society to stop the flow of critical articles that would shine daylight on its own foreign and domestic transgressions. At the same time, Qatar has been willing to contribute generously as in investor to states and entities, which later adopted a position favorable to its business and foreign policy aims.  The commercial interests in Western societies often outweigh long term national security considerations of meddling by foreign states.  Likewise, the sore state of the media, which for a scoop, will give voice to anonymous leakers and government officials, even if it means putting aside natural skepticism, also helped. Most importantly, however, Qatar saw an opportunity to ride and exploit the wave of Western populism, where pitting political operatives of various backgrounds against each in a divisive climate can help propel Qatari own officials to greater influence when representatives of different parties present a more united front and are more vigilant against outsiders seeking to sow divisions in order to further their own interests.

Reducing Moral and Combat Efficiency Within Enemy Ranks

Al Jazeera not only has been a tool to promote Qatar’s foreign policy aims in the region, and to become the hub of modern communications in the Gulf, but it also has been a tool of imposing geostrategic dominance through communications.  For instance, some believe that Qatar’s use of Al Jazeera to promote terrorists groups during the Arab Spring may have changed the course of history, undermining the efforts of the more pragmatic elements who may otherwise have come to power instead.[46] Furthermore, this strategy is not particular new, even for Qatar. Al Jazeera’s roots in supporting radical groups and pro-Iran elements in Syria and Iraq go back to the Hosni Mubarak years, before the Arab Spring[47].  In other words, Qatar’s position against the anti-Terrorism Quartet is not ad hoc contrarianism, but rather, a long term political and military strategy of playing all sides on the surface, while undermining Qatar’s regional rivals through various means, including by strengthening their adversaries, both state and non-state actors. 

Al Jazeera’s coverage similarly served to undermine the more recent anti-regime protests in Iran.[48] What purpose would that serve? First, it would undermine the morale of the protesters and strengthen the ability of the Iranian regime to exercise control over the information flow. Second, it would mislead the Western public watching AJ, as well as anyone in the Arab world, who would otherwise be inclined to sympathizers with the protesters. Third, it would undermine the support and narrative of the ATQ for the challenge to the Iranian regime. In other words, through its coverage Qatar was siding with the regime against the ATQ bloc, and using deceptive and misleading coverage to reduce the moral efficiency within the ranks of its opponents, and make it less likely that the protests would prevail in accomplishing their goals, sending a message, or otherwise pressuring the regime on the ground.

Al Jazeera’s goal was also to sow discord between Western countries, such as the United States, and the ATQ.  Wherever possible, Al Jazeera would insinuate that the US foreign policy, rather than the regime’s own independent agenda, was to blame for the uprisings. Not only would such messaging feed into Iran’s own propaganda machinery, but ideally, it would provide an alternative explanation for non-Iranians who would question the value of getting involved if the trouble with Iran appears to be entirely self-inflicted by the US. Flipping the script on the US would even feed into some pre-existing narratives among the ATQ officials, many of whom have been unhappy with the US handling of regional affairs.

 “The landmark nuclear deal came under threat when US President Donald Trump took office last year. Trump was a vocal critic of the deal even before he won the presidential race, pledging to change and review much of its content. In October, he refused to certify the deal curtailing Tehran’s nuclear programme, accusing the country of violating its provisions. During the first year of his presidency, Trump imposed two new packages of sanctions on Iran, harming its economy even further.”[49] Creating divisions in the rank of adversary allies is one of the key components in demoralizing the enemy and making any action on its part less effective.  Al Jazeera played a similar role, escalating tensions in the region, following the United States decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  It highlighted the role of the Palestinian protesters, underplaying the violence against Israelis to which the latter responded.

 “Protests have broken out for a fourth day across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip following a US decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The demonstrations on Saturday came as Palestinian leaders were to meet in Ramallah to firm up a response to US President Donald Trump’s controversial move. In East Jerusalem, Israeli forces fired stun grenades and tear gas as they charged – some on horseback – through a crowd of at least 100 peaceful demonstrators in Salah Eddin, one of the city’s busiest shopping streets. At least 13 Palestinians were detained and 12 injured as Israeli troops pushed and beat demonstrators at the scene. Among those held was Jihad Abu Zneid, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.”[50]

That was a surefire way to stoke emotions of both Sunni and Shi’a Middle Easterners and North Africans, for whom the plight of Palestinians remains an important and emotional issue – at least in part thanks to the significant focus and one-sided coverage of the conflict by the Middle Eastern media. The focus of the ATQ media has shifted away from the coverage or at least focus on the Palestinian issue, but it has since gained additional prominence in Al Jazeera. Along the same lines, Al Jazeera reflected Qatar’s strategy in strengthening populist revolutionary pro-Muslim Brotherhood factions in various countries, in particular I Egypt, at the height of Arab Spring, not because such ideology is appealing to the Qatar’s Emir, who himself would be in a primary target of revolutionary destabilization if he did not cut a deal with the Brotherhood, but because the Brotherhood is an important regional force that can substantially weaken and distract Qatar’s rivals, if not get rid of them altogether.

“Qatar’s regional strategy, meanwhile, focused on promoting Muslim Brotherhood parties throughout the Arab world. But this approach provoked tensions with Saudi Arabia and another Gulf Cooperation Council state, the United Arab Emirates. Both have declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Qatar’s pro-Brotherhood policies were reflected in the activities of the influential state-owned Al Jazeera television news network, as well as in Doha’s financial support for Brotherhood groups, including Hamas in Gaza. Support like this strained relations with other Gulf Cooperation Council states over the upheavals in Egypt, Libya and other Arab Spring countries.”[51] Moreover, arguably, Qatar used Al Jazeera to intervene in combat zones, giving cover to assorted terrorists and other armed groups.” FAHMY: “I was ultimately pardoned, but my time in the Egyptian prison helped me understand why Egypt suspected that Al Jazeera reporters would be engaged with supporting terrorists. It was because, quite simply, Al Jazeera uses the cover normally granted to members of the press to aid and abet terrorists in war zones.”[52]

How well would Qatar fare if stable autocracies and monarchies in the region were all to fall to the Muslim Brotherhood forces? Most likely, Qatar’s Al Thani dynasty would then or shortly thereafter meet the same fate. However, for the time being it is sufficient that the Muslim Brotherhood is not yet in power everywhere, and as such can play an important role in causing problems for the ATQ leaders, to weaken the image of their competence and leadership abilities, and to provide their subjects and constituents with a vision of an alternative Islamist governance more attuned to the type of rhetoric they are used to hearing in mosque and seeing promoted in Al Jazeera. There is no question that Qatar’s Emir Tamim is playing a dangerous game by stoking revolutionary and terrorist forces, but he feels protected thanks to a major US air force base stationed in Qatar, as well as a Turkish naval base.

Meanwhile, the disarray in the ranks of his adversaries, helps Qatar insure its legitimacy in the eyes of the international community and profit off the vulnerabilities of the regional rivals. To that effect, nothing about this strategy has been particularly clandestine. ““Al-Jazeera’s opinion programs have been dominated by pro-Morsi pundits, and some of its journalists have openly supported the Brotherhood in postings on social media, said Mansour al-Hadj, who directs a MEMRI project on reform in Arab and Muslim countries.”[53] Some reporters resented being directed to facilitate revolutionary forces and to give one sided or preferential treatment to Morsi supporters and resigned in protest. ” But they appear to have the resigned over protests related to biased coverage of the events in Egypt, and being told to be more pro-Morsi. There were also concerns that they were giving overdue attention to Morsi supporters, and that that was being perceived as against what many others saw as the popular uprising happening in the streets.”[54] That, however, did not ultimately change the overall strategy of the media conglomerate or of the government which used it.

In fact, in June 2017, Al Jazeera Arabic featured a presenter who called for the Houthi militias to target Saudi and Emirati airports, and was not challenged on his remarks by the station.[55]

Promote mass dissension within and defections from enemy combat units and/or revolutionary cadre

Another strategic role of Al Jazeera has been as an agent provocateur. However, AJ has not been the only tool in the arsenal for Qatar, which funds or receives sympathetic coverage from over 40 media, think tanks, and other outlets[56]. In many cases, senior executives and reporters transitioned from one outlet to another. [57] The aim of this echo chamber is to create an impression of a wide support for Qatar and its foreign policy, which will further demoralize its opponents, and makes it more likely for neutral or undecided journalists and executives to come work promoting pro-Qatar agenda.  Likewise, it is a savvy business strategy which aims at cornering the information market, and directing the flow of news stories by playing the numbers game in terms of content. One needs only to google the headlines from these outlets to see the remarkably similar stories and coverage from this seemingly diverse array of publications and channels on issues such as Saudi-US relations, Hezbullah, Moving US Embassy to Jerusalem, and other hot button topics, and to be convinced that this collusion of narratives is strategic and coordinated.

Another way to achieve that result is by creating artificial dissent and sowing discontent inside Qatar’s rivals, hoping to provoke overreaction from their governments, and to trap the ATQ in a cycle of reaction and counterreaction. By creating and raising pro-Qatar anti-government “dissidents” with links to seemingly legitimate social movements and reform-related issues, Qatar creates an opportunity to inspire defectors among promising intellectuals and activists, who might otherwise be working with their own governments to promote their countries’ agenda.

 “Greste says the Qataris have long wanted to play a significant role in the region. ‘They’ve wanted to punch above their weight in terms of foreign policy,’ he said. ‘They’ve used their wealth, they’ve used their influence, they’ve used institutions like Al Jazeera to really put pressure on a lot of those neighbouring states.’”[58] Another way to attract defectors was through aligning with top think tanks and political operatives to reach wide academic, popular, and political audiences, to sway the activists close to the administration and various members of the Congress, and to ensure that the foreign policy NGOs which otherwise would be covering Qatar’s conflict with the ATQ differently.

Prior to the imposition of the blockade by the ATQ, many prominent foreign policy think tanks received funding from both Qatar and various members of ATQ, sometimes disproportionately so from other Gulf States. For instance, in 2016 the Middle East Institute received only $10,000 from Qatar and over $,500,000 from the UAE and its think tanks. The Brookings Institute, by contrast, received nearly equal amounts from UAE and from Qatar the same year.  Not all foreign policy think tanks disclose their donors, or the exact amounts they have received. That said, after the imposition of the blockade, Qatar’s investments into attractive media coverage have been more aggressive. Qatar’s donations have grown; a 2019 glance into its donations reveals an example of nearly $14.8 million to the Brookings Institute[59]. It remains a mystery why Qatar does not donate more  heavily to think tanks to be receiving  more significant funding from its rival, but perhaps with time, that too, will change.

However, Qatar did not settle on influencing public opinion through not-for-profit institution; rather, its diverse strategy of creating a loyal following among previously neutral or pro-ATQ entities, included a strong alignment with professional political operatives. Since the imposition of the blockade, Qatar went on a hiring spree for lobbyists, consultants, and other facilitators, hoping to hire away the best talent before the slower-moving Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates got to the scene. Its calculations worked. 

By the end of 2017, Qatar spent $5 million lobbying, including hiring the Ashcroft Law firm two days after the boycott began. ““Qatar Has Hired Seven American Lobbying Firms And Spent Nearly $5 Million On U.S. Lobbying And Media Campaigns In An Effort To Fight Its Isolation By Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, And Others In June.”[60] By February 2018, Qatar spent over $8.5 million on lobbying, including hiring former Trump associate Corey Lewandowski’s law firm, and likewise employed advertising agencies, and looked to influence the United Nations Genarl Assembly through TV ads, and other forms of lobbying.[61]

Qatar’s crowning achievement in that regard, however, is using influencers to smear its opponents as much as to praise Doha’s own achievements, real and advertised. For instance, through agents, Qatar recruited a Republican lobbyist, Nick Muzin to reach the leaders of the American Jewish community, including the prominent lawyer and Trump defender Alan Dershowitz. Shortly after taking a free trip to Doha where had an opportunity to meet high level Qatari government officials and hear from the Emir,  Alan Dershowitz, in his op-ed called Qatar “the Israel of the Gulf”, while spending most of the article refuting allegations against Qatar by the Saudis (though the Saudis are not the only ones with such claims), and attacking them on various grounds.

 For instance, Dershowitz writes, referring to Saudi rejection of an Israeli tennis player, after Qatar allowed an Israeli chess player to compete in Doha: “This episode made clear to me that the Saudis were not necessarily the good guys in their dispute with Qatar. The Saudis have led a campaign to blockade, boycott and isolate their tiny neighboring state. They have gotten other states to join them in this illegal activity.”[62] Prior to this trip, there was little to no evidence of Dershowitz’s interest in the Gulf Crisis. Simultaneously to this influence campaign, the Qatar state media Al Jazeera, sent undercover journalists in the United Kingdom and the United States, to secretly monitor Jewish, pro-Israel, and anti-BDS groups.[63]

The consequent documentary was later leaked to left-leaning US newspapers.  Some Jewish influencers, such as the Zionist Organization of America’s Mort Klein, who has been critical of Qatar prior to these developments, went to Qatar with the purpose of convincing the Emir not to air the documentary. In this way, Qatar succeeded in swaying a particular group of influencers through a combination of carrots and sticks, bribery and blackmail, causing them to change their positions or to get involved in issues that would normally have been outside their purview. These episodes created divisions and heated debates within the targeted communities; although in the course of unrelated political investigations, some Jewish lobbyists for Qatar officially resigned from their jobs, later it was found that they continued working for Qatar in some capacity, and Qatar continued employing increasing numbers of lobbyists connected to the administration.

Ultimately, the campaign aimed at using a number of largely conservative, pro-Israel, and religiously traditional Jewish influencers with connections to the administration got Qatar what it needed – defections at the highest political level. President Trump, who, at the start of the blockade, criticized Qatar for its support for terrorism[64], after the op-ed by Alan Dershowitz, and testimonies by others, culminating in the visit to the White House by the Emir and a public embrace with the President, praised Qatar for its role in combating terrorism, and through Secretary of State Pompeo, pressured the ATQ to lift the blockade.[65] As far as mass dissention goes, Qatar’s biggest success in that regard has been the exploitation of the vulnerabilities of its adversaries, particularly Saudi Arabia, in the aftermath of the Khashoggi affair.

 In fact, Qatar’s strategy all along has been to create as much negative press as possible for its opponents, less so than praise for itself.  Qatar’s responses to critics of its foreign and domestic policy largely consisted of apologia, justifications, and finger-pointing at its adversaries, which allegedly drove Qatar into the arms of Iran, Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, or even terrorist organizations.

FAHMY: “Even when Qatar officially joined GCC positions against Iran, its real foreign policy — the so-called news pumped out by my former employer Al Jazeera — was on full display to anyone with a satellite dish or Internet, showing unquestionably that the emirate was firmly aligned with the mullahs, not with its Arab neighbors or the US.”[66]

It has never fully distanced itself from hosting the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual pillar Youssef Qaradawi, or innumerable jihadist spokespeople on Al Jazeera. There was no need to do that; once the strategy is to create mass confusion and to succeed of making itself out to be at least somewhat better than its adversaries, Qatar has reached the definition of its communications and information warfare success.

Support our own and our allied forces cover and deception operations

Al Jazeera provides a cover of legitimacy for Qatar’ many deceptive and misleading campaigns. For instance, its seemingly sincere interest in sponsoring poor families in Gaza masks Qatar’s geopolitical ambitions in playing an increasing political role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mediation, to counterweight Saudi Arabia’s peace plan, and likewise to increase its visibility vis-a-vis KSA and UAE as the pillars of leadership in the Middle East, according to the White House.

Evidence shows that Qatar has a long track record of clandestinely supporting Hamas directly, while claiming to deal only with the United Nations humanitarian assistance program or internal lines of support for the poor in Gaza. Hamas, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization, fits into the pattern of the types of Qatar supports in the region, as agents of destabilization and voices that can rally the Arab constituents against Israel, the United States, or Saudi Arabia, depending on the need du jour. This pattern repeats itself in support for Islamist terrorist groups such as Jabhat an-Nusra in Syria, and others, where Qatar directed funding and weapons to these groups.[67] Moreover, Qatar’s rhetoric in its English language versions of Al Jazeera and other publications, differs from the positions it takes in Arabic.

“Given its Islamist sympathies, it is unsurprising that the network sides heavily with Hamas in its rivalry with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA). ‘In Arabic, it’s unmistakable—Al Jazeera is not just pro-Palestinian, but pro-Hamas,’ the Israeli spokesman said. The New York Times—which has pushed for AJE’s inclusion on U.S. cable has conceded that there is ‘little doubt’ the Arabic channel portrays Hamas more favorably than its rivals.”[68] Qatar’s entire geopolitical strategy is founded on deception and duplicity, playing various actors against each other, seeming to get along with everybody.

On the surface, Al Jazeera broke ground inviting Israelis and others to defend their positions on air, whereas other state media from the region pointedly excluded them. On the other hand, it appears to use this opportunity to undermine the rival Arab states. Once guests appear to be financially benefitting from frequent appearances on the TV stations, Qatari sources may feed them select information which will color the way these journalists, analysts, and other spokespeople understand and interpret regional dynamics.

Similarly, the operation with the “undercover reporters” sent to spy on Jewish organizations, along with the influence campaign to bring Jewish community leaders to Doha, was a cover operation for Qatar’s underhanded method of getting the ear of the administration through people it believes to have disproportionate power. Al Jazeera in Arabic continued and continues to this day publishing blatantly anti-Semitic cartoons[69], even as Jewish lobbyists hired and wooed by the government proliferate, particularly if they connections to the administration or Congress. The English language version of Al Jazeera seeks to present the type of coverage Westerners find more amenable.

Qatar’s doublespeak manifests itself in other ways: for instance, it condemned terrorism, publishing official lists of terrorists, while also supporting and funding terrorists organizations. Socially, Doha, too, welcomed terrorists and their ideologues, with open arms.

