Security Studies Group was proud to co-sponsor and participate in a Middle East Forum conference, “Qatar: U.S. Ally or Global Menace,” in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 6, 2019. The transcript is below. To watch the conference in its entirety on video, click here.
Qatar’s New Influence War
SSG President Jim Hanson participated in a panel on Qatar’s influence war. A range of Qatari lobbying,cyber espionage, and disinformation efforts against U.S. citizens and others around the world have been exposed in recent months. Should FARA restrictions be tightened against Qatar and its agents in the U.S.? How can we deal with Qatari-backed cyberwarfare? Are the Qatari lobbyists winning?
GREGG ROMAN: Our opening remarks this morning will be made by Congressman Roger Marshall. Doctor Marshall, as he was known before he became a member of Congress, represents Kansas’ big first district, having previously served as a physician, and more importantly, as a devoted father and husband, where he was able to deliver more than five thousand babies during his time as a doctor before entering into the U.S. Congress.
He is a graduate of Kansas State University with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and graduated from Medical School at the University of Kansas. Moreover, Congressman Marshall has represented in Kansas’ First District utilizing his depth of medical and family experience, but also, having many years of support in the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of captain, and serving his country faithfully with valor.
Moreover, Congressman Marshall serves in the House Agriculture Committee, the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and the House Small Business Committee. The issue of Qatar is one which effects not just–not just us overseas in terms of Middle East issues, but also the influence of Qatari lobbyist, PR firms, and other mechanisms that try to effect congressional policy. Congressman Marshall, please join us.
MARSHALL: Well, good morning everybody and glad that everybody here made it on time. And, you know, maybe before I give my remarks here, I might just make a couple comments from the State of the Union speech last night. Certainly, the city is a buzz was with what the president did say.
If I could share one thing is that I hope you all, and I hope my folks back home felt the genuine heart that this president has for the American people. He’s not an elitist, he’s a person that’s connected, maybe better than any president I can remember, to the everyday working man and woman back home.
That same passion, that same compassion that he gave last night is something that I feel every time I’m with him. You know, last night after he gave his speech, I was one of the last people to get to shake his hand, I said–I think I said something like, Mr. President, we have your back. And he looked at me and shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, thank you, thank you. Just two simple words. That’s all he needed to do.
And we have a great relationship with the president. I–I would stand–I do stand beside him. Almost all of his policies, I think his policies are spot on. His policies are helpful to Kansans and they’re helpful to this country.
As I think about just a general theme of national security, I think everybody back home feels like we’re safer today than we were two years ago. I actually think he’s the most transparent president we’ve ever had.
You know, what you see is what you get. Behind closed doors, he’s just as transparent and blunt as he is with the press. I never heard him say anything behind closed doors that wasn’t consistent with what he said with the microphones and cameras in front of him.
And I would say the same thing about my fellow Kansan, Secretary Pompeo, who I got to see for a little bit yesterday. He’s transparent, his yes is his yes, his no is his no. And I think they’re both in the places that they should be right now at this point in time and they’re both doing a great job. And very, very proud of Secretary Pompeo, very proud of what our president is doing.
You know, as a global leader, the United States is faced with many complex challenges and uncertainties abroad. In the Middle East, we have strong allies to confront these threats, but they continue to be more important than ever, more important than ever. And we need to know who is our friend and who is our foe, and you can’t be both. You have to be one or the other.
Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States advanced common interest and promoted security, prosperity, and peace in the region. The presidents long list of accomplishments includes finely recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, something that was very important to me, personally.
He’s ended the foolish Iran nuclear deal. I have no idea why Americans can support the Iran nuclear deal, a deal that would end up with Iran having nuclear warheads. I have–even though it would be delayed for perhaps, ten years, we have to think long term.
More and more as I get more familiar with this role, I realize that decisions in the press are made tonight. Decisions are judgment on my decisions in the morning, there’s a judgment in the press by evening. And I think of a president from my state, General Eisenhower. When General Eisenhower finished his role as being president, most historians said, oh, he’s the thirty–thirty fifth best president ever.
But today many historians would consider him the fifth best president ever. And that’s because the decisions he made took years, decades to come to fruition. He started the interstate highway system, he started NASA. He started the education department.
You know, again, if you think about President Eisenhower, a great strategist, you know, he wasn’t patent, Mr. Rah Rah guy. He was a great strategist, very thoughtful, certainly had compassion for his soldiers and for his country, but he was a long term thinker.
And again, it’s just so important that, as a congressman, I don’t worry as much about the impact, what’s going to be said on TV tonight, as how is it going to impact my children and my grandchildren. The president’s strong words against radical Islamic terrorism, during the campaign have been followed by action.
On November 4, 2018, U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry went into full effect, cutting off a vital lifeline to their economy. I want to stop there and just talk about the oil industry for a second. The oil industry is very important in Kansas. And I’m so proud that President Trump pointed this out last night.
We are no longer dependent upon Middle East oil. And that–no one’s talking about this, but I think that greatly impacts our decisions and gives the president and Secretary Pompeo a few more cards in our hands that we’re not subservient to that oil that the American entrepreneurs have come through for us that we are, for all practical purposes, energy independent and so very proud of that American spirit which has led to increased oil and natural gas production.
I think about what’s going on in Kansas, ethanol is a big source of energy as well. And it’s growing across the country. Kansas with 35 percent of our energy electricity coming from wind energy now. And all those technologies are improving to make that happen.
So, again, very important that energy is a national security issue, being able to feed ourselves, which is taken for granted, and the energy is taken for granted as well, two important points of national security.
The response to Iranian aggression and funding of terrorist groups is long overdue. Numerous violent extremist throughout the Middle East, such as Hezbollah and Lebanon, Hamas and Palestine, the Assad regime in Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq and Houthi rebels in Yemen would be crippled without their military and financial support.
Went to an Israel trip with almost my entire freshman class, one of the greatest trips of my life. What we were able to learn to be able to see some of the issues, the challenges in the Middle East was–was phenomenal–phenomenal experience for a freshman congressman.
You know, more recently we took a second trip to Kuwait and Djibouti as well, trying to understand first hand what’s going on in the Middle East and what our capabilities are, and what a great job that our military is doing. It’s been a steep, steep learning curve, but I feel like–feel like I’m getting there.
It’s my hope that the maximum pressure campaign will bring us closer to lasting peace for American Israelis and the Iranian people who continue to suffer each day at the hands of a regime. Until the day comes, the United States will continue to unequivocally support Israel against those who call for its destruction.
My–my freshman class and now we’re sophomores, I think just especially a kin relationship with Israel. I believe nine of us have military experience. We have two generals in our military. Brian Mast is one of my close friends in my class. Our trip to Israel behind closed doors, Benjamin Netanyahu was walking on the stage, he looked out in the audience and saw Brian Mast.
And if you don’t know Brian Mast, he gave up his legs for this country. But after his injury, he went back to Israel and helped train their soldiers. Anyway, as we were sitting there in the audience in our seats, who–the person who I think is one of the three great leaders in the entire world, ran across the stage, came down stairs, went back to Brian’s room, shook his hands and hugged him.
And I said this man gets it. And certainly, was very, very proud to have Brian as one of my close classmates. And by the way, he just had a baby girl. So, we’ve got three boys and they another–a baby girl for the first time. So, he and Breanna (PH) have become close friends. My wife and I, oh, for whatever reasons, the young mothers’ kind of cluster around my–my wife and she gives them friendly advice and encouragement. We’ve raised four kids ourselves. And just so proud of those relationships.
Yeah, just to continue, unfortunate Iran isn’t alone, it’s promotion of radical terrorism. Across the Persian Gulf sits the nation Qatar, who’s well documented support for terrorism and extremist groups have fueled violence, Civil War and bloodshed. It’s blind eye to the terrorist financing within its own borders continues to undermine security and cause them to question the long term partnership of the U.S. operated base within the country.
This certainly is going to be a topic of conversation that’s rising to the top. Certainly, I understand we have a significant investment in intelligence there. But I would just assure you that Congress and certainly, Secretary Pompeo and the bright people understand the complexity of this issue and will do what they think is right for America.
On June 8, 2017 Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE designated 59 people into groups, all that are based in or otherwise associated with Qatar for lengths to terrorism. Among these terrorist groups are, of course, al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas. Qatar is hedging support for the extremist hostile United States cannot and will not be tolerated.
And again, I think the president reiterated this last night in many, many fashions as well. I’m very glad to hear his continued consistent support for Israel and as well as for this overall war on terrorism.
Moving ahead, Congress will play a vital role in ensuring the long term security of the Middle East. The security assistance and foreign aid provided each year to numerous countries will continue to ensure strategic cooperation for vending threats to America from al-Qaeda, ISIS–ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas.
These radical Islamic groups share a common theme, hatred for other religions, anti-Semitic values, and a longing for the destruction of the West. It remains imperative that the U.S. continues to work with its truest partners in the Middle East, our true long term friends, people that have bonded together for 50, 60 years.
For those that continue to–to aid bad actors, a realignment, a military support, may be long overdue. We certainly appreciate the people in this room and your interest and your concern for this country’s national security. I don’t claim to be an expert on this. But as a physician, I’ve learned to bring in experts. You know, I’m not–I was never hesitant to bring in a consultant to explain to me, to get more facts, to order one more x-ray, to get a second opinion or a third opinion.
But eventually, as the physician, I’m an obstetrician in gynecologist, was able to not only deliver some five thousand babies but had to help a lot of women through some very, very tough times in their life, whether it was breast cancer, ovarian cancer, all those types of things, and try to use that same since of gather the facts, get rid of the emotion, and as a doctor, a physician, try to recommend the best course, the best treatment, the best plan of action for this country.
I’m very proud to stand by President Trump. I support his policies. Very proud to stand by Secretary Pompeo as well. Appreciate you all having me this morning and hope you have a great day. Thank you.
PIPES: Thank you, Congressman Marshall. And good morning ladies and gentlemen. Congressman, as you see, could not stay so he went first. Let me introduce the day’s events for you. First, I’d like to welcome you to this conference on Qatar: U.S. Ally or Global Menace. I think you can probably tell from our hashtag where the answer lies. The hashtag is Qatar the menace, as in Dennis the menace but, Qatar the menace.
So, it’s not too much an open question. I’m Daniel Pipes. I’m president of the Middle East Forum. And it’s my happy task to thank you all for joining us this morning, this beautiful morning in Washington, both, those of you who are here in person and those of you who are on the live streaming.
We’re meeting today in the brand new International Spy Museum in Washington DC. I’m told that this is the first event of this sort as oppose to a wedding that’s ever taken place in this impressive building. Given our topic, especially the cyber hacking and related issues, this is not completely inappropriate as a venue for us.
We intend to end our proceedings by 4 p.m. Everyone is invited who’s here in person to breakfast and then to lunch. For the sake of efficiency, we will take a number of fairly short breaks. Hope you can help us keep them relatively short. Please make sure that your mobile phones are either off or set to vibrate.
The events goal is simple, to explore and draw conclusions about a tiny country’s large influence in the Middle East and beyond and especially in the United States. It is rather remarkable the number of nationals in Qatar is just slightly over three hundred thousand. It is a very small number. But the wealth of the country and the drive of its leadership have made it into an international force.
And, by the way, it’s not new. As I noted in my introduction in the book that you have in front of you, already in the mid-1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a joke in foreign policy circles. Now that the Soviet Union’s gone, what are the two great powers? United States and Qatar came the response.
So, it’s not–not a new thing. It was less maligned perhaps 20 years ago. But the ambitions and the money have been there for some time. We’ve put together an international cast to investigate topics as diverse as the football World Cup and cyber hacking of prominent Americans.
Now for a word from your sponsor. The Middle East Forum, the host, primary host of today’s event. For those of you who aren’t familiar with us is a Philadelphia based once think tank and now what we call think and action tank. We just celebrated our 25th anniversary two weeks ago.
MEF has two major topics. The Middle East and all its aspects, political, historical, religious, economic and so forth. And Islam and the West. We have decided that Islam and the West fits our–our mission, not Islam and other parts of the world, but Islam and the West, a new topic, basically.
Our staff numbers nearly forty–our staff numbers nearly forty and we have some 25 fellows. We take pride on approaching problems in our areas with three tools. The first is intellectual, having original ideas. The second is activist, turning those ideas into policy, or in other ways making them happen. And thirdly, philanthropic, working with allies to advance those ideas.
We raise money specifically to give to our allies, some of whom you see–logos you see behind me. Qatar’s role in the world is a natural topic for the Middle East Forum to focus on, given our long standing interest in several topics. The impact of oil and gas, wealth, the intricacies of Persian Gulf relations and the teaching of Arabic and Middle East studies in the United States. Qatar Foundation is very involved in the last point.
I hope by the end of this conference, you will be able, without any problem, to answer the question of the conference. Qatar: U.S. ally or global menace? It’s now my pleasure to call on Gregg Roman, Director of the Middle East Forum, and the organizer of this event to give you more specifics on the rational and purpose of the day’s activities. Gregg.
ROMAN: Thank you, Daniel. And Daniel didn’t get his formal introduction, the president and founder of the Middle East Forum. And for this event, we wouldn’t be able to do it without his inspiration backing and also all of his support over the last few months.
And in addition, we’d also like to thank all of our speakers who have come here today who will be presenting all of the organizations who are cosponsoring this event. And especially all of the staff, some that I’m looking at, some that I can speak of and some that I can’t speak of that made today possible.
So, why Qatar? Why ask if it’s a U.S. ally or frame it as a global menace? We will explore five or six different issues today through a series of panels, speeches and conversations, members of Congress, experts, former military officials, former intelligence officials and analyst, some who have come from as far as Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel and other places around the world to help us answer that question.
The Qatari regime and members of its royal family have covertly and openly funded, hosted and supported Jihadi organizations for decades. It has support in Iraq, al-Qaeda and later, the Islamic state. Qatar pledged $250 million to Hamas, not to mention the $15 million payments which are now made to the organization on a monthly basis into the Gaza Strip.
In Libya, it’s focused on the Dawn organization, and Afghanistan it permits the Taliban to maintain an interest office in Doha. Even if it might be used right now for a soft detente between America and the Taliban, it’s still what’s offering this years prior to any sort of negotiations that the president spoke about last night during the State of the Union.
Qatar support for international Jihadis network has long been a concern for Western policy makers and observers as well as several other states. And especially in 2017, this observation became a policy decision. With Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, The United Arab Emirates and Yemen denouncing Qatari funding of Islamist terror, cutting diplomatic ties and implementing a partial blockade of the Peninsula Emirate.
But its extension and support for Jihadi groups does not just stop with violence. It also goes into the realm of non-violent Islamism. And contrast, Qatar’s influence in the West is hardly discussed despite the billions of dollars that Doha has supported the schools, Universities, mosques, TV stations, sports clubs, PR firms and, of course, into the pockets of politicians.
I’m thinking of such tactics like cyber hacking. The radicalization of Muslim communities in the West, and, of course, the topic of our next panel, the 2022 World Cup Tournament. The Middle East Forum has organized this conference, not to just speak of the pernicious sponsoring of violent activity in the Middle East but also to examine these latter Qatari activities in depth.
In addition to documenting them, the goal is to examine how very Qatari tactics of exerted influence serve a much larger agenda. We at the Forum hope today’s event will serve as a source of information and ideas for journalists, politicians, policy makers and the public.
What you will hear today does not stop within these walls. This should translated into policy ideas on how to stop Qatar’s malicious and maligned influence activities both here in Washington DC and also over the rest of the world for those watching on the live stream.
Our goal is to correct the outdated idea that Saudi Arabia somehow remains the worlds chief sponsor of Islamist extremism in Jihad, showing that this role now belongs to Qatar. But it’s not just about the global view of Qatar. It’s also the information being more necessary because the Trump administration has been offered inconsistent views of the Emirate.
Early on, President Trump condemned the Qatari regime as, and I quote, a funder of terror at a very high level. And backed the 2017 Saudi led blockade of Doha. In addition, he called on Qatar to shut down the Taliban’s office in–in the capital. However, in April of 2018, the president contrarily praised Qatar as an ally in the fight against terrorism and referred to the Amir as a great friend.
There’s a few developments which may help explain this reversal, including one, Qatar’s well-funded law being campaign. In 2017, Qatar spent $16 million on lobbying in DC, by far, almost the largest amount out of any other country, employing some 23 different lobbying firms.
As part of its lobbying strategy, Qatar ordered a list drawn up of 250 influencers who were paid to travel to Qatar, including, Alan Dershowitz, Mike Huckabee, Mort Klein and other luminaries of not just those who consider themselves to be friends of the pro-Israel community in the United States, but those who were considered friends of the administration.
The lobbyist that were working for Qatar were headed by such leading figures like John Ashcroft, Michael Mukasey and David Rivkin. Former Congressman Jim Moran, Former Senator Trent Lott and many former staffers and senators. Others included start up lobbyist, like Nick Muzin and Joey Allaham, who may have been in the papers recently because of some litigation that has been filed against him.
Unusually, many of the more recent contracts have included a cause for bidding the firms to work for other–for other Gulf countries at any capacity, meaning that Qatar strategy is to box out the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries who may be on the other side of this regional dispute. A little more on their lobbying later.
The second reason why the U.S. may have drifted between being pro and anti-Qatar is because of the U.S. military base and alidade, which is the largest presence of air force of the American Air Force in the region. It hosts over ten thousand American servicemen and serves the main regional center for any missions against the Islamic state and other organizations that are threatening American interest in the region.
And lastly, there may be an American continued distrust of Saudi Arabia where U.S. policy makers opinion makers and academics continue to distrust the country and refer to it as the chief financier of terrorism extremism around the world.
The Khashoggi affair did nothing to improve the Saudis reputation. However, while Saudi Arabia doubtlessly continues to work with Islamist movements, Qatar now leads Riyadh as the main financier of terrorism in the region violent and non-violent in the Middle East and in the West.
Saudi Arabia has put itself on a path towards reform. It’s indicated by the amount of Mosque. It is no longer sponsoring in countries where it formerly been the prime sponsor of extremism. Yes, they have work to do but Qatar is getting a blank check and they are able to do whatever they want without being held accountable. They must be held to account.
Now, lastly before we get our next panel, this will be about three more minutes and I’d ask the other speakers who will be on our FIFA panel to get ready to come up. I’d like to speak a little bit more about a personal foray into Qatar’s cyber espionage strategy that effected both me and my employees of the organization and also many friends.
No, we weren’t hacked by Qatar. But we did land on an information trover of over fifteen hundred individuals that were attempted to be hacked by Qatar, which included Bollywood stars, members of the Syrian opposition, members of the Syrian Government, policy makers, a prominent American think tanker from the Center for American Progress, which you may find out in a newspaper story. It’ll come out later today.
But more importantly, there were those who weren’t just targeted by the cyber espionage, but the individuals who may have had something to do with it here in the United States. In the world of technology, Qatar’s leaders are two-faced. Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly in late September, Emir Tamim promised the host an international conference on the threats of cyber warfare and hacking.
This, after winning sympathy for cyber-attacks against Qatari government targets. But that’s only half the story. Former Al Jazeera journalist, Mohamed Fahmy, who is with us today and will speak after lunch, has sarcastically written that Qatar is the perfect country to host such a confab. The regime’s officials would give speeches about how they recruit hackers and select their targets. The cyber mercenaries on Qatar’s payroll could discuss their career paths in hacking the citizens of foreign countries.
And the American media consultants who work for Qatar could hold a panel discussion on how to successfully pitch and place hacked emails to and in the American media. This conference is a great idea. Qatar has much to teach the world about hacking in cyber warfare, after all, they’re at the forefront of state sponsored of hacking of foreign nationals and other individuals.
And last, I’d like to bring up a story that I’ve been personally involved with for the past year and a half, which was questioning the travel of American center-right Zionist and Jewish community officials on their treks to Doha. This is something that I referred to beforehand and I said I would bring up.
The Zionist Organization of America [was] the recipient of a hundred thousand dollar donation from a Qatari lobbyist, unbeknownst to them, according to their record. And it was returned after it became publicly available through a Foreign Agent Registration Act filing.
The problem being here that there may have originally been a good faith effort to negotiate with Doha. There may have been a misled idea that these leaders who either received money from the Qatari’s or their interlocutors or were on the receiving end of contracts between Qatari lobbyist and their attorneys, for instance, a contract that was signed between Alan Dershowitz, the prominent American leading liberal attorney and Joey Allaham, his client, which only came out after there was much legal investigation into it.
The original idea of going to Doha to broker peace to think that they had this ability to somehow end Qatari support for Hamas, may have been noble. But Qatar’s agents on Capitol Hill exploited their visits to Doha. And they exploited the funding of their organizations to a torpedo, a key piece of anti-terrorism legislation.
Look it up now if you have your phone in front of you, H.R. 2712, The Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act. Legislation designating Qatar as a state sponsor of Palestinian terrorism. These agents correctly figured that if leading American Zionist recipients of funding had good things to say about Qatar, or even may have not said anything.
Sometimes silence is a lot louder than words spoken. And they could argue. And there are over 150 contacts with senators and congressmen that such a bill was unfounded, indeed, detrimental to peace, that key anti-terrorism legislation may not pass.
And last session, it didn’t, even though it received the support of both democrats and republicans and the majority of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee. Some of these individuals openly admit that they were duped by the Qatari’s. But they do not acknowledge the harm that they did.
