Connect with us

Middle East

Qatar flights using Somali airspace

Published

on

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on the dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors (all times local):

10 p.m.

A Somali civil aviation official says at least 15 Qatar Airways flights have used Somalia’s airspace since Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations moved to sever links with the Gulf nation.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, said that before the Gulf diplomatic crisis erupted Monday, just one or two Qatar Airways planes flew over Somalia each day.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and have moved to isolate the country by shutting down land, sea and air links, accusing it of supporting terror groups in the region. Qatar has denied the allegations.

The Qatari capital, Doha, is a major international transport hub.

— Abdi Guled

9 p.m.

A Turkish official says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is “actively involved” in efforts to resolve the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbors and has spoken by telephone with Gulf leaders.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters after a Cabinet meeting Monday that the government hopes Erdogan’s initiative will help overcome tensions.

He did not provide details on Erdogan’s calls but said Turkey views the crisis as a “serious” one that needed to be solved before it escalates.

Kurtulmus said “the Middle East is not at a point where it can endure a new crisis.”

Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations severed ties with Qatar Monday and moved to block land, sea and air routes to the tiny Gulf nation, which they accuse of supporting terrorist groups. Qatar denies the allegations.

Both Qatar and Turkey back Islamist groups that are outlawed by other countries in the region.

8:50 p.m.

The U.S. military’s Central Command says it has “no plans to change our posture in Qatar” amid a Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway told The Associated Press in a statement Monday that U.S. military aircraft continue to fly missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria despite the rift.

The major said: “We encourage all our partners in the region to reduce tensions and work towards common solutions that enable regional security.”

Qatar is home to the vast Al-Udeid Air Base that holds the forward headquarters of Central Command and hosts some 10,000 American troops.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced early Monday they would sever diplomatic ties to Qatar, calling into question whether that would affect U.S. military operations.

8:30 p.m.

The Kremlin has voiced hope that the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors will not hurt international anti-terror efforts.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Monday that Russia hopes the tensions “will not affect the general determination to fight terrorism,” adding that the latest terror attack in London again underlined its importance.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on Monday severed ties with Qatar and moved to block land, sea and air routes to the tiny energy-rich Gulf nation, which they accuse of supporting terror groups, charges denied by Qatar.

Peskov declined to comment on the accusations leveled against Qatar.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meanwhile expressed “serious concern about a new wave of tensions within the Arab world” in a phone call with his Qatari counterpart.

The ministry said Lavrov “called for emerging differences to be resolved at the negotiating table, through mutually respectful dialogue in the face of unprecedented challenges, primarily the threat of terrorism.”

8 p.m.

The head of Germany’s soccer federation says that “political solutions must have priority over threats of boycotts” in the five years ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

Reinhard Grindel was asked in an interview posted on the federation’s website Monday if there are questions over whether the 2022 tournament can be played in the Gulf state.

He said that, independently of the current situation, “the soccer community worldwide should agree in principle that big tournaments can’t be played in countries that actively support terror.”

Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed ties to Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting regional terror groups. Qatar has denied the allegations.

Grindel said “we take note very attentively and with concern of the current, serious accusations.”

Grindel is a member of FIFA’s ruling council.

7:45 p.m.

Saudi Arabia has closed the offices of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera news network after severing ties with the energy-rich Gulf nation, which it accuses of supporting terrorist groups.

In a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency on Monday, the Culture and Media Ministry said it withdrew the famed network’s license.

The ministry said the move came in response to Al-Jazeera’s “promotion of the terrorist organizations’ plots” and its alleged support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the target of a two-year-old Saudi-led military intervention.

It also accused the network of attempting to “split the Saudi ranks,” without elaborating.

7:15 p.m.

Egypt’s aviation authorities say all flights to and from Qatar will be suspended starting Tuesday.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation decree on Monday came hours after Cairo severed relations with Qatar, accusing it of harboring terrorism.