“….the Qatari Prime Minister and a senior Qatari journalist attended the wedding of the son of top Al-Qaeda financer and terrorist Abd Al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr Al-Nu’aymi. On April 14, 2018, the Saudi reported that Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani had attended the wedding, and published a photo of him at the event.”[70]

Despite these cover ups, Qatar managed to receive praise from the Trump administration concerning its partnership with the United States in combating terrorism. It remains unclear how Emir Tamim continues to reconcile this mysterious paradox in conversations with the administration, or how detailed reports of Qatar’s behind-the-scenes activity evade the attention of the White House and Congress.

 It condemned Iran’s meddling in North Africa, following Morocco’s diplomatic fallout over Iran regime’s illicit use of the Algeria embassy to facilitate the arming and training of the Polisario separatists[71], but also publicly thanked Iran[72] for its support in the Gulf Crisis and growing relationship.  Furthermore, despite continuing its oil trade with Iran, in contravention to the post-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal) withdrawal sanctions imposed on such activity by the United States, no Qatari entities have been held accountable under the secondary sanctions, and Qatar as a state is never mentioned in the list of countries known to be violating these sanctions. Qatar’s withdrawal from OPEC in December 2018 raised eyebrows and was seen as a challenge to the GCC, and particularly, the members of the ATQ. Nevertheless, and despite claims by Qatar, that it would no longer be relying on oil, the administration was silent on the likelihood of greater reliance on oil trade with Iran to support its vast investments all over the world.

Actions speak louder than words: Qatar has become the grand master of eloquent but deceptive verbiage, which lend a thin veneer to its only slightly covert activity in supporting terrorists and rogue regimes and promoting virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic ideology at home and all over the region.

Promote cooperation, unity, and morale within one’s own and allied unit, as well as within resistance forces behind the enemy line

Qatar’s relationships and alliances mostly rely on heavy investments; in other words, all of Qatar’s friends are really “bought”. To sustain unity in such relationships, no real PR or information warfare is needed so long as the money continues to flow in, or other underhanded tactics continue to be used. However, Qatar needs to retain information control among its domestic consumers, as well as among the Arab street it has managed to get on board with the anti-ATQ agenda and messaging.

The information warfare element comes in with twisting and distorting adversarial comments which run counter to the official position, particularly if these comments were made in English. Given that most such authors are not likely to browse the media in Arabic for references and translations, most are unlikely to ever find out how their words were twisted by the editors to create an impression oftentimes contrary to the original intent. As an example, one Arabic language pro-Qatar publication took an article where the American author writing for an Israeli think tank provided advice to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on achieving success with potential future soft coups, and in translation, attribute this privately written article to the Israeli foreign policy circles, which, allegedly were scared by their supposed ally’s “failure”, and were thus desperately coaching him in order to avoid future failures[73].

Of course, nothing of that sort was implied in the article. Yet, such interpretation was necessary to create the impression among Qatar’s target audience that their chief adversary was weak, his supporters were scared for him, that the fall of Saudi Arabia’s new leadership was imminent, and that advice he was being given was likely desperate and bad. Why give a platform to opposing voices at all? Why not just ignore them and create fully controlled government propaganda? There are several reasons for choosing that direction to information warfare. First, there is always an off chance that some segment of targeted population speaks English and will come across the “dangerous” article and takes it the wrong way.

 For instance, they may come to understand the article exactly the way it meant to be – as coming from someone who actually believes in a particular leader’s or other figure’s ability to succeed in a particular political maneuver, and providing guidance as an outsider with some perspective on how to make sure the plan works out. That, of course, would fully undermine Qatar’s aims, and would score a goal for the adversarial forces. Second, there are few information warfare battles more satisfying than undermining the adversary with his own words.  If the enemy’s articles could be used to portray him not as courageous and determined, but as desperate and scared, that is double the victory with half the work needed. 

In a way, this is a reverse inoculation tactic. Instead of telling the audience what one’s adversary may say about Qatar to make sure the targets do not fall for such attacks, the propagandists are countering what they perceive as enemy propaganda by using it for an affirmative attack.  Third, this is a way to identify and undermine a new line of attack. Needless to say, not every article that concerns geopolitical issues in the Middle East gets translated, much less turned into a tool of propaganda; however, particularly interesting arguments are naturally attention grabbing. 

Finally, on its merits such advice is demoralizing; even if intended as a genuine geopolitical move, the idea that, for instance, there may be future attempts to undermine a particular regime is unnerving – and the fact that some unexpected idea came out of nowhere means that someone somewhere in the Qatari government missed its germination, did not see it coming and now needs to figure out a way to show his bosses that everything possible to counter the damage and to render any such possibility moot is being done.

The overwhelming majority of information warfare aimed at domestic consumption (to use a general term for all of Qatar’s target audience) consists of such distorted counterpropaganda efforts. This illustrates a previous description of how different Middle Eastern media voices reflect the aims of the factions or governments they represent. In the instant case, the pro-Qatari perspective in the Arabic language media is instantaneously recognizable for the blunt, heavy handed, and frequently sarcastic way of addressing its adversaries; many such articles read more as morality tales about good and evil than straight forward analysis of other sources. Every news item uses subjective language; even articles reporting on what other people have said are op-ed pieces rather than mere retelling of the subject matter.

 The need to interpret comes just as well from the government’s need to ensure that the readers do not somehow come to believe that the given article is somehow sanctioned or approved. In fact, the rare instances in which there is no commentary and a relatively objective reporting should taken as a sign of trust towards the source and an official stamp of approval.  Sometimes, however, there is no real way of getting any interesting ideas from “adversarial” sources into the press than by presenting such information along with some dismissive commentary. In some instances (admittedly rare and unlikely), some government censors may even appreciate an innovative take on some common themes, and, bored of the unoriginal talking points, may be looking for a way to bring new ideas into the conversation, even if it means giving some limited legitimacy to the adversary.

Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore that the echo chamber of reprints does eventually lend greater exposure to both the author and the ideas, and there is always a risk that some critical readers will grow curious, want to learn more, and come across the original which sounds nothing like the distorted summary provided by the Qatari outlets. For that reason, it is hard to measure the ultimate success of this strategy, given that opinion polls of what the readers ultimately come to believe are unlikely to ever be taken.

Qatar’s Hybrid Information Warfare

Qatar’s success in asymmetrical information warfare can be attributed to a variety factors, including the diversity of methods used for the greatest effect, the relative silence of pro-Saudi PR machinery, the existing stereotyping and imagery of the Gulf States, successful specific influence campaigns, and power struggles and factionalism within both the Saudi government and the White House. These methods include the widespread and successful use of Al Jazeera and other mass media as a foreign policy tool against regional rival.

Its success is in providing a seemingly free thinking and diverse alternative to local government-controlled sources. However, the sheer number of AJ linked echo chamber publications, particularly in Western countries, such as the UK, has played a significant role in amplifying the message. Qatar has also pursued an extraverted outreach strategy to its Western counterparts, ensuring the appearance of relevance spokespersons in both the print press and the cable news network.

It has also exploited the reluctance of the ATQ media and think tanks to employ Western analysts who have also worked in Qatar or who did not openly side with the ATQ’s position on Qatar and the blockade. In addition, Qatar has aligned itself with Iran, Russia, and Turkey on media and intelligence matters, and has greatly benefited from utilizing their information warfare strategy and methods. Aggressive recruitment of influencers through free trips to Doha, financial boons, and blackmail/extortion have likewise served this agenda. Qatar likewise aggressively exploited personal relationships with a single-minded focus to reach the ear of the White House, with relative success, which has arguable influence the shift in the administration’s position on the blockade.

Most importantly, Qatar successfully exploited a combination of traditional mass media outreach, exploitation of internal Western divisions, utilization of its own mouthpieces as foreign policy tools, and intelligence strategies in recruitment of agents of influence, espionage, and strategic leaking to maximum effect. The outreach efforts included aggressive lobbying, alliances with influential think tanks and non-profits, proliferation of successful events, and investments in key sectors and states, from where vocal criticism of the Saudi Crown Prince soon emerged.

The stand-off between Qatar and the ATQ and other states began in June 2017, with the ascension of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to that position, and the imposition of the land, air, and water blockade against Qatar. In return for ending the blockade, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain made a list of following demand that Qatar should: 1. Curb diplomatic relations Iran and close its diplomatic missions 2.Sever all ties to “terrorist organizations” (Muslim Brotherhood is a designated terrorist organizations by the states) and hand over all “terrorist figures”., 3.Stop all funding for organizations and individuals designated as terrorist by the ATQ, the United States, and several other countries 4. Shut down Al Jazeera and all other Qatar-funded news outlets 5. Close a Turkish military base and halt all military cooperation inside Qatar 6. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs 7. Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life incurred due to Qatar’s policies 8. Align with other Arab states politically, socially, and economically.[74] Qatar refused to acquiesce to these demands, or even to compromise, and instead doubled down on its positions. The Gulf Crisis, as these tensions became known, has been ongoing ever since.

The conflict resulted in Qatar’s withdrawal from the Saudi-led Arab Coalition in Yemen and a more overt cooperation with Iran and Turkey. Doha stepped up its efforts to assert an independent (and increasingly meddlesome) foreign policy; its involvement in various geopolitical developments brought the Gulf Crisis to other areas of the world, including Africa.  Working with Turkey, Qatar signed and funded a series of defense agreements with Sudan, long considered a Saudi ally, including a $4B agreement to manage a Red Sea Port[75]; it is also widely seen as having contributed to the tensions between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over a major Nile dam dispute and resulting water crisis[76]

Additionally, Qatar was seen as supporting the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Islamist groups in Morocco, contributing to the eventual crisis between Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and UAE (the ruling Islamist party PJD openly sided with Qatar over the blockade)[77], but simultaneously, at one point, some members  of the Al Thani family misused their relationship with Morocco‘s Royal Family to assist Polisario[78].  Although Qatar looked to undermine any group, country or entity that looked to be closely cooperating with the ATQ through politics and military operations, its greatest weapon in the crisis became information warfare, which it yielded with particular alacrity against the Saudi Crown Prince, whom Doha sought to portray in the media as inexperienced, amateur, stubborn, impatient, and short-tempered: in other words, ill-equipped to govern.

Demoralizing the Enemy: Character Assassination Attacks against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Attacking and undermining the leadership of the adversary is a major victory for any force, whether engaged in traditional military maneuvers, asymmetrical warfare, or information war campaigns. Qatar has a long list of enemies, which frequently “benefit” from character assassination efforts. They include, in no particular order, Americans, Jews, Israel, the anti-Terrorism Quartet, and any and all critics of its policies. But in a tribal society, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both are, the attacks on their leaders are tantamount to attacks on the society itself. Furthermore, most of Qatar’s adversaries are of dual use.

On the one hand, Al Jazeera is seeped with anti-American venom; on the other hand, Qatar has gone to great length to ingratiate itself to the White House, and to further its business and defense relationships with the United States – at least in part in counterweight to the blockade. These positive developments include the establishment of the annual United States-Qatar Strategic Dialogue[79], the furthering of the US-Qatar Business Council[80], and the investment into South Carolina, where Boeing is now making military planes for Qatar[81]. Jews have served the dual purpose of a recruitment pool for agents of influence when not being convenient scapegoats on Al Jazeera Arabic; Israel has been a way to demonstrate Qatar’s openness and to further its geopolitical agenda of becoming an independent power broker in the Middle East.

Mohammed bin Salman, however, is of no use to Qatar whatsoever except as a target of political, and increasingly, personal attack. His position on the blockade has been assertive and uncompromising from the start; and, as a leader of both the Arab Coalition in Yemen, and as a perceived leader in the GCC, Saudi Arabia is a different level of threat to Qatar’s political maneuvering, largely based on PR-fueled perceptions, than even the other members of the ATQ.

For that reason, the attacks against Saudi Arabia by Qatar and its media have been both policy-oriented and deeply personal against its Crown Prince. On the one hand, there was the goal of weakening Saudi Arabia’s own PR moves towards the West with the ascension of who was being promoted as a young and dynamic leader; on the other hand, the secondary information warfare consideration was to demoralize and to cower the Saudi government by a consistent series of attacks aimed to portray its ascendant ruler in a negative, personally offensive, and discouraging light.

The character assassination attacks came through various means – Al Jazeera, its English and Arabic language affiliates in UK, US lobbyists placing leaks and articles in major Western media. For instance, the 2017 corruption probe which swept up a number of Saudi royals accused of or investigated for embezzlement and various abuses of power was described as a “political purge by the Saudi Crown Prince”, in Al Jazeera, thus delegitimizing the stated goals of this move, and pushing a cloud of authoritarianism above Mohammed bin Salman’ person, without any real evidence that the princes arrested during the course of the probe were all necessarily opposed to  the crown prince politically.[82] The attacks got increasingly more personal around the same time period and shortly thereafter.

For instance, the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, and other papers published a number of allegations based on anonymous sources, questioning the Crown Prince’s decision to buy a $500 mln yacht at the height of corruption probe, as well as a Leonardo da Vinci painting. Some of these articles were later withdrawn by the major press after these rumors were debunked.[83] The tenor of these allegations was to implicate the Crown Prince in hypocrisy and corruption at the pinnacle of the internal shake up related to the Saudi royal family. Al Jazeera, by contrast, continued featuring opinion pieces by Western columnists weeks after these rumors were put to rest, as if the original reporting was accurate and fully proven.[84]

At about the same time, a rumor surfaced in the Qatari-backed Arabic media in London, that one of the individuals investigated during the corruption probe was tortured to death. This individual was never identified by name, and the sources of the story were only described as his “family”. Furthermore, the mysterious victim of the supposed torture was alternatively described as a “general”, a “governor” of a particular Saudi province, or just as a “military officer”. The rumor was eventually circulated through pro-Qatari English language publications[85]  into the English language press (starting with a popular Bulgaria-based pro-Russian conspiracy theory site ZeroHedge[86]), those the real sources of this conspiracy theory linked to Mohammed bin Salman were never identified as Qatari funded Arabic language publication[87]. In the original story, the supposed victim of torture is named as Major General Ali AlQahtani (a member of an influential tribe/family in Saudi Arabia, and no doubt, a distant relative of Saud AlQahtani,one of the Crown Prince’s closest advisers at the time – which makes the story still more dubious).

His photograph was also provided.   Amazingly, different versions of that story continued to circulate in the mainstream English language press for months after. [88]  Another version of the story alleged that the general died from a broken neck.[89] Months after the Ritz-Carlton arrest, NY Times, too, circulated rumors of torture and supposed death of a general, without citing any sources on record.[90] None of the publications which repeated these rumors named the general, provided his photograph or other evidence of his existence, or took measures to verify the allegations, other than reaching out to the Saudi embassies, which have a policy of not commenting on such allegations and which neither denied nor confirmed these assertions. The general tone of such articles was to cast a shadow over the Crown Prince’s reputation as an anti-corruption reformer, and rather, to portray him as a cartoonishly villainous Middle Eastern strongman, no different from his predecessors or anyone else in the region.

As the Crown Prince’s first official visit to the United States grew near, the character assassination attacks proliferated.  The bulk of the stories consisted of Qatar claiming victory[91], via various Western media proxies, over UAE and Saudi Arabia, or seeking to portray itself as a victim of Saudi-led aggression.[92] Even more detached articles about US interests and the underlying issues in the Gulf Crisis insinuated Saudi Arabia’s unreasonably hegemonic regional ambitions, indirectly compares the Saudi Crown Prince to a proverbial arrogant and unyielding Chinese Emperor, and describes Al Jazeera as a “lively” media operation, whose soft power threatens members of the GCC.[93] Al Jazeera criticized the Crown Prince’s every move[94] in the US, including, in particular, his meeting with leaders of various Jewish organizations, despite the fact that Qatari leaders met with some of the same people when these influencers were brought to Doha.[95] The purpose of that, of course, was to show to Al Jazeera’s target audience that the Saudi Crown Prince did not care about the fate of the Palestinian people and was thus unworthy of his leadership role in the region.

The attacks continued even after the visit was over and the Qatari Emir Tamim held a successful summit of his own in Washington DC. It was not sufficient from Qatar’s point of view to succeed in its own right in terms of furthering relations with the United States, growing its role in the Middle East, or for that, matter, even claiming victory in the US’ shift over the blockade. To feel confident in the success of Doha’s agenda, the emirate needed to see its rival personally demolished and weakened to the degree that his image would be forever tarnished in the popular imagination of the Western public.

The series of scandals and international crises which challenged Saudi Arabia throughout 2018 served that purpose. Many of these moves were unforced errors on the part of inexperienced Saudi officials who pledged loyalty to Mohammed bin Salman yet lacked the heft of diplomatic prowess required to manage sensitive international entanglements and disagreements. Former head of the Sports Authority, Turki Al Sheikh, quickly got the country into some hot water with Morocco when the Kingdom supported the United States bid[96] for a joint World Cup host position in 2026, citing to political differences over Morocco’s neutrality on the Qatar blockade and the small role in the Arab Coalition in Yemen.  That escalating crisis soon gave way to the diplomatic fallout with Canada over the latter’s public criticism of Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, and demanding the release of Raif Badawi and various women’s rights activists.

 The spat resulted in the expulsion of the Canadian ambassador from Riyadh, the recall of the Saudi Ambassador in Canada, and an end to the treatment for Saudi patients in Canadian hospitals, as well as withdrawal of a large number of Saudi students studying in Canada.[97] The Saudi diplomats demanded an apology from Canadian officials for meddling in Saudi internal affairs, which only served to draw additional scrutiny to Saudi Arabia’s own human rights record. Meanwhile, the arrests of self-proclaimed women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, some of whom were quickly released[98], and others were deemed to have been associated with Qatar and pro-Muslim Brotherhood foreign activists, and based on their own confessions and other evidence, remained in custody rocked the PR world, continuing the seemingly unending stream of bad publicity to the Kingdom.

