The events that transpired in the Middle East during the early third millennium, specifically the Arab Spring, brought to light the urgent necessity of modernizing intelligence services in the region. The United Arab Emirates, in particular, took note of this pressing need. The rapidly shifting political, economic, social, and technological landscape demanded an adjustment in intelligence practices to effectively tackle the emerging challenges. The unique characteristics of the Middle East region prompted major global powers to forge alliances with Arab nations, primarily with the objective of supporting cooperation with their intelligence services for targeted missions.
In this particular context, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as an astute and strategic player, recognizing the crucial significance of intelligence networks as a powerful force multiplier. Instead of solely relying on the economic and financial prowess of the Gulf states, the UAE has placed greater emphasis on thoroughly evaluating and comprehending the true value of intelligence networks. By doing so, they have effectively leveraged these networks against rivals such as Qatar.
The UAE has successfully constructed a sophisticated intelligence network that encompasses various entities and practices. This network is specifically designed to gather intelligence, conduct surveillance, and execute operations both within the country and abroad. In this article, we will delve into the inner workings of the UAE intelligence network, identify the key players involved, explore their interconnectedness, and examine the impact of the UAE’s intelligence network in Europe and the European Union.
Objective of UAE Intelligence Network
The United Arab Emirates has developed a remarkable proficiency in employing diverse methods to undermine its adversaries, which encompass hacking operations and defamation campaigns. In order to exert influence, the UAE has dedicated substantial resources to secure the assistance of lobbyists, think tanks, former diplomats, and notably, the Swiss private intelligence agency ALP Services for Smear Campaign. A comprehensive report published in March 2023 unveiled intricate details about a smear campaign masterminded by Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed, who sought the services of the Swiss-based company, Alp Services.
The intelligence network of the UAE serves a dual purpose: to gather intelligence and conduct surveillance within the country and abroad. The UAE government has made significant investments in establishing an advanced intelligence network that involves various entities and practices. This network is specifically designed to obtain information and intelligence on individuals and organizations deemed as adversaries of the UAE, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. Its operations encompass both domestic and international activities.
Who are the Players Involved?
The intelligence network of the UAE consists of a group of significant individuals who play specific roles. One such individual is Roland Jacquard, a renowned French journalist, who played a crucial role in establishing a connection between the UAE and Mario Brero, the esteemed founder of Alp Services.
Brero presented an idea to Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) involving ‘dark PR’ strategies to tarnish the reputation of the Emirates’ adversaries. This approach included spreading false and defamatory information about the targets. MbZ entered into a contract with Brero to focus on their long-standing rivals, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. ALP Services, along with the involvement of UAE government and intelligence officials, played a central role in executing these activities. Emirati senior intelligence officer Matar Humaid al-Neyad and Italian-American scholar Lorenzo Vidino were also among those who received payment from Alp Services.
The individuals participating in the UAE intelligence network are intricately connected through diverse channels. The government assumes a pivotal role as the primary player within this network, engaging private intelligence firms to procure valuable information and intelligence pertaining to specific individuals and organizations.
UAE’s smear Campaign Exposed
The recent revelation of the Abu Dhabi Secret Files, commonly referred to as UAEGate, has brought to light a meticulously orchestrated defamation campaign against Qatar by the United Arab Emirates. These files present compelling evidence of UAE intelligence collaborating with the Swiss company Alp Services, as they targeted several European Muslims during the height of the Qatar diplomatic crisis in 2017. Notably, Alp Services clandestinely held meetings with Emirati officials, including Matar Ali, a high-ranking UAE intelligence official.
The investigation sheds light on the deliberate targeting of journalists and influential figures as part of a misinformation campaign. Nicolas Fontaine, the editor of Histoiresroyales.fr, was falsely accused of publishing defamatory articles against a member of the Qatari royal family. Additionally, French journalist Atmane Tazaghart, who has connections to Abdelrahim Ali, was also implicated in producing critical articles about Qatar. These instances clearly demonstrate the campaign’s objective to discredit individuals and organizations associated with Qatar.