The move led to confusion at Cairo International Airport. One Doha-bound flight was delayed for hours before it was allowed to take off.

The aviation ministry said Egyptian airspace will be closed to Qatari flights starting Tuesday at 6:00 am (0400 GMT) Cairo time.

5 p.m.

An Iranian official says his country can export food to Qatar by sea, as Saudi Arabia and three other nations move to isolate the gas-rich nation after severing diplomatic ties and accusing it of supporting terrorism.

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Reza Nourani, chairman of the union of exporters of agricultural products, as saying Monday that food shipments sent from Iran can reach Qatar in 12 hours.

Qatar relies on food trucked in from Saudi Arabia across its sole land border. Al-Jazeera reported that trucks carrying food for Qatar are now lining up across the border, unable to enter the country.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional rivals who back opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

4:30 p.m.

Iran says rising tensions among its Arab Gulf neighbors threaten the interests of everyone in the region and has called for “political and peaceful methods” to resolve the crisis.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Egypt, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing the gas-rich nation of supporting regional terrorist groups. The four nations also moved to cut off Qatar’s land, sea and air routes to the outside world.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was quoted on the ministry’s website as calling for a “clear and explicit dialogue” among the feuding nations.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, discussed the recent developments in a phone conversation.

4:15 p.m.

Maldives has announced it is severing diplomatic ties with Qatar over its alleged support for Islamist groups.

It joined Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday and began withdrawing its diplomatic staff.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that Maldives has pursued a policy of promoting peace and stability in the Middle East, and the decision was made because of its firm opposition to activities that encourage terrorism and extremism.

Diplomatic relations between Maldives and Qatar began in 1984.

Maldives, a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation with 341,000 people, also grapples with extremism. It reportedly has one of the highest per capital rates of people going to fight in foreign wars.

4:10 p.m.

Egypt’s foreign ministry says it has given the Qatari ambassador in Cairo 48 hours to leave the country and ordered its own envoy in Doha to return home, also within two days.

Monday’s announcement came just hours after Egypt joined three of its Gulf Arab allies — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — in severing ties with Qatar over its relations with Iran and support for militant Islamic groups.

An earlier statement by the Egyptian ministry said Egypt was also suspending air and sea links to Qatar and, citing national security, closing its airspace to Qatari aircraft.

Egypt’s relations with Qatar have been fraught with tension since the ouster in 2013 by the military of an Islamist president allied with Doha. It also accuses the tiny but energy-rich Gulf nation of supporting militant Islamic groups and meddling in its domestic affairs.

3:50 p.m.

Following suit, one of Libya’s three rival governments has announced cutting diplomatic relations with Qatar, after four Arab countries severed ties.

Mohammed al-Deri, the Libyan foreign minister of the interim Libyan government, accused Qatar of “harboring terrorism” according to a Libyan official agency LANA.

The Interim government is affiliated with the internationally recognized House of Representatives and is based in eastern Libya. Another internationally recognized Government of National Accord is seated in Tripoli and brokered by the United Nations. A third rival government is also based in Tripoli.

The eastern Libyan power players have always accused Qatar and Turkey of backing Islamists in Libya, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Libya sank into lawlessness after the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

3:40 p.m.

Turkey has voiced its “sadness” over the Gulf Arab states dispute with Qatar and said it was willing to work to normalize ties.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday called on all sides of the dispute to press ahead with dialogue and overcome differences in a “peaceful way.”

Turkey has developed close ties with both Qatar and Saudi Arabia in recent years.

Cavusoglu said: “We are saddened by the existing picture. We will provide every kind of support for the situation to be normalized.”

1:15 p.m.

The head of Iran’s influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy says the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the region

The official IRNA news agency on Monday cited Alaeddin Boroujerdi as saying that because of the signing of a major arms deal between the Saudis and the U.S. during Trump’s trip: “It is not unlikely that we would witness more negative incidents in the region.”

