Feb 07, 2021 08:43 UTC
  • UAE hired US intelligence hackers to spy on 'enemies': NY Times

A group of hackers, who once worked for US intelligence agencies, helped the United Arab Emirates (UAE) spy on its neighbor Qatar and other countries, the New York Times reports.

David Evenden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst, and other US operatives were lured to Abu Dhabi by a boutique Beltway contractor with offers to double, even quadruple, their salaries and promises of a tax-free lifestyle. 

The former US intelligence officials were initially requested to spy on dissidents and political opponents of the UAE monarchy, according to the Times.

Soon, though, they were assigned to a new project and asked to find out whether there were any connections between the Qatari government and the Muslim Brotherhood, and whether Qatar was funding the movement.

Evenden told his bosses that the only way to know would be to hack Qatar and launch spying operations on the tiny energy-rich nation. “Go for it,” they told him.

According to Evenden, his team at the contractor, CyberPoint, hacked UAE enemies all over the world, including officials at world's soccer governing body FIFA, the monarchy’s Twitter critics, and especially Qatari royals.

UAE authorities reportedly wanted to know where they were flying, who they were meeting and what they were saying, the report said.

In late 2015, emails from Michelle Obama popped up on Evenden’s computer screen when the former US first lady’s team was putting the finishing touches on a trip to West Asia.

Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the wife of former Qatari monarch Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Ale Thani, had invited her to speak at an annual education summit in Doha.

Obama and her team were in constant communication with Sheikha Moza and every last email between them and their staff — every personal reflection, reservation, itinerary change and security detail — was beaming back to former NSA analysts’ computers in Abu Dhabi.

“That was the moment I said, ‘We shouldn’t be doing this,’" Evenden said. “We should not be targeting these people.”

Evenden and his family were soon on a flight back to the United States where he and the few colleagues who joined him tipped off the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Soon after return, Evenden started fielding calls and LinkedIn messages from his old buddies at the NSA, who had gotten a “really cool job offer” from Abu Dhabi and wanted his advice. By 2020, the calls had become a drumbeat.

“Don’t go. This is not the work you think you will be doing,” he pleaded.