Alp Services Pledges to “Seriously Damage” Muslim Brotherhood in Europe
Ali Saeed al-Neyadi, a senior intelligence officer from the UAE and a ministerial-level aide to Tahnoun bin Zayed, granted approval for the ALP Services operation. This operation aimed to target Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, both of which were seen as adversaries by the Abu Dhabi regime. ALP Services was committed to inflicting significant damage on the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe through a multifaceted approach.
This approach involved identifying their network and leaders, launching media attacks, and influencing policymakers. Their strategy encompassed conducting aggressive and confidential online campaigns while discreetly disseminating negative yet factual information to discredit their targets.
Strategies Employed by Alp Services and UAE Intelligence
In Geneva, ALP Services, led by Mario Brero, implemented a systematic cataloging process that inaccurately linked innocent individuals to terrorism, resulting in detrimental smear campaigns. Acting on behalf of the secret services of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), ALP Services targeted over a thousand individuals across Europe.
Among their victims were innocent civilians, Muslim organizations, and businessmen who were unjustly associated with Islamist movements or falsely accused of having connections to Qatar. ALP Services adopted a guilt by association strategy, linking unrelated individuals together, which caused significant harm to their reputations and posed potential dangers to those wrongly implicated in their campaigns.
The objective was to undermine these specific targets by spreading fabricated and slanderous information. Mohammed bin Zayed’s agreement with Brero primarily targeted their long-standing adversaries, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which were perceived as potential threats to the UAE’s authoritarian regime.
The scope of Alps’ work for the UAE grew considerably, and documents have revealed that MbZ personally received the invoices from Alp Services. Meetings involving Brero, Matar Humaid al-Neyadi, a high-ranking Emirati intelligence officer, and other UAE officials, including Ali Saeed al-Neyadi, demonstrated their recognition of Brero’s contributions. Leaked text messages have also unveiled a direct encounter between Brero and an Emirati undercover agent named Mohammed in November 2018. During this meeting, Mohammed assigned three crucial tasks to Alp Services, resulting in a payment of €1 million.
Subsequently, a contract was executed, stipulating a payment of €1.2 million every six months. Communication regarding these sensitive missions occurred through anonymous email addresses on the encrypted service, ProtonMail, with clandestine meetings taking place in Switzerland and Abu Dhabi. From August 2017 to June 2020, Brero received substantial compensation totaling at least 5.7 million euros for his involvement in the campaign.
Alp Services has significantly expanded its contract with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over time, leveraging the extensive research conducted by Italian-American scholar Lorenzo Vidino on the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. Through persuasive efforts, Brero, a representative of Alp Services, successfully convinced the UAE to focus their attention on more than 50 individuals identified in Vidino’s list of suspected Islamists in Europe.
Vidino, in turn, provided Alp Services with a series of informative reports shedding light on the extent of the Brotherhood’s influence, which formed the foundation of Brero’s work for the Emiratis. Furthermore, Vidino made a commitment to Alp Services to share valuable information obtained during his consultations with European security services regarding potential Islamist threats. In an intriguing turn of events, Vidino allegedly assisted Alp Services in obtaining derogatory information about the Islamic Relief NGO in 2020, which was then relayed to a British journalist.
How UAE’s smear campaign worked through ALP services
Influence on French Legislation and Financial Assets
According to Mediapart, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has adeptly utilized its influential network in France to sway discussions on legislation aimed at combating radicalism. This strategic maneuvering has allowed the UAE to further its own interests in countering political Islam, specifically targeting the Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, the Emirati network has been discovered to be actively gathering information on the financial assets of French politicians.