Boroujerdi says Washington has always made it a policy to establish a rift among Muslim countries. He says: “Intervention of foreign countries, especially the United States, cannot be the solution to regional problems.”

2:30 p.m.

Al-Jazeera is reporting that trucks carrying food for Qatar are now lining up across the border in Saudi Arabia, unable to enter the country amid a diplomatic row between it and Arab nations.

Saudi Arabia announced Monday it would close its land border to Qatar, part of it cutting diplomatic ties to the country along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

That could mean significant trouble for Qatar, which relies on food trucked in from Saudi Arabia.

Doha News, a local news website in Qatar, reported some citizens and residents of the energy rich country already had begun swarming grocery stores. It said some stores had begun seeing their shelves empty over fears that the crisis could see groceries run out of products.

2:20 p.m.

International soccer’s governing body says it remains in “regular contact with Qatar” amid a growing diplomatic crisis between it and other Arab countries.

FIFA issued a short statement Monday saying it spoke with “the Qatar 2022 Local Organizing Committee and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy handling matters relating to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”

It said: “We have no further comments for the time being.”

The statement comes after Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

2:15 p.m.

A low-cost airline based in the United Arab Emirates says it is suspending flights to Qatar along with other Emirati airlines over a growing diplomatic crisis.

Air Arabia says it flights will be suspended from Tuesday “until further notice.”

It is joining Emirates, Etihad and FlyDubai in halting flights to the Qatari capital of Doha. Saudi Arabian Airlines also stopped its flights to Qatar.

The airlines’ decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

1:10 p.m.

Saudi Arabian Airlines says it is suspending flights to Qatar, joining other airlines stopping service amid a growing diplomatic rift.

The airline, also known as Saudia, posted on Twitter on Monday afternoon that it would be halting flights, without elaborating.

It is joining Emirates, Etihad and FlyDubai in halting flights to the Qatari capital of Doha.

The airlines’ decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

12:05 p.m.

Dubai’s budget carrier FlyDubai says it has canceled its flights to Qatar amid a diplomatic dispute between it and other Arab countries.

The carrier said Monday that all flights starting Tuesday would be suspended. It offered no other details.

FlyDubai’s decision follows that of Emirates and Etihad in canceling flights to Doha.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties earlier Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

11:45 a.m.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government has cut relations with Qatar and says it supports the decision by the Saudi-led coalition to end Qatar’s participation in the war on the Houthis there.

Four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early Monday morning over its support for Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

Qatar had participated in the coalition since March 2015.

The government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi says it severed ties with Qatar in part over its support of extremist groups in Yemen “in contradiction with the goals announced by the countries supporting the legitimate government.”

11:20 a.m.

The Dubai-based airline Emirates says it is suspending flights to Qatar amid a growing diplomatic rift.

Emirates said on its website Monday flights would be suspended until further notice starting Tuesday.

The airline’s decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

__

10:55 a.m.

Qatar says there is “no legitimate justification” for four Arab nations cutting diplomatic ties to it.

Qatar also says the decision is a “violation of its sovereignty,” vowing to its citizens it won’t affect them.

Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry made the statement Monday, hours after Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced it would be cutting ties to the peninsular nation.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

9:35 a.m.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad says it is suspending flights to Qatar amid a growing diplomatic rift.

Etihad said on its website Monday its last flights “until further notice” would leave early Tuesday morning.

Etihad gave no reason for the decision. It is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates.

The airline’s decision comes as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

Qatar has yet to comment on the growing crisis.

7:10 a.m.

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have cut diplomatic ties to Qatar.

The two countries have joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in cutting ties to Qatar amid a growing Arab diplomatic dispute with the small, gas-rich nation.

Both the UAE and Egypt made the announcement on their state-run news agencies within minutes of each other.

Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

7 a.m.

