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2 Apr, 2019 10:42

US spies helped UAE hack phones of Al Jazeera chairman, BBC host & other journalists - report

US spies helped UAE hack phones of Al Jazeera chairman, BBC host & other journalists - report

Former US intelligence hackers helped the United Arab Emirates spy on Al Jazeera’s chairman, a BBC host, and other media figures as part of a secret Emirati intelligence program called Project Raven during the blockade on Qatar.

At least 9 former National Security Agency (NSA) and US military operatives worked within Project Raven, which was exposed in January after spying on US journalists and a British activist, along with dissidents and opponents of the UAE royal family.

The targeting of Arab media figures began during the 2017 diplomatic dispute with Qatar, which saw the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and others turn against the small Gulf nation after accusing it of supporting terrorism. The countries imposed an air, sea and land blockade on Qatar and demanded it shut down Al Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatari government.

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It was then that Project Raven hacked into the iPhones of at least 10 journalists and media executives to see if they had ties to the Qatar government or the Muslim Brotherhood in order to uncover something that would show Qatar royal family influence over Al Jazeera and other media outlets, a Reuters investigation has revealed.

They used a program called Karma, which gives access to a target’s phone by simply inputting their email and phone number. There is no need for the target to click a link or download anything to gain access. They then passed the data gathered on to UAE intelligence.

Among those targeted were BBC Arabic host Giselle Khoury, Al Jazeera host Faisal al-Qassem, and Al Jazeera chairman Hamad bin Thamer bin Mohammed Al Thani.

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Abdullah Al-Athba, editor of Qatar newspaper Al-Arab, Al Araby TV director Abdulrahman Elshayyal and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed founder Amzi Bishara were also targeted, along with journalists from London-based Al-Araby TV and Al-Hiwa media outlets.

The revelation that former US government employees are working with a Gulf monarchy to spy on the media raises questions about US oversight over its former employees, who are sharing the hacking capabilities they learned while working for the US government to assist a foreign government to spy on media and dissidents.

Project Raven was set up in 2009 with the assistance of former George W Bush White House officials and US intelligence contractors, it was originally meant to track terrorism but soon evolved into spying on opponents.  

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