Al Jazeera capitalized on these developments, and sought to use these stories to undermine Mohammed bin Salman’s reformist image. The irony of that development was that the ban on women driving was lifted the same month, and that in the consequent reporting on these developments neither Al Jazeera, nor the Western press, nor the vast array of human rights organizations, nor the Canadian government ever made any distinction between the HR activists who were freed and those who confessed to violating Saudi laws related to accepting funding from foreign entities for such activity. Al Jazeera’s predictable reaction to every PR debacle was to accuse Mohammed bin Salman of siccing propagandists and spin masters to fix the Kingdom’s image, without doing anything substantive to address the underlying human rights  and policy issues. [99]Qatar succeeded in focusing all of the world’s attention on the person of Mohammed bin Salman rather than the effects of his policies.

 As a result, many of the Western press outlets which reflected Al Jazeera’s skeptical, critical, or downright personally attacking language did little work to investigate the effects of the reforms on the full spectrum of the Saudi population and relied mostly on anonymous human rights reports for the assessment of the human rights situation inside the Kingdom. Few pieces delve into the substance of the policies, rather speculating about the Crown Prince’s motives, and a few particularly scandalous episodes throughout the year.  Al Jazeera also features pieces from radical left activists, such as Medea Benjamin, the cofounder of Code Pink (who recently visited Iran to show support for the regime[100], which has recently sentenced Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer on behalf of women, to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes[101]).

These pieces allege that Mohammed bin Salman seeks to dictate the pace of reforms[102], which is why he imprisons women’s rights activists, again failing to note that the activists who have been in fact imprisoned have all been accused of extraneous relations with foreign states and entities, including, allegedly accepting funding from Qatar. Whether or not Qatar in fact coopted some of the Saudi activists living in the West prior to their return to Saudi Arabia in order to instigate a PR fiasco for the Kingdom, remains unclear. 

However, if it is ever demonstrably proven that at least some of these activists had substantial contact with Qatar or pro-Qatar activists, Qatar’s own narrative collapses, because such evidence would show that Qatari government is ready to throw naïve or deluded Saudi civilians under the bus just to attack the Saudi Crown Prince’s reputation. Until the end of the trial for the defendants, however, allegations on both sides remains in the eye of the beholder.

In other instances, pro-Qatar and anti-Saudi “proxies”, such as the Muslim Brotherhood fellow traveler Juan Cole, uses loaded language to describe Mohammed bin Salman’s foreign policy.  In a highly personal attack, Cole writes: “Mohamed Bin Salman is at it again. The yacht-loving Renaissance art collector who tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the American elite this spring is a serial diplomatic disaster.”[103] In the very first lines, Cole repeats the debunked tropes first found in Qatar-backed sources.  However, these attacks do no limit themselves to traditional media; “propaganda wars” targeting Saudi Arabia continue on social media.

In fact, both the ATQ and Qatar accused each other of using hacking, fake news, and bots to target each other online.[104] It was after the phase of that cyberwarfare that has since continued, that Qatar quickly turned to major outlets to disperse its message to wider, more identifiable, and ostensibly respected audiences. Soon, such major outlets as the NY Times, were publishing one-sided articles in defense of Qatar.[105] It is hard to say whether the reporters from the Times or other outlets or any of the owner or editors were ever flown to Doha and dined by the royalty and high level officials the way the Jewish influencers were.  However, the David and Goliath coverage of the conflict ultimately rested less on the substantive issues and more on the appearances.

Success of Qatar’s  Hybrid Information Warfare

Mohammed bin Salman’s honeymoon with the press in the West was uneven and short-lived. Soon after, the media turned to other matters, and even the coverage of the long-awaited lift on the driving ban for women was mixed with doubt over the fate of the alleged women’s rights activists accused of working with Qatar and other foreign entities to cause unrest inside the Kingdom.  And Qatar, this entire time, was using the full range of soft power to impress Americans and other Westerners with its openness and to create a negative impression of its rivals – and their leaders. For instance, it invested heavily into the K-12 education[106] in the United States, while inviting students from all over the world to study in the many Western affiliates[107] it opened inside the tiny country.

Why would such a small emirate need so many American universities? The soft power/information warfare answer to this is simple: in order to present positive ideas about itself and a completely different set of ideas about countries it did not particular care for. In furthering information warfare goals through a soft power outreach, Qatar not only relied on scores of existing DC think tanks, but launched its own entity, the Gulf International Forum.[108] 

Further using soft power to advance its goals against its regional rivals, Qatar’s state charity, Qatar Foundation International, launched a joint effort with New York’s Columbia University[109]. There are many other such ongoing projects and initiatives. At the same time, QFI has been used to spread anti-Israel propaganda in US schools.[110] There has not yet been an independent report on what such education teaches about Saudi Arabia, particularly after the blockade, but perhaps this aspect of the QFI-backed education is worth examining for bias, as well.

Most of the attacks, by the way, amounted to nothing more than innuendo, political cheap shots, and insults, a far cry from outright fabrications that could be deemed worthy of defamation lawsuits.

What has been Saudi Arabia’s response to these deeply personal attacks on its leadership, as well as the diversity of methods Qatar has used to dominate the playing field in the United States and elsewhere in the West?  The Kingdom’s response has mostly consisted of silence, curt denials of the worst of the allegations, and occasional threats in the general direction of countries and entities attacking its government. That strategy has not had the hoped-for deterrent effect. In one fanciful strategy, however, some of the top echelons in Saudi Arabia flirted with the idea of turning Qatar from a peninsula into an island by creating a massive canal around it, and even took some bids.[111]

Aside from the ineffectiveness of the Saudis’ PR machinery, there are other reasons why Qatar’s asymmetrical warfare has been successful.

First, the emirate – or at least the consultants and lobbyists it hired – exploited the existing imagery and stereotypes of the Gulf States.  Qatar, over the last few years, has become increasingly known as a hub of business activity similar to the UAE, as well as for its friendly educational climate. And although the emirate follows the same strict Salafist understanding of Islam as Saudi Arabia, it has managed to create a perception of being more modern and friendly to Westerners.

Saudi Arabia, despite its recent claims to reforms and modernity, has had to face a number of economic challenges, including setback to privatization, and a struggle to balance the policy of Saudization which would provide young Saudis with job opportunities previously held by foreigners with attracting investors and learning valuable job skills from advanced Western companies. In addition, the large bureaucracy and the slowdown in the openings for visas has reinforced the perceptions of the Kingdom being a backwards, and closed society, unfriendly to Western visitors.

Likewise, large Qatari presence on the ground of public and private institutions in the United States and other Western countries lies in sharp contrast to only a few cultural and academic events backed by Saudi Arabia, the presence of each outside ephemeral and cliquish student circles, remains almost invisible to the average American/Westerner. Although familiarity may breed contempt, Qatar has managed to exploit its strategic presence in the United States and other countries to the maximum effect.

Moreover, Doha successfully used the factionalism inside the White House, the politically polarized situation in the United States, as well as the inevitable struggle for power in Mohammed bin Salman’s circles which naturally comes when any new leader is in the process of consolidating power. For instance, Qatar has targeted mostly Republican lobbyists, in particular those who were close to the Trump administration, such as Corey Lewandowski and Nick Muzin (among a number of others).  Qatar’s advisers caught on to the preferences of the White House fairly quickly, but also were savvy enough to understand the critical role of advisers in furthering foreign policy direction pursued by the executive branch.

Once Qatar succeeded in getting the ear of the top players, its lobbyists proceeded to approach key members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Well-paid Qatari lobbyists wined and dined[112] assorted members of the administration and Congress, particularly prior to the visit of the Qatari foreign minister, which led to positive receptions for their own officials, as well as a slew of increasingly critical votes against the US assistance to the Arab Coalition in Yemen, and later, other key anti-Saudi resolutions and proposed bills.

 Qatar also allegedly bailed out Jared Kushner’s businesses when he fell upon hard times, while simultaneously appealing to the Democrats through the anti-Saudi angle, exploiting first, the general opposition to Trump among the left, second, the support for Iran deal, and third, the dislike of the Saudis that spans across many of the average viewers who, while not knowing much about Qatar, have read headlines about Saudi human rights violations and spread of religious ideology for decades.

This divide and conquer strategy worked, because many different groups were able to find something about Doha that benefited their business, political, or educational interest, and almost everyone already had something to dislike about the Kingdom, with almost no redeeming value being sited outside President Trump’s praise of the defense deals and Saudi willingness to cut oil prices prior to the midterm elections in the United States. The excessive focus on defense deals did a disservice to the Crown Prince’s trip to the United States; in his visit with the White House, he appeared interested highlighting long-term relationship building, prioritizing, for instance his engagement with US universities on scientific research.

However, what failed for Saudi Arabia during that visit, boosted Qatar’s position, because unlike Saudi Arabia, Doha succeeded in promoting shared business interests with the United States in a wide variety of areas, and also sent representatives to several individual states to discuss investment opportunities; by contrast Mohammed bin Salman’s trip largely focused on the entertainment sector, the hi-tech Silicon Valley constituency, and several universities and religious groups. While more diverse culturally, it was almost exclusively aimed at Democratic donors, rather than Republicans. Saudi Arabia, with that trip, appeared to take Republican support for granted, another miscalculation quickly exploited by Qatari lobbyists, who appeared to have made personal contact with a broad array of elected officials and assorted operatives.

Finally, Qatar’s tactics were ultimately disruptive, but fed on chaos just as much as they created it.  Observing the series of publicity fiascos and misfortunes plaguing Riyadh as the country prioritized domestic reforms over diplomacy, Qatari lobbyists utilized existing opportunities to benefit their own policies, while remaining relatively circumspect and in the background. Nevertheless, Qatar’s duplicitous policies somehow left the government unscathed. Is Qatar really made of Teflon, or is it the quiet behind-the-scenes relationship building and “investments” which diverted attention from the otherwise inexcusable faux pas and paradoxical policy decisions?

Whatever the case may be, Al Jazeera reacted with quick commentary on every real and fabricated misstep by its adversaries, whereas the Saudi press remained relatively passive and slow moving. Additionally, pro-Qatar spokespeople wrote copious op-eds in Western print media and appeared on the cable news circuit. The Saudis remained largely silent, relying on a couple of sympathetic Western think tank analysts, Western columnists in its English language press, and one or two representatives from the Arabiya Foundation, to make the Kingdom’s case on the news. And where the Kingdom remained content in relying on a passive approach and appeared to invest all its efforts in managing existing defense-related relationships and arguments, Qatar pursued a strategy of aggressive expansion in its network, just as much as in its geopolitical influence.

Saudi Arabia to some extent diminished its presence in Africa, Europe, and other areas of influence. It also scaled back in funding of university programs and other methods of soft power, preferring to focus on humanitarian aid operations in select countries and continuing sponsorship of some – but not all[113] – existing mosques, and refocusing on rebranding and promoting a more “moderate” form of Islam.

Meanwhile, Qatar and its allies and proxies, appear ready to stop at nothing to undermine Saudi Arabia, UAE, and anyone seen as a critical obstacle to Qatar’s growing influence – not even at hacking.

Hacking for a Cause

The case of Elliott Broidy and his hacked emails has been one of the first times in the US a political operative has sued a sovereign state for hacking his emails. Broidy, a Republican, has worked in conjunction with his UAE counterpart George Nader on a variety of measures to counter Qatar’s influence in the United States. His emails were hacked in 2017, and released to the public in 2018, revealing embarrassing details. Broidy sued Qatar prior to release of the emails, intended to embarrass him, following a similar case when the UAE Ambassador Youssef Otaiba’s emails were hacked and released in a similar manner. The rivalry between Qatar and its regional rivals, which manifested itself in the US through a PR/propaganda war in major news outlets and think tanks from 2017 onwards took a new level of aggression, when critics such as Broidy, and as it later turned out, some others, were hacked by entities linked to Qatar.

 Discovery arising from Broidy’s lawsuit revealed Qatar’s strategy in recruiting agents of influence from other international entities, as well as apparent willingness to employ foreign and domestic hackers to maximize reputational damage at opportune moments. For instance, Qatar has exploited the radical leftist Moroccan-British national Jamal Benomar, at one point UN”‘s special envoy for Yemen, to recruit American influencers and operatives with access, which facilitated Qatar’s strategy. WSJ and other publications revealed lists of targeted influencers, as well as a blacklist of hacking targets. The strategy for undermining rising influencers and critics in advance was an innovation by Doha. At the same time, the hacking scandal led to significant internal divisions among assorted political influencers in the United States, divisions which made some ripe for exploitation and additional recruitment.

Allegedly, the imposition of the blockade began with an incident of fake news related to hacking. Whether Qatar or UAE was ultimately at fault remains an enigma to this day[114]. Qatari FM claimed that two of the blockading nations were behind the hack and vowed legal action[115]; however, a year after the threat nothing has come of it. A few months after the incident which resulted in the imposition of the blockade, the UAE Ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, found himself at the center of attention when his own email exchanges with various major think tanks[116] were hacked and leaked[117], with Qatar being the major likely beneficiary of the embarrassment that ensued. Whether or not Qatar or its affiliates masterminded the leak, Al Jazeera[118] and other Qatari-sponsored media had a ball[119] with the revelations and maximized the opportunity to attack Qatar’s adversary. This occurrence aided Qatar’s information warfare aims in exposing the enemy as the alleged hand of clandestine interventionism in the world of US policy influencers, and directing scrutiny away from Doha.

With the foreign policy circles still roiling from the scandal, another hacking story hit the news, reverberating for years to come. Hackers got into the private accounts of a major Republican operative Elliott Broidy and leaked a trove of emails, revealing embarrassing details from Broidy’s private and professional life, and resulting in legal and social problems for Broidy. The relevant aspect of the revelations involved Broidy’s communications with a UAE operative named George Nader.

The communications included joint lobbying plans between Nader and Broidy that would shift US policy in moves that would affect its relationship with Qatar negatively. Some of the plans discussed included trying to get the administration to move the US military base from Qatar elsewhere; the removal of the then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for which the duo took credit, and other steps, most of which did not pan out.[120]

In March 2018, Elliott Broidy sued the government of Qatar, as well as Qatari lobbyists Nick Muzin and Joey Allaham (who subsequently resigned from their official positions representing Qatar), accusing them and other figures of involvement in the hack. Nick Muzin and Joey Allaham were also two of the lobbyists responsible for the recruitment of American Jewish influences for the free trips to Doha.  In his lawsuit, Broidy alleged a “cyber smear campaign”[121], in other words, for the first time, he claimed a legal cause of action in the form of defamation, facilitated by other cybercrimes. Interestingly, Broidy’s filing of the lawsuit coincided with the Saudi Crown Prince’s trip to the United States and the peak of the “propaganda wars” over the blockades and reforms inside the Kingdom in the U.S. media.

 Conversations in Whatsapp cited in the lawsuit seemed to link Qatar to the hack of the GOP donor. Nick Muzin, conversing with another pro-Israel, Republican operative, Joel Mowbray[122], warned the latter to be careful. He seemed to imply that Qatar was going after critics, which may have included hacking and smear campaigns. Indeed, in April 2018, the author of this paper, who had, by that point, written several critical articles focused on Qatar’s influence operations, received two credible warnings about hacking threats from Qatar by two separate security contacts. It appeared that Qatar, among other countries, was willing to employ external hackers to target not only well known influencers, such as Broidy, but rising critics, whose information could be later released to ruin their reputations preemptively.[123]

The FBI eventually got involved in the prove of Broidy’s hack[124]. Among other scandals, Broidy was tied up in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, along with Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who himself was involved in some questionable business arrangement with Qatari businessmen prior to the events in question. Broidy, accused of potentially making millions from the collusion with a shady UAE operative for pushing anti-Qatar agenda at the White House, expanded his list of suspects, accusing an ex-CIA operative in facilitating the hack. [125]

 Indeed, this situation was unraveling at the same time as the Jewish press began investigating Qatar’s questionable donations to various pro-Israel organizations via Muzin and Allaham, which were intended to gain access to the highest echelons of the administrations. Simultaneously, information about the Al Jazeera documentary leaks was pointing in the direction of a planned operation to blackmail or pressure Jewish influencers into defending Qatar. Now, it appeared, Qatar may have been associated with three political operations intended to facilitate access, but also to silence dissidents and critics within the same circles Qatar was seeking to penetrate.

Later in the year, a judge dismissed Qatar from the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds.[126] However, the revelations from the discovery process proved politically useful in understanding the larger picture of what Qatar’s strategy appeared to be at the time. The discovery process revealed that Muzin, Joey Allaham, and the ex-CIA operative were but a small part of an influence campaign[127] involving high level Qatari officials, some of whom, such as Al-Rumaihi, attended Jewish fundraisers in order to meet then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, then-Trump administration adviser Steve Bannon, and others.

Who is Al-Rumaihi?

Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, who attended the ZOA fundraiser[128], at the time introduced himself as a “former” Qatari diplomat in the US and the head of the Qatar Investments, an internal division of the Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund. He also claimed that Michael Cohen approached him asking for a million dollars in exchange for introductions to the Trump administration[129], an offer which Al-Rumaihi claims to have rejected.  Allegedly,  however, he did want to set up a meeting with Steve Bannon and even offered to bribe Bannon. Rumaihi had attented the Trump Tower meetings in 2016; however, soon after the news broke, he ”fled” the United States. [130]

Later the same year, however, it turned out Al-Rumaihi misrepresented his status as a private investor, and in fact, was a high-level official in Qatari government all along[131]. Indeed, when embroiled in a lawsuit over breach of contract related to a basketball deal with Ice Cube, Al-Rumaihi claimed diplomatic immunity and stated that his status was now recognized by the State Department. However, rather than admitting to being a foreign official, he touted a new ambassadorship.[132] In fact, upon closer examination, the basketball league investment was a pretext for Rumaihi’s involvement in the bribe plot.[133] Furthermore, these actions were taken on behalf of furthering Qatar’s foreign policy in the United States, rather than on Rumaihi’s own initiative.

Rumaihi at the same time remained in close touch with Nick Muzin[134], along with Allaham, facilitated Rumaihi’s access to the ZOA event. Allaham alleges to have donated $100K to the ZOA for Rumaihi to attend; Mort Klein later claimed to have returned that money. How much did Nick Muzin know about the basketball-bribery plot? That remains to be discovered.