In addition to these revelations, the investigation has shed light on the involvement of the Emirati network in the publication of the controversial book, “Qatar Papers.” This publication falsely accused Qatar of financing Islamic associations in Europe, thereby intensifying tensions during the Qatar-Gulf crisis. This partnership between the UAE and France serves the purpose of not only countering political Islam, with a particular focus on the Muslim Brotherhood, but also fostering collaboration across various sectors, including defense and energy.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been actively engaging in lobbying activities within the French corridors of power, employing what it refers to as a persistent and strategic lobbying approach. A recent investigation has shed light on the mechanisms employed by the UAE to exert influence over influencers, opinion leaders, and decision-makers in France. These efforts aim to shape decisions and perceptions that align with Emirati interests in crucial areas.
One of the strategies employed by the UAE involves collaborating with influential media outlets like Euronews and private research centers such as the Bussola Institute. Through these partnerships, the UAE seeks to promote its interests, improve its image, and strengthen its position in France. An example of this is the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Company’s acquisition of a 2% stake in Euronews in 2017, which provided substantial financial support.
Furthermore, the investigation has uncovered the UAE’s endeavors to attract French politicians who can further its agenda in combating terrorism financing. Senator Nathalie Goulet, for instance, has been actively involved in promoting the UAE’s initiatives in this regard.
The UAE’s lobby in France has a dual focus: not only does it criticize Qatar, but it also aims to shape perceptions of the Muslim Brotherhood. By leveraging parliamentary friendship groups and political alliances, they successfully propagate a narrative that connects Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, and terrorism, which gains significant support among French parliamentarians. This influence is evident in the enactment of legislation aimed at strengthening the core principles of the French Republic to counter Islamic separatism.
UAE’s Meddling in German Affairs and ALP Covert Engagements with German Politicians
The leaked database comprises a vast assortment of thousands of documents, emails, and diplomatic cables, presenting compelling evidence of the United Arab Emirates’ alleged interference in multiple sectors of German society, encompassing politics, media, and business. The data strongly indicates that the UAE deliberately focused on influential figures, including politicians and journalists, with the explicit aim of molding German foreign policy, promoting their own interests, and countering the influence of their rival, Qatar.
The leaked information has brought to the forefront the unsettling reality of German politicians inadvertently getting involved with a state that blatantly disregards human rights. It is worth noting that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) specifically targeted Germany due to its substantial Muslim population.
Aware of the Germans’ hesitancy to openly criticize religious and ethnic minorities, ALP Services tactfully collaborated with Aktion Deutschland Hilft, exploiting these dynamics to advance their own agenda. The revelations stemming from the leaked data emphasize the pressing need to scrutinize foreign influence on German affairs and ensure the preservation of democratic processes, all while safeguarding national interests.
ALP Services has effectively established a discreet communication channel with Christoph de Vries, a prominent member of the Bundestag representing the Christian Democratic Union party. In 2020, a series of emails were exchanged between individuals purporting to be from a foundation and de Vries’ office, resulting in a significant impact. These communications influenced de Vries to publicly advocate for the discontinuation of funding for Islamic Relief, a project supported by GIZ. The agency’s report garnered substantial attention when renowned media outlets such as Zeit, Süddeutsche, and FAZ published its contents online.
Alp Services’ Troubling Collaboration with Journalists: Ethical Boundaries Blurred and Independence Compromised
Alp Services has developed strong connections with journalists in Switzerland and several European countries throughout the years. The director of Alp Services has actively fostered relationships within newsrooms, positioning himself as a trusted and recognizable figure among journalists. Consequently, journalists frequently turn to Alp Services for information, blurring the boundaries of journalistic ethics. While some journalists defend their collaboration as a means to gather information in the public’s interest, others have ventured into perilous territory, risking compromise and manipulation.
One journalist, Pascal, based in French-speaking Switzerland, has established a long-standing association with the director of Alp Services, making him a trusted source for the agency. Pascal’s articles, which primarily shed light on dubious funding sources and connections of influential individuals, have been discovered to be a part of Alp Services’ intelligence and influence campaign. This collaboration between Pascal and Alp Services raises serious concerns regarding the autonomy and integrity of journalism, potentially undermining the credibility of media reporting.