In our research that we’ve done at the Forum over the past year and a half including court documents, lobbying materials, two dozen interviews and conversations with the recipients of the funds themselves and those who traveled to Doha, discovered a myriad of inaccuracies and many of these visitors stories pointing to a longer more intimate relationship with Qatar and its agents, including conversations between their PR agents, including continued friendships that take place in DC restaurants, and including visits that were going between their lobbyist and other individuals.
We were able to track the story back from 2013, when Qatar initiated its Zionist influence campaign to the current belligerency of the responsive individuals who visited Qatar on the Qatari dime. And after being outed in effect for accepting bribes from the regime. I’m not saying they’re bribes but they’re kin to it.
The story that we put together refutes most of the claims of these individuals. And it creates a direct correlation between those who visited Doha and the Qatari attempts to torpedo this legislation.
We can only conclude that those who visited Qatar and their behavior afterwards confirmed anti-Semitic tropes about money grubbing, immoral, Jewish Americans. And as a Jewish American, I find it offensive. And two, these individuals refuse truthfully to admit their role in the failure of H.R. 2712, rendering them unsuited to continually in letting their organizations if they don’t pin up.
To redeem themselves, as continuous respectable leaders of their respective movements, they need to come clean about their dealings with Qatar and they need to make passage of this key anti-Palestinian terror legislation in their current organizational roles and in this current Congress, one that is at the forefront of their organizations.
While some individuals who went to Qatar were invited to speak at this conference, they all declined. There were organizations which were invited to co-sponsor this conference also declined. The door is open waiting for them to attend today. And if anyone of you from any of the organizations that I mentioned or their leadership is in Washington DC today, we invite you to this podium to denounce Doha.
Thank you for listening to our opening remarks. And now we welcome our first panel, that of FIFA. Focusing on the Qatari 2022 World Cup. Jaimie. Is Jaimie Fuller here?
FULLER: Right here.
ROMAN: Hey Jaimie. Jaimie’s going to introduce our panel. Thank you.
FULLER: Good morning. Are the microphones on? Good. We have a–we have a really pleasant opportunity, I think, compared to the seriousness of what’s going to be discussed today. We get to–we get to spend this morning, a little bit of time talking to you about sport, and particularly about football.
I’ll make introductions shortly, but if I can just make a few comments before we kick off. So, we live in an increasingly complex world that reflects, and nowhere reflects that complexity more than the Middle East. As we know, there’s a boycott or blockade going on at the moment for Qatar–for Qatar from key regional players. And it’s effecting day to day life and critically the preparations of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. And I say critically because that’s what we’re here to talk about.
Other consequences also include the boycotting of air space, and the need for rerouting of Qatar air ways flights around the boycotting countries. But the focus this morning is on the World Cup. And I’d particularly like the panel to discuss a couple of things today, specifically what happened, why it happened, and should it be allowed to continue to happen.
But today we find ourselves at the epicenter of world politics and power. Washington is the place to be. And our audience is not just educated but also well versed on the nuances of politics. We’ll have political games of play.
However, I’d like to take the next 45, 50 minutes or so, to look at how politics works in sport and more specifically, in football. If you think that politics has dirty undertones, you should have a good look at the world sport, particularly football.
Mixing politics and sport is not a new phenomenon, and whilst in the right-hand sport can have a massive–massively positive impact on society, it’s also open to misuse and abuse. Contrast how Adolf Hitler hijacked a 1936 Berlin Olympics in an attempt to showcase the so called, superiority of the–of the Aryan race.
Contrast that with the role that sport played in the imposition of boycotts on–on Palatine South Africa in order to eradicate that culture and that system. And specifically, that was mainly about rugby and cricket, and I know these are not games that you guys are that familiar with.
But the Rugby World Cup is the third largest global sporting event after the football World Cup in the summer Olympics. But not only was sport instrumental in bringing down that Palatine system in 1992, it was also critical in bringing the nation together in 1995 when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup.
And there are iconic images of the great Nelson Mandela wearing the South African spring box Captain Francois Pienaar’s jersey. It–it was a very powerful moment and it helped divide–it helped bring back a new night, a bitterly divided nation. It’s powerful stuff.
So, sport does have the power to play a force for good and it genuinely can change the world. But to do so, it must be in the right hands. And this emphasizes the need for great governance, something that sport frankly, has a poor track record in.
There is, however, one pretty significant hurdle. And in order to prevent the repeat of abuses like those of Adolf Hitler, sport has endowed itself with the right of autonomy or self-governance. In an attempt to bring sport–to prevent sport from being a tool of the corrupt and abusive through government interference, sport is unwittingly or perhaps even wittingly and willingly in granting itself self-governance.
It’s removed any aspect of accountability in answerability. So, whilst autonomy is important, it’s not an automatic right, and it’s something that needs to be owned. And we’ve seen over the last 20 years or more that football is well and truly abused that right.
International and also some national federations have used the notion of autonomy as an accountability shield, enabling massive misuse and corruption within increasingly large amounts of sums involved. But this session this afternoon is more specifically about football. And none of that one hundred odd international sports federations symbolizes governance issues more than FIFA.
The Federation Internationale de Football Association and–and its thanks to the efforts of the Department of Justice and the FBI, that we’re finally seeing some action on this front. Now, just to give you a little bit of context because a lot of you people don’t really think of football as being as big as it is.
If I tell you that the summer Olympics gets one fifth of the number of eyeballs of the FIFA World Cup, it gives you a bit of an indication. I come from Australia or in Australia soccer or football is–is not as huge as it is in most other countries around the world. And I grew up thinking that the Olympics was the ultimate mega-event. It’s not. It’s 20 percent of the size of the football World Cup.
So, the issues that FIFA have been known and been public for over 20 years, but it’s taken the intervention of U.S. Justice officials to finally bring them out some element of accountability. There’s still a lot of work to do. It’s a work in progress. And some of us fear that the DOJ may have think that their job is done.
We hope that’s not the case because there’s a huge amount of work still to–still to come and frankly, FIFA and football still stinks. More specifically though, the catalyst behind the FBI intervention was the bizarre awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
It is a nation of only 350 thousand citizens and as Harold pointed to me yesterday, until last week, it’s had no football culture at all. And I say until last week because it’s–it’s just won, Qatar just won the Asian Confederation Cup. Not to mention that it also has temperature in summer that exceed 130 degrees.
Now, I stress the temperature in summer because the World Cup is always played in summer every four years in the northern summer. It’s critical to understand this because the business of football to a large degree revolves around the set World Cup time table. Moving the finals to winter creates massive issues, not just for the professional leagues and clubs, but also for broadcasters. We’ll talk about that a bit later.
Therefore, any thought of awarding the World Cup to Qatar must be thought of as a remote. So, how did it happen? So, just before I introduce my colleagues, I just want to say one thing and that’s, I’m conscious of the fact that we sit in jurisdiction where any mention of the word football conges up images of leviathans and padded gear and helmets, smashing the crap out of one another in attempting to win, induce concussion or worse.
We understand that and I’m sorry but for us it’s the word football is engrained. And so, please, when we talk about football, understand we’re talking about soccer. It’s the beautiful game and it is the world game.
Sitting on my–at the end on the right is Mr. Harold Mayne-Nicholls. Harold is from Santiago, Chile. He’s a former journalist and a onetime FIFA official. At one point, Harold was mentioned in dispatches as being a potential challenger to Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA. And this led to Harold being target with a fairly vitriolic campaign that had awarded a seven year ban from football unfairly. And we’ll probably talk about that in a bit.
More aptly though for this discussion, in 2010 during the bidding process for two World Cups for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Harold led the Bid Evaluation Committee. So, he’s the man who was responsible for looking at all the nine bids and determining the quality of their bids. So, I think–I think he’s going to have some very interesting stuff to say.
Sitting on my immediate right is Jens Weinreich. I mentioned in the pre–in my preamble that we’ve known about these issues with respect to FIFA for 20 years. Jens wrote his first book about FIFA corruption in 1998. This is the godfather of corruption when it comes to FIFA and more particularly to the IOC and the Olympics, as well.
If you get a chance to speak to Jens, by all means, pick his brain. Hopefully, we won’t get too bogged down on Olympic issues today. But he is the real deal. He is a freelance journalist in Germany. He writes for critical publication such as de Spiegel and German television.
And Jens was instrumental in the Revelations of the German corruption to acquire the 2006 World Cup. Jens produced a 26 page article in Der Spiegel which then brought that story.
My name is Jaimie Fuller. I’m, until recently, I was chairman of a global sportswear brand. And that journey being with the sportswear brand has led me into the murky underworld of corruption within sport.
And for us, our brand values were all about fueling the true spirit of competition. And so, that’s–that’s taken us down into areas where sport and society cross over and particularly where corruptions involved. We’ll talk a little more about some of my experiences in Doha in Qatar. But right now, I think we should probably kick off the conversation. And we’ll start with a bit of general overview about the situation in FIFA. And Jens, you might like to start a little bit from 1998 and give everybody a bit of an idea of the context of the nature of corruption within FIFA and the football system.
WEINREICH: Yeah, most of all I would say it’s simply a question of culture. I mean, that–it’s a family business in FIFA. It has been a family business. And the culture of corruption was established, if one can say, culture was established in the early ’70s when Brazilian took over the helmet on FIFA, as FIFA President Joao do Havelange.
And this guy, he–he was able to–to extend his Presidency always with–with the usual promises to the voters. When he took over FIFA, he extended the football World Cup, the finalist numbers of finalist countries from 16 to 24 and then almost 20 years later when he wanted to get a last term in office, it was in ’94, in the U.S. by the way, in the FIFA Congress, he was able to extend the number of finalist from 24 to 32.
And this is always the case. It’s a part of the business, part of the family business. As Gianni Infantino, now the president of FIFA, he came in office in 2016 and he was able to expand the tournament to 48 teams from starting in 26 at the World Cup in the U.S. and North America, one has to say.
And now, we have the discussion whether or not the World Cup in Qatar will also be played 48 teams. So, we are talking about the culture of corruption. And you know, or surly you know that when the DOJ was–when the DOJ came in and when the–when the indictment was published and when the raid was conducted in Syriac and at the end of May in 2015.
Since then we talk about FIFA and continental organizations as organizations under the RICO Act, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. So, FIFA was happy to–to escape that danger to be declared a RICO organization. But they respective continental federations in North America CONCACAF and the South America CONMEBOL. They are more or less RICO organizations.
So, that is basically the–the–the big issue here. And–and if you follow the recent developments in FIFA under the new President, Gianni Infantino, as Swiss President again Sepp Blatter, was also a Swiss president. He was president from ’98 to 2015.
So, you may as the questions has anything changed in FIFA? One of the answers and the obvious answer will probably be no. Nothing or not much has changed. So, that is more or less the–the story over decades. And, of course, the second of December in 2010 was a core point.
FULLER: So, let’s–let’s–let’s talk about that because that was the catalyst for the Department of Justice intervention and for the FBI investigation was the awarding of two World Cups. The 2018–2018 to Russia and the ’22 to Qatar. So, there are only 24 voters that appoint the World Cup, correct?
WEINREICH: In this case, in ’22 in 2010 FIFA Executive Board, yeah, had 24 members but two were already–already suspended for corruption, of course.
FULLER: And they were suspended two weeks before the vote, weren’t they?
WEINREICH: Yeah, a few days–a few days a few weeks before the vote. One guy from Nigeria and the other guy from–from the Fiji Islands, right?
FULLER: Yeah. So, just a couple of weeks before they take this critical vote. Two of them are suspended in a sting, a newspaper sting attempting to sale their votes for significant sums of money. So, the vote came down to 22 people. When you–when you bid for these sorts of mega-events, and particularly, the World Cup, is the jewel in the crown of global sporting events.
When you bid for these, it’s an enormous process and it cost a huge amount of money. As I said, I come from Australia. We spent $50 million on our attempt to host the World Cup. We got one vote. And to–to make matters worse, that $50 million was tax payer’s money. It wasn’t money from the–the Australian Football Federation. It was tax payer’s money granted by the government.
And even still today, there is not transparency as to how that money was spent. But when you do this, in that case, it was the first time that FIFA had allocated two World Cups at the same time, which opened the doors for massive misuse and abuse.
And so, there were a total of nine countries, nine countries bidding for the two World Cups. And as I mentioned, Harold, you led that bid evaluation process. Could you talk us through a little bit about what the criteria was, how the process worked and what relevance that bid evaluation process–what the outcome of the bid evaluation was? And what relevance that had when it came to choosing the host countries?
MAYNE-NICHOLLS: Yeah, well, there were eleven countries with nine bidding processes. There were two joint bidding Belgium Holland and Spain with Portugal. At the beginning it was supposed–all the–all the bidding countries were running for both World Cup. But I would say on month and a half before the voting or two months before the voting, they decide that the 2018 World Cup will be in Russia, in Europe, so, only the European countries will be bidding for that.
And the rest of the world will take the 2022. So, that make a big, big mess because then you were able to–to find a way to exchange votes or to get some agreements with the voting. And that then began a huge political talking between all these 22 or 24 people that were voting.
Each one taking their own decision. With all that on hand, we began in July 2010 with a group of six people, we began visiting each country, each one of these bidding process. We established that will try to be the same amount of time in each one of the bidding countries. That was more or less five days.
And we went to every place. And after that, we produced a report, a report that was sent to each one of these 24 members at that time, plus a FIFA President, plus a FIFA general secretary. And when we were sure they received it, we published it on the web. Still on the web, which were the criteria that we were looking to establish or to say which country will be able or not to run the World Cup.
The first one was how much was the population of the country involved in the tournament. They really want it, or it was just some people that want it. Then the government. Without the government, it’s impossible to run such a huge event. And then we went to the football situation. That’s this key, first the people, then the government, then the football.
And with a football, we are looking for, now days, very basic things because we–two or three years you can build a stadium, doesn’t matter where, with two or three years you can build hurdles, you can build training ground. It’s a matter of money. It’s not a matter of time.
So, when I was on the first inspection bidding group, that was for South Africa 2010, it took longer to build a stadium, with the new technologies, every day is issue. And with that, we put on–we did a ranking first for 2018, which were the countries that had better chances and better possibilities who were better prepared to run the World Cup.
And then, for the 2022. And surprisingly, as Jens said, on December 2, on 2010, Russia, that was on the European countries on the bottom, and Qatar that was on the rest of the world on the bottom, in our evaluation, they got the votes and they were selected or elected or say, whatever. So, and Russia did the World Cup, I must say, I was really surprised they did a wonderful World Cup.
FULLER: So, just–just–just to emphasize. So, they were split into two groups. There were four European bids and five rest of world.
FULLER: And Russia came fourth out of four. And I think England topped that didn’t it?
MAYNE-NICHOLLS: Yeah, the ranking–
FULLER: –I’m pretty sure England was up there.
MAYNE-NICHOLLS: England–England by far, yes.
FULLER: Yep. And on rest the world–
MAYNE-NICHOLLS: –And then I will say Spain, Portugal, and then Belgium Holland and then Russia.
FULLER: And then in the rest of the world, I think the U.S. was first?
MAYNE-NICHOLLS: Yeah, the U.S. by far too. Then came Australia I think then Japan then Korea, or Japan Korea, and then Qatar.
FULLER: And Qatar was fifth.
FULLER: And I think I read when you–if you looked at putting all nine of them together, Qatar bid was ninth out of nine.
WEINREICH: So, this is typical for–for–for the world, not only for football but also for the Olympic world. I was following all Olympic bids since ’91 I think, and only in a few cases, the best on the paper after evaluation commission work, on the relation commission report, only a few cases, the best bid would win.
And one of these few exceptions was Salt Lake City by the way. And if you hear the name Salt Lake City, then you may remember that Salt Lake City was connected with a big corruption case. So, this is typical for this world.
FULLER: I–I understand that, which begs a question as to what is the bid evaluation process for? I know that there is a bid book produced by each of the nations. Australia spent, I think, $12 million on Australia’s bid book. I can’t speak specifically about Australia, but I know that the England bid book was not even taken up by all of the executive committee members.
We’re talking about millions and millions being spent on that. There’s this massive evaluation process that’s gone through. And at the end of the day, just–that’s just what completely we choose to appoint it where ever we want to appoint to.
So, I think we should probably talk a little bit about what happened around–around that appointment. And what sort of–what–what I believe strongly facilitated the awarding of the Qatar games of the 2022 games to Qatar, which were the side deals. And some of these side deals benefited nations where as others were, in my opinion, straight out corrupt. So, check some other schemes. What are some of the things–what about the air bust deal?
WEINREICH: No, just a second, I would go back to the decision to–to–to–to open a bid for two World Cups at the same time. The decision was taking, if I remember right, in May 2008 in Sydney to FIFA Congress, surprisingly, then President Sepp Blatter came out at the Press conference, after he came out with this proposal, okay, two World Cups same time.
It will be better for our finances. So, that was from the beginning on. It was wrong. It was a joke. It was a maneuver, a tactical thing because, simply because the president of FIFA, he combined his personal and goals to stay longer in office. He combined that–that process to be conflict. He combined that with the World Cup bidding because that this time, he knew, Qatar is going to be interested to–to be the first country in the Arab world to host the World Cup.
And he also knew that one–that the most important official from Qatar, soccer official, I used to say soccer in the U.S. The most important soccer official Mohamed bin Hammam is his name and he was a member of FIFAs council. And he was interested in becoming the FIFA President. And Blatter was smart enough, you can–yeah, I’d say smart. You can also say he was corrupt enough to combine that and to know, okay.
I will–I will have my fortune as out of that, so to say. I can–then I can–I can arrange something with Qatar maybe that Qatar cannot get both. Qatar cannot get the World Cup plus the FIFA presidency. So, that will be good for me. I can–I can handle that if the–I can go to the Amir and can tell him, okay, listen, I–I–I–I speak like Blatter now, listen Amir, you cannot get both. You have to domesticate your–your–your official.
FULLER: And that’s–and that happened. There’s a famous meeting isn’t there–
FULLER: –in Blatter’s office.
WEINREICH: Exactly, that happened after–after all Qatar got the World Cup and Blatter got elected in the next time. And that was the purpose more or less.
FULLER: But then Hammam–then Hammam came to Blatter’s office one day, walked in and there was Blatter sitting with the Amir, and was told directly.
WEINREICH: I don’t know, I was not there.
FULLER: He had to withdraw–he had to withdraw from the candidacy of the president.
WEINREICH: But I know Blatter had several meetings with the Amir and–and also before that I remember one–one meeting in March or April 2010, shortly before your journey began. There was a big sport meeting in Dubai, and Blatter, on the way to Dubai, Blatter was in Qatar and he has talked to the Amir. And he was right very happy after that meeting. And obviously that was a kind of decisive meeting that he made clear and–and he got the promise by the Amir, okay, this–we will domesticate our–our official.
FULLER: And being Hammam–and being Hammam was eventually banned from football for life because he attempted–I think there were 40 thousand–$25 thousand cash in 40 different envelopes handed out at a, I think it was a CONCACAF meeting in the Caribbean as cash payments to voters to vote for him for the presidency, correct?
WEINREICH: Yeah, not only that, I mean, for–for that reason, he got suspended in 2011. I think it was in May or June 2011. And the incident happened early in–in–in May 2011. But he also, of course, over the years, and this is again what I–what I called the culture–culture of FIFA and culture of sport diplomacy, if you want to say like that.
I mean, this–this voting for money and brown envelopes, this was a culture, of course, over decades, and then Hammam did that. And–and he has paid, as we know, for sure, it’s well documented and publicated, he has paid dozens, if not hundreds.
FULLER: But in this case, it was done so–it was done so openly and abrasively. That was the point. It became such a fast within the FIFA family. Let’s just move on, though, to this because I’m interested in talking about what sort of actions the Qataris made leading up to the vote and the deals that were done.
WEINREICH: That was a, as I would say, that was a new scale of, I use the word corruption and for legal reasons, I know, I’m a journalist and I have to be very careful with the corruption word. I mean, for legal reasons I say, okay, we have many definitions of corruption and let’s say, I’m using it in a moral orient, a kind of definition.
What Qatar has done was the most sophisticated and the most corrupt attempt to get Omega event in the history of world sports. That is my, the results of let’s say of my observations of over years. Never before, and perhaps never after, a country has invested so much money in an attempt to get omega event.
We are talking about 250 billion or even more. It doesn’t matter for them because the money is there and money comes out of the ground every day.
FULLER: That’s not a crime.
WEINREICH: That’s not a crime but that’s why I also, said, the most sophisticated, of course. They did use all kind of intelligence on a scale we never had before, including former CIA agents and so on and so on. They–they hired the most famous PR agencies, worldwide, they spied on football officials, even on journalists. That is a matter of fact, it’s documented, it’s well documented.
And the way they paid for and they paid their way to get the votes was, again, on a scale we never had before.
FULLER: So, let’s talk about some of those payments. I mentioned before, Airbus Industries contract. And what happened was Qatari was offered a massive contract in the billions with Airbus in return for Michel Platini who was head of the French Football Association, in return for his vote. And it’s on the record that he was, specifically, directed by President Sarkozy to vote for Qatar.
And it wasn’t just his vote. He, also, represented a number of other European votes. He was in a position to lead or coerce. So, they were able to lock up quite a few votes with a multi-billion-dollar deal with Airbus, correct?
WEINREICH: That was all–I mean, again, this was also a tactic you would find in other countries, as well. Germany did a similar thing when Germany got awarded the World Cup, 2006, I mean, in the months before, they made an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, for example. Again, that was, in some cases, in some countries, that was the usual practice, if you want to say.