Saudi Arabia says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar and it has pulled all Qatari troops from the ongoing war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia made the announcement via its state-run Saudi Press Agency early Monday. It appeared to be timed in concert with an earlier announcement by Bahrain similarly cutting ties.

Qatar had no immediate comment.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

6:50 a.m.

Bahrain says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar amid a deepening rift between Gulf Arab nations.

Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement early Monday saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from the Qatari capital of Doha within 48 hours and that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.

The ministry’s statement said Qatari citizens needed to leave Bahrain within two weeks and that air and sea traffic between the two countries would be halted. It wasn’t immediately clear how that would affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers.

Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.

Qatar had no immediate comment.

Briefing Room

Yemen’s Houthis Threaten to Block Red Sea Shipping Lane

Published

on

Yemen’s armed Houthi movement threatened to block the strategic Red Sea shipping lane if the Saudi-led coalition it is fighting keeps pushing toward the port of Hodeidah it controls, the Houthi-run SABA news agency reported.

Yemen lies beside the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers, which pass near Yemen’s shores while heading from the Middle East through the Suez Canal to Europe.

While SABA gave no details on how Houthis could carry out any such move, the Bab al-Mandab strait, where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian Sea, is only 20 km (12 mile) wide, making hundreds of ships potentially an easy target.

“If the aggressors keep pushing toward Hodeidah and if the political solution hits a wall, there are some strategic choices that will be taken as a no-return point, including blocking the international navigation in the Red Sea,” Houthis’ Ansarullah political council chief, Saleh al-Samad, was quoted saying.

“Their ships pass by our waters while our people starve,” Samad was quoted as saying while he met U.N. officials.

U.N. officials have been trying to get the two sides back to the negotiating table after talks collapsed in 2016. Samad said his movement was ready to give concessions in any political talks in order to stop the bloodshed.

Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, is embroiled in a proxy war between the Houthi armed movement, allied with Iran, and a U.S.-backed military coalition headed by Saudi Arabia.

Some 8 million people are on the brink of famine, more than 10,000 have been killed and tens of thousands of others are struggling with cholera, diphtheria and other diseases.

The Saudi-led coalition has been trying since the start of the war in March 2015 to capture Hodeidah, Yemen’s biggest port, which receives 80 percent of Yemen’s imports, and has in recent weeks launched a ground campaign and intensified airstrikes.

On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter the threats were another proof of “the terrorist nature of the Houthi militias,” especially as Samad was meeting a U.N. delegation. UAE is a major partner of the military coalition fighting the Houthis.

“The Houthi who decimated crops and seeds, destroyed Yemen, betrayed his ally and partner, is now threatening the international navigation; we are facing a terrorist gang that the end of its existence in Yemen is nigh,” Gargash said.

Continue Reading

Africa

Why are so many countries expanding their presence in the Red Sea?

Published

on

AL JAZEERA — Turkey has signed an agreement with Sudan that will allow it to have a military presence on the Red Sea.

It’s the latest country to expand into the area.

The list of countries already in the region or building bases there include: Saudi Arabia, China, Israel, United Arab Emirates and the US.

The US and European Union maintain regular security patrols.

But the Red Sea is also one of the world’s busiest maritime gateways for transporting oil.

So, why is there a sudden interest in the Red Sea region?

Continue Reading

Middle East

Deep pockets, deep cover: The UAE is paying ex-CIA officers to build a spy empire in the Gulf

Published

on

Not far from the northeastern Zayed Port in Abu Dhabi, in a typical modern Gulf villa framed on one side by an elegant swimming pool, Westerners are teaching Emiratis the tools of modern spycraft.

The day starts with the basics: A 10 a.m. seminar on Sunday morning is titled “What is intelligence?” On Thursday, the recruits learn how to operate in four- to six-man surveillance teams. Over the course of the first week, they embark on scavenger hunts intended to hone their problem-solving skills. The following weeks get more advanced – students are schooled on creating cover identities to use when attending galas with diplomats, they are taught how to groom intelligence assets, and they watch skits about recruiting Libyan sources.

