The Washington Post has caused itself a major scandal since it has come to light they and their martyred “reformer” Jamal Khashoggi were publishing anti-Saudi propaganda for Qatar. They tried to bury this in a pre-Christmas Saturday news dump, but that can’t stop the damage this will do to their reputation.
“Text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government,” the Post wrote December 21.
The Post says they were unaware of this, although Khashoggi’s Qatar connections were well known. They will have to answer for what is either incompetence in connecting these dots or simply not caring as Khashoggi’s attacks on President Trump and the Saudis fit right in with their narrative. The Qatar Foundation denies they were paying him to produce the anti-Saudi material.
But during Security Studies Group research for our report on the information operation after his death, we heard from reliable sources familiar with the investigation that documents showing wire transfers from Qatar were found in his apartment in Turkey. They were immediately put out of reach by Turkish security services, so they did not show the collusion between Khashoggi, Qatar, and Turkey prior to his death. We have published a new, unredacted set of findings about the case. It is damning to Qatar, Turkey, and the Washington Post.
Khashoggi may have been operating in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by doing this on behalf of Qatar. This is the same law that caused both Gen. Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort legal jeopardy by not filing their attempts to influence the U.S. government on behalf of a foreign entity. The op-eds published in the very influential Washington Post certainly qualify as attempts to change U.S. policy against Saudi Arabia and in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Qatar supports in spite of its status as a terrorist organization with most other Gulf countries.
Turkey had control of the narrative after the killing as the only primary source for the media, with Qatar backing up their tales. Both had eager partners in western media outlets. Security Studies Group tracked this phenomenon in our paper, “Khashoggi case- Analysis of an Information Operation”: “Although Turkish-language media supported and helped to drive the narratives, as did Arabic-language media controlled by Turkish ally Qatar, the main outlets that Turkish intelligence used to execute their operation were major Western English- language journalist outlets.”
There has been a powerful effort to use this to weaken Saudi Arabia overall and especially to damage its relationship with the United States. Khashoggi’s editor at the Washington Post, Karen Attiah, led her paper’s media crusade that even called for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be deposed: “No one is asking to throw away the relationship with Saudi Arabia. This is about putting all of our US eggs in the basket of a dangerous man, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.”
Qatar has become an increasingly malign influence in the Middle East and unfortunately now around the world. The United States has a longstanding relationship with them, including the CENTCOM Forward base there. But they have been building more and stronger alliances with a number of countries like Russia, Iran, and Turkey in ways that are counterproductive to U.S. interests. They have also decided to pull out of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a move that will further estrange it from the other Gulf Arab states and OPEC nations.
In addition, they have done things we simply should not tolerate, including hacking U.S. citizens to gain information for blackmail or influence operations. The hacking seems to have been approved and coordinated by the Qatari government, and it targeted a number of think tank and national security professionals.
The scale of the operation, as well as the targets, suggest this was a state operation. “The extent and volume of information that they were able to obtain in these subpoenas goes beyond the capabilities of an individual,” said Sam Rubin, a vice president of Crypsis Group, a cybersecurity firm
Qatar has been a U.S. intermediary to numerous extremist groups including our current peace negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan and ransom delivery for the release of Bowe Bergdahl. If anything, this shows their strong connections to terrorists and continued financing of their operations. The five Taliban leaders involved in the trade for Bergdahl joined the Taliban’s political offices in Qatar.
Qatar and Turkey both benefit from these attacks on Saudi Arabia and have tried to parley them into actual gains. Erdogan was bold enough to actually ask for the United States to send him Fethulla Gulen, his main political rival, who resides here as a green card holder. The irony of Erdogan using the death of a Saudi opposition activist to ask for the extradition of opposition leaders he would most likely kill is stunning. Qatar has been pushing to stop the Gulf Arab blockade against it without addressing its terrorism financing and other malign actions that led to it.
President Trump has extended the hand of friendship to Turkey in conjunction with the U.S. withdrawal from Syria. But Qatar seems to have a hand in the bad things going on in far too many places these days to be considered any kind of an ally. It is time to consider the many ways they are acting against U.S. interests and make decisions about future relations based on that.
Jim Hanson is president of Security Studies Group, and a former Special Forces weapons guy who soothes his savage beast with music.