Muzin and Allaham were themselves recruited by a Moroccan-British national, Jamal Benomar, with the specific purpose of identifying Jewish influencers[135] who could be introduced to Qatar.

Who is Jamal Benomar?

Jamal Benomar started out as a Moroccan Marxist and anti-Royalist, who criticized the monarchy[136], and was eventually arrested. He served time in Moroccan prisons[137], even alleging torture, then moved to the United Kingdom as a political refugee, and became a citizen. He later became UN Special Envoy to Yemen, but resigned after the failure of the peacebuilding efforts.[138] Later the same year, however, UN’s then-Secretary General Bai Ki Moon appointed Benomar as a Special Adviser at the Under-Secretary-General level.[139]  Benomar was more than a one-trick pony for Qatar: according to the lawsuit, he was a spymaster who handled Muzin’s and Allaham’s agent of influence recruitment efforts; he assisted in the hacking of Broidy’s emails, and furthermore, he maintained frequent communications with ZOA’s Mort Klein[140], one of the influencers who went to Doha, and consequently hosted Pompeo, Bannon, and Al-Rumaihi at the ZOA gala. According to the lawsuit, he was also biased in favor of Qatar going as far back as his role as a UN Special Envoy for Yemen.

 Eventually, in response to the FBI investigation resulting from these allegations, Benomar claimed diplomatic immunity and revealed that he had been working on behalf of the Moroccan government at the Morocco’s mission to the United Nations[141] – although the events in question transpired before Benomar was hired by the Mission in August 2018. Benomar, although not a professional hacker, was alleged to be the one who orchestrated the dissemination of Broidy’s emails to the press.  At the time of his alleged involvement, he was formally a British citizen, but was residing in the United States. Following the FBI probe, Benomar returned to Morocco.

What was the exact nature of Benomar’s relationship with Morocco and Qatar? According to the filings by Benomar’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell of Winston & Strawn LLP, “Lowell argued that because the ex-diplomat “specifically counseled Qatar at the request of his home government of Morocco, Mr. Benomar enjoys derivative sovereign immunity not only based on Qatar’s immunity as a sovereign, but on Morocco’s immunity as a sovereign as well. Consequently, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and the case must be dismissed, because the alleged actions of Mr. Benomar are protected under derivative sovereign immunity.”[142] If accurate it would mean that Benomar was working for Morocco long before his official employment at the Mission, and that the Moroccan government could have or should have known that in his capacity as a counselor, Benomar might have been involved in hacking and leaking of emails to US citizens, particularly those with links to the Trump administration.  Benomar, like the government of Qatar, denied participation in hacking, and claimed that in his role as Moroccan diplomat, he was limited to advising on resolving the Qatar blockade crisis, as well as discussing peace progress in Yemen.

Given that this entire time, Morocco was pursuing the strengthening of a relationship with the United States, it is unclear why anyone in Morocco’s government would approve such course of action. It is also unclear who exactly asked Benomar to counsel Qatar to begin with, and why anyone in the Morocco government would ever employ Benomar for any sensitive work, given his past history in that country. However, the government of Morocco did back Benomar’s claims, forwarding documents asserting Benomar’s status as a diplomat, and requesting that the United States grant him immunity. [143]What is clear, however, is that Benomar derived personal financial benefit from his contacts with Qatar, and that he indeed was recently appointed to be the head of a large media conglomerate in Paris, in which the largest shareholder was Qatar Holding LLC, a part of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.[144]

The State Department ultimately honored Benomar’s claim, and he received diplomatic immunity.[145] A U.S. official stated that Benomar’s immunity and privileges extended beyond his work for Morocco, although the lawsuit stated that no immunity would apply to hacking schemes against US citizens. Interestingly, neither the United States nor the United Nations recognized Benomar” as a diplomat entitled to any form of immunity” until October 2018.[146] Broidy’s conspiracy lawsuit against Benomar was dismissed by the district court judge in New York.[147]  Was this case a precedent of allowing foreign hackers to attack US citizens under the pretense of immunity? Or was it an exceptional instance of trying to resolve what could otherwise turn into a major political scandal with an ally with the understanding that such incidents will not happen in the future?

While the answers to these questions can only be found with the benefit of time, regardless of what ultimately happened with Benomar, the disposal of his case did bring claims about Qatar’s role in the Broidy hack to an end – quite the contrary.

The Blacklist and the White List

In the course of the investigation into the suit, journalists discovered the existence of two list: a list of approximately 250 influencers Qatar targeted for recruitment, and a list of over 1000 critics and dissenters, who were on Qatar’s hack list. Most of the influencers were close to Trump and would have played a key role in changing U.S. policy on Qatar[148]. Some of them were the Jewish lobbyists and community leaders who played a role in Qatar’s influence operations.

Another lawsuit by Broidy alleged that Qatar helped hack the emails of these critics worldwide, in a mass smear campaign that targeted senior US government officials, European defense leaders, FIFA soccer players, and Indian movie actors. Technical evidence in the ongoing investigation into Qatar’s cyberattacks included the digital footprint linking hacker locations to Qatari domains, and phone records obtained by Broidy’s lawyers.[149] One of the Arab journalists went on record with his experiences of being hacked and intimidated.[150] 

According to the Whatsapp messages between Muzin and Allaham, some of the high level hack targets may have included the popular American rabbi Shmuley Boteach (who went on record criticizing Qatar and those who went on the trips to Doha), and others with ties to the pro-Israel Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. The context for the conversation was the concern over their reception at the Republican Jewish Congress gathering in Las Vegas; Boteach, who was close to Adelson, the host, may have put Adelson up against the Qatari lobbyists.[151]

The smear campaign may have involved US actors, as well. Broidy’s lawsuit named a US lobbying firm, Global Risk Advisers, run by the ex-CIA operative, as the force that was used to discredit him, and named Ahmed Al-Rumaihi (who by that point, fled to Qatar) and the Qatari emir’s brother Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani as the parties who actually ordered the smear campaign.[152] After the initial lawsuit was dismissed, Broidy filed another lawsuit[153] against Muzin, Allaham, and Gregory Howard, a media strategist from Mercury Public Affairs ( most recently, known for being investigated along with Podesta group, and Paul Manafort for its Ukraine-related foreign lobbying activities under pro-Kremlin Yanukovich government[154]).

Broidy accused MPA of being part of a conspiracy to disseminate his leaked emails among various media outlets. The lawsuit also alleges that some of the leaked email were “doctored”, in what may have been a throwback to the Cold War strategy by the Soviet Union to discredit its critics and other targets. If there is a Russian trail to these accusations, it runs deep – FBI investigators helping Qatar found that a seemingly freelance group of Russian hackers[155] was responsible for the initial crisis involving the hack of a Qatari state agency and the leak of fake messages, which nearly led to a war, and provided the ATQ with the justification to impose the blockade. Whether or not any of that is true remains anyone’s guess.

Was Russia seeking to benefit from the inevitable chaos to make headway in the Gulf and to cause further problems in the US? Did the ATQ hire the hackers to provoke a stand-off that would justify the imposition of the blockade? Did Qatar cynically employ the hackers just so it could blame its regional rivals, never dreaming that it would backfire so spectacularly? Or was Qatar also looking to provoke a fight just to have an excuse to move closer to Iran in public?  Or perhaps, FBI never really found out the identity of the hackers, and at the peak of the Russian scare in the US, found that blaming the Russians could put an end to the confusion and could be a good way to deescalate? There are many possibilities, but that Qatar later employed Russian hackers to carry out its smear campaign is more likely than not, given the reputation of Russian mercenary hackers. [156]

Muzin, Allaham and some of the others, despite initially stepping away from public representation of Qatar, appeared to continue receiving compensation for unknown services in a somewhat less direct way[157]. Muzin in particular may have been linked to assorted financial improprieties. The media eagerly covered every leak, every scandal, and every speculation that resulted from the original hack, and the lawsuit and the investigation to follow. While the full mystery may never be solved, these events do illustrate in rather stark colors how the U.S. media became a weapon of foreign powers, and could easily be used by any actor with sufficiently deep pockets and an understanding of how contemporary journalism works to spread its agitprop.[158]

Another lesson could be learned from these latest developments: Qatar uses the same pattern of using disgruntled former government agents and foreigners to attack its adversaries and to advance its information warfare agenda, which shows a sophisticated understanding of traditional intelligence and active measures – and perhaps points in the direction of close collaboration with the Russian intelligence and security services. One example of such a method was, of course, Jamal Benomar. Another exemplar is none other than Jamal Khashoggi.

Jamal Khashoggi Exploited in Life and Death

Jamal Khashoggi, a proponent of the revolutionary Muslim Brotherhood faction, supported by some members of the Al-Saud royal family, followed the old school Soviet model of an intelligence operative under a journalistic cover. Following the clash of his ideological differences with the new security apparatus under the new Crown Prince, he left the country showing open support for the Muslim Brotherhood defender and president of Turkey Erdogan. As the post-mortem investigation of his writings in the West revealed, having failed to reconcile with the Saudi government, Khashoggi took on a new role in his capacity as a columnist for the Washington Post – scribbling critiques against the Saudi Crown Prince and the War and Yemen with the support of the Qatar Foundation International, another branch of Doha’s influence campaigns.

While the exact circumstances of his demise remain under investigation and the subject of controversy for assorted political bodies and message, the coverage of his death, particularly at the early stages following his disappearance inside the Saudi consulate reveal a great deal about the alliance between the Western press and intelligence apparatus/press of Qatar and Turkey. These included failure to reveal Khashoggi’s background at an early stage, failure to ask basic questions following his disappearance, failure to send independent investigative reporters on the scene, reliance on intelligence leaks by Turkey amidst a sensitive political situation with regards to Syria and other matters, repetition of dubious stories proliferated by the Qatari press (the Apple Watch theory, which was subsequently debunked), one sided and derivative coverage of the investigation, as well as personalized character attacks against the Saudi Crown Prince and anyone who was critical of the coverage or of Khashoggi himself.

The result was the obfuscation of the story, rather than clarification over what may have happened. KSA’s silence and incoherent reaction to the unraveling events, followed by suspicious anonymous leaks of people claiming to be in the know, as well as from the US and British intelligence circles, further obscured the nature of the investigation – an outcome straight out of the old Soviet playbook.

Despite sanctions imposed by the US and other countries against the alleged culprits, Al Jazeera and Western media’s coverage appeared to be more of a coordinated political campaign against Saudi Arabia than an objective and thorough investigative reporting into the chain of events. The outcome benefited Qatar in that it created a perceptible political rift between KSA and US, further undermining the Arab Coalition’s role in the Yemen civil war and US support for it and drawing Saudi Arabia closer to Russia and China, possibly at the US expense.

Who was Jamal Khashoggi?

Jamal Khashoggi, at one point, has been described as a dissident, a critic of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a reporter, a journalist, and a columnist.

The more accurate description of Jamal Khashoggi, however, was that he was a former Saudi government spokesman, a former Saudi intelligence operative, and an agent of influence for a foreign power up until the point of his demise – that foreign power, being Qatar.

Back in 2017, Dubai-based Saudi-American professor of media Dr. Najat Al Saied wrote:

“Qatar is also trying to gain favor in the US through Saudi dissidents, such as Jamal Khashoggi. He previously held a number of positions in several newspapers in Saudi Arabia, served as a political adviser, and now, entirely backed by Qatar, is a columnist for The New York Times and based in Washington DC. Nowadays, Khashoggi takes every opportunity to attack Saudi Arabia in different US and European newspapers.

Anyone who can read Arabic can tell you Twitter account of Jamal Khashoggi is full of anti-Semitic tweets and retweets; it looks as if the New York Times allows him to write in its newspaper only because he attacks Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi tweeted:

“Feel angry and shout out even if you do so among your own people and inside your frightened houses, it’s #Jerusalem. Allah suffices me, for He is the best disposer of affairs. I feel distressed.”

Saudis recognize that his real intention was not to defend Jerusalem or the Palestinians, but to galvanize people on the streets of Saudi Arabia to rise up against their own government. Ahmad Al-Faraj tweeted:

“If you feel that angry, why do you not leave this damned country of America, whose President is moving its embassy to Jerusalem?”

Other Saudi writers and others simply ridiculed him. “Go and drink a glass of wine to calm down”, wrote Hani Al Dahri, a Saudi journalist, inserting Kashoggi’s tweet above along a photograph of him celebrating Thanksgiving in the US with bottles of wine on the table.”[159]

Khashoggi was once a daily fixture in the Saudi media[160]. He was also a go-between on a variety of sensitive outreach intelligence operations for the former Director of Intelligence Prince Turki Al-Faisal, some of which included attempted negotiations with Osama bin Laden, with whom he became friends.[161] At one point, Khashoggi, was named head of a new television station in Bahrain called Al Arab. The channel was funded by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was later swept up in the corruption probe by the new Crown Prince. After giving voice to the “opposition”, an interview concerning the cancelation of citizenship for 72 Shi’a Bahrainis, many with ties to Iran,  Alwaleed was asked to stop funding the channel, and Al Arab was taken off air[162].  Khashoggi has had various disagreements over religious and political issues with the Saudi government; he was taken off as the editor of Saudi Arabia’s Al Watan, after criticizing the Salafist approach to Islam widely practiced in the Kingdom. Khashoggi had a history of sympathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood[163], which was designated a terrorist organization by King Abdullah in 2014.

He was asked to leave the country in December 2017, after continuous internal disputes, and first moved to Turkey (where he supported President Erdogan[164], despite Erdogan’s internal crackdown on the opposition for which Khashoggi later vociferously criticized Mohammed bin Salman), then later to the United States. In the U.S., Khashoggi became a contributing columnist to a variety of media, including, eventually the Washington Post. Most of his columns were criticisms of various aspects of Saudi Arabia’s foreign and domestic policy, including the treatment of dissenters, and its role in the war in Yemen.

 As Washington Post later admitted, however, Khashoggi’s grasp of English was so poor that most of his columns were translated and edited, practically rewritten from scratch by his editor Karen Attiah. In her speech about working with Khashoggi, Attiah admits that she recruited Khashoggi and gave him a platform to discuss the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the direction in which he was taking the country. [165]As the publication further admitted, the director of the Qatar Foundation International actually provided Khashoggi with approximately 200 documents, from which the latter copied and pasted his material[166]. None of that was noted as disclaimers in his columns while he was alive.

In other words, an observer can note the same pattern of Qatar weaponizing dissenters and former government officials to work either against their former countries or to advance another political agenda which serves Qatar’s interests. Having exploited Khashoggi in whatever way it was possible while he was alive, Qatar then turned his death into an opportunity to launch the equivalent of total war in the media against the Saudi Crown Prince.

How pro-Qatar media turned a former government spokesman into a beloved martyr

What actually happened to Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate remains a matter of an ongoing joint Saudi and Turkish investigation. It is also a continuous source of heated controversy and endless speculations. Whatever one may think about the role of the Saudi government with regards to Khashoggi’s killing, it is beyond the scope of this paper. However, this paper will examine how his death was handled in the media and how Qatar’s information warfare campaign benefited from that coverage.

The initial reports about Khashoggi’s disappearance inside the Saudi consulate and his consequent death revealed little about Khashoggi’s background[167], despite the fact that his connections to the Saudi intelligence were readily available on his Wikipedia page. The coverage of these initial days was extensive, speculative, and from the start, unfavorable to the Saudi government. In particular, from the start, Washington Post led the way of many other big name publications, in naming the Crown Prince personally responsible for Khashoggi’s fate.

Later on, Washington Post took this personal campaign to the next level by running full page ads with Mohammed bin Salman’s face on them.[168] The newspaper also created a full page ad with Jamal Khashoggi’s face on it, under the slogan ”Principles of free expression endure”[169], implying that Khashoggi was killed because he was a dissident, because he dared to criticize his own government, and that the only possible reason to his death was an attempt to stifle free expression. The ad features evocative imagery: a funereal black and white photograph of Khashoggi with a candle lending warmth to the picture.

 Nowhere it is mentioned that as a spokesman for the Saudi government, Khashoggi himself was involved in the practice of censorship; furthermore, the previous Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s tenure is associated with many newsworthy human rights abuses, including the public flogging of a Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi.  Lest the irony of phrasing a dissident” who himself facilitated oppression is lost on anyone, Khashoggi’s own interviews and writing convey a decidedly illiberal agenda, including support for Islamist organizations not known for promoting individual liberties. The second theme, worth mentioning, is that Washington Post, and most of the other media, from the start relied heavily on the leaks[170] from self-interested[171] Turkish government officials and from the Turkish press, known for its connections to Turkish intelligence.

After all, Turkey, for the second year in a row, led the way for the number of jailed journalists.[172] Could the information about Khashoggi have been all that reliable given that it came from Erdogan? The third issue to note is that at no point did the Washington Post, nor anyone else in the leading U.S. media send in an independent investigative journalist on the ground.

Furthermore, most publications failed basic fact checking in claiming that Khashoggi was a US resident, when he was in fact, in the US on a special visa[173] he obtained with the help of “friends“, likely in the intelligence community. He resided in the US for only a year and could not have had a green card, however, portraying him as someone with rights almost equal to a US citizen made him much more sympathetic – and helped sell the narrative of a courageous dissident that anyone with a heart could identify with.

These failures of basic journalistic ethics or laziness certainly played into Qatar’s end game, but was Qatar in any way responsible for beatification of Khashoggi? In fact, given that Karen Attiah and the Washington Post Editorial Board were fully aware that Khashoggi acted in concern with the Qatar Foundation International the entire time he was contributing pieces to the paper as a columnist, and failed to disclose this conflict of interests to the public, makes the Washington Post an accessory to Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) violations, which requires all foreign agents that benefit financially from acting as political or economic lobbyists or agents for a foreign principal to register with the Justice Department.

 Whether Washington Post itself received any benefit from staying mum on this arrangement remains unclear to this day. Regardless, the level of consultation between Khashoggi and QFI on policy matters was obviously very close; Washington Post dishonestly kept material facts about Khashoggi’s views from the limelight after he disappeared and refused to highlight his government connections long after the fact. At some point, it should have been obvious to the administrators of the publication that such a position would be beneficial to Qatar and QFI, particularly given their personal and direct involvement with Khashoggi.