The Emirati recruits also train at another site about 30 minutes outside downtown Abu Dhabi called “The Academy” – complete with gun ranges, barracks, and driving courses – reminiscent of the CIA’s “Farm” at Camp Peary, a training facility located in southeastern Virginia.

The details of the training are contained in an official course schedule reviewed by Foreign Policy and were described by former U.S. intelligence officials who have been involved in the effort. The facilities and courses are part of the United Arab Emirates’ nascent efforts to create a professional intelligence cadre modeled after the West’s.

Former CIA and government officials were drawn to the Gulf nation by the promise of interesting work and, perhaps even more importantly, lucrative careers. “The money was fantastic,” one former employee told FP. “It was $1,000 a day – you could live in a villa or in a five-star hotel in Abu Dhabi.”

The key figure behind this growing intelligence training operation, according to multiple sources, is Larry Sanchez, a former intelligence officer who helped kickstart a controversial partnership between the CIA and the New York Police Department that tried to pre-empt the radicalization of potential terrorists by tracking people – many of them Muslims – in mosques, bookstores, and other places around New York. Sanchez, a veteran of the CIA clandestine services, has been working for the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for the past six years to build large pieces of its intelligence services from the ground up, six sources with knowledge of the matter tell FP.

But Sanchez is just one of many former Western security professionals who has made his way to the Gulf nation to provide security training. Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, famously moved to the UAE to create a battalion of foreign troops serving the crown prince, details of which were first revealed by the New York Times in 2011. And Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism czar, is also a longtime top advisor to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi as the CEO of Good Harbor Security Risk Management.

The UAE’s reliance on foreigners to build its security institutions is not new, but the Gulf state has usually tried to keep the details of that help out of public view, and when it comes to training its nascent intelligence operations, details have been kept particularly quiet. However, the use of former U.S. intelligence employees to build up foreign nations’ spying capabilities is still treading into new territory.

Sanchez’s role in providing a blueprint for the UAE’s intelligence operation, making it from whole cloth, shows just how far private contractors have gone in selling skills acquired from decades spent working for the U.S. military and intelligence community. That sort of work is also now raising legal questions as the U.S. government struggles to decide how laws govern highly trained intelligence officials hawking their skills abroad.

Sanchez declined to comment on an extensive list of questions sent to him by FP.

Six former intelligence officials and contractors described the training operation to FP, but they requested anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence operations, to shield friends and associates still working in the UAE, and to protect their future employability.

Two of those interviewed expressed concerns about whether the company had the proper export licenses for the advanced training, especially as other international instructors arrived on the scene. Even more concerning for employees was that the government-affiliated UAE company now involved in managing the contract, DarkMatter, is currently under investigation by the FBI.

The FBI told FP it does not comment on ongoing investigations.

While former employees had a range of views on whether the training was effective, legal, and in the U.S. interests, they all agreed that having private contractors create a foreign intelligence service was likely unprecedented.

“The dream” one source explained, was to help the UAE create its own CIA.

Larry Sanchez’s road from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to Abu Dhabi went by way of New York. During much of his career at the CIA, Sanchez worked as an undercover operative working under roles in other agencies or organizations. But in 2002, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, sent Sanchez to work in New York with David Cohen, the deputy commissioner of intelligence at the NYPD.

There was already an informal link between the CIA and NYPD: Cohen was also the former deputy director of operations at the agency. In New York, Sanchez provided law enforcement with real-time intelligence about al-Qaida. The NYPD, in turn, sent officers to infiltrate mosques and Muslim communities, as well as any other potentially “radicalizing” places pointed out by tipsters. The goal was to prevent another 9/11-type attack.