Stephan, an investigative journalist hailing from the German-speaking region, had forged a strong and expansive working relationship with Alp Services. This reputable company would regularly bill him for his meticulous research and comprehensive reports, often recognizing him as a valuable source and occasionally even engaging him as a subcontractor for their Emirati operations. As per official documents, Stephan was entrusted with the crucial task of compiling a comprehensive roster of individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Switzerland.
Unjust Targeting of Individuals & Journalists
The First Victim: Hazim Nada
Hazim Nada, a Swiss-based businessman, became a victim of meticulously planned operations that ultimately led to his bankruptcy. Among the main targets of these orchestrated schemes was Nada’s company, Lord Energy, and Nada himself, due to his father’s associations with the Muslim Brotherhood. Mario Breros spearheaded a malicious campaign with the intention of tarnishing Hazim Nada’s reputation and falsely linking Lord Energy to the Brotherhood and terrorism. This relentless assault inflicted significant harm upon Nada’s business, causing irreparable damage.
The onslaught against Nada commenced when an unidentified individual contacted his mobile phone service provider, cunningly requesting access to his call records. Shortly thereafter, another mysterious caller reached out to his bank, seeking undisclosed information. In the wake of these covert actions, various blogs emerged, spewing forth unfounded accusations that painted Nada as a nefarious al-Qaida financier.
The repercussions were swift and devastating: Nada’s bank swiftly severed all ties with him, and his esteemed company, Lord Energy, renowned for its staggering annual revenues of $2 billion, teetered on the precipice of collapse.
Yet, it was not until three long years had elapsed that Nada finally unraveled the enigma behind this relentless assault. Suspected hackers, driven by their malicious intent, clandestinely dispatched a series of documents to him, unveiling the true motive behind the insidious smear campaign.
According to Nada, Alp Services had the intention of highlighting their capabilities by using him as a prime example. Regrettably, this display of the company’s expertise not only resulted in the downfall of his business but also had a profound impact on his mental well-being.
There were moments when he openly admits to considering extreme measures, such as arming himself and confronting the offices of the Swiss company. Presently, Nada is diligently preparing to pursue legal action and file a lawsuit against both Alp Services and the UAE in order to seek rightful compensation for the extensive damages incurred.
Nicolas Blancho: A Victim of Defamation
Nicolas Blancho, the President of the Central Islamic Council, found himself at the center of a targeted smear campaign orchestrated by Alp Services. In this malicious campaign, he was falsely depicted as a dangerous extremist with alleged connections to Qatari authorities. It is mentioning that Blancho has indeed faced legal repercussions for disseminating Al-Qaeda propaganda. However, he vehemently refutes the accusations put forth by Alp Services.
Blancho has expressed deep concern regarding the actions of a company that not only collects and discloses information but also engages in defamatory activities on behalf of a foreign state, all under the guise of commercial operations. This raises serious questions about the ethical boundaries of such practices.
Targeting Journalist Francisco Carrión
ALP Services was implicated in the surveillance of journalist Francisco Carrión, who was employed by The Independent. The intelligence services of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) specifically targeted Carrión due to his investigative reporting on Matar Suhail al Yabhuni Al Dhaheri, a prominent individual linked to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Carrión’s journalistic pursuits led him to traverse multiple nations, such as Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Targeting UN Human Rights Council Actors
Alp Services specifically focused on individuals affiliated with the UN Human Rights Council, particularly those based in Geneva. Operating under the pseudonym Probus, the Geneva detectives of ALP directed their efforts towards investigating Kamel Jendoubi and Ahmed Himmiche, who were Tunisian and Moroccan investigators respectively. These two investigators were appointed by the UN to examine the war crimes committed in Yemen, involving multiple parties such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
In August 2018, Kamel Jendoubi presented the initial findings of their investigations in Geneva, accusing Abu Dhabi of committing war crimes. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Alp Services proposed a campaign to discredit both Jendoubi and Himmiche. To achieve this, Alp Services meticulously compiled comprehensive dossiers on the investigators, delving into their professional and family ties, educational backgrounds, and political affiliations, with the aim of identifying any vulnerabilities that could be exploited. The smear campaign, which began in early 2019, focused solely on Kamel Jendoubi. TV channels affiliated with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, along with social media platforms, disseminated derogatory information in an attempt to undermine Jendoubi’s honesty, neutrality, expertise, and integrity.