 Regardless, if one traces Washington Post’s editorial line on Khashoggi since his disappearance, the amount of attention he received is disproportionate to the amount of attention devoted to Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist who was taken hostage by Iran government and eventually released to the Obama administration upon the conclusion of nuclear deal negotiations. Whether Washington Post was knowingly partnering with Qatar on advancing the agenda of whitewashing Khashoggi’s image and promoting his story to the forefront of popular attention for months on end, or whether the agenda of the publication driven by a particular consideration just happened to coincide with Qatar’s and with the tenor of Al Jazeera stories is currently unknowable and irrelevant; clearly Qatar knew the news market in the United States well enough to take full advantage of its shortcomings, regardless of the ultimate intent and state of mind of key players.

The presentation of information followed the familiar pattern: selected facts about deceased, used of dramatic language when describing the events, personal attacks on the target (in this case, the Saudi Crown Prince), extensive use of leaks and anonymous sources, which were shared across the board by a variety of mainstream sources.  Rather than fact-checking each theory, the print media turned to reporting every speculation as if it were in itself newsworthy.

At times, it led to embarrassing results, such as the debunked Apple Watch theory. In brief, early in the investigation, there was a rumor that Khashoggi’s Apple Watch could have recorded the last moments of his life, but had disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  Eventually, Apple and others had to admit that the technology was not advanced for the device to be useful.[174]

Was the sensationalism of a bloody, yet almost comical story of a team of security officers close to Mohammed bin Salman, who traveled, unmasked, to Istanbul, waited for Khashoggi inside, and then walked out with fifteen different suitcases and no trace of Khashoggi, what was driving the press agenda in terms of the extensive coverage or willingness to rely on Turkish intelligence leaks, one more preposterous than the next? Or was there a political agenda at play?

The second theory is supported by an incident involving a CNN reporter on a Sunday morning cable news show, who, upon learning that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to Saudi Arabia to meet with the Crown Prince following these events (approximately Oct. 15, 2018) exclaimed that “Pompeo should turn the plane around”. That episode clearly illustrated when a red line between journalism and political activism is crossed.

Qatar’s media uses Khashoggi to attack the Saudi Crown Prince

Whereas Turkey was using the peak of the crisis to advance its immediate geopolitical needs – to pressure the Trump administration on the situation in Syria and to try to get its own opposition leader, Fetullah Gulen, returned from the United States[175], Qatar’s information warfare implied playing the long game.  Unauthorized leaks or fabrications  from the US and British intelligence agencies[176] during the early stages of investigation that supposedly confirmed the worst assumptions about Mohammed bin Salman‘s role in Khashoggi‘s killing were later denied by the CIA director Gina Haspell, Secretary of State Pompeo, and President Trump himself.

However, these leaks told a troubling tale of a security breach inside the agencies with a particular agenda with respect to Mohammed bin Salman‘s future, that obviously countered the official US foreign policy in that regard. Qatar capitalized on the security breach, along with the Western media, which reported every CIA leak by anonymous officials as if it were an official agency determination[177], despite the fact that no one could determine who those officials were and whether they even existed, much less verify their comments. 

Leaks to the Western media alleging ”inside scoops” and predicting announcements by the Saudi government, which never materialized, added to the confusion as much as some of the wilder speculations. Some appeared credible and realistic, but ultimately were not supported by any further evidence. [178]At the start of the crisis, which erupted over Khashoggi’s disappearance, and the Saudi government’s admission of his death, speculations and leaks proliferated. Some leakers spread a rumor that King Salman was even considering dismissing the Crown Prince from his position. These rumors were soon echoed by the American press[179].

Rather than providing objective reporting, the article described the Crown Prince as ”reckless”, showing that 1) the author (and the publication) had already passed judgment on the chain of events and on Mohammed bin Salman’s role in them and 2) that the author favored a particular course of action against the prince, and perhaps was hoping that negative publicity from the West would push the King’s hand. He ascribed to the Crown Prince the fault for allegedly “wreaking havoc on the US-Saudi relations”, without, really, explaining why Khashoggi’s death was a real impediment or should be. However, that language reflects the language used in Al Jazeera and similar outlets.

The German outlet Deutsche Welle, analyzing the lack of freedom on big political issues in the Arab world and the fact that each medium follows the dictates of its financier or government, described Al Jazeera’s coverage of Mohammed bin Salman as trying to minimize his importance and pushing the point that he could fall: “This was “a clear signal that the strategic relations between the USA and Saudi Arabia are not dependent on the political survival of individuals in Riyadh or Washington.” That looked like an attack on bin Salman — the same politician who one and half years ago initiated a boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia. The crown prince might be a political heavyweight, hinted the channel, but ultimately, he plays a subordinate role in the American-Saudi relationship. The state’s raison d’être is more important than particular state representatives. Even MBS, the report says, is politically just one of many. In the final analysis, he is replaceable.[180]

Once again, bots, trolling, and propaganda on Twitter continued tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.[181]  However, Al Jazeera took fake news and innuendo to a new level, disseminating a video showing heavy opaque packages being delivered to the Saudi Consul General’s residence following the events in the Consulate, to explain how the operatives supposedly got rid of the body. Although that theory, too, was debunked fairly quickly, Al Jazeera continued producing ”evidence” and fueling conspiracy theories for months to come.[182] Meanwhile, the Western media, again, following Qatar’s smear campaign strategy, turned to attacking not only the Crown Prince himself, but anyone who defended him, describing, for instance, The Arabiya Foundation’s Ali Shihabi as a ”smooth operator who charms Washington” – while using a screengrab from Al Jazeera.[183] Again, the title of the article already presumes Mohammed bin Salman’s culpability in Khashoggi’s death.

Other press continued to proliferate personal condemnations of the Saudi Crown Prince, even blaming the United States for enabling him and for covering up the killing. Sample language describes the killing as “Saudi horror”. The author writes (while describing various examples supposedly pointing to Saudi Arabia’s increasing crackdown on dissent): “” But the brazen killing did not occur in isolation. If it was the “game-changer” that many see, it was also the latest, most extreme manifestation of a repressive regime that has acted with virtual impunity while maintaining enviably close ties to Washington. The Saudis did what they did because they assumed they could get away with it.

Indeed, even as Washington has crowed about the crown prince’s big plans for his country, he has ruthlessly eroded the already limited space for criticism and dissent in the Kingdom.”[184] Interestingly, these types of articles fail to mention the ways in which Saudi Arabia liberalized, including the increasingly more diverse types of people, including previous human and women’s rights activists, who now play an important part in politics. Qatar’s position on this matter has been made clear early on: Al Jazeera expressed “solidarity”[185] with Jamal Khashoggi, and devoted extensive time to covering this issue and reporting every unsubstantiated rumor against the Saudis.

This “solidarity” included increasingly more personal attacks on Mohammed bin Salman, who, in one video involving an Al Jazeera host, was compared to ISIS: “Even ISIS didn’t kill the way bin Salman killed Khashoggi.”[186] To continue building on sensationalism and lack of public access to the “Turkish tape”, which supposedly had recorded voices from inside the consulate, Al Jazeera, at one point, reported that the Saudi operatives dismembered Khashoggi while he was still alive[187]. Although that information was later contradicted by other statements and speculations from the Turkish government, it fed on stereotypes of the Saudis, and reinforced the worst possible imagery in connection to this case.

In its official statement[188] with response to the Israeli official Ron Dermer’s criticism of its Jamal Khashoggi coverage, Al Jazeera uses the fact that it was the first Arab network to allow Israeli politicians on air to cover for the biases and reporting of conspiracy theories which marked the Jamal Khashoggi reporting, further referencing the extent of Al Jazeera’s coverage of other crises around the world but not the political agenda it pushed in its coverage. Such manipulation further illustrates Al Jazeera’s information warfare strategy, which uses minor accessions to the West’s expectations of an “open-minded” network to divert attention from other, deeply ingrained systemic failures.

Media campaign becomes political campaign

The push from Qatar lobbyists, various think tanks which have accepted donations from the country, its  own media outlets and Western media[189] favorable to Qatar’s agenda (whether intentionally or not), has been to turn the Khashoggi affair into a political case for isolating Saudi Arabia, severing[190] or “reevaluating” US relations with the Kingdom[191], and punishing the country[192] itself, and the Saudi Crown Prince[193] personally in a variety of ways.

At the same time, Al Jazeera pursues the strategy of undermining and delegitimizing Mohammed bin Salman in a variety of ways, most recently – by elaborating on The Guardian piece[194], based on unattributed rumors, that there is allegedly a rift between King Salman and the Crown Prince.

The persistency of sensationalist headlines about Jamal Khashoggi, and single-minded focus on vilifying the Saudi Crown Prince personally has paid off. Germany, and a number of other European countries, froze weapons delivery[195] to Saudi Arabia. By contrast, Germany refused to classify Iran-backed Hezbullah as a terrorist organization[196].

The United Nations instigated an international probe into the Khashoggi death[197], with the rapporteur disagreeing with Gina Haspell’s report which did not hold the Saudi Crown Prince personally responsible for the killing. Most recently, the European Union, Canada, and Australia united to rebuke Saudi Arabia, for the first time[198], over the Khashoggi death. The State Department designated 17 Saudi nationals, including Mohammed bin Salman’s former senior adviser Saud Al-Qahtani, under Magnitsky sanctions[199]. Several other Western states did the same.

 In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution unanimously holding Mohammed bin Salman responsible[200] for Jamal Khashoggi’s demise. Both the Senate and the House voted to end US support for the Saudis in Yemen[201], with many linking their votes to the Jamal Khashoggi affair[202]. Some speculate that the political reprisal is more about rebuking President Trump than about the Saudi Crown Prince, and that regardless, the administration will veto the joint resolution. 

However, policy-wise, these votes send a clear signal of distrust to the Saudi government. Individual members of Congress are consistently on air blasting the Saudi Crown Prince over Khashoggi and other political developments, including belated outrage over the corruption probe. Senator Lindsey Graham, whose state, South Carolina, has benefited from the Qatari investments, has gone so far as to call for the Saudi Crown Prince to step down[203], among other heated rhetoric. Senator Marco Rubio[204] in a recent speech attacked Mohammed bin Salman for “going full gangster” during the corruption probe. Saudi Arabia has become a fixation in the Western media.

Much of the reporting has been widely one-sided and inaccurate. For instance, the most recent fixation has been over the “Absher app”[205], a government e-service, which allows for online administration of over 160 different government functions, such as passport renewal. The political and media campaign to demonize KSA over the app related to services linked to the country’s fading guardianship system.

However, after one Saudi woman professional wrote a response[206], describing the function of the app, the media frenzy died down. By contrast, fewer articles across the media have been devoted to the crackdown on women in Iran, and almost none have referenced the women’s situation in Qatar which is comparable (if not worse) to the restrictions many women face in Saudi society, particularly from their own families, rather than the government.

Without the elements of joint media and political campaigns, these developments would have been ignored on par with the assassination of actual investigative journalists and opposition in Russia, mass imprisonment of journalists in Turkey, extrajudicial deaths and tortures of critics and dissidents in Iran. These campaigns diverted the attention from Qatar’s own purported human rights violations and scandals, and contributed to the impression of the David vs. Goliath narrative.

 The more Saudi Arabia is seen as a bully on a variety of fronts, the more likely the elected official, the journalist, the human rights activist, or the average person is to believe Qatar’s justifications for its actions and to dismiss the blockade as yet another act of stifling dissent.

Whether or not Qatar is single-handedly responsible for every article and every act of lobbying related to Jamal Khashoggi’s person, what appears obvious from all the human rights abuse stories out there, many of them arguably far more compelling and far less controversial than the case of Khashoggi, is that without a mass influx of financial contributions, pressure, and coordination his death would not have gotten nearly as much attention, much less outrage, as it has to date.

How many elected officials voting for these resolutions knew of Khashoggi’s existence prior to the breaking news of his disappearance? How many activists, analysts, and interested others followed what passed for his writing? Without a massive megaphone, Washington Post’s crusade would have been a very lonely one, or more likely, would have ended in a matter of a few articles, just like stories of other international assassinations and suspected murders before.

Reputational Damage – and Proposed Responses

The blowback for Saudi Arabia in the West has been significant. Although overall its investments and business deals have not suffered, that was largely to the exploitation of the situation by Russian and Chinese investors.  A number of significant investors withdrew immediately. Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build research relationships with some of the top US universities likewise suffered; in some cases the relationship was not completely severed, but a cloud of suspicion and bad air remained.  The attacks in the press left both the Saudi government and its population bitter at the breach of trust by American allies. Outspoken comments by some members of the Congress led to further distrust. A series of consequent attacks in the media meant to cast shade on Saudi Arabia’s recent successful domestic reforms appeared to follow the Khashoggi blueprint of elevating relatively insignificant episodes and individuals to the status of cult heroes in the press at the expense of both the Saudi government and the people

Most such stories relied on 24-7 coverage, easily generated outrage building on the Khashoggi incident, increased scrutiny, and personalization of individual anecdotes without accurate context or detailed information regarding Saudi internal affairs. KSA fed into the trap by refusing to respond or providing responses better suited to internal consumption than to Western ignorance of its culture and current political situation.  Assorted cultural factors contributed to KSA’s inability and unwillingness to defend itself effectively and to inoculate against future attacks. Furthermore, its reliance on the vast assortment of Western consultants failed – many fled in light of Khashoggi, and those who remained proved woefully ineffective.

 Internal government reshuffles in response to the poor handling of the PR response brought the country no closer to addressing the root causes of what it considers a tragic misunderstanding – lack of long-term relationship with American voters and institutions, and purely utilitarian exchanges with members of Congress. The security lapses in KSA and the US allowed these communications failures to be exploited by rogue actors, seemingly aligned with Khashoggi’s backers.  As a result, the Crown Prince is practically a persona non grata in certain circles, and there appears to be an overall focus on scrutinizing every aspect of Saudi activity in a critical if not hostile and one-sided way.

Qatar’s information campaign has also cast shade on the White House which has defended the Saudi government as an important ally in light of Khashoggi, but which has been accused of covering up the alleged links between the Crown Prince and Khashoggi’s demise.  The response to these allegations by the administration has been largely symbolic, circuitous, and repetitive, bringing the administration and the public no closer to understanding the course of events which have let to Khashoggi’s death – and disappearance of his remains.  However, Khashoggi followed Jamal Benomar’s playbook, and may have been one of many agents of influence readily sacrificed by Qatar to further its goals in undermining its rivals and gaining a foothold with the administration and in the U.S.

Neither the White House nor Riyadh should stay silent in light of the growing allegations and the increasing number of attacks in the media, often clearly linked to Qatari sources and uncritically accepted by the readers and audiences.

The White House should act swiftly to provide a clear and unwavering position with regards to its relationship with its key allies, and look to publicize the role of leakers who have undermined US security by leaking or fabricating classified information.

Riyadh, rather than turning away from the United States, should learn from Iran’s examples and build cultural relations with US public through educational and social contacts, and people-to-people diplomacy. It should move away from the damaging overreliance on big name consultants who, at the end of the day, were not invested in protecting their client’s image and reputation, and shift to more entrepreneurial relationships with creative-minded groups with a 21st century outlook on PR and information warfare.

It should also shift away from the traditionally passive and defensive comments to prioritizing expertise in contemporary information warfare strategies because today, key battles are not on the battlefronts, but in the ideological vanguard of influencing voters and long term policy positions.

And for those who are interested in defending the Western values from foreign meddling, educating citizens on social engineering practices and information warfare starts with reintroducing the basic concepts of thorough and objective investigative reporting and coverage, and raising questions that may lead to a growth in critical thinking and protect both the powerful and the laypeople from reputational attacks and hacking attempts by the exploiters of the unaware.

Saudi Arabia

The repercussion of Qatar’s successful information warfare for Saudi Arabia have been severe.

The reaction of the international community, particularly in the West, to the Khashoggi killing has been nearly universal, overwhelmingly negative, and very likely catastrophic in both short-term and long-term effects. This reaction has resulted in part from the assessment of business risks and loss of investor confidence, in part due to the influence of proliferating propaganda by various and assorted adversarial interests, and in part due to the disastrous handling of the PR, communications, and complete failure of the crisis management response both in the early and later stages of the developing situation. The measures that must be taken to control the gangrenous effects of the early failure to stop this infectious pubic response need to be radical, ruthless, far-reaching, and immediate.

The disappearance and demise of the Washington Post columnist and one-time Saudi government spokesman Jamal Khashoggi resulted in a vocal and aggressive reaction of major businesses, investors, and NGOs condemning the Saudi government for the alleged connection to this occurrence. Many banks and tech giants pulled out of the Saudi investment conference “Davos in the Desert”. Some, like SoftBank, did so out of concern for reputational risk, while retaining longer term plans for investments.

Others, like Richard Branson, froze ongoing deals with KSA for the foreseeable future.  Meanwhile, Washington Post and other publications have staged an ongoing campaign which included pressuring major tech giants such as social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, and others to pull out of MISK’s Global Forum Conference [207] and boycott the cultural foundation altogether. Pressure is also growing on the tech investors to severe or review their ties with Saudi Arabia, though more established businesses with longer term connections inside the country will find it more difficult to withdraw.