While Sanchez was at the NYPD, the department also had an expanding – and unusual – relationship with the UAE. In 2008, the NYPD and the UAE’s government struck an intelligence-sharing deal, and New York police set up a satellite office in Abu Dhabi. The UAE also gave the New York City Police Foundation a million dollars for its intelligence division in 2012, providing funds to enable “the NYPD to station detectives throughout the world to work with local law enforcement on terrorism related incidents,” per a public tax filing.

During his tenure at NYPD, Sanchez developed “an ongoing relationship” with high-level Emirati officials, including Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, according to a former law enforcement source. The Emiratis were unfamiliar with “the world of intelligence,” the source explained, and Sanchez went to them and said, “‘Listen, I’m not going to be like some of these other U.S. entities who fly in and then leave, I will be here for you all the time. Call me at 3 a.m., I’m here.’ . . . He won them over by his commitment to them.”

Even as Sanchez built up his relationship with the UAE, his work at home was gaining scrutiny. A 2011 CIA inspector general investigation into its officers embedded in the NYPD did not find specific violations of the law, but concluded that the perception of coziness between the nation’s top foreign spy agency and a local domestic police department was eroding public trust.

The revelation led to major public outcry from civil liberties organizations tracking privacy after 9/11. The CIA argued its support did not constitute spying on Americans, but civil rights advocates disagreed.

“The CIA is not permitted to engage in domestic surveillance,” Ginger McCall, then the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Open Government Project, told the Times.

By the time the dust had settled and the CIA decided to end its program at the NYPD, Sanchez had already made his way to the Middle East.

When the Twin Towers fell in New York in 2001, the UAE found itself caught up in concerns about international terrorism. The Gulf nation had unknowingly served as a transit hub for the terrorists, and two of the hijackers were Emiratis. The attacks were a turning point for the UAE, said John Alterman, the director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“That prompted them to do a number of things involving religious organizations within the UAE, but also on the broad national security front,” he told FP. “There was always a concern with national security, but I think a lot of it was really exacerbated by 9/11.”

The UAE wanted to build up its intelligence infrastructure, and for assistance it turned to the West. Emirati officials have historically aimed to replicate the West’s security structures as closely as possible. When formulating their defense strategy, the UAE examined Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western nations.

The downside of that approach, however, is that the UAE has purchased strategies, putting them together like ill-fitting puzzle pieces and often lacking a central vision and plan, according to those familiar with their work.

During Sanchez’s time in the UAE, a significant Western presence involved in intelligence training was growing. Both Australian and British military intelligence vets worked there, too. But Sanchez benefited from his personal relationship with the ruling family forged during his years working on counterterrorism in New York City.

The U.S. government has also at times assisted directly. In 2010 and 2011, as the Iranians built up their cyberattack capabilities, U.S. government officials and defense contractors traveled to the UAE and help train Emiratis in digital security and offensive cyber operations. While the U.S. government generally embraced the efforts of Gulf nations to build up their own cadre with help from the United States, senior officials drew the line at allowing American citizens to participate in offensive cyber operations, i.e., launching attacks.

In late 2011, U.S. government advisors and contractors helped set up the UAE’s equivalent to the National Security Agency in the United States, whose name changed to the National Electronic Security Authority, and now the Signals Intelligence Agency. The United States was involved in everything from helping select a safe site with access to power and fiber connectivity to determining which buildings would be public and which classified, according to documents and slides shared with FP by a former intelligence official.

Around this same time, Sanchez and his team arrived and began teaching techniques for domestic surveillance. As president of the low-profile intelligence contractor CAGN Global Ltd., based in Baltimore, Sanchez began manning a team of mostly former law enforcement officers, retired Western intelligence officials, and ex-soldiers to train the Emiratis on how to be spies and paramilitary operators.

The training program, which started as a simple mentorship with the leadership of the Emirates, grew faster than anyone involved could have anticipated. They began to rely heavily on Sanchez, to the point that they wanted him to construct all its major intelligence agencies.

