The United Arab Emirates (UAE) enlisted a businessman to spy on the White House as part of a scheme to gain influence over President Donald Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Details of the scheme, involving the Emirati businesses and wealthy Trump donors were uncovered by the Intercept, yesterday, exposing the extent to which Trump’s connections with the tiny Gulf state have been exploited by leaders in Abu Dhabi.
Former Emirati pilot turned businessman, Rashid Al-Malik, is at the centre of the Emirati plot, which has drawn the attention of the FBI. Al Malik was interviewed by members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team concerning his role in what is said to be “an illegal influence scheme”.
According to the Intercept, “US intelligence community has concluded that al-Malik served as a paid intelligence source for the UAE throughout 2017.” His cover as a businessman was used to get him access to Trump’s inner circle.
Before returning to the UAE following his questioning by Mueller’s team over foreign interference in US elections, Al-Malik reported to Abu Dhabi’s intelligence service about aspects of the Trump administration’s Middle East policy. It’s reported that the “National Intelligence Service of the UAE gave Al-Malik a code name and paid him tens of thousands of dollars a month to gather information, a role for which his investment business would have provided a convenient cover.”
Al-Malik reported back to his senior handlers in the UAE on various topics including: attitudes within the Trump administration toward the Muslim Brotherhood; US efforts to mediate the ongoing feud between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar as well as meetings between senior US officials and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Al-Maliki’s attorney denied that his client, who was honoured by the UAE Embassy in Washington for scholastic achievement, was in the spying business. However a person with knowledge of UAE intelligence operations interviewed by the Intercept said that Al-Malik was likely enlisted as a spy “because he has pre-existing access, a natural role”.
It’s thought that Al-Malik was an ideal candidate to serve as a spy for the UAE. The small Gulf state is known to have used businesspeople and wealthy citizens with personal relationships with its royal families as assets to carry out secret intelligence-gathering missions for the government.
While there is no direct evidence to indicate that Al-Maliki had played a role in swaying US foreign policy, there is no dispute over the fact that Trump has aligned the US with the UAE and its larger Gulf neighbour, Saudi Arabia, on all major issues. Trump, against the advice of his senior staff, backed the blockade of Qatar initiated by the UAE; he toed the Saudi line on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, despite outrage from members of the Congress; pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and most recently circumvented lawmakers to continue selling arms to his Gulf allies.