Many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley continue to accept Saudi money, and remained quiet about the Khashoggi affair, particularly in the start up world. [208] A substantial number of these businesses are partners with SoftBank and are negotiating their deals through it. Two of these startups – View, Inc., and Katerra, Inc., invested $1.5 billion in the Saudi-backed Vision Fund. SoftBank’s attitude, however, appears to be conditional on the outcome of the investigation into Khashoggi’s death[209]. For now, the major investors are adopting a wait-and-see approach; however, the media campaign to highlight VC ties to Saudi and to shame these businesses into withdrawal remains unrelenting. The New York Magazine and other major publications have launched a name-and-shame campaign aimed at the new fad of the “social consciousness” that has become popular with businesses targeting younger audiences.[210] 

However some major players, such as Sam Altman, and Marc Andreessen (the founder of Uber)  left the Saudi advisory board early on – and may not come back. [211]  However, despite MISK’s newfound popularity in the Silicon Valley, which peaked early in 2018 coinciding with the foundation’s traveling exhibit and the Crown Prince’s tour in the United States, some of its US partners are increasingly concerned about political and reputational fallout, particularly in light of the Democratic retake of the House, which may signal additional scrutiny towards Saudi-related issues – and in fact, that is the direction in which the recent votes and comments have gone. The Gates Foundation already committed to breaking ties with MISK[212] Not too many have actually broken ties for now, but a few have expressed vocal concern. Some of these business are waiting to see if there is a stampede of severances before making a decision. 

Surprisingly, with time, the chorus of Westerners calling for the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) against Saudi Arabia, has grown. Most recently, the US talent agency Endeavor returned $400 million to KSA.[213]

Political action against the Kingdom likewise intensified.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacted by trying to pivot to the East, as evident in his recent tour to Pakistan, India, and China, and ongoing deals with Russia.[214] However, most of the investments in Pakistan were memoranda of understanding predicated on Pakistan’s performance and execution of agreed upon conditions, rather than formal agreements. Saudi Arabia remains wary and distrustful of its new “friends”, and none of the agreements measure p to the $400 billion in deals that Saudi Arabia has ongoing with the United States alone.

Furthermore, Qatar’s information warfare was designed to separate the United States and Europe from Saudi Arabia, particularly since Qatar stands to gain in additional deals with Western countries in the event that Saudi Arabia turns elsewhere – or is turned away. For example, Qatar has invested heavily into real estate in the US –  investing into building giants such as Brookfield, buying up iconic pieces like the Plaza Hotel from the Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal – to real estate housing members of the Trump administration such as Stephen Miller in DC – and is now on its path to do the same in Europe, where it owns the famed  Le Grand Hotel in Paris

Qatari investment into France has been growing substantially in various sectors, overall, including the real estate modernization of Paris. And just as the Saudis have moved away from sponsoring Wahhabism worldwide, Doha has taken their place, now funding mosques all over France. That development continued unabated despite France’s avowal to cut Qatar funding of mosques only a few years ago. Instead, only a year later, Qatar set out to build a luxurious Islamic Center, with a school, a mosque, a Da’wa center, an institute for Arabic language studies and more.  What happened? In then-President Hollande’s failing economy, France was benefiting from the influx of foreign cash, and despite secularist and nationalist laws and proclamations, did not mind turning a blind eye to some mischief in exchange for Qatari gold.

Moreover, the media and political campaigns designed to damage the Kingdom’s image and to scare away Western or any risk-averse investors, and certainly, any future tourists are ongoing. Since the Khashoggi affair, Qatari and Western media, jointly with human rights activists doubled down on negative reporting. Many of the campaigns followed the familiar information warfare pattern of emotional appeal, poor or inadequate sourcing, and mockery and criticism of the ongoing internal reforms inside the Kingdom. Just some of the campaigns include:

·         The Rahaf Mohammed story: a teenager tried to flee her allegedly abusive but wealthy family to Australia via Hong Kong. Although the Saudi government was not directly to blame for this situation, the social conservatism of her community was seen as an example of why Saudi Arabia was bad for women. Canada granted Rahaf asylum; many thought that she would not have been at the center of such media attention if not for advanced “grooming” by Western organizations looking for easy attention and for Canada’s conflict with Saudi Arabia.


Eventually the story petered out due to poor handling by Western activists, who tries to make Rahaf more attractive by showing her eating bacon, drinking alcohol, and smoking cigarettes, rather than appealing to reason, Western values, and freedom of thought. Of course, Al Jazeera capitalized on the story.[215] The Saudi response initially was silence, but shortly after the story broke Arab News published an article[216] rejecting accusations against the government and speaking to the ongoing internal changes in a traditionally conservative and closed society. Furthermore, Al Arabiya aired Rahaf’s interview in Arabic after she came to Canada, which signaled growing security inside Saudi society, which by and large rejected Rahaf’s handling of the situation.

·         The Netflix controversy: A comedian accused Saudi Arabia of forcing Netflix to take down his episodes where he criticized the Khashoggi killing. The story was widely reported[217] as Saudi Arabia’s censorship of Western companies and the Kingdom inflicting its values on the West. Later, it turned out that Netflix had a distinct catalog for Saudi Arabia, and that the comedian’s comments were in violation with the existing Saudi laws.

·         The ongoing women’s rights controversy: a group of women’s rights activists, including some men were arrested on suspicion of collaborating with foreign entities. There were held in various prisons for months. A number of them, including activists well known in the West, alleged torture through their families. Somehow, their comments were passed on to family members who wrote pieces for various Western publications.


Others were allegedly interviewed anonymously by Amnesty International, which claimed that there was a systematic abuse of such activists ongoing in Saudi prison. Once again, a number of these activists were thought to be in communication with Qatari and pro-Qatar agents, who not only encouraged forbidden activity and supposedly funded some of it, but remained active in keeping this cause in front pages of Qatari and Western media. After months of refusing to comment on this issue, the Saudi authorities finally charged the activists and put them on trial.[218]

·         The Absher app campaign. After weeks of bad publicity, in Qatari media as well as in the West, and after a number of Senators and members of Congress were encouraged by lobbyists and human rights activists to get involved and pressured Apple and Google to remove the app from their store and carrying, the Saudi government responded by telling the West not to meddle in internal issues. That did not have the desired effect; the media coverage continued to proliferate. However, with just one op-ed responding to this issue, a Saudi woman was able to put an end to the interest in this matter.

·         The Walid Fatihi case: Walid Fitaihi is a Saudi-American dual national doctor, known for the big hospital he built in Jeddah. Fitaihi was also a board member of the Muslim Brotherhood front called the Islamic Society of Boston. He was swept up in the corruption probe in 2017 and was questioned about his relative by marriage and a former Saudi minister Adel Fekaih. He has been held in KSA since then with the full knowledge of the US government and with access to consular services. His story resurfaced again a year and a half since the Ritz Carlton arrests, now with second and third hand allegations of torture and abuse, and references to the now-unnamed military officer supposedly killed during the probe. Furthermore, Fitaihi’s son now testified before Congress about these allegations. [219]So far, the Saudi government has not responded to these allegations, but a report but Fitaihi’s illicit activists could put some of the public outrage to rest.

The pattern in all of these cases has been overwhelming passivity by the Saudi government and curt statements that may have worked in the past, but are no longer suitable for the contemporary age of aggressive information warfare, in which Qatar and other interested actors can fund endless contains of bad publicity, embarrassing to the image of the Saudi leadership, often with deeply personal attacks from the press.[220] Although much of the country rallied around the Crown Prince following these attacks, continued non-response and inability to put an end to the discrediting comments may take a toll on his authority, particularly among his domestic enemies.

Likewise, if Saudi Arabia wishes to grow and strengthen its alliance with the United States and other Western countries, rather to see it deteriorate over time due to the success of information campaigns aimed at voters and elected officials alike, Saudi Arabia should finally take steps to mitigate the damage done to its reputation abroad and to educate and inform both the voters and other target audiences about the success of ongoing reforms and other matters of mutual long-term interests, beyond oil and defense (both of which have been used as a tool against Saudi influence in recent months).

Hybrid information warfare needs to be countered and inoculated against, first, by improving the Kingdom’s cybersecurity to guard against any future cyberattacks, second by learning secure practices, including improving security measures within the intelligence, security, and diplomatic measures, and third by engaging in hybrid countermeasures, including learning effective responses to media attacks, soft power influence, and bot attacks.

To that end, Kingdom should empower local organizations towards long-term relationship building and outreach that will create enduring friendships, rather than responding either with learned passivity or by imitating Qatar’s meddling.

Lobbying efforts should no longer be focused on oil and defense deals, but exploring joing Saudi and American interests, and responding to US concerns about security matters, such as Khashoggi-type situations and information warfare campaigns, which ultimately do as much damage to the United States as to its counterparts.

Some good examples of the helpful information that Congress and members of this and future administration would appreciate:

1.Demonstrating lack of knowledge, involvement, or any type of connection of the Crown Prince to the Khashoggi killing (merely repeating that he did not do is not enough). If the Kingdom is not ready to move forward with publicizing the results of the ongoing investigation, at the very least some information concerning its progress in identifying the real culprits and reasons for Khashoggi’s death should be related to the appropriate parties, particularly since these may involve security concerns for the United States.

 2. Demonstrating US security interest in continuous involvement in Yemen

Given that due to information warfare campaigns and endless stream of criticism from the entire political spectrum, many have started questioning the value of political and economic relationship with the Kingdom, the following issues should be addressed both at government/policy and at non-governmental level, through information sessions/briefings, panel discussions, and dissemination of helpful information through the press, diplomatic gatherings, and other fora:

3. Demonstrating US interest in abstaining from pushing OPEC and coming to a peaceful agreement to resolve all relevant issues through diplomacy

4. Demonstrating the effects of the arms sales on US job growth and other factors favoring US economy

5. Demonstrating Qatar’s damaging effect to US military operations, including any illicit military airplane sales to Iran, sharing of US training and weapons, or anything else that could compromise US national security interests

6. Demonstrating the importance of providing a united front with regards to common threats and adversaries.

7. Developing and demonstrating a practical and actionable plan of preventing a) future Khashoggi type situations[221] b) future PR fiascos of any type – in other words, a white paper for clear communications and crisis management infrastructure being put into place  c) plan to improve human rights record including a timeline for resolving issues related to any peaceful human rights activists that do NOT present a national security threat, judiciary reforms (I.e. discussion regarding women’s rights/dismantlement of the Guardianship system, capital punishment reform with regards to which types of crimes fall under that category, transparency & due process steps, and relevant evidence regarding national security concerns with regards to highly publicized human rights concerns that have drawn public rebuke and concern from the particular senators and representatives.)

The same clarity, immediacy, and responsiveness in communications should apply to potential investors and other business relationships.


The Saudi government should undertake the following series of immediate steps to avoid further fallout and to woo back those of its partners who have already showed signs of inability to take a heat:

1.      Put to rest any concerns about the Saudi government’s knowledge of, approval of, or any other role in Khashoggi’s demise. Repeated statements by the interested parties at the highest level are insufficient to quell the ongoing media campaign, which is making the investors nervous. Rather, the Saudi government should produce objective evidence demonstrating not only the impossibility of its involvement but providing a reasonable and acceptable explanation as to what happened. If, for instance, some other party is to blame for the operation, investigation should reveal the full extent of that party’s involvement, and present all relevant evidence in a credible and transparent manner.

2.      Engage in a clear explanation of MISK’s important role in highlighting the voices of emerging women artists and the nascent Saudi cultural scenes, and why ultimately, severing ties with new Saudi institutions will not benefit the cause of human rights and reform, but rather, endanger it.

3.      Engage in personal conversations with those of the partners who are on the fence and demonstrate a clear and transparent path towards progress and better PR in areas of their concern.

4.      Identify and cultivate new partners, unburdened by internal Silicon Valley politics and immune to media pressure and political agendas.

5.      Clarify the nature of the corruption probe and in the future, keep business partners and investors engaged in the event of any politically risky developments of that nature.

To counter Qatar’s information warfare, specifically the use of online propaganda and soft influence for smear campaigns against Saudi Arabia and internal developments, the Kingdom should engage in long-term, benevolent, and mutually beneficial relationship building efforts with various American (and other Western) communities, particularly through cultural, educational and social engagement.



·         Despite seemingly strong relations between the US government and KSA, the media coverage of Saudi Arabia is leaning negative, particularly recently as a result of Qatar investments into a propaganda campaign

·         For decades there has been no exposure to Saudi culture, nor personal relationships with Saudi individuals. Although in 2018, there are 52,000 Saudi students studying in the United States, few have built personal friendships with Americans that last past their visit. Overall, both the country and its student visitors in the United States, have remained cloistered from long-term relationships with Western countries

·         As a result, there is little information about Saudis; most of the perception, particularly among the liberal-leaning younger people are shaped by media coverage of politics and Middle Eastern conflicts, as well as human rights issues.

·         Qatar, Iran, and Turkey have capitalized on their own extensive cultural lobbying to shape the narrative not just of regional conflicts, but social perceptions, creating an aura of suspicion and illegitimacy related to anything Saudis are doing to introduce themselves into Western societies on a human level.

·         Without a more extensive relationship building, the Saudis are risking leaving the next generation of leaders behind, and losing out on future business and cultural opportunities in a variety of spheres.

·         They are also fighting a losing battle to counter Qatar’s propaganda and influence. Qatar’s strategy has been focused on crude financial moves – buying up supporters. However, such “relationships” are shallow, distasteful, and have turned off many potential supporters. Qatar’s divisive tactics have also earned a great deal of scrutiny and criticism from the American Jewish community in particular as several of its leaders



·         Currently, there is an opportunity to bring a new perspective about the opening Saudi society, and to inform and educate American communities about both traditional Saudi culture and emerging voices in the arts and sciences.

·         This is also an opportunity to attract Western media to positive coverage of Saudi influences that provide something constructive and beneficial to the United States

·         In planning cultural events, Saudi Arabia and its outreach organization should take into account Western cultural norms and expectations, including timing of the event, advanced notice for planning and outreach, and the importance of measuring impact through publicity, surveys, taking attendance of each event, growth in numbers, and other quantitative and qualitative factors. This is the one area where there is a real potential to counter political attacks through positive impact and relationships that will outlast short term political challenges and media attacks.

·         In building relationships, planners should not restrict themselves to the “coasts” and avoid the mistake of ignoring the rest of the country, which is likewise responsible for electing members of Congress and has its own long-term concerns that need to be addressed.

·         Work jointly with local organizations to increase social media visibility and to develop content that would appeal to target audiences in the United States, but exercise due diligence in choice of partners.


Other ATQ partners


Although Saudi Arabia, due to its leadership position, wealth, and visibility has received a disproportionate amount of attention from Qatar and its proxies, the other members, too, felt the burden of smear attacks and negative political campaigns. All members of the ATQ stand to be affected by decisions related to the war in Yemen, for instance; the loss of US support on the issue would be highly detrimental to the aims and concerns of the entire region. Most recently, smear attacks, however, targeted the other ATQ members beyond the war in Yemen.

·         UAE has been a target of women’s rights campaign focused on the daughters of the Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. The story involves two of his daughters who at different points in time tried to escape from custody, and were eventually returned.

One was not seen in public again; the other eventually made another attempt to escape; prior to that she made a video complaining of abuse, restrictiveness of the system, and concerns about repercussions. Indeed, when she was returned to custody, claims were made that she was being drugged. The family made one video with her in it; but since then nothing more was communicated to the public. Human rights organizations demanded access, and a political campaign was launched through the media made to expose the alleged hypocrisy of UAE which is said to be restrictive to women as it seeks to presents a business friendly pro-Western image[222]. Other recent stories of women who sought to escape the families and pled for asylum in other countries contributed to this narrative.

Like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates has been investing a great deal of money into forming relations with US think tanks, business, and other organizations. However, unlike Qatar, these relationships have had limited success, as is evident by the result concerning the Yemen votes in Congress. Part of the issue results from the echo chamber mentality of the think tank world, which does not necessarily address hot button issues in any meaningful and substantive way.

Crisis management response is absent entirely from these efforts. Recently, UAE has been able to generate some positive publicity through its interfaith efforts and outreach, such as hosting the Pope for a series of high level meetings, and a joint mass. However, any positive development can be done in the public mind’s eye the moment a damaging story – even a baseless one – makes the rounds.

 Another issue is that panels that have criticized Qatar have been either organized by problematic actors such as Elliott Broidy, or have themselves been perceived as information warfare moves, rather than objective information sessions. To avoid such happenstances, future efforts should focus on bringing together diverse speakers and audiences, and engage with the Qataris and their agents, if only to refute their talking points and attacks.

Most of the attacks on Egypt came from the Western media, human rights organizations, and even some political circles in the US. Qatar’s greatest damage to Egypt comes through Al Jazeera attacks and meddling in foreign affairs, such as with the dam situation. However, as Egypt grows economically and expands its global presence, rest assured that character assassination attempts against President Sissi, and smear attacks related to assorted human rights cases, especially concerning Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, will grow exponentially in the West.

Such situations can be preempted with internal moves that can be communicated to the public, such as grooming successors who can be seen as creating increasing internal reforms, without sacrificing the country’s stability, engaging liberal minded Egyptians who wish to help the government in a way that encourages cooperation rather than dissent, and encourage support for civil society, the growth of which can help counter underhanded exploitation by seemingly democratic but underhanded and conniving actors such as Muslim  Brotherhood followers and Qatari agents of influence.


Bahrain does not have international presence at all, and has been dependent on Saudi Arabia for lobbying and support, which is in itself a country for a foreign state. Each country is currently dealing with its separate set of security challenges, but both suffer from Qatari information warfare. Despite Bahrain’s small size and relatively limited presence in world affair, it is under a constant stream of attacks from Qatari agents of influence, and “weaponized” Western media and human rights organizations. With lobbying and cultural and educational organizations non-existent in the Western world, Bahrain does not have any way of defending itself against such attacks. It should develop its own think tanks, train independent activists, lobbyists, and educators, and engage in cultural and social outreach to Western countries.

All of the ATQ members, whether jointly or independently, should develop Western-style media networks, responsive to crises and the need for fast reporting and communications, to rival and counter Al Jazeera. These networks should employ professionals trained in information warfare, knowledgeable in regional affairs, and who also speak other languages such as Farsi and Turkish. Qatar often acts in concert with other countries.


Jewish communities and Israel


Qatar, in the best of times, is a frenemy, not a friend. Qatar’s duplicitous actions of the several campaigns and willingness to weaponize the Jewish community against each other to serve needs, makes it a particular type of threat, that should not be able to appease anyone for any amount of money. To the extent Israel is forced to deal with Qatar at all, it should work with the White House to establish clear lines and demand accountability for Qatar’s anti-Semitic media coverage and funding of educational programming. No Jewish leader should travel to Doha at the government’s expense without first seeing good faith moves on Qatar’s coverage, such termination of anti-Semitic campaigns and a change in Al Jazeera Arabic’s support for Hamas, terrorists, and anti-Israel communications.