But, again, the scale of the Qatar attempt to get the World Cup was totally new. Of course, they knew and they studied the family. They studied the culture of the corrupt culture in FIFA. And that’s why they knew, of course, they knew exactly almost all of them are interested in getting a good deal out of it, not only in South America where guys from Argentina, then late FIFA Vice President, Julio Grondona, he got several millions and another guy from Brazil, also a FIFA executive member, and long-time president of the Brazilian federation, Ricardo Teixeira. His case is still under criminal investigation in France. Qatar would pay two million on the account of his ten years old daughter.
FULLER: Yeah, but his 10-year-old daughter probably did–
WEINREICH: –And there’s another big, there are another big payments, much, much more, money on his private accounts in different countries. So, this, some of the topics are under criminal investigation. You may ask or may have got eight years after, there’s still no result. Yes, and again, I just want to say, this is a result of this absolutely, sophisticated, if you want to say it, attempt of Qatar.
FULLER: And in some cases, so, the Airbus contract, one could add, President Sarkozy being in his position, looking at the money that’s being brought into such an important company for France, and the employment that created, one can argue that that was an understandable thing to be done in the context of trade.
At the other end of the scale, though, is a gentleman from Cyprus, Marios Lefkaritis, One of the 22 voters. and he had the good fortune to have purchased a block of land for around $2 million in Cyprus which he, then, sold to the Qatari investment fund for $26 million in the months after voting for Qatari to win the World Cup.
Now, there’s no smoking gun. There’s no document. There’s no Email that says, “Do you still live in Caritas, just wish to confirm you know, you vote for us, we get the cup, we’re going to buy your land for this.” But that deal benefited no one other than Marios Lefkaritis. That is, in my opinion, absolute clear case of corruption. And the fact that it was the Qatari and this sovereign investment fund versus the supreme committee for 2022.
I mean, it’s still, we know in that country, it’s like left pocket, right pocket, correct?
WEINREICH: Of course.
FULLER: It’s hard to argue that, isn’t it?
Bald: This is very clear, as I said it before, in a legal, in a strong legal case of the definition of corruption, of course, you–one would have a problem say, oh, because there’s no contract and he is not convicted and so, but, I mean, come on, of course. That was corruption, no question, at all. And there was some other case. Was Michel D’Hooghe, the former medical director, was he a member of your commission?
WEINRICH: No, and Michel D’Hooghe is a member of Belgian, a Belgium member of, was a Belgian member of FIFA executive board. So, and he was the one, at least, who–who asked you to–to include in your report that the World Cup cannot be hosted in summer, right.
MAYNE-NICHOLLS: No, no, no. I didn’t have any contact with, no. Michel D’Hooghe was a Belgian, as you said, and he was involved, first, with the Russians with this painting or something like that. And then, the other thing is that his son is working at the Qatari Medical Center run by Aspire in Al Qadeem. And he was hired a couple of months after the vote came for the World Cup.
But no, no, nobody asked me about that.
WEINREICH: I just mentioned him. I mean, there you say, the different levels of corruption and, again, I may say more corruption. I was sitting in his living room in Belgium and his wife would present tea and some nice Belgian cookies and so, I presented to him some of my results of my investigation on how Qatar bought the World Cup. And he, I will never forget, and he was saying, oh Jens, this is, this is so ugly. I must, I’m shocked, I must think about that, how can I assist you on investigation?
And his wife was telling me the same. But at the same time, she would, may I say, I did not do my homework because I did not know at the same time their son was already working for Qatar.
WEINREICH: And, perhaps, not because the son was such a brilliant physician. Perhaps for some other reasons. So, you know. I love that story because it’s, also, important for me because I, since then, I tell myself, okay, listen, before you meet someone, do your homework and check his kids and maybe cousins and everything. Otherwise, you cannot do that job.
So, what I am saying is, this is as I wanted to describe before, this is this culture of corruption. For them, it’s very natural.
FULLER: Let’s talk about something that’s very near and dear to my heart which is human rights. In 2015, I went to Doha and I got smuggled into labor camps and I took hidden camera footage of the most appalling living conditions you could imagine for work is working on the infrastructure. And then, I went back to London and we cut a short filmed called The Hypocrisy World Cup, where we targeted, specifically, the four U.S. sponsors of FIFA, to say, you sign up to the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, yet, you’re happy for FIFA to award the jewel in the crown to Qatar, and they abuse workers’ rights to the degree that they do.
Harold, what role did human rights assessments play in your criteria for assessing the bids?
MAYNE-NICHOLLS: Well, and the first thing is that we have to be sure that the government was really a democracy or a kind of democracy in their countries works, like the case of Qatar where they meet, and so. But we never, we were never asked to assess about how is the working conditions because that’s a human rights, that is, of course, big trouble in Qatar.
We were never, we never–we never studied or investigate or did nothing with that. That was not on the, that was never on the table.
FULLER: So, the topic of kafala and you, you were guided by the executive committee, weren’t you?
MAYNE-NICHOLLS: Yeah, we have a–we have a guide from the (INAUDIBLE), we have a guide from the general secretary and, of course, we have our own guide. But that criteria was never on the table.
FULLER: And I was, I’ve got to tell you, it was unbelievably alarming and startling to be there, to see it in person and to talk to these people. And to–to–the look in their eyes because, you know, if you don’t know, under the kafala system, the thing–the first you do is you hand over your passport to your employer. You go through a two-year contract. And you have to hand over your passport and you are trapped. You are locked in there for two years.
And even down to, when we had the awful–the awful earthquakes Kathmandu a couple of years ago, there were many incidences of workers who were not allowed to go back for funerals of family, wives, parents, children because they couldn’t get their passport out. I mean, it’s an awful abuse and it’s something that, you know, we feel very strongly that needs to be done.
I’m getting the big windup. I think there’s somebody far more important than us who is just coming into the room. Hopefully, hopefully, we’ve given you guys a little bit of insight into the mindset of the politics of sport, particularly, the dirty games within FIFA, how the 2022 World Cup was awarded. And certainly, I can tell you now, if there was a way to unwind the 2022 World Cup, I’d like to see that. I still don’t think it’s too late. There are still plenty of other countries that are capable of hosting it in short notice.
But thank you very much and thank you guys.
ROMAN: Thank you, very much, to our panelists and if there’s anyone from media who would like to speak to them, afterwards, they’ll be available, either in the hallway out here, and one of the questions I know some people had that you might be able to answer after in conversation at brunch, is why Qatar? Why did they seek the World Cup? What do they hope to gain out of it? And I think that’s something that, maybe, we’ll address.
ROMAN: Right. And Jamie will be here and thank you, so much, to our panelists.
A quick introduction. We now are joined by former 3-Star General of the United States Marine Corp. and current Congressman from Michigan, Jack Bergman.
BERGMAN: No Marine jokes, this morning, folks. Okay. It’s an honor to be with you and I’ll get right to the point, very quickly. What isn’t in my bio is that I, also, was an airline pilot for Northwest Airlines and on September 11, 2001, after having been trained for 30 years as crews to how to deal with hijackers, our world changed in a matter of a couple of hours. So, you saw the three of four flights that day were successful. The fourth, United 93, that went down in Central Pennsylvania was not because the change had occurred very quickly in how the threat had changed.
Because for decades, we as airline crews had been trained, don’t make the hijacker mad, all they want to do is they want to get a free ride somewhere, make a statement, blah, blah, blah, whatever it is. Just get the plane on the ground. Our adversaries knew how we would react, as a crew, okay. The point of me opening with that is that, when you become predictable, you are defeatable.
So, for those of us who like to think that we can predict life, know that we make ourselves vulnerable in the process. But certain things you can predict over time, based upon an individual or, in this case, a country’s behavior, that can give you a high degree of predictability as to where they’re coming from and where their goals are.
You know, much attention has been focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and foreign manipulation on social media, targeting American voters. Not as much attention is being paid to foreign cyber terrorism affecting the lives of individual citizens or to foreign sponsors of terrorism.
In 2014, for example, North Korea was believed to have been behind a major hack of Sony Pictures and its executive, as well. Last year, we learned that Qatar’s news outlet, Al Jazeera, ran a month’s long spy operation aimed at U.S. Jews and pro-Israel groups. And the Gulf nation had hacked prominent private citizens in the United States.
That Qatar is involved in cyber-attacks, shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s also long been a sponsor of terrorism and continues to fund Hamas–you know Hamas, designated terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and numerous other countries. Hamas regularly praises as martyrs, those killed while carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel and gives money, often provided by Qatar, to their families.
It has fired rockets into Israel, infiltrated the Jewish state to kidnap soldiers, and dug underground tunnels so it could smuggle arms into Gaza, all in its efforts to destroy Israel and all with financial backing from Qatar.
Qatar has also supported other terrorist groups, including the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, al-Qaeda. The BBC reported in April 2017, Qatar allegedly paid a ransom of as much as one billion to a former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria and to Iranian officials, security officials, as part of a deal that resulted in the release of 26 royal family members, reportedly kidnapped by Iranian backed, Iraqi, Shia, militiamen and of dozens of Shia fighters captured by Jihadists in Syria.
The anti-defamation league, last month, pointed to abhorrent, hateful, anti-Semitic cartoons that demonized Jews and often appear on editorial pages, called on the Qatari government to follow its own press law that prohibits, quote, “The publication of any ridicule of or contempt toward any of the religions or their doctrines, including any motivation of sectarian racial or religious trends or any content that harms the good will toward a person through defamation.” End quote.
In recent years, we have seen Qatar become increasingly cozy with Iran. Qatar, clearly, is a problematic country but the United States has not, to this point, taken enough action. It’s time to change that. All countries, all countries must be held accountable for all their actions.
One way to hold Qatar accountable is the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act of 2017, designed to prevent Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any affiliate or successor from accessing its international support networks. It would require the president to report to Congress on any individuals or entities connected to foreign states that are financing Hamas and other terrorist groups.
An additional way to hold Qatar accountable would be to enable U.S. victims of terrorism to sue in U.S. courts, the Gulf nations or entities it supports. For years, U.S. victims of terrorism have been able to sue state sponsors of terrorism for the pain that those SST, state sponsors of terrorism, have inflicted.
Iran, for example, has billions of dollars frozen in U.S. banks, as victims attempt to claim its assets for restitution. It’s time to change that and empower affected families to use civil litigation as an additional path to end Qatari support for Palestinian terrorist groups.
The 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act put into law a long-standing practice of honoring sovereign immunity when anyone files in a U.S. court, a civil lawsuit against a foreign government, civil litigation against a foreign government. Amendments to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act are not allowed without precedent. The justice against sponsors of terrorism act allow victims of foreign terrorism committed on U.S. soil, to sue.
It’s time, it’s past time, for another amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, one that would allow a terrorism exception to the jurisdictional immunity of a foreign state, whether this is physical terrorism or cyber terrorism. So long as Qatar sponsors terrorism, it should not be protected.
Now, I opened with the reality of where I’m coming from in the world as a pilot who 9/11 was deeply, deeply engrained in how I had to do my job after that. As a Marine, and sending America’s greatest treasure, its young people who have chosen to serve in the military, into harm’s way in other parts of the world. I take that even more seriously.
The second toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in life is to go into combat. The toughest think I’ve ever had to do in life is send others. I stand with you here, today, to make sure that when we as United States, look at the global security issues that we have, we are not going to let our allies down but we are also going to make sure that we work together in such a way that hate groups and people who want to destroy, not only countries, but civilizations, do not only, they don’t thrive but they disappear, that we cannot tolerate any type of behavior like that in the world which we live because, I’ll tell you, let me just close with a visual.
What we use for good every day, the internet, our adversaries use it for evil. They recruit, they train, they do operational missions, they assess and they replane and start the cycle again. So, one of the challenges that we have in this world, is how do we take something that most of use for good and make sure that those who use if for evil don’t get that opportunity.
Thank you for being here, thank you for allowing me to speak. We are partners.
ROMAN: Thank you, congressman. And now, for our next, not panel or speech, we actually have a in depth conversation that will be taking place between Catherine Herridge, the Chief Intelligence Correspondent at Fox News and General Charles Wald, a retired U.S. Air Force general and former deputy commander of U.S. European Command who I believe may have just entered his second retirement, right now, after ending his third retirement, after ending as head of the Deloitte’s Washington D.C., office. Not quite, doing very good in the private sector but now we hope to be able be enlightened by his opinions on the subject of Qatar, in conversation with Ms. Herridge.
Ms. Herridge and Mr. Wald, or General Wald.
WALD: We’re going down here, huh?
WALD: Okay. Right over here, yeah. The other way.
HERRIDGE: Good morning. Thank you for being invested in foreign policy and national security issues and, particularly, the U.S. interest and objectives in the Middle East. I really have no one better to discuss that with, this morning, than General Wald, and I felt we would start with sort of a broad overview then get in to the objectives, how they’re achieved and how we can do that through strong partnerships.
So, just to set the table, what’s your view of, sort of, the state of play in the Middle East?
WALD: Very complex. I mean, everybody reads it, you and me or if you didn’t understand or at least what the individual dynamics are. We had a chance to talk a little bit, yesterday, about this discussion. My personal opinion is, first of all, there’s nothing easy about it, so, this is not a criticism. If anybody has this figured out, you know, how to solve world hunger or solve the Middle East problem.
But I think we’re a little disjointed here. The Middle East is all interconnected. I don’t think we’ve focused on, maybe, the center of gravity as much as we could have, here in the United States. Everybody knows the issue with Syria, with Turkey, with the Kurds, with Iran, with Yemen, with Qatar, and the other GCC states, particularly, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
So, those are all complex and they all intertwine, and they all work against each other, but I think there’s a couple constants we should, particularly, focus on. I’ve been involved with the region, probably, I guess, all my career really, for all that matters. In a real heavy way, probably since the mid ’90s. I think I’ve traveled there, upwards to 40 times. I go, again, next week.
I have a high regard for the people in that region. And for most of my career, or time in the Middle East, there was this difficulty, I guess, of relationships between Israel and the rest of the GCC countries because of obvious reasons that everybody knows.
And so, a couple of things have happened. One is, the Middle East is changing, just like all of us are. There’s a belief, I think, in the U.S. that, because we are pretty strong on energy now in the United States, we’re the largest oil and gas producer in the world as this, as we speak, which is interesting. For most of my career, the issue in the Middle East for us were two things, our relationship with Israel and oil.
And the oil part was kind of the day to day focus of the interest of our security, besides the fact we have this special strong relationship with Israel. Today, I think it’s Israel and Iran. Oil is still a big issue. It’s not, but it’s not the issue any more. So, the goodness for me, I think, in traveling to the Middle East and talking to senior leaders in both the Arab countries, as well as Israel, is there is a realization that this frictional relationship between the Arab countries and Israel needs to be considered again.
It’s more mature. There’s a common existential threat to those countries and that becomes Iran. And there is, also, the economic reality of oil is there, too, but then there’s also this ISIS issue, there’s Syria. And I think, for the United States, we have to sit back and think strongly about long term, our long-term policy in the Middle East.
My personal belief is that we need to focus on Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner. There are issues there. We all know what those are. But the reality is, in our interest, in the United States, is what we care about. We care about our friends, too, but we’re ultimately selfish about ourselves.
I think we need to focus on the relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who I have high regard for both. How do we build a relationship, help build a relationship that we’re actually a part of, other than just, you know, personal relationships but something a little more formal and concrete?
And there’s an initiative that many of you know about called the Middle East Security Initiative, the MESA, Middle East Security Agreement, and I think that would be a good thing. We don’t want to call it like NATO because that, probably, conjures up the antibodies by everybody from the standpoint of dysfunctionality. But I think something like that, moving forward, I think there is, again, a common interest between what used to be very adversarial countries, in this case Israel and other Middle East countries. They have a common enemy, if you will, a common threat.
And I think the United States should go down that path. I’m a strong believer in continuing to build pragmatic relationships with both Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan and Egypt, for that matter. So, I think that’s where we stand. I don’t think we’re there. I think we’re somewhat reactive.
I get the anxiety about deploying for 19 years to the Middle East. I started the Afghan, I didn’t start it, I was the lead of the U.S. forces for Afghanistan. That’s a long time ago. Seven trillion dollars later, so, I get the fact that we can’t keep doing the same thing again. You know, the Einstein comment, if you keep doing the same thing and it isn’t working, it’s the definition of insanity.
So, I do believe we need to do something there but the other part that isn’t so easy is, again, Iran’s attempt to have a, pretty much a land route across Iraq into Syria for Hezbollah in both Lebanon and Syria. And Russia’s opportunistic approach, there, we have to watch that.
But I think a broader approach in the way I just described is what I would recommend.
HERRIDGE: And what partnerships can the United States build, or would you say would be a priority to build in order to further our objectives?
WALD: Let’s just put Israel aside. That’s a special relationship, it’s going to be special, it’s there. I mean, it’s just different. We’re going to be there in support of Israel. Matter of fact, as an aside, and I’ll get back to your point, we’re recommending that there’s, actually, a formal agreement between Israel and the United States, a security agreement. There is none, it’s kind of interesting. There is an implied one. Everybody knows we’ll be there. But Israel has made the determination they’d rather not have that agreement because they don’t want to have people thinking that they’re going to wait for us to come and give them, captain, may I, if they have to do something.
Regardless, that’s there. And that won’t change. It’ll only continue to be strong. To your question, I think the priority is Saudi Arabia. I think they are the uncontested, visceral leader in the region, for a lot of reasons, because of the holy sites, because of the size of Saudi Arabia.
I think the Emirates provides world class intellectual leadership. I think–I think the Emirates has some of the top leadership in the world there. And I think between those two and then, some of the other GCC countries that the Kuwaits, the Bahrains, and then, some non GCC countries is where we had to go. But I think we had to start with trying to articulate to the American public why it’s in our interest to have a relationship there.
It’s a difficult time because of the recent occurrences but that can’t be overlooked, necessarily. But from a strategic standpoint, if the United States cares about not being the policeman in the Middle East, continuously, all the time, we need to help build capacity for partners and we need to have a stronger alliance in the region that can, on a daily basis, deter and hopefully help defend in case of something happening from the East. And I would pursue that.
HERRIDGE: How is Qatar aligning itself among these nations?
WALD: Well, I mean, I’m not a Qatar specialist, although I did open the airbase there. I spent a lot of time there. You know, the difficult part, I think for policy makers, and people like ourselves that want to come to some kind of conclusion that makes sense to you, is sometimes you have to pick what is important. You have to have a commitment to something that’s important.
You can’t have everything. I think countries that play both sides or look to play both sides and have the best of all worlds and not really commit to anything beyond self-interest, gets in trouble. And I think, my personal opinion is, I think Qatar has to choose. I think they have to decide if they’re going to be aligned with traditionally GCC Western countries or if they want to align themselves with Iran. You can’t have it both ways because Iran does not allow both way playing. That’s the problem.
You’re dancing with the devil when you start working with Iran. So, I can understand how a country might want to, you know, they’re right in the middle of the North Arabian Gulf, and they have their political interests but if they either want to become isolated or aligned with Iran, I think that would be a big mistake.
HERRIDGE: What would you, if you were sitting in the White House or within the Defense Department, what would be your sort of immediate objectives in order to establish progress with these relationships?
WALD: Well, truth in lending again. I know the Saudis pretty well. I’ve worked there. I’ve had our headquarters there when we were doing Afghanistan. I’ve flown out of there a lot. And the Emirates, for that matter. But I think the objective for the United States is to help explain what I am saying better, to help the American public understand the, what a strategic relationship really is.
What’s the importance there? Again, you’re all smart people, here, so I’m preaching to the choir. But the average American doesn’t spend a lot of time studying this. I mean, matter of fact, I think it’s ironic up until, probably 9/11, most Americans didn’t know the difference between a Sunni and a Shia. You know, and most Americans probably couldn’t have pointed out places on the map of countries in the Middle East, didn’t really understand the dynamic. And they, probably, still don’t because most Americans shouldn’t have spent most of their time on these type of issues.
But I think there’s a lack of sophistication and savvy on the part of American in what our goals and needs are there. I think our friends in the region, both the Saudis and the Emirates need to work, continue to work hard on explaining to people here and in other Western countries of what their future is. I think Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia is brilliant. It’s going to be really hard.
So, there’s some dynamics, you know, that are working pretty well. There’s an unforced error, last October, that’s put a glitch in this, moving forward, no doubt about it. But I think, I think we and others that care about what we’re talking about need to help articulate this to both broadly influencers and policy makers in Washington D.C. and then, at a later time, maybe the public itself.
But, you know, politicians have their own objectives. I get it. They’ve got to get voted in. Most of the time, unfortunately, sometimes that precludes their you know, ideological beliefs. I mean, but we need to educate both Congress the policy makers and the public to a certain extent, why it’s in our interest to have stability in the Middle East.
If you listened to the president’s State of the Union, last night, I don’t know about you. I guess, you’re probably a different group, but for where I come from, $7 trillion is a lot of money. And you know, what people don’t’ think about, Catherine, is the new threat to or the growing threat, I guess if you will, existential threat to us is this China, Russia thing, mainly China.
And people say, well, China’s not a big military threat, what are you worried about? They’re, you know, they’re budget is probably half of what ours is and, you know, God bless Congress, we’ve got a good defense budget. But China didn’t spend $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 19 years. They aren’t spending that money day to day.
