Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Foreign Manipulation in Our Midst: Qatar and the Legal Gambit to Silence Americans 

Opinion & InterviewForeign Manipulation in Our Midst: Qatar and the Legal Gambit to Silence Americans 

Qatar and the lawyers on its payroll—specifically powerhouse law firms Covington & Burling and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman—directed counsel for a U.S. citizen defendant (and former Qatari agent) in an ongoing lawsuit to conceal “embarrassing” evidence regarding the wealthy emirate’s wide-ranging campaign to silence its American critics.  

This revelation came out today in a federal court filing in Washington DC.  It appears that former Qatari agent Joseph Allaham was dropped yesterday as a defendant, and has flipped and decided to cooperate in a lawsuit filed back in 2019 by Elliott Broidy. Broidy, a former Republican National Committee official, filed suit in response to a very public hack-and-smear campaign launched months prior for what Broidy alleged was retaliation for his criticism of Qatar’s open terror sponsorship.  Among the remaining defendants is Allaham’s former business partner, Nick Muzin, who now is a senior aide to the Presidential campaign of Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). 

The filing by Broidy outlines “what appears to be an egregiously improper and longstanding effort by Qatar and its agents…to frustrate discovery in this and other actions brought by plaintiffs arising from Qatar’s hack-and-smear campaign against plaintiff [Broidy].”  It raises troubling questions about Qatar’s operations in the United States, and especially its reach into the American legal system.  

The story began in 2017, when Qatar faced diplomatic isolation from neighboring countries over its embrace of Iran and various Islamic extremists, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. In response, the Qatari regime embarked on a two-pronged effort to foster stronger ties with the Trump administration and delegitimize the regime’s opponents in the United States. Seth Frantzman reported that Doha’s approach included recruiting lobbyists to pinpoint 250 influential figures close to Trump. It sent many of these figures on trips to Qatar, with some receiving payments directly or to their organizations.  

This author has written about Qatar’s strategy of specifically engaging with prominent pro-Israel American Jews. Two of these individuals include Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and lawyer Alan Dershowitz.  Given the apparently central role that Allaham played in Qatar’s courtship of Klein, Dershowitz and other pro-Israel leaders, Allaham’s cooperation may lead to more information about the unseemly underbelly of the now-scuttled campaign by Hamas’ leading financial backers to win over support in the Jewish community.  

Allaham provided ZOA with $100,000 of Qatari monies, a move that raised concerns about potential Qatari influence over pro-Israel stances in the U.S. He had frequent communications with ZOA’s head, Morton Klein, with over 1,000 calls between them recorded within a year. While their relationship’s intricacies and its ties to Qatari funds remain ambiguous, Allaham has publicly expressed pride in Klein’s visit to the Qatari capital. 
 
The second arm of their strategy revolved around embarrassing critics of the peninsular Islamist state through a series of influence operations, specifically blackmail, hacking, and other low-brow tactics aimed at Qatar’s critics in the United States in order to delegitimize them.  Jamal Benomar, a former U.N. aide and Moroccan national who had been employed by Qatar, found himself at the center of this effort involving alleged hacking and espionage operations—but managed to escape accountability by pulling diplomatic immunity out of a hat months after Broidy had sued him in July 2018.  

Broidy originally filed a lawsuit against Qatar in March 2018, less than a month after the first stories were published based on his hacked emails, claiming that the smear campaign was a retaliation over his actions to publicly criticize Qatar’s unyielding support for the Muslim Brotherhood and various Islamic terrorist groups.  

The court filing today attached copies of agreements between Muzin’s firm, Stonington Strategies, and Benomar, Allaham and the Qatari government, as well as an e-mail exchange between Allaham and Qatar’s lawyers, as reported by Focus on Western Islamism

Once Broidy levelled his lawsuit at the Qataris, it now seems clear that Doha expanded its manipulation efforts to the U.S. judicial system as well, lying to the courts and exploiting laws concerning diplomatic privilege to get its way. 

Most alarmingly, the U.S. government has repeatedly taken the Qatari regime’s side during these legal troubles. In August 2022, federal lawyers filed an amicus brief supporting Qatari demands that Broidy’s discovery requests be denied. 

Allaham’s role is pivotal to this unfolding narrative. The 2018 settlement sheds light on the intricate dealings between them. But more revealing is Allaham’s declaration, which was also attached to the filing, stating that there wasn’t a ‘special relationship’ with Qatar, indicating that the wealthy emirate’s prior portrayals might have been, at best, misleading.  

The Broidy lawsuit against Qatari agents offers further context. Broidy accused Qatar and its operatives of hacking him and distributing highly curated, thematic PDFs of his hacked materials to news outlets in a bid to discredit him. This suggests an expansive and highly calculated campaign by a foreign power to stealthily manipulate American politics, leveraging its vast resources to further its ends. 

Qatar’s history is rife with intricate influence campaigns in the West. While it’s not uncommon for nations to engage in lobbying or PR exercises, the scale and method of Qatar’s alleged operations, as indicated by figures like Allaham, seem to hint at a more persistent and covert strategy. 

This author, and the organization he leads, the Middle East Forum, have been investigating Qatar’s malign influence activities the United States for the past ten years. Our pursuit of truth recently attracted unexpected legal attention. In February of this year, the author, his organization, and several of its employees were hit with a series of subpoenas. This wasn’t a mere procedural step; rather, it bore the marks of an intimidation tactic, a maneuver in a broader strategy aimed at silencing critical voices. 

The legal action facing my organization fits this broader pattern. What’s at stake isn’t just a single subpoena or even a lawsuit. It’s about the potential misuse of the American legal system by foreign entities, casting a shadow on the principles of journalistic freedom and democratic values. 

For the United States, these revelations should sound the alarm. It’s a call to recognize the audacious moves by foreign powers that could potentially challenge the nation’s democratic fabric.  

This isn’t about personal stakes or protecting an organization’s reputation. It’s about standing up for the truth. It’s about safeguarding the principles that underpin American democracy. With foreign entities seemingly growing bolder, the onus is on U.S institutions and citizens to remain vigilant, ensuring the nation’s democratic integrity remains uncompromised. 
 
The dealings between Qatar and Allaham highlight a concern that goes beyond individual relationships. It’s a reflection of the broader issue of foreign manipulation in the U.S. political landscape. We need to be attentive to such maneuvers and their implications, ensuring that our democratic processes aren’t compromised. For the U.S., recognizing and responding to these potential influences is not just advisable; it’s essential.

Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum 

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