United States


The biggest takeaway from this paper should be that the US democratic processes and liberal values are under attack, from Qatar more than from any other actors, which includes Russia, and even China.  Unlike Russia and China, Qatar is seen as a friend by many, and as a lesser danger by most. Situational awareness of Qatar’s damaging influence around the world, including in the United States is almost non-existent. Furthermore, Qatar’s damage is potentially far greater than Russia’s election meddling even with all the hacking because Qatar’s has a lot more cash to invest in active measures and influence campaigns.

Qatar’s operations are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and complex for several reasons:

1.      First, Doha is likely acting in concert and actively learning from far more advanced intelligence agencies than its own, including Russia’s, Turkey’s, Iran’s, and quite possibly, the United States. That puts Qatar at a tremendous advantage versus its regional rivals, who have rudimentary intelligence apparatus, or whose intelligence experts are either supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, or simply do not support their leaders.

The bright exception to that is Egypt; however, surveillance state alone is not the answer to all of Egypt’s internal and external security concerns, particularly given some of that apparatus may still have remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood. While the ATQ members should modernize their intelligence agencies, none of these efforts will happen overnight. We will likely see in the near future, however, Qatar’s information warfare efforts become far more damaging in a lethal combination of money and decades of experience from its partners in crime.

         2. Qatar maintains disproportionate presence in the West, and works closely with highly Westernized Muslim Brotherhood proxy organizations, fellow travelers, as well as sophisticated Western lobbyists and political operatives of every sort. Already at the vanguard of lobbying efforts in the West, Qatar will increase its understanding of Western mentality with time and become increasingly more effective – while Americans remain uninformed and ignorant of these efforts.

3.Al Jazeera’s echo chamber is actively aided and abetted by Western media, but Qatar has managed to find appeal on both sides of the political aisle. For that reason, “conservative” media, elected officials, and operatives of all sorts are as susceptible to Qatari influence as left-leaning ones. Particularly in a divisive climate, Qatar can and will easily take advantage of the chaos in pursuit of its agenda.

4. Political divisions in the United States and other Western countries lead to deterioration of common values and interests, which means, for instance, that where elected officials and their constituents in the past were willing to put aside differences for the sake of the “common good”, such as national security considerations, in the present climate, it is increasingly to define what those common values and interests are or should be. 

Rather than engaging in dialogue and agreeing to reasonable compromises and a common vision for the US’ role in the world, the increasingly factionalized Congress fights for influence and attention, while the administration is hindered by the civil servants opposed to its agenda, internal divisions, and lack of experienced professionals in various agencies.  This vacuum of power and understanding is likewise easy to exploit. We have seen the precursor to the current chaos in the hand-wringing over Edward Snowden, followed by the polarized reactions over Russian hacking of various institutions, and the political mayhem that followed.

5.There are public officials and the media who are so ardently opposed to President Trump, and to Republicans in generals that they are willing to align with almost anybody for the sake of creating political problems for their opponents. The degree to which they are willing to go is rather alarming, particular when such actions enable and embolden foreign countries. Political movers and shakers should be aware of such trends, and should strive to find ways of bridging the worst of divisions, without sacrificing core values, rather than exploiting and furthering the polarization process that puts the country and her national security in danger.

Action Steps


1.      First, the administration should enforce the 2018 NDAA provision which calls for investigation into Al Jazeera with the eye towards possible enforcement of registering Al Jazeera under FARA. That would expose Al Jazeera for the state mouthpiece that it is and deprive it of press credentials. Ideally, however, Al Jazeera English should be shut down altogether in the US and its agents expelled from the country. Its apparatus is sprawling, and there is a good likelihood that many of the “reporters” that outnumber many of the US journalists, are nothing more than intelligence officers gathering information and looking to recruit agents for Qatar.

2.      Create a working group to respond to all foreign active measures modeled after the successful cross-agency model referenced in this paper. It might be worth interviewing any remaining members of that group and using their insights to inform future efforts with regards to responding to information warfare by other states.

3.      Create an effective intelligence sharing mechanism with the ATQ members specifically devoted to problems related to information warfare, active measures, and espionage, not just countering terrorism, organized crime, and defense issues.

4.      Educate all US agencies, as well as think tanks, about common methods of information warfare. Increase situational awareness as to Qatar’s activities, sources, and methods.

5.      Regard Qatar for a self-interested state that it is, and hold it to the same standard as one would hold any other states, with regards to sanctions enforcement, respect for US national sovereignty, support for terrorist organization, and proliferation of ideologically damaging material, such as anti-Semitic pro-Muslim Brotherhood education in the United States.

6.      Lastly, various members of Congress have been known to take donations from foreign states, most recently, from Qatar, which served to stimulate economy in their home states, but also may have affected their positions on vital national security concerns. The US cannot function if its foreign policy is essentially dictated, not just by foreign lobbies but by underhanded investments. There should be a transparency and accountability mechanism to trace all such investments and donations, and a way of holding public officials accountable for any undue influence (i.e. strings attached provisions) by foreign states.



[1] Information Warfare: What and How? Megan Burns, 1999

[2] What Is Information Warfare?, David Stupples, 03/12/15

[3] Information Warfare Past, Present, and Future, Nick Brunetti-Lihach, 14/11/18

[4]  Psychological Operations/Warfare, Ed Rouse, Maj. (Ret.)

In military terms, tactical, strategic, and consolidation psy-ops can be used independently or in combination, to achieve one or more of the following effects:

1.       Reduce moral and combat efficiency within the enemy’s ranks

2.       Promote mass dissension within and defections from enemy combat units and/or revolutionary cadre

3.       Support our own and our allied forces cover and deception operations

4.       Promote cooperation, unity, and morale within one’s own and allied unit, as well as within resistance forces behind the enemy line


[5] The Posters That Sold World War I To The American Public, Jia-Rui Cook, 07/28/14


[7] 10 Disney Propaganda Cartoons From World War II, Shannon Quinn, 02/05/17

[8] Anti-Semitic Cartoons: A Hallmark of Qatari Newspapers, Anti-Defamation League, 12/26/18

[9] Fake Views: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Soviet Photoshopping, Amos Chapple, 07/13/18

[10] Deception, Disinformation, and Strategic Communications: How One Interagency Group Made a Major Difference, Fletcher Schoen and Christopher J. Lamb, Institute for National Strategic Studies, Strategic Perspectives No. 11,  National Defense University Press,  June 2012

[11] “Cultural Marxism is the Main Source of Today’s Confusion – and It’s Spreading”, Anthony Mueller, Foundation for Economic Education, 10/18/18.

[12] “Best Selling ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ helps explain Trump’s appeal”, Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today, 08/16/16

[13] Fear of the Future Unites Yellow Vests and Climate Change Protesters, Melissa Vida, 03/08/19

[14] Behind the Arab Revolts, an Activist Quietly Pulling Strings from Boston, Karen Leigh, The Atlantic, 01/25/12

[15] Tensions Rise Between Egypt and Turkey Over Eastern Mediterranean Resources, 11/02/18

[16] The United Arab Emirates: Turkey’s New Rival, Youssef Sheiko, The Washington Institute, 02/15/18

[17] Morocco denies summoning Ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and UAE, Habib Toumi, Gulf News, o2/10/19

[18]  Most Americans Say They Have Lost Trust in the Media, Matthew Ingram, Columbia Journalism Review, 09/12/18

[19] Americans are More Divided than Ever Before – and social media is to blame for ”extremist divisions”, Warn Experts, Robert Kozinets with The Conversation, DailyMail.Com, 11/16/17

[20] Echo Chambers Online? Politically Motivated Selective Exposure Among Internet News Users, R. Kelly Garnett, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication,.

[21] The State of Critical Thinking Today, Richard Paul, The Foundation for Critical Thinking, Fall 2004

[22] U.S. Schools Receive Aid from Qatar, Tawnell D. Hobbs, The Wall Street Journal, 08/25/17

[23]  What We Now Know About Iran’s Global Propaganda Campaign, Issie Lapowski, Wired, 08/24/18

[24] Nasserism and Ba’athism: Modern, Contingent, Confused, and Instrumental, Michael Bolt, o8/02/13

[25] The Problematic Continuity of Nasserism, Amr Adly, 03/31/2014

[26] Ba’athism: An Obituary, Paul Berman, The New Republic, 09/12/14

[27]  The Cold War-era Origins of Islamism in Turkey and its Rise to Power, Behlul Ozkan, Hudson Institute, 11/05/17

[28] Washington’s Secret History with the Islamic Brotherhood, Ian Johnson, The New York Review of Books,

[29] Concept of Export of Revolution, U.S. Library of Congress

“The concept of exporting the Islamic Revolution derives from a particular worldview that perceives Islamic revolution as the means whereby Muslims and non-Muslims can liberate themselves from the oppression of tyrants who serve the interests of international imperialism. Both the United States and the Soviet Union are perceived as the two principal imperialist powers that exploit Third World countries. A renewed commitment to Islam, as the experience of Iran in overthrowing the shah demonstrated, permits oppressed nations to defeat imperialism. According to this perspective, by following Iran’s example any country can free itself from imperialist domination.”

[30] US had extensive contact with Ayatollah Khomeini before the Revolution, Saeed Khamali Deghan and David Smith, The Guardian, 06/10/16

[31] Egypt Freezes Assets of 1,100 Charities Linked to the Muslim  Brotherhood, AFP, 09/12/18

[32]  Lebanese Businessman Accused of Funding Hezbullah Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering, Washington Post, 12/06/18

[33] Lebanon’s Damning McKinsey Report: how the experts reacted, Caline Malek, Arab News, 01/07/19

[34] Hezbollah’s Social Jihad: Nonprofits as Resistance Organizations, Shawn Teresa Flanigan, Mounah Abdel-Samad,  Middle East Policy Council, Volume XVI, Summer, Number 2

[35] Islamists gain ground in Mali as pressure mounts on junta, o3/04/12

[36] The Truth About Egypt’s Revolution, Oren Kessler, The Wall Street Journal, 10/21/16

[37] Power, Censorship, and the Press: The Case of Post-Colonial Algeria, Hafid Gafaiti, African Literatures, 1999, Indiana University Press

[38] The Political Role of the Media, U.S. Library of Congress

“Under Nasser the media were brought under state control and harnessed as instruments of the revolutionary government for shaping public opinion. Radio and television, in particular, began to penetrate the villages. Nasser used them to speak directly to Egyptians in their own language, and they were major factors in his rise as a charismatic leader. Radio Cairo was a link between Nasser and his pan-Arab constituency in the Arab world and was regularly used to stir up popular feeling against rival Arab leaders. In the print media, however, the government did not speak with one voice. There were identifiable differences in the government-controlled press between those on the right of the political spectrum (Al Akhbar, The News), the center (Al Ahram, The Pyramids), and the left (Ruz al Yusuf). Nasser, a voracious reader, appears to have been influenced by the views expressed in the prestigious Al Ahram, headed by Muhammad Hassanain Haikal. Criticism in the left-wing press played a role in the drift of his policies to the left in the 1960s. Thus, the press had a certain role in transmitting opinion upward.”

[39]  As Egypt Quarrels with Saudi Arabia, It finds New Friends, The Economist, 11/25/16

[40]“ How Totalitarian Regimes Will Take Over Social Media and Destroy the West, Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, 12/17/18

[41]  Al Jazeera, ”Free Speech”, and the Future of Journalism, Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, 03/18/18

[42]  Media Warfare is the Middle East’s Latest Bloodsport – and the U.S. is the Loser, Lee Smith, Tablet, 07/10/13

[43] How Should We Read the American Press? In Arabic, Lee Smith, Tablet, 10/31/18

[44] The Inhumanity of Hamas’ human shields, Rep. Joe Wilson, The Washington Times, 05/31/18

[45] Finance Ministry starts working on reducing public debt to 80%,  03/07/19

[46] “Club Med for Terrorists”, Ron Prosor, The New York Times, 08/24/14

 “The emirate has also used the Arabic service of Al Jazeera news network to spread radical messages that have inflamed sectarian divides. In the early days of the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera’s coverage of popular uprisings earned the network millions of new followers and solidified its status as a mainstream global news network. Qatar capitalized on this popularity by advancing its own agenda — namely, using the Arabic network to promote the views of extremists who were undermining the region’s more pragmatic elements. In particular, Qatar’s open support for the Muslim Brotherhood angered its gulf state neighbors. In March, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Doha in protest.”- Israeli diplomat Ron Prosor

[47] Al Jazeera Bias Under Spotlight Amid GCC Rift, Ben Flanagan, Arab News, 6/13/17

“Journalist Abdel Latif El-Menawy, the former head of Egypt’s state TV news under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, said there is nothing new about this approach by the well-funded media network. ‘Qatar chose from day one to stand behind these extremists in Libya, Syria and Iraq. They chose to stand behind the (Muslim) Brotherhood in Egypt,’ El-Menawy told Arab News. “Al Jazeera was just a tool, was reflecting the politics (of) Qatar.”

[48] Iran Protests: Social Media Blocked, Fake News Thrives, Sara Khairat And Mia Alberti, Al Jazeera, 01/03/18

Al Jazeera offered coverage of the New Year’s Protests in Iran, claiming that it was current, whereas it was actually footage of the 2009 Green  Movement, which ended badly for the protesters.

[49] What’s Driving The Protests In Iran?, Farah Najjar, Al Jazeera, 01/03/18

[50] Tense Scenes As Unrest Over US Jerusalem Move Continues,” Al Jazeera, 12/10/17)

[51] Qatar Changes Course,” Husein Ibish, The New York Times, 06/30/15

[52] “Al Jazeera: Qatar’s Criminal Mouthpiece, Mohamed Fahmy, Arab News, 12/05/17

[53] Al-Jazeera: Covering News, Or Shaping It, Paul Farhi, The Washington Post, 07/09/13

Al Jazeera reflected the pattern eventually observable in the West – combining coverage of the unfolding events and developments, with political activism and operations designed to advance or facilitate a particular outcome.

[54] All Things Considered, NPR, 7/10/13

[55] How Al Jazeera called for bombing Saudi, UAE airports…and got away with it, Arab News, 09/29/17

[56] List of media that either receives open Qatari funding or has reflected extremely favorable coverage to Qatar’s government and foreign policy agenda:

1- Al-Jazeera

2- Middle East Monitor

3- Brookings

4- Al-Arabi 24

5- Al-Arabi al-jadid

6- Al-Arabi

7- Qatar Media Corporation

8- Al-Hewar

9- Al-Raya newspaper

10- Lebanon al-jadid

11- Arab newspaper of Qatar

12- Yemen youth

13- Al-ahali Yemen newspaper


15- Marib Press

16- Media centre of London

17- Al-watan of Qatar

18- Quds Al-Arabi newspaper

19- al-shargh

20- Asrar Arabiya

21- al-Rayed Algeria

22- Arab centre for research and studies

23- Institute of Political Thought

24- Islamic Observatory

25- Change Academy

26- Arabi21

Media backed by Qatar (finance support):

1- Middle East eye

2- Washington post

3- New York Times

4- Wall Street Journal

5- CNN

6- Chatham House

7- Al-monitor

8- The Guardian

9- Stratfor

10- Egyptian Revolutionary Council News



1- UAE human rights group

2- Karama organization

3- Arab human rights organizations in the UK

4- Cordoba institution

5- Coalition of Good Network

6- United for Justice

7- Islamic Association of Britain

8- Islamic Relief Organization

[57] The Middle East Eye, for instance, is owned by former Al Jazeera Director Jamal Bessasso.

[58] Gulf States Use Of Al Jazeera As Tool In Attack On Qatar Puts Staff At Risk: Peter Greste, Bonny Symons-Brown, ABC Premium News, 6/9/17

Comments by former Al Jazeera Journalist Peter Greste

[59] US Foreign Policy is For Sale, Ben Freeman, The Nation, 02/21/19

[60] Qatar Spent Nearly $5 Million On U.S. Influence Campaigns Following Its Isolation By Saudi Coalition, Emma Leathley,Center For Responsive Politics,10/13/17

[61] Id.

[62] Why is Qatar Being Blockaded and Isolated?, Alan Dershowitz, The Hill, 01/12/18

[63] “Al Jazeera Planted Undercover Reporter In US Pro-Israel Groups,” The Times Of Israel, 10/10/17

[64] Donald Trump Tweets Support for Blockade Imposed on Qatar, Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 06/06/17

[65] Trump Will Regret Changing His Mind About Qatar, Nawaf Obaid, Foreign Policy, 08/15/18

[66] Al Jazeera: Qatar’s Criminal Mouthpiece,” Mohamed Fahmy, Arab News, 12/05/17

[67] How Qatar is Funding the Rise of Islamist Extremists, David Blair and Richard Spencer, The Telegraph, 09/20/14

[68] The Two Faces Of Al Jazeera, Oren Kessler, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2012, pp. 47-56

[69] The Three Faces of Al Jazeera, Samantha Mandales, Middle East Forum, 01/30/19

[70]  The Qatari Regime’s Doublespeak: Condemnations of Terrorism vs. Social and Official Support For Terrorists”, MEMRI, 04/30/18

[71] Gulf Countries Support Morocco’s Decision to Cut Ties with Iran, Safaa Kasraoui, Morocco World News, 05/02/18

[72] Qatar Emir Thanks Iran for support in Gulf Crisis, 05/17/18


[74] Qatar Crisis: What You Need to Know, BBC, 07/19/17

[75] Sudan, Qatar to sign $4BLN deal to manage Red Sea Port , Hurriet Daiyl News, 03/28/18

[76] Qatar funds Ethiopia’s Dam to Escalate crisis with Egypt, Mohamed Asal, Egypt Today, 11/14/17

[77]  Everyone’s Taking Sides in the Qatar Crisis. Here’s why these four North African States Aren’t., Washington Post, 09/07/17

[78] The Truth Behind Morocco’s Diplomatic Crisis with Iran, Reda Zaireg, Middle East Eye, 05/11/18



[81]  South Carolina is Becoming a Home to a quiet Qatari miltary project, Jonathan Schachtel, Conservative Review, 03/05/19

[82] Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman widens purge, 11/06/17

In this case the source of the article was Reuters, however, other comments and statements made on or by Al Jazeera during this time period mirrored this language.