Matter of fact, they steal our technology. So, they get a pretty good break on R&D. Not only they get a break, they get really good R&D and they get it free. They’re equipment hasn’t been worn out. So, their defense budget is a lot closer to ours than people think and we kind of say, well, you know, we’re such a big military and we shouldn’t have to worry about that. And you know, wow, you mean half of what we’re doing in our military is consumables. We’re dropping bombs or burning off gas or whatever and wearing out our equipment.
And so, that’s not what we’re here to talk about. But the point is, we haven’t articulated our national security policy maybe as well as we could have. Now, it would take time to do that and most people have about a 30 second attention span.
But I think we need to have people like yourself articulate this a lot better. We have a broader issue in the world we have to think about. We have to think about what’s in our best interest as the United States. Who do we want as allies? How do we want to develop that alliance? How do we want to have countries in the Middle East, let’s say, build a better deterrent missile defense capability that they can share?
For those of you that spend a lot of time in the Middle East, you know there’s a cultural aversion to having people see inside the tent, if you will, and have access to your intelligence or knowledge and sharing intelligence or information is not second nature. But I think we, again, getting down to the weeds a little bit here, along with this MESA, we need to help them build a regional missile defense capability as Iran continues to build its capability and threaten.
I was in Riyadh last year when a missile hit at the airfield and I’ll tell you, it makes, it gets people’s attention, you know that. I mean, I can imagine if a missile landed in the middle of Washington, we’d probably have a lot of people getting pretty nervous.
But so those types of things. I think we’re, we don’t have a choice. You know, I think there’s also this kind of an inherent belief that, ah, we’ll just decide not to go there, and we’ll stay out of the Middle East and we’ve got our own things to take care of and things will be okay.
Even though we’re the largest oil producer in the world, we still use, we produce, I think eleven and a half million barrels a day and we use about 22, 23 million. That means we’re beholden to the rest of the world for about ten of them.
The rest of the world is up to a hundred million barrels of oil a day now, first time ever, we started about three weeks ago. If you cut off, let’s say, 15, 20 million barrels of oil from the Straits of Hormuz all of a sudden, our economy is going to go in the tubes there. So, we need to keep articulating to people why we’re in the Middle East, what it’s all about. It’s both the ideological. It’s the correct thing to do but it’s, also, economical.
HERRIDGE: I want to just bring in the idea of this, sort of, developing alliance between Russia and China. Is that, also, now a factor, are they more engaged in the Middle East?
WALD: Yeah, I mean, I think they have kind of an intersectional common interest that is a convenience. I don’t think there’s any cultural affinity, there. I think it’s a convenience, right now, that they can counter weight the United States. I mean, the belt in the road is coming. That is an unbelievable, you know, I guess it’s fair. I mean, they can do what they want, China can. But it’s a pretty bold attempt at taking over the world economy in about 2050.
And we need to get our, pay attention to that. Russia, I personally think is probably on the wane. I think they’re–they’re not, their last gasp but they’re not ever going to become what President Putin wants them to be there. They pick and choose where they can throw their weight around, have influence. They’re not to be taken lightly but they’re, I would think, second to China in a threat, relationship, except for their missile capability.
But they see the–they see there in their best interest, the strategic interest of China and Russia are common in the fact that they want to counter the United States in our influence in the world. And Russia will take its, pick its spots. China is–has a vision. They’re frightening, it’s a frightening vision. We need to pay big attention to that.
But again, they see it as mutually in their interest to be collaborative where it’s in their (INAUDIBLE) But also, I mean, they’ve already cultivated Hezbollah, which is really problematic. They support Hamas and they support the Muslim Brotherhood. They’re trying to get there, they seem to have a foot in the door a little bit in Qatar. Obviously, that’s what this is all about.
Oman is a pretty neutral country but they, they keep working around the edges, there. The issue in Yemen is deplorable. I think–I don’t think there’s a whole lot of innocence any place in that but I do think Iran and maybe countries like Qatar or others have really stolen the narrative there.
And so, Iran is, has the benefit of being pretty sophisticated. They’re smart people. They do have capability. It’s not, necessarily, something I think, you know, they every once in a while, threaten they’re going to take on our Navy in the Persian Gulf or the North Arabian Sea, whatever you want to call it. They would have their, if they ever shot in anger, seriously at one of our ships, that’s the last time they’ll ever have a Navy.
So, but they talk big. They talk and the rhetoric is there. So, they have this, they have the benefit of being disingenuous. They can say anything they want and do anything they want, act any way they want. I mean, they are, basically, a rogue criminal country. And our people, it never ceases to anger me, that they’re the ones that provide the technology for the IUDs in both Afghanistan and Iraq that have done the most harm to our soldiers.
And it’s criminal. I mean, it is totally criminal the same way as they support Hezbollah, the same way they’ve sent missiles to Yemen. I mean, you could argue Yemen all day. But they’re just a very, you know, misbehaving nation that you can’t trust, and they’re dangerous.
HERRIDGE: Will you look ahead into the rest of this year, 2019, and 2020? What would be the developments or markers or indicators that would tell you which direction this is going?
WALD: I think if you see a lessening of the rhetoric about, we need to punish Saudi Arabia, is one thing. I mean, I think they have to face up to the serious error that was made.
HERRIDGE: What do you think that would, just because we don’t want to minimize the murder of this–
WALD: –No, I’m not minimizing it at all. I mean, it’s–
HERRIDGE: –What do you think that realistically looks like?
WALD: I think–I think they have to, it’s Saudis in this case, have to be, probably a little more transparent. You know, it’s interesting, they, I just don’t think their public relations apparatus is really very good, enough that you’re not going to convince people that bad behavior is a good thing by being clever.
But I was over there two weeks ago and, matter of fact, I think it was just last week, Mariah Carey put on a concert there. I don’t know if most people know that. It was pretty impressive, by the way. Most people here would have liked it. They have a, the Saudis have a female Formula One race driver, I mean, I was shocked to see it when I was over there. Now the Emirates have a female fighter pilot that have flown over Syria.
You know, in Saudi Arabia, they’re, about 65 percent of their population is under 30 years old. We don’t have our phones here because they stole them from us, but I’ll tell you what, they’re on social media. It’s changing there.
But I think, number one is they need to be not more clever but more sophisticated in the messaging and outreach to people like us.
HERRIDGE: And more honest about events.
WALD: Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to get into making, you know, everybody’s heard everything that’s happened. If, you know, you can make your own judgment on that. It was appalling. I call it an unforced error. It was a mistake. Part of it is, and I don’t speak for Saudi Arabia or anybody else. But, you know, on the one hand, his Royal Highness, Mohammad bin Salman is a brilliant young guy with a lot of energy and a courageous vision. I mean, he has got a bold vision, there’s no doubt about it. And frankly, I think his Highness Mohammed bin Salman, bin Zayed is his mentor and I think they’ve worked closely together.
But he also had a lot of young people around him. We talked before we came out here about, you know, why is the military retired general officer a 4-Star when they’re 62 and they’ve got a lot runway left and it’s the way it is, right. But there’s some benefit to age and wisdom you know.
We’re in a cultural, interesting dynamic, you know, to people my age, millennial is a dirty word and to millennials, you know, whatever they call us, is–so, it’s not true. It’s just, it happens. And so, there’s a real benefit of wisdom and there’s a real benefit of new ideas and bigger and energy. And so, I think for the Saudi government, probably a mixture of probably a little bit more wisdom and some scar tissue. They’ve done that now. They’ve put some of these people into, as you all have heard, they’ve restructured some of their leadership positions.
I don’t think it’ll ever be–it’ll never change what happened. But all of us, here, have to decide, is the strategic relationship important enough to try to work through this without saying, I’m turning a blind eye to whatever you do. And I think we all have to put our big boy pants on, now, and start thinking that way.
And on the other hand, I think the Saudi government has to, leadership has to think really hard and fast about how they present themselves to the rest of the world, how they articulate that, how they make their decisions, going forward. If that doesn’t happen, this is going to be a big negative for us–big negative.
We’re going to be, you know, I’ve often said before if it wasn’t for–if it hadn’t been for oil, we probably could have defended Israel or helped defend them from the Mediterranean. We never would have had to be in the Gulf. We’re there. And now, Iran has risen up to be a, more than just a bit player. They’re a significant regional threat.
So, we don’t have any choice. We can either decide we’re going to isolate ourselves and have an economic situation in a world that’s going to do great harm to us. And kind of live within our own means, if you will, within our own borders and get focused inward and do the best you can which is probably not too great. Or we can decide that we are a global player, hopefully, we stand for good. We do.
And part of the global issue that we have to address is the Middle East and one of those issues is Iran and we can’t do it without partners out there. And we need to go down that path.
HERRIDGE: What could Qatar do to show the United States that they were aligning, more so with the GCC nations, versus Iran?
WALD: You know, I mean, I think if I were Qatar, it’s difficult to have somebody tell you to do certain things and then do them. But there are some steps they can take. One, you know, before 9/11, most of your–well, some of you weren’t alive, probably. But most of you remember, there were certain countries in the Middle East that recognized the Taliban as a political entity in Afghanistan. UAE was one of those, Saudi was one and Qatar was one. As a matter of fact, I think–I think Qatar was the last one to denounce them before we started the bombing. So, it became apparent that we, at least, in the West, the United States, particularly, thought the Taliban was a rogue outfit of, mainly, folks seen on terrorism and having relationships with those.
That entity was not something that we sallied up to since we just had three thousand, something, people. I was in the Pentagon the day it got hit. I know everybody in here probably remembers where you were. I left the day after 9/11 to go set up the attack on the Afghanistan. I will tell you this. Most of you remember this. From my seat, that was the most, I guess, common together emotion for our country I have ever seen. Everybody there in our country said, that’s got it, we have got to do something about this, you know.
And so, I think we need to focus on the fact that the reality of the world is we have to be engaged. We have to be engaged in the Middle East. It would be in–in our very best interest if Qatar would do some of the things, we’ve asked them to do. One would be not to house Muslim Brotherhood headquarters or Taliban headquarters or pay for people that are trying to do the United States, or our friends, harm. That’s a–you just can’t accept it.
I mean, it’s–again, we’ve alluded to and talked around it a little bit here but the situation in Saudi Arabia, you know. I mean, again, I’m not rationalizing but I read an op-ed the other day by, I can’t remember the guy’s name, but it was the guy that wrote Forest Gump, of all things. He said, you know, we–we hammer a guy for the death of an individual, which is atrocious, but Stalin would kill millions of people, we were aligned with them because of Hitler.
Now, that’s a tough comparison but the real issue and the bottom line of that was, what is in the interest of the United States, period? And what’s in the interest of the United States is to have stability in the Middle East, to be able to counter Iran and to not have people out there that would help the Iranians do that and would be helpful to us.
And so, I think it would be best for Qatar to rejoin the GCC the best they can and become a little more aligned with we’re doing.
HERRIDGE: You’re going to have to, sort of, look into your crystal ball because we’re getting close to the end of our time here. What do you think the next couple of years look like in the Middle East?
WALD: I’m pretty optimistic. I think the Saudis have the message. They’ve got some, like I said, I spent quite a bit of time there. They have got some really sharp individuals over there that now are in place to influence things.
I think they’re going to mature. I think it’s–I think they’re going to become more into the 21st century, if you will, from a standpoint of how they treat their citizens, how they interface with the rest of the world. They’re very sophisticated on the oil side, there’s no doubt about it. But they’re a growing force and they’re going to be a big influence on the rest of the Muslim world in how cultures treat their individuals, particularly women, for that matter.
So, I–I guess I’m always the eternal optimist, but I see goodness there. There’s no doubt the UAE will continue to be, punch way above its weight on international leadership.
I think there’s a possibility that there could be a coming to a head of the Iranian issues. I hope not but there’s always that chance. I think that’s a danger.
I think Turkey is going to have to decide where they come down on this thing. And I think Syria will semi stabilize and Russia will be semi, not neutralized, but a lesser influence, if you will.
And we’ll continue, and I think over the next five or ten years, there could be an actual Middle East strategic alliance, the MESA I was talking about. That would be a seminal issue for us because it brings in, you know, if you look at the Middle East countries, the first time I went to the Middle East as the air chief for the United States, I hadn’t spent a lot of time there and I was doing some study on my flight over. And I counted up, in the region, you had Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, and Egypt.
And those countries that were aligned with us at the time, still are, mostly. They had 850, what we call fourth generation fighters, F16s, F15s. And we were flying the no-fly zone over Iraq, at the time. As you know, after the first Gulf war, we flew a no-fly zone over Iraq, I ran that. And I thought, why in the heck are we the only ones doing this? You know, why isn’t Kuwait flying with us or Saudi Arabia or UAE or you name it?
Anyway, long story short, they really hadn’t been trained to it. They are now. They’re getting better. We can’t–we cannot do all this all the time. We shouldn’t do it all, all the time. We create animosity by people that think we’re the invaders or the occupiers. Why are we the ones doing all the hard lifting and, by the way, killing their people?
It’s a huge propaganda tool for people that want to make us look bad or counter what we’re trying to do there. So, I think a more mature relationship. I think we have to really work on the Saudi issue because of what you’ve alluded to. I think they have to work in that, too. We can all help with that. They can’t afford any major misstep, right now, for a while.
But I’m optimistic. I think we’re going to do good.
HERRIDGE: Just wanted to pick up on one thing you said. Why do you think the tension with Iran comes to a head in the near term, or may do so?
WALD: Well, you know, first of all, if we succeed in countering this land route, if you will, or maybe succeed in–
HERRIDGE: –You’re talking about the Shia crescent, right?
WALD: Right, which is a dream, you know. Plus, it helps them, you know, build a counter there against Israel, particularly, with Hezbollah, and support them. That, if we don’t do something to counter that, and they start having influence, they’re not just going to sit there and say, we own land. They’re going to try to do something. And they have patience, probably one of our lack of attributes for us. We don’t have patience, but they have patience.
And there could be a misstep. And they continue to modernize their missile capability which, again, I don’t think their traditional military would really stand a chance against the Western alliance, particularly, the U.S. But missiles are different. Missiles, you know, are tough to shoot, hard to shoot down a missile with a missile even though we’ve got some capability. Israel has fantastic capability.
But it’s also, one can get through pretty easy. I don’t know if people know that but last count, there’s been 120 scud missiles fired into Saudi Arabia from Yemen, one hundred and twenty. If we had one missile shot at us in the United States, that’s the end of whoever shot it, I’ll tell you right now.
So, they’re going to continue, they showed proclivity to do that, help other countries do that. Hezbollah is sitting there with 110,000 rockets pointed at Israel. The Iranians just built a, what’s kind of an intermediate range, potentially nuclear attempt, although they don’t have nuclear weapons on them but missile, the other day, again. They continue to do that.
If one of these days, one of those missiles is actually fired at something, or miscalculated, could flare up in a heartbeat. So, I think it’s irresponsible behavior. I think it’s provocative, I think it’s volatile.
HERRIDGE: A lot of room for miscalculation.
WALD: A lot of room for miscalculation. Rhetoric is, I mean, they have no, you know, they have no restrictions on saying whatever they want.
HERRIDGE: No filter.
WALD: No filer. And we have different leaders every so often. They all have a different opinion. They all, you know, so they’ve had the same kind of leadership for quite a while, the IRGC. So, I think miscalculation, as you pointed out, Catherine, is probably the biggest issue and both a miscalculation from accidentally doing something but, more importantly, misjudging what they can get away with.
HERRIDGE: Any final thoughts?
WALD: These forums are important. I think people like you articulating it on TV is a good thing. We need more of that. There’s a lot of breathless reporting that goes on. It’s sophisticated, the message has to continue. You all have your networks of people that are like-minded. We need to continue to get the word out there.
I think, if people have a chance to talk to policy makers from other countries that come here, in any way you can, I think we should have this discussion and I think all of us need to get the message out. But it’s, it’s not going to go away. But anyway, I appreciate it.
HERRIDGE: General Wald, as someone who’s in a military family, I want to thank you and your family for their service. And thank you for being here, this morning, for the discussion.
ROMAN: Thank you, both, to General Wald and Catherine Herridge. And now, we will be taking a 20-minute break from 10:40 to 11:00 a.m. That’s when you have phone calls you have to make or grab some coffee and some Danishes over there. On the left, we will reconvene with our next panel, promptly at 11:00 a.m.
ROMAN: Thanks again for everyone joining us today, and I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank our cosponsors before we begin this panel. The Middle East Forum is proud to host this in partnership with the Phyllis Chesler Organization, the Endowment for Middle Eastern Truth, the Lawfare Project, the Iranian American Forum; the Islamic State International Crime Research Center, the Royal Institute for European and American Studies, the Shurat HaDin Law Center, the Haym Salomon Center, the Fahmy Foundation, the Foundation for Sports Integrity, MECRA, the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, CAMERA, the Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America, the World Values Foundation, the Society–Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, the Gatestone Institute, the Security Studies Group, and Strength to Strength.
Our next panel is going to be focusing purely on Qatar’s actions, both here in the United States and abroad, as it relates to their influence machine. We’re joined by Ronald Sandee, a formal–a former senior analyst for the Dutch Military Intelligence Agency, and also an individual who was targeted by Qatari cyber espionage, Oren Litwin, the director–the assistant director of the Middle East Forum’s Islamist in Politics Project, and someone who’s written extensively on the–Qatar Foundation International and also their influence here in both higher education and also the think tank community and Jim Hanson, the president and founder–cofounder of the Security Studies Group, also a former American Special Forces operator and someone who has written extensively about the Qatari influence campaigns here in Washington, DC.
So, Oren will be focusing on their exposure to public institutions. Ronald will be focusing on their exposure internationally and also their cyber hacking and cyber espionage. And Jim will talk about their lobbying and also DC optics machine in terms of the war that’s going on every day on social media and also in the broader press. We won’t be touching on Al Jazeera or their global media empire, because we’re saving that panel for later on in today.
So, just to give some opening remarks, a range of Qatari lobbying, cyber espionage, and disinformation efforts against U.S. citizens and others around the world has been exposed in recent months. Some questions that we hope to be able to answer on this panel today include should Foreign Agent Registration Act restrictions be tightened against Qatar and its agents in the U.S., some who register years late, only after they’re caught either by think tanks like ours or by Justice Department investigators?
How can we deal with Qatari backed cyber warfare, also some actors here in the United States and overseas being accused of being involved in these pernicious campaigns? And lastly, we should answer the question, are the Qatari lobbyists winning? If they are, how do we turn that tide? And if they’re not, what are some of the successful machines which have been used against their influence campaigns?
So first, I’d like to start with Ronald and to ask you to give us an overview of what exactly is the infrastructure and the effect that the Qatari cyber espionage campaign has had in relation to two specific cases, the first as it relates to the World Cup and if there was anything that you could just give us a brief overview on that we didn’t touch on in Jaimie’s panel that we had covered beforehand. And second, what I mentioned in my opening remarks this morning, around 1,500 people from a whole plethora of different groups of individuals being targeted by Qatari hackers or Qatari backed hackers. What’s the purpose of that? What–what are they hoping to gain out of that?
SANDEE: Oh, that’s a whole lot. I–I can talk probably hours about this, but let’s start with the–
ROMAN: –We’ll try eight minutes, so–
SANDEE: –Yeah, I will definitely be able to do that, cut some–cut some edges. I–I think if we start first with the–with the World Cup football–I am still from Europe so I also use the word football, football you play with your feet, not with your hands. But it doesn’t matter. I still like American football as well.
But without that, what we saw in the–in the–in the hacking with the–with the World Cup, the interesting part was as well that they were following mainly the–the–the influence streams and their–their dirty campaign to follow the competition and take out competition. One of the interesting things as well is their–that they were using their sovereign wealth fund.
One of the directors of Qatari Diar, Ghanim Bin Saad Al Saad, a businessman who is also a Qatar charity foundation director for a long time, he was able to give bribes to Brazilian and Argentinean FIFA officials. And in return, he bought an international chain of hotels, five star hotels in–in–in–in Monaco and in–in–in Nice, in Amsterdam, big hotels. He bought them for himself with his own company, and later on the resold them to the–to the sovereign wealth fund with a–with an extra amount of cash for himself; quite interesting. So, they are using their–their whole scheme to get things done.
And in–in this other hack, what we see really in–in this current hack of 1,500 people basically in 20 countries, they go after everyone who is opposition. They go after people who are with them. Interestingly, very many Muslim Brotherhood operators are being targeted as well, probably for just control matters.
And one of the very most interesting things that I see currently is that they are following a bunch of Arab soccer players, young soccer players. One probably will think that they will try to use the information they get from those hacks in the World Cup 2022, maybe to bribe those players to lose again.
There are interesting things but, in general, the Qataris just want control and they want to take out and know what their opposition is doing. In 2014, we saw that the Qataris were looking for their internal security and the communication security, and they decided not to go with the Chinese. They didn’t trust them. They didn’t want to go with the Russians. They didn’t trust them. And they didn’t go with the U.S. because they didn’t trust them either.
So, they were looking in Europe, and they decided not to use the Brits, untrustworthy as well for the Qataris. But they went with France. They went to Atos, a big cyber firm, and they got the contract. So, there is a lot going on, and the Qataris are very clever players.
They have a very tiny intelligence service, very active in bribing and sponsoring terrorist organizations, and there are information that they are supporting al-Shabaab in Somalia. They are supporting Boko Haram in–in–in Nigeria. And they are very much involved with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
They do that in very interesting ways, probably a little bit outside this–this talk. But what we really, really see is that the Qataris are playing a very clever game. As they are very small, they are hiring many British former MI6, MI5 GCHQ people to do the bid for them in Qatar or in the UK. And they are following also, yeah, many people in the U.S.