The courses, some modeled on the CIA’s training, are broken up into different segments, including a “basic intelligence pipeline” involving straightforward boot camp along with report writing, debriefing, and note taking, the foreign intelligence “external” program, an FBI/law enforcement course, and a paramilitary course, among others.

The training schedule obtained by FP includes “rabbit runs,” where the instructor takes students on a surveillance mission. The students are trained not to draw the attention of another instructor, who is trying to evade them. They’re also taught “the art of observation” and how to spot potential targets.

The external surveillance courses are nearly an exact replica of the CIA’s farm training. “It’s exactly what they teach at the farm . . . it’s the same material,” one former employee of Sanchez’s firm told FP. According to a second source familiar with the company, the trainers’ use of materials modeled after CIA training actually drew CIA scrutiny and fury, prompting a review of the program that ultimately concluded in Sanchez’s favor.

In one course, for example, former Delta Force operators teach paramilitary skills, such as driving and shooting. “Usually they’ll go to that course before or after being deployed to a place like Yemen,” one of the former instructors explained.

Though the skills being taught to Emiratis are similar to those taught by the CIA, one former instructor argued the courses were simpler – the kind of skills you’d see on an episode of The Americans. “The U.S. is running NASCAR drivers, but we’re teaching driver’s ed,” the source said.

All those interviewed about their experience agreed, however, that while the material taught ranged in complexity, the students themselves were green. “It’s all incredibly new to them,” one of the former instructors said.

As Sanchez and other former U.S. intelligence contractors expanded their training in the UAE, one of the nagging questions for many trainers was over whether what they were doing was completely legal. Americans face restrictions on the kind of military and intelligence training they’re allowed to provide abroad, because the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, a complex set of rules, classifies such training as “exports.”

Americans who run afoul of those regulations risk prosecution.

Sanchez’s firm, CAGN Global, obtained an export license from the State Department to conduct basic security and intelligence training when it started. But it came under review last year by several government agencies, including the State Department and the CIA. Some instructors were concerned the review had to do with the course expanding beyond its remit, though one source said it had more to do with a missed payment to the State Department and CIA frustration over use of training materials similar to its own. The review appears to have been resolved.

The State Department declined to comment on the record.

Sanchez’s work expanded from domestic intelligence courses focused on internal surveillance and threats like al-Islah, a UAE Islamist group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. In the last six months or so, Sanchez and his team have looked outward in the aims of molding a new foreign intelligence service through an “external” course, focused on threats beyond the Gulf nation’s borders in countries including Yemen, Iran, Syria, Qatar, Eritrea, and Libya.

The Emiratis “live in a bad neighborhood,” one of the sources noted. They see Yemen as a “failed state,” regularly confront al-Qaida leaders, and fear uncertainty in Somalia and Oman. Their conflict with Iran is “so deep it’s always going to be there,” the source continued.

The Emiratis are friends of the United States, but they’re wary the West will abandon them someday, the source explained. They thought, “We need to start protecting ourselves.”

Even as the UAE produces newly minted spies, deploying them overseas isn’t assured, two sources familiar with the training program noted. The UAE isn’t consistently funding embassies in those countries, so there isn’t the kind of necessary physical support to completely get the program off the ground, especially in larger, more security-conscious nations like Iran.

While dreaming up a surveillance panopticon in an autocratic country might seem like a strange retirement plan for a former CIA operative, Sanchez shared similar security concerns as the UAE government. Potential enemies, whether Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, or al-Qaida, were high on the UAE’s list of potential threats. Similarly, Sanchez “always had a level of concern about the Brotherhood and the Iranians,” said the former law enforcement source. “He felt he was doing good.”

He was also doing well. Sanchez owns a luxury fishing boat gifted to him by the crown prince, four sources told FP.

And it’s not just Sanchez and the UAE leadership that shares these concerns; top D.C. policymakers are focused on similar threats. “Most of our targets are compatible,” one of the former trainers and a former intelligence official told FP.