[83] Saudi Crown Prince reportedl bought the most expensive painting ever, Robert Frank, CNBC, 12/07/17

WSJ and NY Times subsequently both withdrew their articles on this subject, but this article is an example of the language the original articles used, as well as an example of unsubstantiated reporting circulating in the mainstream US media t the time – coinciding with the peak of the corruption probe in Saudi Arabia.

[84] The Saudi Art Charade, Mark LeVine, Al Jazeera, 12/27/17

The writer describes the real purchaser of the painting as an “associate” of Mohammed bin Salman, thus insinuating that the Crown Prince ordered the painting to be purchased on his behalf, although there is no evidence to that interpretation.

[85] Arabic Press Review: Saudi Ritz Carlton Prisoner dies after torture, Mohammed Ayesh, Middle East Eye, 12/22/17

[86] Saudi General Reportedly Tortured to Death After Refusing to Fork Over His Fortune, Tyler Durden, 12/24/17


[88] Saudi “general may have been tortured to death” during Ritz-Carlton Crackdown, The Telegraph, 03/12/18

[89] Saudi general ‘died of a BROKEN NECK after being tortured at the Ritz in “anti-corruption” crackdown and new crown prince made hundreds of elites sign away everything and wear ANKLE MONITORS’, AFP and Julian Robinson for MailOnline, Daily, 03/12/18

[90] Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions,  New York Times, 03/11/18

[91] How Qatar is Winning the Diplomatic War In Its Dispute With Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Dominic Dudley, Forbes, 01/31/18

[92] David and Goliath: How Qatar Defeated the UAE and Saudi Arabia Annexation Plot, Juan Cole, The Nation, 02/16/18

[93] The Qatar Crisis, Its Regional Implications, and the US National Interest, Njdej Asisian, Small Wars Journal

[94] Saudi crown prince comes under fire as he visits US, Bruce Riedel, Al-Monitor, 03/26/18

[95] Saudi Crown Prince Meets with the U.S. Jewish Groups, and Is Attacked, Michael Wilner, Jerusalem Post, 03/29/18

Qatar’s state-funded network, Al Jazeera, accused the crown prince of meeting with “rightwing Jewish groups” that fund “illegal settlement building” and “guard the gates of Washington.”

The Al Jazeera piece further states that Jewish organizations represented in the meeting seek to “stifle” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which the network defines as an effort “to economically pressure Israel into providing equal rights and a right of return to Palestinians.”

[96] Saudi Arabia Officially Backs United 2026 to Protect Its Interests, Safaa Kasraoui, Morocco World News, 06/06/18

[97] The full timeline of Canada and Saudi Arabia’s feud over jailed human rights activists, Sinead Baker, Business Insider, 08/24/18

[98] Saudi Arabia ”temporarily” frees activists who want women to be able to drive, Bijan Hosseini, CNN,06/03/18

[99] Can Mohammed bin Salman’s PR spin doctor’s fix Saudi’s image? , Al Jazeera, 05/28/18

[100]  U.S. Peace Delegation to Iran Welcomed by Foreign Minister, Met by FBI Agents on Return, 03/10/19


[102] Why is Saudi Arabia imprisoning anti-driving-ban activists?, Medea Benajmin, Al Jazeera, 06/04/18

[103]  Saudi Arabia’s Bin Salman Savagely Lashes Out, from Yemen to Qatar to Canada, Juan Cole, Truthdig, 08/09/18

[104] The Online War Between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Owen Pinnell, BBC News, 06/03/18

[105] Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes Its Own Way, and Pays for It, NY Times, 01/22/18

[106] Qatari Soft Power: Doha Miseducates America, Oren Litwin, Middle East Forum, 01/30/19

[107] In Qatar’s Education City, U.S. Colleges Are Building an Academic Oasis, Washington Post, 12/06/15

[108] Qatar’s Ramped-Up Lobbying Efforts Find Success in Washington, Bethany Allen-Ebraimian, Rhys Dubin, 02/06/18


[110] Report: Qatari Foundation Influences Anti-Israel Propganda in U.S. Schools, Jackson Richman,, Algemeiner, 10/08/18

[111] Saudi Moves Forward with Plan to Turn Qatar into an Island, Vivian Nereim, Bloomberg News, 06/20/18

[112] Inside Qatar’s charm offensive to win over Washington, Lawrence Delevingne, Nathan Layne, Karen Freifeld, Reuters, 07/05/18

[113] Giving up control of the Brussels mosque, Saudi Arabia sends a signal, Alissa de Carbonel, Stephen Kalin, Reuters, 02/12/18

[114] The fake-news hack that nearly started a war this summer was designed for one man: Donald Trump,  Peter Salisbury & Commentary, Quartz News, 10/20/17

[115] Qatar FM vows legal action over QNA hacking, Al Jazeera, 01/11/18

[116] Hackers leak emails from UAE ambassador to US, Al Jazeera, 06/04/17

[117]  No smoking gun in hacked emails of UAE envoy in Washington, Siraj Wahab, Arab News, 06/05/17

[118] Hacked emails reveal UAE influence on US think-tanks, Al Jazeera, 07/31/17

[119]  Leaked emails reveal UAE ambassador to Washington’s ”hyper-sexual” double life, Diana Alghoul, The New Arab, 08/31/17


[121] Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy Sues Qatar Alleging a Cyber Smear Campaign, Washington Post, 03/26/18

[122] ”Be Very Careful”: Conversation cited to link Qatar to hack of G.O.P. donor, David D. Kirckpatrick, NY Times, 05/24/18

[123] Qatar’s Information Warfare Puts Americans at Risk, Irina Tsukerman, American Spectator, 04/12/18

[124] FBI Probes Hack of Elliott Broidy, the Republican Operative at the Center of Scandal after Scandal, Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, 06/04/18

[125] Elliott Broidy, top Trump fundraiser, accuses ex-CIA operative of hacking his emails, Julia Ainsley, NBC News, 05/24/18

[126] U.S. Judge Dismisses Qatar from Elliott Broidy Hacking Lawsuit, Julie Bykowicz, Wall Street Journal, 08/08/18

[127] How a Disgraced Republican Fundraise is exposing Qatar’s Shadowy Lobbying Offensive, Dan Friedman, Mother Jones, 10/19/18

[128] Unbeknownst to the author, who attended the same fundraiser in November 2017 and did not meet or otherwise interact with Mr. Al-Rumaihi

[129] Qatari Investor: Michael Cohen asked me for a million dollars, Ryan Grim, The Intercept, 05/16/18

[130] Qatari investor confirms he attended the Trump Tower meetings in 2016, MJ Lee, CNN, 05/15/18

[131] Qatari Investor Embroiled in Trump Scandal Holds Top Government Post, Court Filing Says, Dan Friedman, Mother Jones, 08/09/18

[132] Qatari Investor in Ice Cube’s Big3 Claims Diplomatic Immunity Upon New Ambassadorship, Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter, 12/05/18

[133] Qatar used Ice Cube basketball league in Steve Bannon bribe plot, lawsuit claims, The National, 05/12/18

[134] Qatar’s Efforts to Influence American Jews Continue to Unravel, Armin Rosen, Tablet, 06/13/18

[135] Broidy accuses ex-Diplomat of being secret Qatari agent, Ben Schreckinger, Politico, 07/20/18

[136] The Monarchy, the Islamist Movement and Religious Discourse in Morocco, Jamal Benomar, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 2, Islam & Politics (Apr., 1988), pp. 539-555

[137] Jamal Benomar: Former Political Prisoner turned peacebuilder, Middle East Eye, 04/16/15

[138] UN Envoy to Yemen resigns after criticism of failed peacemaking, The Guardian, 04/16/15


[140] The “secret agent” of Qatar: Details emerge against former UN envoy in Yemen, Al Arabiya English, 07/26/18

[141]  The Case Against Jamal Benomar Intensifies, Adelle Nazarian, American Spectator, 11/06/18

Lee Wolosky, an attorney for Broidy, noted in a letter to the district court that “To date, the U.S. government has not agreed to extend diplomatic immunity to [Benomar]…according to the United Nations, the Moroccan Mission to the UN. retained Defendant as a consultant or advisor on August 1, 2018 — after the July 23, 2018 filing of this lawsuit.”

[142] Ex-UN envoy, ringleader of Qatar hacking in the US, using Morocco card to save himself?, Dalia Aqidi, Al Arabiya, 10/17/18

[143] Why are we giving foreign hackers diplomatic immunity?, David Reaboi, American Greatness, 12/18/18

Up until the point of the request from Morocco, the United States State Department did not believe that Benomar was entitled to any sort of diplomatic immunity.

[144] Id.

[145] State Dept. Says defendant in GOP hacking case has diplomatic immunity, Brett Samuels, The Hill, 11/.14/18

[146] The strange case of UN envoy-turned Qatar lobbyist, The Arab Weekly, 12/16/18

[147] Broidy’s conspiracy suit against Jamal Benomar rejected by a  New York court, Yabiladi, 12/22/18

[148] The New Lobbying: Qatar targeted 250 Trump ”influencers” to change U.S. Policy, Julie Bykowicz, Wall  Street Journal, 08/29/18

[149] New US lawsuit accuses Qatari lobbyists of using hacked e-mail in smear campaign, Middle East Online, 01/02/19

[150] Journalist details Qatari hacking and intimidation of critics, Adelle Nazarian, 01/25/19

[151] Documents Show Qatar Likely Hacked Boteach, Others Due to Ties with Adelson, Aaron Bandler, Jewish Journal, 11/04/18

[152] GOP Fundraiser Elliott Broidy Says Qatar hired U.S. firm to discredit him, Aruna Viswanatha, MarketWatch, 05/24/18

[153] Elliott Broidy Files a New Lawsuit Alleging a Vast Qatari Conspiracy, Josh Kovensky, TalkingPointsMemo, 01/24/19

[154] Report: Prosecutors resume foreign lobby probe of Podesta Group, Mercury Public Affairs, Chuck Ross, The Daily Caller, 12/05/18

[155] Russian hackers were to blame for sparking Qatar crisis, FBI finds, Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 06/07/17

[156] Russian hacking in the U.S. and the Gulf, Dr. James M. Dorsey, Begin Sadat Center for Security Studies, 07/23/18

[157] Was Qatar Behind the Hack of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach?, Armin Rosen, Tablet, 11/06/18

[158] Qatar hacking scandal illustrates how U.S. media megaphones foreign agitprop, David Reaboi, The Federalist, 01/31/19

[159] Jerusalem, Israel’s Capital: Watch the Masks Fall, Dr. Najat AlSaied, 12/15/17

[160] Jamal Khashoggi’s complicated history with the Saudi Royal Family, Greg Myre, National Press Review, 10/19/18

[161]  Jamal Khashoggi: A Profile, Voice of America News, 10/19/18

[162] Channel in Bahrain goes silent after giving opposition airtime, New York Times, 02/03/15

[163] For Khashoggi, a Tangled Mix of Royal Service and Islamist Sympathies, Ben Hubbard and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, 10/14/18

[164]  How Jamal Khashoggi got caught in the crossfire between two rival nations, Borzou Daragahi, 10/30/18


[166] Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Months as an Exile in the Long Shadow of Saudi Arabia, Souad Mekhennet and Greg Miller, Washington Post, 12/22/18

[167] We Need Answer of Jamal Khashoggi’s Disappearance, Editorial Board, Washington Post, 10/07/18

[168] Washington Post demands Saudi Arabia tell the truth about Khashoggi murder in new campaign ad, The New Arab, 10/26/18

[169] Washington Post runs full-page ad of Jamal Khashoggi: ”Principles of Free Expression Endure”, Ashley May, USA Today, 12/14/18

[170] The Khashoggi Affair: The Art of the Leak, Seth J. Frantzman, Terra Incognita, 10/23/18

[171] Behind the Khashoggi Affair, Svante E. Cornell, The American Interest, 11/06/18

[172] Turkey Worst in the World for Jailed Journalists for second year: CPJ report, Hurriyet Daily News, 12/14/17

[173] So, Jamal Khashoggi Wasn’t a US Green Card Holder After All? Katie Pavlich, Townhall, 11/21/18

[174] Jamal Khashoggi’s Apple Watch Almost Certainly Didn’t Record His Death, Jake Swearingen, The Intelligencer, 10/15/18

·         The author consequently spoke with a Saudi scientist who had written to Apple questioning the merits of the claim on the basis of his own expertise in the line of work. According to him, when he asked Apple to explain how such a mechanism would work and how they managed to overcome existing obstacles, the following day Apple issued a disclaimer and the story was withdrawn.


[175] Trump says he isn’t considering extraditing Gulen to Turkey, Tamara Thueringer, Bloomberg News, 11/17/18

[176] A new CIA leak adds to the evidence against MBS. Congress must act., Editorial Board, Washington Post, 12/03/18

Three interesting observations to note about this story: 1. The Editorial Board openly relies on an unauthorized agency leak, likely in violation of various national security considerations, concerns, and restrictions 2. It assigns responsibility directly to the Crown Prince, bringing attention to the story by mentioning him in the headline. 3. The newspaper then calls for political action, further erasing boundaries between journalism and political activism.

[177] CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination, Shane Harris, Greg Miller, and John Dawsey, Washington Post, 11/16/18

Given that no evidence has yet been produced of such an order ever being given, the reporting of the actual conclusions, leaving aside who is actually responsible for them, is at best inaccurate, if not deliberately deceptive.

[178] The Story behind the story of Jamal Khashoggi, Melanie Phillips, Jewish News Syndicate, 10/18/18

Two leakers claimed that while Mohammed bin Salman planned to abduct Khashoggi for questioning, the killing was accidental and unplanned. These sources predicted that the government would ultimately take the responsibility for an operation “gone awry”.

[179] Will the Saudi King Fire His Own Son?, David B. Ottoway, Politico, 10/22/18

[180] The Khashoggi Case: Arab Media Omit Uncomfortable Facts, Deutsche Welle, 11/22/18

[181] Jamal Khashoggi’s Death Fuels a Middle East Information War, Rory Jones and Summer Said, Wall Street Journal, 10/20/18

[182] Al Jazeera showed how they could get rid of the body of Khashoggi, Voice of People Today, 01/01/19

[183] How a smooth Saudi operator charms Washington and ”defends the indefensible”, Nahal Toosi, Politico, 10/23/18

[184] The Khashoggi Killing: America’s part in a Saudi horror, Hugh Eakin, The New York Review of Books, 10/18/19

[185] Al Jazeera Media Network shows solidarity for Jamal Khashoggi, The Peninsula, 10/09/18


[187]  This was reported and disseminated by Turkish analysts, such as Ragip Soylu, who enjoyed a strong following on Twitter, and was considered to be one of the more authoritative voices who provided media summaries of the latest developments in this case.


[189] So, I asked people in Saudi Arabia about their Mad, Murderous Prince, Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, 12/15/18

[190] Our Relationship with the Saudis has become Excruciating, Martin Longman, Washington Monthly, 12/26/18

[191] Top Democrats want fundamental changes in U.S.-Saudi relations, Haley Britzky, 10/19/18

[192] Instead of Punishing the Saudis for Khashoggi, Trump wants to hand them nuclear technology, David Gilbert, VICE News, 02/20/19

[193] Saudi Crown Prince, bristling from mild criticism of bone saw murder goes looking for new friends, Bess Levin, Vanity Fair, 02/15/19

[194]  Rumours of rift between the Saudi King Salman and MBS, 03/06/19




[198] Saudi Arabia Rebuked for the First Time by Fellow members of U.N. rights council, Nick Cumming-Bruce, 03/07/19


[200] Senate  Passes Resolution Holding Saudi Crown Prince ”Responsible” for Khashoggi Murder, The Daily Beast, 12/13/18

[201]  Senate passes resolution to end US support of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, 54-46, Joe Gould, Defense News, 03/13/19

[202] The Senate just voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, Matt Laslo, Vice News, 03/13/19



[205]  How the Absher App empowers Saudi women, Irina Tsukerman, Saudi Arabia Future, 03/01/19

[206] Let Saudi women find their own way, Khawla Al-Kuraya, Bloomberg News, 03/06/19







[213] Endeavor returns Saudi Arabia’s $400 million investment, Sarah Whitten, CNBC, 03/09/19

[214] Saudi Crown Prince Pivots to Asia from Critical West,  Jared Malsin and Summer Said, Wall Street Journal, 02/16/19

[215] ”Nothing to Lose”: Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed details family abuse, 01/15/19

[216]  Male guardianship should be abolished, but not because of Rahaf, Faisal J. Abbas, Arab News, 01/10/19

[217] Netflix’s Bow to Saudi Censors Comes at a cost to Free Speech, The NY Times, 01/06/19

[218] Saudi Arabia puts group of women’s rights activists on trial, Vivian Nereim, Bloomberg News, 03/13/19

[219] Saudi Arabia Tortured a U.S. Citizen, His Son Tells Congress, New York Times, 03/13/19

[220]  After journalist vanishes, focus shifts to young prince’s ”dark” and bullying side, Karen DeYoung and Kareem Fahim, Washington Post, 10/13/19

[221] Dr. Najat AlSaied recommends review, revision, and clarification of Saudi laws related to freedom of expression, national security, and restrictions related to communications related to classified information by former government employees.

[222] A Princess vanishes. A video offers alarming clues, New York Times, 02/10/19

Photo by Saksham Choudhary from Pexels

Be the first to comment on "Qatar’s Use of Hacking and Mass Media To Assassinate Characters of Rivals and to Shut Down Criticism: Implications for Reputational Management"

Leave a comment