ROMAN: So, this is the examples where we find them succeeding in their hacking. But just in the last 24 hours, there’s been five news stories that have come out, and I’d like to extrapolate on this and maybe have a little bit of a deeper–
ROMAN: –Dive to ask you for some reflection.
The only positive news story that I saw, or maybe if we even go back 72 hours, is the Qatari football team won the Asia Cup, and they made very big news out of this. The second thing is they had a $10 billion investment that they made in a liquid natural gas terminal that was announced yesterday with the secretary of Energy in Texas, so two positive stories, three negative.
One, a Barclays executive in the United Kingdom is on trial right now for manipulating a bailout of the British banks in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Qatar has now been implicated in that in trying to seek favorable conditions versus other bondholders. The second is an Amnesty International Report that came out yesterday criticizing Qatari labor standards in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup.
And a third report that came out was the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a German-based organization, that was showing that it’s not just about the–the labor issues in Qatar itself, but the standards that the Qataris have been exhibiting in their supply chain management as it relates to other non-stadium based construction standards going in Doha and also in the supply chain outside the country.
So, there’s, you know, a balance, I guess, between positive and negative news, all of these reports just coming out 24 hours before a conference on Qatar in Washington, DC, not saying that there was any, you know, intention to be able to have that collaboration or a causation of that story. But what is the reason that the Qataris are pursuing this when sometimes they get their hand slapped and other times they’re rewarded? I mean, you would think that after being caught so many times that they would stop this activity. But what’s the reason for them to continue it?
SANDEE: Well, they find out money talks, quite simple, if–if you do a good investment, probably good for the shareholders of Exxon and pretty good for Exxon itself. But should we be happy with it, with a big Qatari investment in something like that?
It’s part of–of Qatar’s way of hedging and–and influencing everyone. It’s the soft power. Qatar has no real power. It needs soft power. How do we get–how do you get soft power? Well, you invest, you bribe, and you work with people. And–and–and in–generally, that’s what they do with–these are all perfect examples of hedging, and it’s all about the brand of Qatar.
ROMAN: And even more so, just going back to the World Cup for a second, they were able to give favorable terms on a natural gas deal to Thailand. So, we’re not just talking about Europe and the Middle East and North America. But they went so far as to get the Thai vote on the FIFA decision–on the FIFA Executive Committee to decide the World Cup by giving favorable terms on a natural gas deal, and they got the Thai vote.
Now, I’m not saying that I can prove that. But if it just happened a few months beforehand when they were getting unfavorable conditions years before that, they used every element of power at their disposal to try to get favorable conditions for their geostrategic games. Now–
SANDEE: –Yeah. And also, if I may say, they also worked so closely with Russia that they–they bought almost 20 percent of Russia’s Rosneft–
SANDEE: –National oil company. So, there they made a deal together as well.
ROMAN: And it seems like–you made a point earlier when we were discussing this. Anywhere that there is a natural gas resource interest, the Qataris find some way to eject the competition or to take over the competition in order to gain a monopoly in those specific areas.
ROMAN: So, that’s in terms of the area of natural resources and their cyber espionage, but there’s overt influence activity that’s going on as well.
Dr. Oren Litwin from the Middle East Forum wrote a paper back in January, I think, that was published in National Review in February or March on the example of Qatari Foundation International. And this was before we found out that this organization was underwriting the Jamal Khashoggi articles that were going out in The Washington Post prior to his untimely demise in the beginning of October.
But QFI, the Qatari Foundation International, has spent billions of dollars in the United States trying to influence not just colleges that we know about through their reporting requirements under Title XI of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, but also public schools and police departments. What are the Qataris doing funding K through 12 education? And how is that part of this wider influence strategy here in the United States?
LITWIN: So, just to set the scene, we’ve heard many times over the course of the last couple of hours that Qatar is a very small country with a tremendous amount of wealth in a very bad neighborhood. And they decided a couple decades ago that their grand strategy going forward was to turn their wealth into influence.
And we’re going to hear different ways they’ve done that, like with Al Jazeera, and we’ve heard a few other ways through their exploiting their natural gas to forge these relationships and put themselves in the center of all these different relationships. But that means building a tremendous amount of–of soft power, as we’ve heard, with the major players in the region, and that includes the United States.
And it’s not just a matter of shelling out tons of money and now you like me, although they do that. It’s also a question of building a certain tone, a certain set of relationships. And that’s their objective in–in their involvement in the educational system here and in other parts of the world through the Qatar Foundation International.
Now, the QFI is a affiliate or subsidiary of QF, of the Qatar Foundation itself, which is a massive, massive nominally private, but effectively state run, institution in Qatar which oversees their state development efforts, so running the universities in partnership with American universities who are richly paid to administer these–these satellite offices in–in Education City in–in a district in Doha.
And I think the number I saw was that Qatar has become the single highest funder of American universities out of all the other countries in the world, over a billion dollars since 2011. And they’ve done that mostly in order to fund these satellite campuses in Doha. But it also involves reciprocal influence, because the Qataris are also able to put their thumb on the scale here in the United States as far as what kind of decisions these universities like Georgetown, Texas A&M are making even here.
The QFI in particular, their–their–their mandate is a little more focused, theoretically, and their–their main focus, as they put it, is to facilitate the teaching of Arabic language and, in the larger sense, the Arabic and Muslim culture in the United States and other places in the world like the UK, Brazil, Germany. And the way they’ve done that–they do that through two or maybe three different strains, depending on how you want to categorize it.
One is teacher training and providing resources, which I guess is–is to–so, curricula, instructional videos, social media resources, and–and in particular all these different training sessions in which teachers of the Arabic language are–are given these resources, provided more or less for free by QFI, in order to be more effective in the classroom. That’s number one.
Number two is actually sponsoring Arabic language programs in different schools across the country, and public schools, in competitive private schools, different things like this. And the objective–I think their latest numbers were that they directly sponsor about 2,500 or 3,000 American students.
So, you’re asking, you know, why are they doing this. I think one of the major goals to this is–is actually stated very explicitly by the Emir, who–who spoke about this. And I should mention that QFI, its leadership, the Board of Directors is very heavily staffed with Qatari royals. The CEO of QFI is Sheikha Hind bint Hamad, so–so, the–so, the daughter of the previous Emir. They’ve–they’ve got high level government officials on there, or previously did, like Khalid Al-Kuwari, who is a major–you know, his clan is very highly placed in Qatar.
So, this is clearly a very high profile–profile activity for the Qatari government, and their goal in this, as the Emir said, was to spread good feeling through the teaching of language toward–from the American people to Qatar and also to the greater Muslim world in general.
And why are they doing it? So, this is facing two directions. Number one, it’s influencing the United States. Number two, it’s also positioning Qatar for the Arab world as their patron and their representative to the United States. And that’s part of what they’re doing with Al Jazeera. As you’ll hear about, that’s part of what they’re doing with various other initiatives. So, they’re trying to seize the cultural leadership or the soft power leadership of the Arab world through this.
ROMAN: So, you had been in touch with the Arizona Department of Education. And you had reached out to local activists in Phoenix, encouraging their school district to not host this statewide convention sponsored–or participated by Qatar Foundation International. What was the response of people on the ground when you started sharing them some of the more nefarious activities of this foundation and who was backing them?
LITWIN: Right. So, Qatar Foundation International sponsored a teacher–a teacher continuing education event, which was co-hosted with the Council–Arizona Council for the Social Sciences and Humanities, I believe. And–and we actually had somebody who attended and who told us what happened.
And much of it was good information for Arabic language teachers. Some of it also was talking about the broader geopolitical context of the Middle East. And that’s where the problem started, because one of the major themes of the–of the presenter–it was Ms. Barbara Pettson (SP). One of her major themes was that this whole crisis between Qatar and its neighbors had nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood, and that in fact the Muslim Brotherhood was actually not an extremist organization.
Why was it not an extremist organization? Because it wanted to rule society and then have a stable society. You see, all extremists want instability. Therefore, by definition, Muslim Brotherhood is not extremist. And that’s almost literally what she said.
So, this is–so, we hear this, and we understand this is the kind of messaging that–American schoolteachers, who come to these events to learn more about the Middle East and then convey that to their students, this is the kind of messaging that they’re getting. And so, that’s why we reached out to–to various activist groups on the ground in Arizona and in other states.
Cutting a long story short, there are Freedom of Information Act requests and lawsuits going forward in Arizona, and will be going forward in each of the 50 states of this country, getting more information about the kinds of teacher training programs going on with QFI, how they came about and what their content is.
ROMAN: So, just to give a little bit of an anecdote on that, there is a organization called Zachor, which is a legal–not a defense fund, but a legal advocacy initiative that is right now involved in a lawsuit in Texas with the Texas attorney general’s office.
ROMAN: Usually when a attorney would like to file a public information records request, they go, in Texas, to the office of the attorney general, the office of–I think it’s Public Information Awareness, and they ask for a university’s records. It takes a few weeks or even a few months because of the bureaucratic nature of collecting all the documents. And usually there’s no outside counsel that’s necessarily involved in it.
What happened when this organization and their lead attorney sued for those information records on the $231 million, or it might be a little bit more, that Qatar had given to Texas A&M?
LITWIN: So, Squire Patton Boggs, which a very high-powered attorney’s office, who I’m sure most of the people in this room know very well in DC, they’ve been on Qatar’s retainer since 1994. They’ve been probably–I think they’re the longest loving relationships that Qatar has with any of the lobbying houses in this city.
And so, Squire Patton Boggs filed suit to block this Freedom of Information Act release, claiming that the information in the contract with Texas–Texas A&M was actually proprietary and a trade secret, because–their argument was that if the terms of this agreement were released, it would prejudice Qatar’s bargaining position in trying to make similar agreements with other universities.
Now, mind you, their–their agreement with Virginia–Virginia Commonwealth University, which is another of these organizations that has a satellite office in Education City, that one’s already public, because Virginia has much more stringent disclosure laws. And–and VCU is actually a public university, so they had to release the terms of their contract, which is very interesting.
Qatar has a certain amount of–or rather the Qatar Foundation, because it, of course, is not the Qatari regime, of course.
ROMAN: But it’s owned by the Qatar regime.
ROMAN: So, we have to–
LITWIN: –Has a–has a significant amount of influence over hiring decisions, directions of–direction of research, certain administrative decisions, the budget of this satellite office in–in Education City.
So–and anyway, many of the terms of these sorts of agreements are already public, and yet Squire Patton Boggs is claiming that this particular agreement with Texas A&M is somehow uniquely damaging if it were released.
ROMAN: And we’ll see what happens with the result of that lawsuit. And just to say to any Qataris that are watching, especially from QFI, you can expect 49 other lawsuits which will be coming your foundation’s way, or with whatever universities that you are affiliated with, courtesy of the Middle East Forum and its partners.
So, maybe they don’t have a relationship with Alaska or Idaho, but if you do, we’ll find out, so–not that I have anything against higher education in those states. I mean, the finest American universities are in those places.
But–but now linking from the Qatar Foundation International and its relationship with public education, we haven’t talked about think tank influence, where we have QFI–or maybe it’s not through QFI, but we have the Qatari government or their interlocutors or their proxies giving tens of millions of dollars to institutions like Brookings, I think.
There’s a great article, if you guys want to look it up, on Danielpipes.org that looks over the history of foreign influence with think tanks. Daniel might be able to provide us with the link in the interlude. But I’ll save that for a little bit later, ’cause I do want to talk about DC and use QFI as a segue to Jim Hanson, who–he and his organization, including Nick Short, David Reaboi, Brad–I’m going to get his last name wrong.
HANSON: Brad Patty (PH).
ROMAN: Brad Patty and Jim have spent I think maybe the better part of the last year or the last two years doing an in-depth investigation and actually participating in the counter information operations against this country, and you’ve been, you know, achieving results.
So, can you maybe tell us a little bit about the Khashoggi–the QFI tie-in, and then expand the conversation on what exactly is Qatar doing here in Washington to try to influence American policymaking?
HANSON: They’re doing exceptionally well, we have to admit. I mean, by any reasonable standard, they’re outstanding at both buying and obtaining influence through a number of ways. Obviously, money talks, and, you know, we heard how much the foundation has put out. We heard how much they pay the lobbying firms. We heard that Brookings is a wholly owned subsidiary of Qatar for all–
ROMAN: –Of Qatar Foundation–
HANSON: –Intents and purposes–
ROMAN: If you guys look at their corporate records–I don’t mean to–
ROMAN: –Cut you off, Jim–you will see that Brookings Center Doha, if you look at the entities–
ROMAN: –That Qatar owns with the chairman–I think it’s in London–
ROMAN: –Where you can find the corporate records, Brookings Center Doha is a 100 percent owned subsidiary of the Qatar Foundation or the government of Qatar. So, they probably didn’t release that in their press release about getting the money from the country. But if you want to see those records, we can probably provide them to you, especially any media that’s here.
ROMAN: But sorry to cut you off, Jim.
HANSON: No. But–and yet, media still use Brookings as an independent, authoritative source on stories where they are paid to have, you know, an opinion that’s favorable to the Qataris. It’s a–it’s obscene. It’s–it’s impressive. I’ll give them credit.
You know, our–or our organization, Security Studies Group, we specialize in information operations and information warfare. We’re somewhat unique in that. We have folks who’ve come from that realm on both the military and intelligence side, and we use that expertise to watch how people can actually change a narrative through a number of means.
Now, as we said, money is the easiest way. You know, you gain friends by buying money. And, you know, the money we talked about is just what we know about. We have no idea how many satchels of cash were left under hotel tables, you know, all across the U.S., DC, and throughout the Middle East and–and other places.
You know, as–as a guy who aspires to own his own helicopter, I feel kind of cheated, you know, that I haven’t managed to pick any of those up. But we’ve never taken foreign money. You know, it’s–it’s one of the ways we’re able to say we are a–an independent operator. They’re not, and there are far too many people who are not.
One of the biggest stories of the past year that got an obscene amount of coverage, way disproportionate to the actual importance of it, was the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The first win for the other side in this was calling him a journalist. He was not a journalist. He was never a journalist. When he was a newspaper person in Saudi Arabia, he worked for the previous regime and basically did propaganda for them, and we recently found out this week was paid by Malaysia to run air cover for them while he was running an independent Saudi paper.
ROMAN: He was the media advisor to the intelligence minister, right?
HANSON: Gee, and–
ROMAN: –That was the–
HANSON: –But–no, but he’s a journalist–
HANSON: –Get this correct.
ROMAN: All right.
HANSON: You know, use the proper terms, because otherwise they won’t get their money’s worth out of this.
The Washington Post, you know, in bringing him into their house, either did zero due diligence or, more likely, just didn’t care that for all intents and purposes Khashoggi was a Qatari influencer operator with a byline at The Washington Post. How valuable is that?
I mean, that you just can’t buy, all right? The Washington Post gave that to him. And honestly, at that point, they’re either negligent or they should have filed a FARA report for allowing him that. It came out that they were forced to admit because there was a number of sources, ourselves included, who were about the drop on them the fact that this was happening.
When Khashoggi’s apartment was raided after his death in Turkey, they found wire transfers from Qatar, all right? This was covered up by Turkish media. And in the course of the ensuring influence operation by Turkish media and aided by Qatar, they managed to create the entire media firestorm over this that lasted months.
It was an incredibly successful damage operation against the Saudis, and a chance for both Turkey and Qatar to gain leverage with the United States and with other countries. So, they were–they were tremendously successful in doing that. And, you know, we have to give them credit, but we should also pay attention ’cause that’s–that’s not something that we should be comfortable with.
We should not be comfortable with the idea that a foreign country placed an information operator at a major U.S. paper, one of the two biggest papers, you know, most important papers in the U.S., and fed him information, corrected his stuff, and The Washington Post ran it with–with not a disclaimer in sight, and everybody ate it up as if this was the truth.
Well, I’m sorry. That’s how democracy dies. Democracy dies through propaganda run by, you know, supposedly independent journalistic sources. So, that’s–that’s–give them an A-plus for that. You know, they got away with that up until now, and now it’s been exposed. But they’re still not paying a price for it.
A second place that I think is important to note that Qatar has done a tremendous job in influencing the United States–and this is not criminal, this is just, again, good policy–is in great relations with the U.S. military, all right? CENTCOM Forward has been hosted there, the Al Udeid Air Base, etc. And all the help they’ve given us in counterterrorism operations has been tremendously successful in ingratiating themselves with our national security apparatus.
The reason they’re so helpful in counter-terror operations is ’cause they know all the terrorists because they fund them, all right? I mean, it’s real easy for them to be able to say, hey, we’re going to help you take down some terrorists. These are some guys we don’t like that our friends we’re funding told us are causing them trouble. Could you whack them? You know, could you drop a few drone strikes on them? Could you sanction them? Could you do whatever?
They were the bagmen when Obama bought Bowe Bergdahl’s release from the Taliban and the Haqqani network, all right? They’re hosting our peace talks with the Taliban right now, not out of the goodness of their heart but because they Taliban are their friends. They host their political offices, all right?
They are deeply in bed with all the bad guys, and so they use us on both sides. They play us by helping and they use us as air cover for their malign influence to all the extremist groups around the world. So, I think both of those things are tremendously damaging, and I think it’d be nice if the world would pay a little bit more attention.
ROMAN: So, one of the items that I focused in my initial remarks when we began today was the highly successful influence operation carried out with Qatari money but by non-Qatari lobbyists and agents.
ROMAN: And I’m speaking specifically about the case of Stonington Strategies, Nick Muzin–
ROMAN: –The former deputy chief of staff to Senator Ted Cruz, and the former, I believe, chief of staff or deputy chief of staff to Tim Scott–
ROMAN: –And by Joey Allaham, a Syrian born New York Jewish American citizen, former restaurateur whose many different, you know, culinary–I wouldn’t want to call them successes, but culinary ventures have since failed, and having them by the recipient of around $7 million in Qatari funds split between two separate payments. I think there was $3 million and then $4 million, which was actually provided by a PR firm connected to the World Cup dirty tricks scandal, according to an article that came out in Mother Jones and also in–I believe it was Tablet Magazine, written by–Armin Rosen has published something.
And the idea here was that you had this individual, Muzin, and this other individual, Allaham, going to the American Jewish community to try to make Qatar holier than I guess Qaradawi–
ROMAN: –Or holier than Pope whatever we want to say. And they were trying to shop around, according to different legal filings that were made–none of this has been proven in court yet, so I want to be careful in what I said. They allegedly brought Qatari officials to major American Jewish organizations annual fundraising dinners in order to buy goodwill and good favor with these individuals in September and October and November of 2017.
Then, two months later, you have a delegation of individuals like Mort Klein from the Zionist Organization of America, you have Mike Huckabee, who ends up getting paid $50,000 to his firm for writing a nice column in–or maybe tweeting something out nice that was done by them.
HANSON: Why don’t I get paid by the tweet?
ROMAN: Well, Jim, we’re in the right side of the business, because we go with our hearts rather than our pockets. But–
HANSON: –For now.
But then you have Dershowitz go. He signs a legal contract with Allaham.
ROMAN: And there’s these two op-eds in The Washington Examiner and The Hill saying, you know, Qatar is like the Israel of the Gulf States. He’s trying to hedge his Israel credentials on that.
And then there’s other American leaders. There is Malcolm Hoenlein who’s said as going, and then Martin Oliner from the National Council for Young Israel, and a few other groups.
ROMAN: Then you have FARA filings that come out on October 27th of 2018, which use articles highlighting these American Jewish and–and–American Zionists and non-Jewish leaders going out to Doha and saying, you know, the Qatari airlines pajamas are really nice. I think we have the journalist who got that quote in the audience here. We have quotes which are saying that–you know, the Dershowitz articles appears in what’s called a supplemental information packet.
For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the Foreign Agent Registration Act filing process, you have your short form and your long form registration. Then you have what’s called exhibit A, B, and supplemental information. If anybody wants to go to find these documents, the original versions, on the Department of Justice FARA website, just type into Google FARA filings, or Department of Justice FARA, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
So, you have the articles highlighting the trips–
ROMAN: –Of the leaders going to Doha being used in information. And then when you find what’s on the lobbying agenda, every time they’re speaking about what they’re doing, they say, well, we can’t call Qatar a sponsor of terrorism because we have American Zionist leaders going there. Why would they go if they were sponsoring Hamas? Why would they go if they didn’t think that they were a solution for not modernity, but for moderation in the region if they didn’t think that this was connected to it?
And then lo and behold, the legislation that was being pushed by many organizations–you have these lobbying filings under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, the LDA. You have APAC, you have the Anti-Defamation League, you have the American Jewish Committee, all pushing this antiterrorism legislation which was introduced by Brian Mast, and I think Josh Gottheimer was the Democrat cosponsor on May 25th, 2017.
It dies after these trips take place and these lobbying visits are done in–in–in February and March of 2018. This is the legislation that Congressman Bergman called for to be reintroduced in this session of Congress.