Sanchez’s work in the UAE is not without concerns, however. From the start, one of the questions among some in the intelligence community was whether the UAE regime brandishes legitimate critics as terrorists or foreign agents. “The UAE claims anyone against the regime is Iranian or Persian-influenced . . . either that or the Muslim Brotherhood,” the former intelligence official with knowledge of the region told FP.

Even as it builds institutions modeled after the West, the UAE also has a reputation for crushing political dissent. Human rights groups have documented cases of arbitrary detention and torture of activists and dissidents. Most notably, the government has used some of its imported surveillance tools to target Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent activist who has been detained since March.

But intelligence officials and former trainers interviewed by FP said the training course is focused on foreign threats, not political opponents, and on building intelligence skills, not planning operations. “I never saw them apply the capabilities they’re still developing to . . . protect the regime,” one source said.

“Their human rights record is a problem, but civil liberties aren’t defined the way they are here,” said Mark Lowenthal, the owner of the Intelligence and Security Academy, an intelligence consulting company that advises companies and governments around the world.

Lowenthal served as the assistant director for analysis and production at the CIA in the early 2000s, and he directed the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “The idea of other companies or countries coming to us for help is not new . . . this has been going on for a very long time,” he said. “Intelligence services cooperate.”

Intelligence cooperation may not be new, but the use of private contractors to provide that intelligence training is still a relatively new phenomenon, and not one that everyone is comfortable with. U.S. intelligence employees working in the UAE tended to avoid direct contact with Sanchez or his company, the former law enforcement source noted. They want to avoid the appearance of “impropriety” by working with him, despite the fact that CIA and State are directly involved in approving export licenses.

Even if CIA employees don’t have direct contact with Sanchez, the agency also doesn’t appear to have a problem with his work. According to three sources, the CIA station chief in Abu Dhabi was well aware of Sanchez’s mission – in fact, the station chief’s wife worked for Sanchez for a time.

The CIA declined to comment.

The UAE Embassy in Washington did not respond to multiple requests for comment on any of the issues relating to American intelligence contractors. An email sent to a press office for the UAE government went unanswered.

But they might not need to worry about Sanchez in the UAE anymore, as he may soon retire or draw back the time he spends there after internal disputes, multiple sources noted – depending on the resolution.

There’s been high turnover in recent months over leadership squabbles; the program is bleeding instructors. “There are a lot of big egos out there and bad management,” one former employee said. While Sanchez drew a lot of high-level former officials, some former CIA chiefs of station included, many of those people did not stay long.

One of the biggest reasons for the high turnover, sources told FP, was a another former U.S. intelligence official Sanchez hired in charge of operations. According to two sources, the official has regularly fired instructors and created a toxic work environment. That official did not respond to request for comment.

The company paying the bills and providing leadership for the intelligence training contract has since changed twice, according to two former employees and one source with knowledge of the region.

An Emirati company called LUAA, manned by a former British Special Air Service official, took over last spring. A third Emirati firm, a subsidiary of a company called DarkMatter, which works for the UAE government on cybersecurity and intelligence, is now heavily involved.

LUAA’s ownership made some trainers uncomfortable. Since LUAA was an Emirati company, American employees were unsure if it might complicate their ability to maintain a security clearance.

In the meantime, the intelligence training program continues to morph. According to two sources, CAGN Global and Sanchez are both on the outs after a falling out with Emirati officials, and DarkMatter, which is under FBI investigation, is in charge now. DarkMatter declined to comment on its ongoing operations but explained that nations and businesses seeking “a professional cyber security and intelligence capability” are a “good business opportunity” for the company.

As for the Americans who helped build the UAE’s intelligence operations, there’s always the next program. Two sources noted that there’s been a stalled years-long effort to bring a similar intelligence training program to Saudi Arabia.

– – –

McLaughlin is an intelligence reporter for Foreign Policy, focusing on the culture, dynamics, and events happening in the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the other 15 members of the intelligence community.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

TRENDING