Islamic Relief Worldwide: A Prime Target of Alp Services’ Covert Perception-Shifting Campaign
Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), a prominent Muslim aid organization, found itself in the crosshairs of Alp Services, a determined entity seeking to alter public perception of IRW. This organization had garnered substantial financial backing from various European governments, including Germany. Employing a shrewd approach, Alp Services skillfully disseminated unfavorable information to influential media outlets and politicians, cleverly employing intermediaries to preserve their anonymity.
Disinformation Campaign Targeting 47 Norwegians
European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) has uncovered an alleged disinformation campaign orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through the Swiss intelligence agency ALP. This campaign, which has targeted individuals across Europe, including 47 Norwegians, has been described as a clandestine continental network with mafia-like characteristics.
Its objective is to falsely link these individuals with radical Islamists, as revealed in documents obtained by Mediapart, a renowned French investigative journalism platform. These leaked documents have now been shared with multiple European media outlets through the EIC network.
Dubious Reports Discrediting NGOs:
ALP Services has meticulously prepared three comprehensive reports with the sole intention of discrediting the human rights organization Alkarama, where Chloé, a young woman, had previously interned. These reports skillfully interweave factual information with falsehoods, utilizing outrageous assumptions to construct a misleading narrative.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in unjustly labeling innocent individuals associated with Alkarama as terrorists or agents of Qatar. The agency has portrayed Alkarama as a deceitful NGO, merely serving as a puppet manipulated by Qatar, and even fabricating evidence to align with the UAE’s agenda.
Effect of UAE’s Intelligence Network in Europe and European Union
The impact of the UAE’s intelligence network on Europe and the European Union has been substantial. Under the leadership of Mario Brero, ALP Services participated in questionable practices while collaborating with the Emirati secret services. By employing unethical tactics, the agency unjustly targeted individuals and organizations, falsely associating them with terrorism and spreading harmful narratives. The lack of proper authorization and oversight in their operations raises profound ethical concerns.
Private intelligence firms, such as Alp Services, have been commissioned by the UAE government to carry out surveillance on citizens from foreign nations, including individuals from Europe. The fact that these firms are involved in orchestrating smear campaigns against various individuals and organizations, including European Muslims and the Islamic Relief charity, is highly disconcerting and represents a direct violation of fundamental rights. These actions demand a thorough investigation and necessitate appropriate measures to protect individual liberties.
The intelligence network of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has significantly impacted the relationship between the UAE and the European Union (EU). The European Parliament has raised concerns regarding the UAE’s human rights track record and has urged for an investigation into the UAE’s utilization of private intelligence firms. Moreover, the UAE’s intelligence network has been linked to a malicious campaign against the Islamic Relief charity, an organization with operations in Europe.
While intelligence networks undoubtedly play a crucial role in safeguarding national interests, it is imperative that their operations adhere to ethical standards and international norms. The intelligence network of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) serves as a potent example of the intricate geopolitical dynamics at play in the Middle East, with far-reaching consequences on the global stage.
As nations navigate the complexities of intelligence practices, it becomes essential to strike a delicate balance between security objectives and the protection of fundamental rights and liberties for all individuals and organizations involved. Only through transparent and accountable practices can intelligence networks contribute positively to regional stability and international relations.