So, knowing that story, to remind you if you guys don’t know about these–these details, and for–for our panelists, how do you think, through a combination of bribery, a combination of influence, and the combination of knowing how to run a DC machine–
ROMAN: –Do you think that future efforts can be detected? How do you think these people should be held to account who were participating in it? Were–were they just, you know, to use Lenin’s term, you know, useful idiots? Were–were they actually part of the, you know, process here and they knew what was going on? What–what’s your opinion on it? I’d like to get each response, maybe starting with–
HANSON: –I think they’re–
ROMAN: –Jim and then moving down–
HANSON: –They would qualify as fellow travelers and useful idiots, you know? And again, money talks. So, as soon as you start laying out enough–you know, people judge, oh, that’s–that’s too small. That’s just a briefcase full of cash. I’m looking for a full satchel or a roll-on bag at this point. And, you know, they’ve done that.
But what they did in this case was they were smart about who they targeted. You know, they–they decided what we need is air cover of a different set. We need Jewish leaders to say that Qatar’s not bad. And the whole idea–again, back to the point that Qatar doesn’t just finance most of the bad guys around, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, everybody. They throw money around to all of those organizations so they can control them, you know, and they’re very, very Muslim Brotherhood centric. You know, you–pick a bad guy, they’re in bed with them.
But then in order to cover for that here and to make sure that the U.S. doesn’t do anything more in the way of sanctions and other things against them, they picked very influential Jewish leaders, which is–it’s horrifying. You know, it’s horrifying to think that they’re–first of all, they’re that good at it and, second of all, that those people were gullible enough to go ahead fall for something like this.
And the way you do it in the future is–right now we have one advantage, all right? The left started this massive Trump-Russia witch hunt which focused on FARA filings because that’s what they’ve got on Manafort. Paul Manafort was deficient in every way in FARA filings. Now the idea that you can be a foreign agent and not register, it’s almost impossible. You’re really opening yourself up to difficulty. So, it’s going to be more difficult in the future for Qatar and other people who want to just buy influence to do so without it being disclosed.
Now, the second problem is the media is not going to cover it if it doesn’t fit their narrative or agenda, so it’s going to take alternative media. It’s going to take, you know, other ways to get things out, social media. And we have a burgeoning conservative media now that I think is well represented here and other places that will actually talk about these stories. But those two things have to combine, disclosure and transparency, and then exposure and distribution of the stories about these type of influence operations.
Now, Ron, maybe you can comment on the American context, but I also know that you’ve done extensive research into the manipulation and political trickery that the Qataris have done outside the United States, like the Sarkozy case–
ROMAN: –In France.
SANDEE: Yeah. No, I–I–I think one of the–one of the problems here in the U.S. is–is there should be better enforcement of the FARA Act. If–if–if government would really go after them and add it–and audit more or less the–the–the lobbying firms and the law firms on–on this issue, I think we would–they would be way more careful and they would be way more willing to–to announce that they are–that they’re working with foreign countries. I think that’s one point.
And–and on the Europe case, first–first a very small anecdote about how the–how the Qataris work. When the French entered Mali in, I believe, 2014, the French found a lot of documents in a–in a–in an abandoned house and in a mosque. And from those documents, they really learned that it was the Qataris who had told organizations like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to kidnap French citizens.
What was the reason behind it? It would be a win-win for both. The Qataris would go to–to the French and say, hey, you never pay for–for hostages. We will–we will take care of that for you. So, the hostage was being paid for by the Qataris. The hostage was sent to France. France could officially say, hey, we didn’t pay for them.
And the Qataris basically already had communicated before with the terrorist organizations, okay, we will have to fund you, but let us do it in this way so we get the benefits from the rest and we can still fund you guys. So, it’s typically a hedging operation, what they were doing. They were doing that with–with a French family who was being kidnapped in Cameroon. They did that in the–in Mali. They did it in multiple countries.
The French were pretty angry when they learned about this. And I really heard that the French Minister of Defense at that moment–within a day when he heard this, he flew to Doha and said some awful words I cannot mention here, but it started with an F and it ends with an F, and he flew back.
But what we really saw in France, how the–how the Qataris are–are working and influencing is, especially French President Sarkozy, who also has a second house in Morocco next to–in the same quarter where the–where the Qatari Emir has his big $92 million palace in Casablanca–interesting–and also some other high risk players are very close to them there in Casablanca.
They–they–the French president is involved in multiple scandals being paid off in multiple ways, but one of the things was that his favorite soccer team, Paris Saint-Germain, was pretty bad, in a pretty bad state, and he asked the Qataris to take over. Well, we really see what happened now. The Qataris bought it. They bought some big players from Barcelona. Interestingly, a former president of Barcelona is also the head of the Aspire Sports Academy in Doha, so it was not too difficult to get Neymar as a soccer player.
But there’s all this kind of murky business going on, and they don’t do it–they don’t do it in the U.S. They do it in France. They do it in the UK. And they buy multiple big stakes in companies. They also do a lot of buying of real estate for high prices. And yeah, they’re buying off generally Europeans as they do it here in the U.S.
ROMAN: So, Oren, what’s your take in terms of the way in which they’re wielding the power of their philanthropic ventures? And I want to quote an article that I mentioned beforehand that was on Danielpipes.org about Brookings relationship with Qatar, and then maybe try to offer a parallel geopolitical event that took place about four or five years ago and how this may have made sense.
So, Daniel writes: some of this funding has been given clandestinely, with think tanks taking money under the table-sorry, Jim, you didn’t get in on that–
ROMAN: –While benefiting from a moral image of disinterest in this.
In the most prominently egregious example, the government of Qatar, as the New York Times reported, and I quote: “funneled hundreds of millions to Hamas-led Gaza and encouraged its rocket and tunnel assault on Israel, and also signed a four-year, $14.8 million deal in 2013 to fund the Brookings Institution, where Martin Indyk served as vice president and director of the Foreign Policy program. Indyk worked for Secretary of State John Kerry from July 2013 to June 2014 as special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And Daniel asked this question, he says: As someone on the same payroll as is Israel’s mortal enemy, how could Indyk be expected to act in a neutral way?
So, what other examples are you familiar with, and specifically as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian–Palestinian-Israeli conflict? And you have someone who’s the head of foreign-policy programs going to become the special envoy for that conflict, while the Qataris all at the same time were funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to a terror organization which is pledged to its enemy–in this case, Israel’s–destruction.
LITWIN: Right. And it’s worth pointing out, we’ve heard a couple of times that Qatar is one of the major funders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And to a certain degree, if you’re going to fund Gaza, you’re going to fund Hamas anyway just because of the nature of the way they’ve taken over all of the–all of the social services in Gaza. But–and so, the plausible deniability aspect is that Qatar is saying, well, look, we want to ameliorate the situation in Gaza; therefore, we need to give money to aid organizations. They happen to be controlled by Hamas and that’s just the way things are.
Our argument is that actually the fact that you’re giving the money to Hamas first allows them to use that money in order to advance their interests rather than the interests of the Gazan people. So that–so–so even though they’re presenting it as a philanthropic relationship, ultimately, it’s about maintaining their influence with Hamas and, again, maintaining their role as a powerbroker in the region.
And one other point I wanted to make is that we know a lot about their influence operations in the United States, specifically because of FARA, because of the disclosure requirements that we have in place to do that. The problem is, as was said, is that it’s not strictly enforced enough.
So, the QFI for example, it began its life in 2007 as a public nonprofit that had to file disclosures with the IRS–Form 990, if you know. In 2011, they restructured; said they were now a private entity. No longer had to disclose anything they were doing to the IRS or to anybody else. And that’s an example of where they’re actively working to thwart transparency. Whereas, as we’ve heard, the more transparency we have in the operations of Qatar and its various affiliates and agents, the better picture we have about who’s doing what to whom and how that affects us.
ROMAN: So, I want to follow up with one thing, Oren, here.
ROMAN: I mentioned beforehand that it’s K-12, it’s public universities, but also police departments, where there’s been training initiatives which have been funded by QFI for sensitivity training towards these anti-Islamophobia outreach efforts to the American Muslim community. And it’s not organic insofar as American Muslims are approaching police departments and saying, hey, let’s work together.
This is an example–I used to work in Pittsburgh as the head of interfaith relations for the Jewish Federation there before I began this job at the Middle East Forum. You would go to the mosque, you would say, hey, guys, let’s have a good relationship; let’s talk. Let’s have an Iftar dinner here; we’ll do a Passover Seder there, whatever else. In the context of interfaith relations, in the local context, it was very organic.
But here’s QFI coming from their Washington DC office, bypassing local American Muslim communities and saying here’s a curriculum that we think that you should use. Here’s a program that we think you should use as American police officers that says the following. One, Islamophobia is something that is defined by an institution, like Georgetown, for instance.
HANSON: Texas A&M.
ROMAN: Texas A&M, which is another one.
We haven’t talked about the institutions or the programs that the Qataris are funding at this. Maybe you could give us an example of Georgetown’s professors that are receiving some of this support, whether directly or indirectly. I know it’s a Saudi program, but they still get support there.
Perhaps an example of Carnegie Mellon University, which has a campus in Doha. If anyone wants to see the parallel between Carnegie Mellon and Qatar, Carnegie Mellon is the number one computer science school in the United States. It’s not a surprise that someone at the forefront of cyber hacking would want to have that intellectual property in Doha. So, maybe you can give us an example?
LITWIN: Right. So, Georgetown has a satellite office in Education City. They’re paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year to run it. Ditto with Carnegie Mellon.
And what you were alluding to about the Islamophobia, it points out something which I didn’t discuss in great deal in my write up, but we found that among the faculty of QF schools in Qatar itself are a number of intellectuals who are linked to the IIIT, the International Institution for Islamic Thought, which is a–essentially it’s–you can look at it as a Muslim brotherhood think tank in the United States.
And one of the major initiatives of the IIIT was actually to create this concept of the Islamophobia and to publish it. They–it goes back to a paper that they wrote, I think in the late ’80s. But they’re on the forefront of the wave which was taken up by other American Islamist organizations to push Islamophobia as a frame in which to view all this. And the fact that Qatar is continuing to work on that angle with American police institutions here is not a complete surprise given that.
ROMAN: Right. It’s okay to criticize Islamists, but no one’s criticizing American Muslims.
HANSON: Well, and that’s–if you look at what’s happening in the Gulf right now, all right, you’ve got Saudi Arabia is modernizing, right? MBS stopped basically any operations by the extremist clerics; you know, cracked down on the Muslim brotherhood, everything they’re doing. Emirates are doing similar things. And then you’ve got Qatar fronting for the Brotherhood and trying to push them. Paying people like Khashoggi and others to publicize that and trying to create a fear of talking about it.
And then also the idea that the Brotherhood is a charitable organization, like Hezbollah and the other helpful people they do, who, okay, occasionally may drop a pile of food some place, but are more likely to drop a file of ammunition or a suicide vest, you know, for somebody to use. So, they’ve been very cagey about trying to oppose the efforts from the rest of the Gulf states to actually create a modernized non-Islamist society, and I think that’s horribly damaging. That might be the worst idea.
The extremist groups and rest of the terrorism is awful, but when you are actually fighting modernization that’s happening–and that was part of the effort by Khashoggi and to use his death against the Saudis was because they wanted to stop MBS and the things that were happening there that were against their request and their entire goal of supporting the Brotherhood and creating Islamist-focused societies. And I think that’s an area where their charm offensive by the Qataris needs to backfire, because in the end, they’re trying to progress backwards in a region that right now has an opportunity to actually move forward.
ROMAN: So, the charm offensive with the West provides cover for building Islamist movements in the Middle East?
HANSON: Absolutely. And that’s the goal–
ROMAN: –That might be answering this question of why are they doing this.
HANSON: –That’s why. That’s exactly why they’re doing it and they’ve been tremendously successful, because they couched it in all these other–. They couch it in charity, they couch it in education, they couch it in these other things. Yet, right behind all of those is what’s the curriculum, what is the goal.
And in the end, if you watch what they’re doing, they’re not just helping those organizations–they’re helping Iran, for God sakes. They’re in bed, again, with all the worst people for the worst reason possible at a time when we actually have a possibility of a generational change.
As mentioned, 60 percent of the population in the Gulf Arab states is under 30, all right? Those people are not, by nature, nearly as Islamist as the old-school people. So, while you’ve got a guy like MBS trying to make this change happen, you’ve got the Qataris trying to torpedo it and that’s the feud that’s going on in the Gulf. And that’s why their relations with the Department of Defense and Department of State are so important, because when they can get those U.S. organizations to try to mediate this in a way that lets the Qatari’s back into good relations with us and with everyone else, they succeed in slowing down that pace of modernization and pushing their Islamist agenda.
ROMAN: All right. So, we’ve talked a lot about the ills and the discontent of Qatar and its influence operations. I’d like to get one policy recommendation on education, on international outreach, and in Washington DC that could help us end the panel on a high note.
What can we do if–we have members of congressional staff, members of the media. What would you say is a policy recommendation that you would make to the Congress and to the executive branch to be able to help start peeling back this onion and to expose this influence machine and to start holding them accountable?
LITWIN: I would say enforcing FARA against QFI, because they very clearly crossed the line just from teacher training to teacher influence and from there influencing the classroom. And also, we’ve seen instances where QFI was directly sponsoring American political institutions like the Arab American Community Association of New York back when Linda Sarsour was the Executive Director, which kind of goes a little bit out of their lane. So, anyway, FARA.
ROMAN: So, Qatar’s backing Sarsour? Was backing?
LITWIN: We–there’s very little information and that’s what FARA would solve.
ROMAN: Okay. Ron?
SANDEE: I would basically say it’s very important, especially in European countries as well, to stop funding religious institutions from abroad. I know in the West it’s very difficult to say we cannot allow people from abroad not to funding churches or I don’t know what kind of organizations. But basically, we see that right now that Qatar is so–and Turkey are so actively using this fact to fund and build new mosques basically focused on Muslim Brotherhood or worse and that they are taking over–trying to take over Muslim communities in multiple communities. And they’re getting away with a lot of it as European intelligence service says, yeah, Muslim Brotherhood is not our priority in the number 10 list.
So, that would be very good if there would be legislation being brought up in multiple countries just to stop foreign funding of religious institutions.
HANSON: I would say there’s a pretty good question right there. Are they still as good an ally or are they, at this point, becoming a strategic threat? I mean, it’s at the similar question we need to ask about Turkey. I think we’re coming to a better resolution–
ROMAN: –That’s June’s conference–
HANSON: –Yeah. We will skip that. But the point being, when you look at who our allies are, it’s not a question of historically have we been friendly with the Qataris? Do we have military interoperations with them?
Do we want everyone in the Gulf to get along? Yeah, but is that something we should put ahead of what they’re doing to undermine U.S. strategic interests around the world. And I think if we want them to be a U.S. ally, they have to change their ways.
There’s just no question that their malign activities are far too extensive to get a pass simply for hosting an air base. There’s a lot of flat places in the Middle East we could land planes. You know, I’m pretty sure that is not the only place we could do that, yet, we just signed a pact to go ahead and upgrade Alameda airbase.
ROMAN: Which they’re paying for.
HANSON: –Which they’re paying for, which is another way to say money talks. And nothing wrong with that, all right? There’s nothing wrong with that, if it’s transparent, if we know what’s happening, and if it’s not counter to U.S. strategic interests. So, let’s take a look at those and, if we’re going to continue to let those things happen, then we need to make sure they’re in ways that make them a U.S. ally, not a problem.
ROMAN: And I think that my recommendation would be that currently foreign countries are required to register the amounts and very small bits of information as it relates to their funding of both institutions of higher education, to a certain extent, K-12 schools, depending on the state’s rules.
I’d like to see greater transparency in all foreign funding: of nonprofit organizations, especially think tanks that have to be exposed by the New York Times to find out what it is that they’re coming with, but also 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) organizations, 501(c)(6) trade promotion organizations, and anyone that is involved in the realm of trying to affect American public opinion as it deals especially with foreign affairs, but also domestic issues that foreign institutions try to meld in their own unique character, whether it be for positive purposes or for, in this case, malign purposes.
So, in the cases of public institutions, Oren, thank you for your presentation. Ron, as it relates to our international experience and being able to understand the global reach of this influence operation, I appreciate your contributions. And, Jim, thank you for shining a light, not just on Khashoggi, but on the wider DC implications and the purpose and the intent of what the Qataris are trying to here in Washington.
We will end this panel now at 12:00 on the dot. We will reconvene at 12:30 for–well, now we’ll have lunch, but we’ll reconvene at 12:30 for remarks from another member of Congress and then we will continue our afternoon part of this program. Thank you.
ROMAN: Will everyone please make their way back from lunch to your seating? You can bring your food with you. We’d like to continue with the program. It’s now 1233. We are a little bit late so anybody eating lunch please make your way back over to the main area of the ballroom. We’ll get started in about one minute.
As everyone makes their way from lunch over here, I’d like to introduce our next guest Congressman Warren Davidson. Congressman Davidson was born and raised in Ohio and after high school, he enlisted in the Army where he proudly served for 12 years. He excelled as a soldier compelling his commanders to recognize his work ethic and leadership abilities earning him an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Now I know the naval term is a Mustang for that, I don’t know if it’s the same enlisted term for the Army but that’s quite the accomplishment. I think only one percent of individuals who are in the enlisted core or going for the officer’s core are actually able to get to the West Point appointment. So my hat off to you, sir.
At West, Point Warren excelled in the class by finishing in the top 10 percent of his class majoring in American history and minoring in mechanical engineering. His stellar reputation as an army officer earned him positions in distinguished units the Old Guard, the 75th Ranger Regiment and the 101st Airborne Division. One of the highlights of his career was witnessing the fall of the Berlin wall while he was serving in Germany.
Winning a special election in June 2016 to fill the remainder of the term of the outgoing Representative John Boehner, the former speaker of the House, he was reelected to his first full term of Congress in November the same year and was recently reelected in November 2018. In Congress Warren serves on the prestigious Financial Services Committee where he’s focused on policies that promote fixing economic growth and his other priorities in Congress include fixing the Veterans Administration, defending the Constitution and making sure that political elites don’t bankrupt America. Seems like a very appropriate segue to our next topic to be able to discuss Qatar and its own influence.
Without further ado Congressman Warren Davidson.
DAVIDSON: Thanks for the brief intro and thank you all for having me here today. Definitely, an honor to join you all and it is a huge honor to serve in Congress and represent Ohio’s eighth district. Some people wonder where that is, it’s all along the Indiana border just north of Cincinnati about half way up the state. Cincinnati Dayton corridor basically and so I’ve been here since June 2016.
So it’s been a pretty interesting 2 1/2 years in American politics and you know one of the things that’s been consistent is the United States has been verily very heavily engaged in the Mideast. So share a few thoughts I was asked to share with you all along with thanks for the Mideast forum and for those who have made this event possible. You’ve helped make great strides in pro-Israel policy in the past few years and thanks to efforts like the Israel Victory Project we’ve seen legislative victories that are not only bipartisan but also bicameral.
In today’s political climate it’s great to see many of my colleagues share common ground recognizing the importance of Israel. Unfortunately that’s not as bipartisan as it used to be and certainly you’ve seen a lot of news about a few members in the new Congress but thankfully still broadly bipartisan and hopefully, that enjoys a resurgent.
It’s especially important in light of those who are espousing anti-Israel or anti-Semitic sentiments and we hope that that does not become mainstream in any way or even tolerated. The Trump administration has also delivered many victories for Israel and I’m proud of those. Notably, the administration successfully recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and followed through and moved America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The administration also I think wisely withdrew from a very flawed deal with Iran and it posed a great threat not just to the United States but to others in the region notably Israel. So I look forward to seeing how the current administration will continue to leverage proposed cuts in the UN Relief and Works Agency as an agency that’s aimed aid to Palestinian refugees and may be exacerbating the problem through dependency and promoting an unworkable right of return for Palestinians.
The United States should find ways to aid Palestinians in ways that do not undermine our strategic objectives in the region or Israel’s security. While these victories are great, I do believe there are more to come. The United States has a national security interest in stopping terrorist that threaten the United States and our allies and while military action may be required to achieve this objective it’s not our sole tool.
As a former infantry officer Army Ranger West Point graduate I know that outright annihilation of terror cells is often essential to national security and we need to continue to show the resolve to do that whenever and wherever necessary. However identifying, tracking and eliminating funding streams is one of the best ways to locate our enemies and inhibit their effectiveness. With no revenue, these organizations can’t buy weapons, pay suppliers or continue their operations.
As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, I play a role in oversight and ensuring one of our key priorities which is illicit finance and terror financing. Terrorist groups are rarely able to sustain themselves independently. They often have state sponsors, they are funded or armed or trained even given political and diplomatic health by nation-states. Hezbollah, for example, wouldn’t exist without Iran.
One of the key concerns reviewed last Congress by the Financial Services Committee was Project Cassandra where DEA agents tracked Hezbollah finances and I’m pleased to see that pressure from our committee the Department of Justice and the new administration are reopening these investigations. They may have been shut down under the Obama administration in order to smooth passage of the Iran deal which is shocking.
It’s also critical that Congress and the U.S. officials track financial flows to other organizations in the region such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas has long been designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization. Qatar has allowed senior leaders of Hamas to operate in Doha and supporters of Hamas are known to appear on Al Jazeera.
While Qatar insists that it only funds humanitarian civilian projects in the Gaza Strip January’s stalled transfer of payments to the area highlight the concern about how these funds are actually being used. Israel allowed the payments in the region only under the condition that they were used to pay civil servants and not go toward military operations. Yet Hamas’ leaders rejected the payments partly in protest of these common-sense restrictions.
And the Muslim Brotherhood, I was proud last Congress to cosponsor a bill to review whether the Muslim Brotherhood should also be designated as a terrorist organization. The current rift within the Gulf Cooperation Council member states is driven in large part because of allegations of Qatari support for regional Muslim Brotherhood organizations.
Understanding funding flows to these destabilizing organizations is critical for ensuring national–ensuring security in the Mideast. According to the State Department’s 2015 terrorist report entities and individuals in Qatar continue to serve as a source of financial support for terrorist and violent extremist groups particularly regional al-Qaeda affiliates such as the (INAUDIBLE) front.
Former Assistant Secretary Terrorist Financing at Treasury Daniel Glaser has been particularly outspoken about these financing operations from Qatar. The real question is Qatar giving sanctuary to these individuals and organizations, to what extent is the government involved directly or indirectly by at least giving sanctuary?
Hamas has killed more than 400 Israelis and at least 25 U.S. citizens. Its destabilizing activities in the region must be stopped. One of the avenues for stopping Hamas is finding their financial backers and cutting off their funding sources.
Last Congress one of the bills that was reported out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and also referred to our Financial Services Committee was a Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act that was introduced by my colleague Brian Mast from Florida and this bill requires the President to report on, play sanction on entities that support Hamas. While the finding section contained in the bill focuses on funding Iran provides to Hamas it also makes the case that Qatari individuals and organizations provide significant financing to Hamas.
Again citing Daniel Blaser. Those who choose to a terrorist organizations will face the strength and determination of the United States of America. They will have to suffer consequences for their heinous actions and the sanctions proposed in this legislation have important ramifications.
But let’s remember peace and prosperity remain favorable to conflict. Leaders throughout the region should pursue their peaceful, peaceful interest unhindered including by sanctions but they need to abandon hostile actions toward their neighbors. This is particularly true in a pivotal financial hub like Qatar. The path there can continue to be one of flourishing and we hope that’s the case.
You know America has been heavily engaged in political activities in the Mideast for years. For far too long we’ve been engaged in Mideast combat. My hope is that Presidents Trump leader–President Trump’s leadership will make this the core American foreign policy, that as much as possible as much as it depends on you that we would live at peace with everyone.
No one, however, should ever doubt our result to protect our nation, our allies and our vital national interests. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. Thank you for the things you’ve done for Mideast peace and stability and thank you for the work you’ve done to secure our ally, Israel, in their homeland. God bless you.
ROMAN: Thank you very much, congressman, for those powerful words, your dedication to the Middle East stability and peace, holding Qatar accountable and for a strong and secure American Israel relationship.
Our next panel will be preceded by our next opening speaker Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the founder and the president of the World Values Network, often known as America’s rabbi, a prominent rabbi, author, TV host and public speaker and the author now of I think the 20th anniversary of the seminal book that most of us were introduced to him from but also just being able to have a column that he writes that appears in many Jewish newspapers across the country including the Algemeiner and many other places like The Jerusalem Post.
So without further ado I welcome Rabbi Boteach and then immediately after his remarks he will be joining a panel which is moderated by Brooke Goldstein, the founder, and CEO of The Lawfare Project and will be joined by Stuart Force, the father of American veteran and unfortunately having fallen to terrorism in Israel, Taylor Force and also, he has started the Force Foundation. And also Sarri Singer, the founder and CEO of Strength to Strength, a terrorism victim support organization and also herself having been in a Hamas suicide bombing some 15, 16 years ago. And she’s made it her life’s work to really speak out on behalf of the needs for terror victims to hold the perpetrators accountable and also to deal with the trauma and the accountability that has to be had for those perpetrators.
So without further ado Rabbi Boteach.
BOTEACH: I did not realize that this conference was going to discriminate against short people.
Ladies and gentlemen no doubt you’ve heard the story about the man who gets a call from his doctor who says test results are in there’s bad news and worse news. The man sits down he says what’s the bad news and the doctor says you have 24 hours left to live. The man says what could possibly be worse than that? The doctor says I’ve been trying to call you since yesterday.
So I have bad news and I have worse news. The bad news is that you have to listen to me for 10 minutes. I’m told I’m being given 10 minutes. The worst news is that it is a Jewish 10 minutes. We may be here all week.
I’m here for two reasons. Firstly out of deference and respect to my dear friend Daniel Pipes and then out of deep deference and respect to my friend Stuart Force who is going to be on the panel with me. Last year our organization, the World Values Network, gave the Elie Wiesel Award to Stuart Force who received it with his wife on behalf of his son post humorously Taylor Force, the great American hero, West Point graduate, Afghanistan veteran who was murdered–survived all of that and was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in Tel Aviv.
But Daniel and I were at the Alhambra together on the Iberian Peninsula in Granada, Spain a few years back and Daniel’s an expert in Islamic culture, Arab culture, the Arabic language and he was explaining everything to me and it reminded me, Daniel. of the golden era when there was true peace and harmony between the Arab peoples and the Jewish community, between the Israel nation and the Muslim nation and it is possible to have that harmony.
It is possible for Jews to show gratitude and love and warmth to the Arab nation and the Islamic religion for taking us in when we were expelled from that Iberian Peninsula in 1492 largely taken in by the Ottomans, by one of the largest Islamic empires of all time, friendship and love that has existed in the past between us and we have to all try and forge that peace and harmony between two great world religions.
But it cannot happen if any Arab or Islamic organization calls for a genocide of the Jewish people and Hamas and Iran are at the top of that list calling for the annihilation of my people and if any Jew were to speak that way of Muslims, I would call that you an abomination to his or her faith. I would do my utmost to repudiate the credibility of that representative of the Jewish faith.
So when Israel fought Hamas in yet another war in the summer of 2014, I took my family in the closings day of the war and we went to Teloshamir(SP) hospital and I visited the Israeli veterans who now–the ones who survived, 67 soldiers died. I visited the soldiers with no arms and no legs and we brought them sunglasses and perfume. Sunglasses as a present to the soldiers and perfume not for their wives and not for their girlfriends; they were 18 years old, for their mothers who were sleeping on cots near their beds. These were boys and they fought this war because Hamas is dedicated to the extermination and annihilation of my people.
What did the Jewish people do to Hamas that they would threaten the death of every Jew on planet Earth including here in Washington DC according to their charter? So when I was approached to meet the Amir of Qatar as part of a publicity campaign orchestrated by two Orthodox Jews who were going to be paid untold sums of money, I sat with my children and I said to them do you remember those soldiers? Do your member the soldier who looked like I say this–I said to him in jest at the time as did his mother in the hospital, missing an eye?
A soldier missing and I the bullet had been shot be a Hamas terrorist, it went in his eye came out the back of his head, he survived and he was about to be medevaced to a hospital in Germany to save his life. I said to my children to remember those soldiers because we’re not going to allow Hamas funded by Qatar to get away with it. If Qatar wants a better image in the United States than buying up vast liquefied oil fields in Texas is not the way.
Stopping to kill people including innocent Palestinians that’s the way. Stopping honor killings of innocent Palestinian girls that’s the way. Mahmoud Abbas has not visited Gaza in 10 years because he knows he would have the same fate as those Israeli soldiers and all funded and financed by Qatar. To what end? For what purpose? What did Israel do to the Amir of Qatar? What did we do to you?
And the bigger question pro-Israel right-wing Jews accepting all-expense paid junkets to meet with the man who is financing rocket barrages of Israeli citizens, you can’t make this stuff up. This my friends boggles the imagination and I wrote column after column and we took out ads in the New York Times and I said it’s going to come out. People don’t suddenly decide to visit the Doha Qatar. They have an incentive.
Now we all love money, we all need money, we have to pay our mortgages, we have to send our kids to schools. If you’re in the Orthodox Jewish community you’ve got to like sell a kidney to afford Jewish day school these days. I get it. But an Israeli leader once said to me there’s a special place in hell reserved for those who betray their people.
The whitewash of Qatar’s actions funding of the Hamas terrorist organization aligns with Iran, granting sanction and refuge to Hamas leaders (INAUDIBLE). So many others who’ve lived openly in Doha for the longest time. The white watch(SP) which was done on the part of Jewish leaders right-wing pro-Israel leaders because these Qatari lobbyist they did not go to the left-wing organizations because that wouldn’t have given them the credibility they were seeking. They went to the pro-Israel right. That whitewash will live in infamy in the annals of the American Jewish community.
It was an ignominious, ignominious act that will live in infamy. Did I know at the time that I could be a target going so strongly against this? Of course, I did. I was subject to libel, defamation, horrible articles written about me and then suddenly stories in the New York Times and Bloomsburg that Qatar is trying to hack me and my wife. What did my wife ever do to them? Mother of nine children, grandmother of five. Thank God. I knew I could be a target and maybe worse God forbid, maybe worse.
But I thought of those soldiers with no arms and no legs who were 18 and they were called upon to protect this tiny little democracy called Israel; tiny little bastion, a majestic bastion of human rights in a region that often sees those rights violated and I was going to protect Israel, America’s foremost ally to the best of my ability even if God forbid there were going to be consequences.
But that any American citizen should have to fear speaking out against an American ally that hosts one of our largest airbases, that we have to fear personal destruction to silence us and compromise our First Amendment rights is a disgrace and the U.S. government has to protect its citizens. I’m not equipped to protect myself from the government of Qatar. I’m not equipped. I’m not going–for reasons that I cannot now discuss I’m not going to get into what we’ve discovered what’s happening but I will tell you there is no way that someone like me is equipped to take on a Middle Eastern government.
But the United States government is equipped; there’s all kinds of pressure that could be put on Qatar not to seek the destruction of American citizens who are critics. You see this as a democracy. I can see the capital from here.
We have to be able to speak out without fear and this whole story of people being hacked or attacked for criticizing an ally of Iran is a shame, and action must be taken. My family lived in Iran for 2000 years. My father was born in Isfahan. I want to love Iran but not with the mullahs have done to it. I will not love a country that shoots a woman through the heart in what Time Magazine called the most-watched murder in the history of the world.
I will not love a country that hangs a man in a square because of his sexual orientation regardless of whether or not it’s a sin to a religion. That’s still no humane act. And I will not love a country as President Trump said yesterday in an eloquent State of the Union address that chants death to America and threatens my people with genocide.
So how Qatar can be both an ally of Iran and ally of the United–I’m sorry, and ally of the United States is beyond me. Talk about playing both sides and we Americans we don’t like to be played. My friends in the final analysis Islam and Judaism two great world religions emphasize the image of God that is imprinted and stamped on every human being.
I truly believe there will be harmony between these two great religions, there was before. There’s no excuse for there not to be now. But it will not come unless we see the spark of the divine in each and every one of our respective faiths. That means that Israel must at all times respect Islamic rights, Islamic dignity, the Islamic holy sites.
I just came back from Israel yesterday morning. I took Dr. Mehmet Oz arguably the most famous Muslim in America or maybe in the world who’s not a head of state proudly Islamic, world’s most famous doctor, I took him to Israel. We visited the Islamic holy sites and if Israel were to tread on those, we would be the first to speak out.
But I’m asking all of my Islamic brothers and sisters who are here today when you see any nation or any group Hamas, Iran, or Qatar funding either supporting the annihilation, calling for the annihilation of your Jewish brothers and sisters I’m begging you please speak out. You would expect it from us. Please speak out.
Do not watch the defilement of Islam, a great world religion, don’t let people call for a second Holocaust of the Jews in the name of Islam because that’s not Islam. Speak out and that’s why I agreed to attend today.
An American ally cannot be allied with governments that call for the death to the United States and especially the death to the Israel and the Jewish people or fund Hamas that actually is trying its best to implement that. And I’ll just finally say a few days ago I drove by right where they found those three boys, the three teenage boys which led–whose murder by Hamas that led to the 2014 war, three teenage boys who were simply hitchhiking murdered in the most grisly way. What do you expect Israel to do? Watch these boys die and do nothing? That would be immoral.
The final analysis this is about morality and right and wrong and as long as Qatar continues to fund Hamas, spew anti-sentimentalism through Al Jazeera, grant sanctuary and harbor to terrorist leaders, ally itself with Iran then pressure must be put on this government to stop all of those nefarious activities. God bless you and thank you.
ROMAN: Thank you, Rabbi, for those moving remarks and now we have our panel led by Brooke Goldstein.
GOLDSTEIN: Thank you all for being here today. I’m very honored to be able to participate in this panel. And honor to have been asked by my former boss, Daniel Pipes, to participate, thank you.
We’ve heard today that Qatar is basically one of the most dangerous and central financial backers of terrorism-sponsoring terrorist from Al Qaeda to Hamas to the Muslim Brotherhood and more and at the same time it’s been seeking to whitewash its activities through a variety of propaganda, paid trips to the country and so forth.
And what really disturbs me is when I see for example in social media Millennials who are only a couple of years younger than us Sarri sharing AJ+ videos, these 2 1/2, 3 1/2 minute videos which is social commentary on American domestic policy trying to influence Millennials to be anti-American. And when you ask any of those people who share these videos, what does AJ stand for in AJ+ I bet you the majority of them don’t even know it stands for Al Jazeera and don’t know that Al Jazeera is funded by Qatar.
We have three of the most incredible people here on our panel today who have each been targeted by the Qatari regime in one way or another. Sarri Singer who is a very good friend of mine who I admire tremendously is a victim of a bus bombing in Jerusalem that was perpetrated by Hamas terrorists. She founded Strength to Strength which is the world’s largest nonprofit that brings victims of terrorism together in healing, victims of all different types of terrorism.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach that we just heard from now is an international Jewish leader. He was targeted by Qatar in a cyberattack and Stuart Force whose son Taylor Force, a U.S. veteran, was tragically killed in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv and whose son is the namesake of the law the Taylor Force Act that was signed into law just I believe this past March 23 and which seeks to stop American aid from going to fund what is called the Palestinian Authority’s Martyrs Fund which is really a pay for slave program that pays the families of murdered terrorist and the family of the terrorist that murdered Mr. forces son is certainly on that list.
So let’s get right into it. Let’s start Sarri if you don’t mind with you. You’ve been a remarkable advocate for the victims of terrorism. Can you give us you know the perspective, what happened to you that day on the bus in Jerusalem? And then what happened to you that made you realize that you had an essential responsibility to advocate on behalf of other terror–sorry, on behalf of other terror victims not just in the general public space but also in courts of law? You are a named plaintiff in several counterterrorism lawsuits, correct?
SINGER: Yes. So, first of all, it’s really an honor to be here and everyone in this room it’s really important that what happens today doesn’t just happen in this room but all of the information is really taken out there for the truth to really resonate because we need more people showing the truth to the world, what’s really going on. And from a victim’s perspective that’s our justice, it’s to really to share our stories and what’s happened to us in order to bring about justice for every single victim of terrorism around the world no matter what country you’re from. No matter what religion every victim needs a voice.
My story actually began on the morning of 9/11 when I overslept and wasn’t in my office about two blocks away from the World Trade Center and I was deeply impacted by that day and felt I needed to do something. So in December 2001, I quit my job and I moved to Israel to volunteer with organizations that were working with victims of terrorism.
And then a year and a half after living in Israel on June 11, 2003, a day that was much like that morning of 9/11 it was a beautiful day the sun was shining it was gorgeous. An 18-year-old Palestinian boarded my bus strap with explosive. He had been radicalized and indoctrined(SP) by Hamas and he detonated the bus that day and injured over 100 of us including 16 innocent people that day that had been murdered, those that were seated around me and one person who died a few days later of her injuries.
And while I was in the hospital and realizing what had happened because initially after the blast, I didn’t know what happened I thought that we’d gotten into a bus accident. The last thing I thought was that someone boarded that bus strapped with explosives to hurt and murder innocent people. And my story personally became high-profile because my father is a New Jersey state senator and so that gave me a platform and an understanding from that point forward that I had a voice and that through my discussions in Israel with people and with the media that I had an obligation to be a voice for those 17 innocent people that didn’t get to go home to their families that day.
And I think that it started initially right after from the day after the bombing of doing a press conference with about 30 international television and radio stations from my hospital room to coming back here a few weeks later and speaking at a congressional hearing here on the Hill so that congressional leaders could understand what I went through in Israel and hopefully be able to protect this country better from the terrorism that is really all around us.
GOLDSTEIN: To play off that a little bit so in addition to your role as a plaintiff in several counterterrorism lawsuits arguing material support for terror, what kind of response or support have you gotten from the U.S. government specifically the State Department and also the departments that are dedicated to helping victims? What has your experience been with the U.S. government?
SINGER: Sure. So justice is a big part of the I think the ideology for victims. We need to keep seeking justice for what we’ve been through and so my way of finding justice was to cut the funding. If we can fight the terrorism by cutting the terror financing, I think that we could do so much good.
So I signed on to a number of different lawsuits that were against banks that were helping to fund money to the terrorist families after the attacks were carried out and through that was really the way I was giving back. It was very, very hard coming back here as an American with no support system initially set up. I came back and I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know who to reach out to. There was nothing set up until 2005 through the Koby Mandell Act, the Office of Justice for Overseas Victims was set up to help American victims of international terrorism and while they do reach out to you and they are helpful initially.
I find that they lack the understanding that an attack happens in an instant but the impact lasts a lifetime and that victims need ongoing support and I don’t feel and I think many, many victims that we work with do not feel that necessarily the State Department is helping us long-term and we reach out to them and we try and talk to them and give suggestions. But we do feel it falls on deaf ears sometimes and we want them to hear us because this is our way of being able to make sure that the next family, unfortunately, that goes through what we’ve been through will have some sort of a support system and that’s really why I started my organization Strength to Strength because I didn’t have support when I came back.
So my parents always taught me if you don’t find what you’re looking for then you build it yourself and so I started the organization to build a global community where we don’t reinvent the wheel; we work with existing organizations in 12 different countries around the world bringing survivors and bereaved family members together showing that we are stronger together and that victims can move forward and the best way for us to combat that hate is for us to live our lives, show the terrorists they haven’t destroyed us.
GOLDSTEIN: Stuart, your son was an American hero. He was a U.S. veteran and all around remarkable young man. Tell us about the day after you learned what happened to your son.
FORCE: Well, it goes back when he graduated from the academy and we did all of the proud parent thing and we took pictures but in the back of our minds we knew that after the graduation and the commissioning he would be sent to a combat unit. And he went to Fort Hood down in Texas and integrated into the unit and about a year later they were–got their first deployment orders to go to a rack for a year.
My wife and I were airline people. I was a pilot and she was a flight attendant flying all over the U.S. and we decided being away from each other while he was in a combat zone would not be the best thing for us so we both retired and basically spent the next five years while he was on active duty at home with each other and waiting for the phone call or the staff car and fortunately over the five years it never came.
So he finished his commitment with his deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq, brought all of his men home, finished his five years said dad I’ve had enough military life I’d like to go back to school and I said Taylor you’ve earned the opportunity. So we started applying to business schools and was accepted at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Started there in August 2015.
I was pretty excited. He was looking forward to growing a beard and letting his hair grow a little bit, he hadn’t been able to do that in nine or 10 years. So when the opportunity came for him to go on a spring trip, a spring break trip with his business school buddies he jumped at it and we talked to him on Friday as he was boarding the plane for Israel and we said Taylor, have a great time and he said, dad, it’s going to be a good experience. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.
I got a phone call on Tuesday afternoon and I didn’t recognize the name or the number but it was the area code in Nashville. It was a female voice who said is this Mr. Stuart Force and I said yes, ma’am. She said this is Chaplain Gretchen(SP) at Vanderbilt University. I knew this wasn’t going to be a very good phone call. I said yes, ma’am. She goes Mr. Force there was a terrorist attack in Joppa, Israel. On the boardwalk, 11 people were stabbed and your son Taylor was one of the victims. Mr. Force, I’m sorry to tell you that he passed away in the ambulance in route to the hospital.
And I asked her questions that you’d normally ask. First, are you sure it was Taylor? She said yes sir, the professor assured me that it was Taylor. And I said did you call home? Did you talk to my wife? And she said no, sir. Your cell phone is his emergency contact and that’s Taylor, responsible at all times.
I said please don’t call home, let me go home and tell my wife. Drove home quickly, told my wife Robbi that we had lost our son in a terrorist killing. We hugged and cried and then realized that we had to call our daughter Kirsten in New York. So those were the two hardest things I’ve ever done in my life and ever will do. Tell my wife that we’ve lost our son, tell our daughter Kirsten that she’s lost not only her brother but her best friend in the world.
I’ll fast-forward two months. I got an email from Mr. Sander Gerber in New York, respected member of the financial community, an advocate for Israel American relations, just an outstanding person. He said Stuart in this email extend my deepest condolences and if you’d like more information on the circumstances surrounding the attack, I would be glad to speak with you.
I talked to Sander; he sent me two links. One was a video, a YouTube video, showing the Palestinians celebrating the death of our son that night in the proclamation of his killer as a martyr for Palestinian youth. The second was a PDF file of Palestinian Authority law, actual written law, mandating payments for terrorists that kill innocent Israelis and Americans. Sander and I spoke. I said Sander, this is for horrific I can’t believe that this is happening. He said I can’t either I spoke to a good friend of mine, Senator Lindsey Graham, he wants to do something.
The next thing I know my wife and I are right here in Washington DC at a press conference announcing the introduction of legislation titled the Taylor Force Act which withholds taxpayer money that at that time had been going to the Palestinian Authority for–in amounts greater than $200 million a year. So we announced the legislation then the election of 2016 happened and things pretty much got put to the wayside and then at the end of January following the inauguration we were at another press conference this time with Congressman Doug Lamborn and Senator Lindsey Graham announcing the joint introduction of the Taylor Force Act.
My wife and I, our part in the process was to put a human face to an abstract legislation, legislative talk law. And I like to tell people we were the Girl Scouts of the Taylor Force Act. You know when a Girl Scout comes up to your door selling cookies, you’re going to buy the cookies. You may be on a diet, you may not even like sweets but when a Girl Scout comes up to your door, you’re going to buy the cookies. We felt that when we would talk to groups when we talk to legislators, Congressman, senators they couldn’t say no to the Taylor Force Act and sure enough on March 23, 2018, it passed into law.
We have been humbled by the support of the legislators, the groups, the Middle East Forum, they sponsored a trip; I went to Israel last summer to watch the (INAUDIBLE) debate and pass similar legislation of the Taylor Force Act. Now the–my opportunity is to be with groups like this, with you is more of a thank you tour to thank everybody for writing their Congressman emails, calls, personal contacts and you made this law happen. Now we just have to make sure that other nations don’t step in, take over the payments that the U.S. has stopped to fund these horrendous acts of terror throughout.
GOLDSTEIN: Well, I want to thank you and I think everyone in this audience wants to thank you and everybody watching for being so instrumental.
Being so instrumental in passing what I think and many I hope will agree is one of the most important pieces of legislation to stop the funding of terrorism. And Rabbi, I wanted to turn to you and ask you how you view the administration’s response to terrorism.
On the one hand they been wonderful in the sense that they’ve recognized UNRWA, the United Nations Relief Works Agency which is the arm of the UN tasked with providing aid and education to Palestinian Arabs but whose schools have been used by Hamas as rocket-launching facilities, whose teachers are hired right off of the Hamas payroll, (INAUDIBLE) which is Hamas’ youth wing has that been caught actually going into UN schools and recruiting children for suicide-homicide of attacks.
The Trump administration recently cut funding to UNRWA in an incredible move of moral clarity and judgment but on the other hand, submitted a brief in the (INAUDIBLE) case arguing against asserting jurisdiction over the PLO when a court had awarded think it was about $600 million worth of damages to terror victims. How do we reconcile this approach?
BOTEACH: Well, firstly let me just acknowledge my two very esteemed co-panelists and how hard it must be to talk about attacks that are that horrific and our organization as I said gave Stuart and his wife the Eli Wiesel Award bestowed by Eli Wiesel’s family, his wife Mary and his son, Elisha, last year and we also gave it to Prime Minister Netanyahu posthumously for his brother, Yona(SP), the great Israeli hero. So thank you for sharing this stage with us.
We in the pro-Israel community let me at least speak for myself I as a member of the pro-Israel community was very grateful to President Trump for the stalwart support of Israel in four key areas. Moving the embassy, he mentioned that last night in the State of the Union; defending Israel at the UN. Nikki Haley did an incredible job. I believe that Heather Nauert, the ambassador-designate, will do an equally incredible job, she’s already done that as spokesperson at the State Department. Defunding Palestinian terrorist entities and in general making it clear to the world if you want to have a good relationship with the United States you want to have a good relationship with Israel it’s a key ally.
President Obama spoke about daylight between the two countries and I think President Trump has closed that daylight. Qatar remains an anomaly. I don’t get it. I understand there’s a giant base there and I understand that we need allies in the Gulf but I also understand the United States probably has a lot of leverage over Qatar and at first when President Trump went to the Middle East and he went to Riyadh and Jerusalem then he went to Europe at that time we heard there’s going to be pressure put on Qatar to stop funding Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
That made a lot of sense. It wasn’t an attack on Qatar. It was saying look, you can’t fund terrorism and be our ally. And then it kind of all changed and I don’t understand where the change came from. Did it come from lobbying? Did it come–I don’t know. It was a very clear message.
Some people tell me Qatar funds Hamas transactionally. They want to be a key regional player and it gives them–they punch above their weight and they punch above their weight and that’s why they also want (INAUDIBLE). I’m not smart enough to understand a country’s motivation. I lack the information and as a Jew intention is far less important to me than action. We Jews say it’s what you do that’s really important.
What for whatever reason they’re doing this as long as they are funding Hamas to murder Jews and the United States is a key ally of Israel it makes no sense the pressure is not being put to stop this. It’s got to stop. And Al Jazeera and everything else we could talk about that. So look has the Trump administration been out outstanding ally of Israel? Incredibly. This president has been more supportive of Israel that any of his predecessors period.
But Qatar remains an anomaly and the President spoke very eloquently last night as does Secretary Pompeo continually about Iran. The President ended his State of the Union speech last night focusing on Iran and he spoke about Iran’s barbarity, their violent government, how they are the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror and Qatar is their ally in the Middle East. They don’t have to choose to be that ally.
Like I said all of the things that we did with the simple message you want a good–why does Qatar need a PR makeover in the U.S.? Why did they approach Jewish leaders because they had a bad reputation supporting terrorists? Well, that’s treating the image instead of curing the problem. Stop funding terrorism and you won’t have to spend tens of millions of dollars with lobbyist, on lobbyists and get a terrible name as this stuff starts to come out let alone corrupting all of those people because this is a story of corruption.
It’s a story of corruption. You won’t need to do that if you simply stop funding terrorism. I don’t even understand how it’s good for the Palestinian people to fund Hamas. I’m no great friend of the Palestinian Authority for reasons that we just discussed. It’s on their books to pay terrorist to kill Jews and their families let alone they murder Palestinians for selling a house to a Jew. That’s officially on their books as well. I can’t condone that behavior.
But even so, they don’t want to see Hamas funded. They know that Ha–Israel withdrew every last soldier from Gaza in 2005. There were no Jewish communities there, there is not one Jew. There is a partial naval blockade to stop weapons coming in so that more Jews can’t be murdered, rockets fired. But Hamas could have built a thriving Israeli sorry a thriving Palestinian society.
I went to Gaza City with the Rev. Al Sharpton when Yasir Arafat was alive. I saw the squalor, I saw the poverty and now Hamas which took over is the single largest recipient of foreign aid per capita in modern times and what have they done with it? Build bombs to kill Jews? Don’t they care about Palestinian children? And Qatar keeps on funding and funding this and everyone keeps on thinking it’s going to get better.
If we pay the Gaza civil servants it’s going to get better. If we give them truckloads of cash literally it’s going to get better and it doesn’t get any better because an ideology which is genocidal in nature it’s not going to get better until they change that ideology. Live in peace with the Jews. We are not your enemy for God sake but I’m not an Israeli citizen; I’m an American citizen. I’m a Jew, I love Israel. I’m an American.
I respect Israel’s values but as an American, I look at this I’m wondering why doesn’t our government puts more pressure to simply end this when we can? I’m not even saying we should not be an ally of Qatar. I’m saying put pressure to end their nefarious activity including spewing anti-Semitism regularly and anti-Israel vitriol through Al Jazeera. Is that why it exists? I mean is that why this–. Tell people the news, don’t give it this editorial slant or if it does don’t let it spew into hatred and certainly don’t give sanctuary to violent killers in your country. You know we have to debate this stuff and discuss this stuff is shocking.
GOLDSTEIN: I mean the fact that this panel or even this event is controversial the fact that we’re talking about Qatar is controversial I think is a signal that we are a little bit sick right now and we are so intertwined. So we know what your position is obviously on Jewish leaders going to Qatar. But would you ever appear on Al Jazeera knowing or have you ever appeared knowing the reach that it has with Millennials, maybe using it as an opportunity to get your message out there in a network that is normally anti-semantic, anti-American and so forth? Where should we draw that line?
BOTEACH: Look, we all want to believe that engagement and dialogue is critical to peace and of course it is. If you don’t talk there’s no peace but there has to be red lines and the red lines for me are genocide. It was the reason that I opposed the Iran nuclear agreement. Iran, I was telling friends of mine including Democratic Senators who voted for the legislation that even if you don’t vote to support Israel with $3.8 billion in annual military aid, even if you don’t vote to fund Iron Dome you can still be a good friend of Israel you know we can debate whether Israel needs the funding. I think right now it does you know and it needs American assistance. But that doesn’t make you anti-Israel if you oppose that but if you vote to give a government that calls for the annihilation of Jewish people $150 billion that’s genocide, then you’re endorsing genocide. You are endorsing genocidal rhetoric. The United States is a dignitary to the United Nation’s anti-genocide legislation that was put through by a Holocaust survivor named Raphael Lemkin and I think 150 odd nations have signed that. You’re not allowed to use genocidal rhetoric. It’s a violation of international law.
So to answer your question is governments engage in genocidal rhetoric or support organizations that are genocidal in nature that’s the red line. You cannot–anything you do with them will only be legitimization.
GOLDSTEIN: Used, right and they can take your image and use it in other ways. Sarri, you talked about justice and as a victim how you as an individual American citizen can pursue that and especially your role as a plaintiff on these cases. But it’s also the role of Congress and the role of U.S. courts to facilitate justice with legislation like the Taylor Force Act, we also have the antiterrorism act and there’s been a lot of writing about how the act has been completely gutted.
The Antiterrorism Act was initially put in place so that Americans could sue in American courts for acts of terrorism that happened abroad and because of a recent at least two decisions, the victims of terrorism who spent time and money and so much effort using the justice system are now unable to sue the PLO because courts have ruled that there is no personal jurisdiction.
So to remedy that there was the passage of the Antiterrorism Clarification Act which said a lot of things but two important things for this panel. Number one, if you have an office here in the United States and you avail yourself of this jurisdiction to conduct business you have voluntarily acquiesced a personal jurisdiction in U.S. courts. And two, if you receive USAID you are also agreeing to have personal jurisdiction which Lawfare blog funded by the Brookings Institute funded by Qatar actually came out against saying the Antiterrorism Clarification Act is unconstitutional.
Despite the fact that their argument is extremely weak the problem is that U.S. aid to the PA, the PLO has been cut and Trump closed the offices. So seeking justice is never black-and-white. And so as a plaintiff in a variety of lawsuits how do you feel about the constant jarring between Congress and the courts and how long it has taken to recover and once they are recovered the judgments are then overturned because of the issue of personal jurisdiction? Shouldn’t it be that if you kill an American abroad you should be able to be held accountable in a U.S. court?
SINGER: So I always feel and I remember saying this after the attack that no matter where I am in the world, I always feel like that my country and my government should be protecting me and I think that it’s very difficult to feel protected when those politicians that are supposed to be there for us are helping to stop what we are trying to do which is to seek justice for what’s happened to us.
But I think this isn’t only a US problem. I mean this is a global problem of terror financing and as I told you earlier, I’ve spoken to members of Parliament in the UK and talking to them about accountability. You want to help the Palestinians please they need help but you need to know that the money is going directly to where it needs to go to and not towards funding future terrorist attacks. And I think sometimes the political leaders don’t really understand this because if it didn’t happen to me or my family it’s not really something that’s my problem. I have other things to focus on.
What people don’t realize is that this is not just a global issue but terrorism is still rampant and it’s still out there and we’re all still vulnerable to it. And for me and I think for many victims the reason why these lawsuits are so vital to us is because it’s our way of seeking justice by stopping the money from getting into the hands of those that carry can carry out future attacks. And if the money is not there the attacks cannot happen because that’s the motivation.
The motivation for these young people especially and Brooke you’ve done a documentary on this and talked about young people who been indoctrinated through terrorism. The motivation for them is the financial gains for their family because they feel like they have no choice and they been brainwashed to believe that this is the ends to the means for them and I think if we stop that terror financing, if we stop the trail of the money, we can stop terrorism from continuing and we can start to build more bridges.
Because I really believe until the next generation is educated not to hate this is not going to stop and we’re not doing a very good job of educating when our governments are stopping the legislation that needs to be put in place for us to be able to seek justice through means that are regular venues of the courts. The courts are our way. We are not doing any around about, we are not trying to do anything but trying to go directly to the source and the way to do that is through the court system, that was the way I felt it was important to fight back and in order to do that we need the government and we need our elected officials to support us completely.
And I’m sure Stuart has had the same experience that I had when you walk into a congressional office and you are meeting with a congressional leader, they definitely feel for your story but it’s the action afterwards that’s most important. I always say to them I don’t care if you remember me or my name or my story but I represent thousands of people, thousands of Americans who have been directly impacted by terrorism. This isn’t just about me, this is about them and their families as well and I really think that its everybody’s responsibility not just those of us that have been impacted by terrorism but every single individual in the world that has a place to be able to make a difference to help stop this funding and so we all have a role in this, not just those of us that have been directly impacted.
GOLDSTEIN: You’re right I mean we’re talking obviously a lot today about the acts of terrorism and financial support for acts of terrorism and designated terrorist groups but there’s a whole support system of legitimacy. When Europe–European courts allow for example for war crimes charges against Israeli officials and American officials in Belgium, Sweden, Spain I think Canada as well and CP(SP) Ariel Sharon can’t land in London without fear of an arrest warrant but Hamas I’m sorry the political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah are allowed to cross European borders with total impunity on their financing and fundraising and speaking tours. It sends the message that these are legitimate parties.
GOLDSTEIN: So Stuart, you had mentioned in the green room in talking about other countries America is a leader though we do have our problems when it comes to legislation that will be written to properly affect the provisions that Congress intended in the Antiterrorism Act but you were just in Canada was it or you’re speaking to some Canadian officials and there might be some hope that Canada will enact also antiterrorism legislation and that you are involved in that. Is that correct?
FORCE: There are a lot of activist in different countries that are interested. One in legislation similar to the Taylor Force Act and I think that when it was passed into law here and shortly thereafter in Israel and the same day in Israel it was also decreed by the Australian government that it gave legitimacy to other countries to say hey, we have a leader now. The United States is leading addressing this problem and I think any opportunity , everybody in this room knows somebody somewhere in another country to say hey, this is what we did here perhaps you can address the funding.
If I can make just one comment people ask well, the Taylor Force Act was passed, wasn’t it and I said yes and they said but you’re still going to DC or New York or to Florida to meet or talk. They say why are you doing that and I said well because it’s passed and the United States as of last fall withheld $167 million that was going to the Palestinians Hamas but there are other countries that are stepping in to fill the void.
Until other countries say hey, what the United States has done perhaps this might, this might dampen their operations and perhaps they can redirect their efforts to helping their own people but there’s another part of the Taylor force act I have to say this real quick then I’ll be quiet but there’s another part of the Taylor Force Act and I have to say this real quick and I’ll be quiet. But there’s another part of the Taylor Force Act other just stopping the funding that’s really important.
Two more of the provisions. One says that Palestinian authority, (INAUDIBLE) has to renounce terrorism and rewarding terrorism as a practice and the other provision in the act is that they have to remove the written laws providing the schedule of pay for slay payments. Now it’s good to withhold the money but and it will be withheld until they fulfill the other two provisions and that’s important now. That’s what we are focusing on is to not only stop the money flow but to get them to say terrorism pay for slay is not the way to conduct a good government. Anyway, that’s–.
GOLDSTEIN: Rabbi, I’m going to end with you. I think we have about a minute and a half left. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? I mean we are here in Washington; if you want everyone to have one action item, a take away when they walk out of this room today what would you suggest that we do vis-a-vis the influence that Qatar has on American foreign and domestic policy?
BOTEACH: Well, firstly, Stuart I wish you and your wife continued comfort from God and from the American people and the Jewish community and your son’s memory should be an eternal blessing. And thank you for your sacrifice. It was never wanted, it was forced upon us but you turned it into a blessing and may that continue.
Secondly, is there light at the end of the tunnel? I really would turn to my Islamic brothers and sisters, my Arab brothers and sisters and say it’s time for your countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel and this is the administration with which to do it because this administration has shown tremendous regard for those who are more open to Israel because Israel is an ally and Israel is an ally of the Gulf states as well.
You are beginning to see that, that the prosperity, the economic prosperity, the technological innovation. The kind of gifts that Israel brings to the Middle East is a bounty that should be shared by all and the time has come and the excuses that such diplomatic relations would lead to the radicalization of certain elements that radicalization could be found with other sources I can assure you but the time has come.
The time has come for peace in the Middle East even if our Palestinian brothers and sisters don’t see yet that doesn’t mean that other Arab nations can’t and there’s really no excuse anymore. So in all of these rumors that we hear that Israel has secret relationships here and secret military cooperation there, it’s got to go beyond that. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel.
If countries like Qatar or Iran don’t want that to ever happen because for whatever reason ideological transaction whatever the reason is, they hate Israel and hate the Jews or the deep clothing and they want to see the Jews disappear from the Middle East or die in some violent way you know that’s their problem, let them be isolated as a result of it. Let them be marked with the mark of Cain that they have an irrational obsessional hatred with the Jews who have a tiny little sliver of land that they’ve returned to after 2000 years but they want to live in peace and harmony which leads me finally to a message for the Jewish community which is there has never been a proper accounting of what happened in our community with the whitewashing of Qatar.
The fact that that has not happened is an insult to the constituent members of our community who were played for fools because there are people supporting organizations that whitewash Qatar and when your message to your people and your donors and your fans and your supporters is that you are there to support Israel and I believe in all my heart in supporting Israel as a Jew, as an American, as a human being I believe in supporting Israel but when that is your message to your constituents and your supporters and you are whitewashing some of Israel’s foremost enemies who are funding the murder of Israelis than there has to be an accounting and it’s never been done. Rabbis who went to Qatar, Jewish communal activists who went to Qatar, people who wrote articles praising Qatar, people who took millions of dollars from Qatar. People who invited Qatari leaders to family celebrations while Israelis were mourning their children, while rockets were falling on Jewish communities inviting the leaders who were funding this to family celebrations for God’s sake have, we no decency?
No one would believe the story and no one would believe that there was a whitewash of a whitewash. And I want to tell you our organization lost a lot of funding from a lot of people who told me you’re just creating divisions in the Jewish community. We don’t want to see fights among Jewish leaders as it is the pro-Israel(SP) community is so small we don’t want to see divisions.
What’s the alternative? To let people whitewash government sponsors of terror? You know when the (INAUDIBLE) who hate Israel they are the ultra-Orthodox as if you can be ultra-Orthodox and okay, that’s another subject. Ultra-Orthodox Jews is they protest against Israel. They went to meet (INAUDIBLE) in Teheran. They did a video of (INAUDIBLE). I told you my father’s family is from Iran to see what’s happened to that poor country under the mullahs the economic devastation, the human rights abuses.
And these guys, these rabbis, went and they sat with (INAUDIBLE). We were all disgusted everyone in the Jewish community who saw the video and we wanted to vomit.
GOLDSTEIN: Good point.
BOTEACH: How was this so radically different sitting with the Amir when he’s paying and funding Hamas because it was done secretly is that why?
GOLDSTEIN: Perfect point.
BOTEACH: Is it because it was done–we were actually there to change him as if the Amir of Qatar was going to stop funding Hamas because Rabbi so and so or Jewish communal went and had coffee or tea with him in his palace. Come on. That’s not naivete, it’s willful naivete.
GOLDSTEIN: Rabbi, thank you so much for your passion and for your courageous leadership on this issue in particular and Sarri and Stuart for being so brave and courageous for sharing your story with us today. Thank you so much.
ROMAN: Thank you to all of our panelists for their heartwarming stories, their heartfelt testimony and their call to action. Our next panel will be moderated by Daniel Pipes, the Founder and President of the Middle East Forum. He will be joined by Mohamed Fahmy, Alberto Fernandez, and Samantha Mandeles. Daniel will be providing the introduction for all of our panelists. The title of this panel is a global media empire focused on Al Jazeera’s use of world media to advance their gains.
PIPES: Thank you, Greg, and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You heard several times about Al Jazeera, you probably have encountered it yourself. You’ve heard about how the Qatar government uses Al Jazeera.
Founded in 1996 remember I mentioned earlier their ambitions go back over 20 years to spread their message to whitewash their outlook at the same time. My favorite fact about Al Jazeera is that over there on Capitol Hill The New York Times only has some 40+ correspondents accredited to Capitol Hill and Al Jazeera has 170+; that’s four times more than the New York Times. You wonder what’s all this about.
We have three distinguished speakers Mohamed Fahmy at the end is a journalist of Egyptian origins who has worked for CNN, the BBC and the Los Angeles Times. In September 2013 he became the International Bureau Chief for Al Jazeera English. He was located in Cairo at the time, two months later December 2013 he was arrested, he along with two of his colleagues. He spent the next two most of the next two years either in jail or on bail until he was pardoned by President Sisi. He moved to Vancouver where he now teaches at the University of British Columbia and he founded the Fahmy Foundation whose name you see there behind.
Alberto Fernandez had a distinguished 30-year career in the State Department where he focused on public diplomacy and if you spent any time in the State Department you know that public diplomacy is not its strongest suit. Correct? He, in other words, he was talking to the general public rather than to fellow diplomats. He was in particular important in articulating the U.S. government positions in Arabic to Arabic audiences. He is currently President of the Middle East Broadcasting Network which includes (INAUDIBLE) television. And Samantha Mandeles has worked for a range of American organizations dealing with the Middle East including CAMERA, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Americans for Peace and Tolerance.
She currently serves as the coordinator of MEF’s Islamist Watch Project. This is our effort to look at lawful Islamism, lawful Islamism as opposed to unlawful Islamism. We believe that blowing up and shooting is less important in the end than working through the institutions, political, legal, educational, media and the like. And that’s what Islamist Watch focuses on, including of course, Al Jazeera.
We argue that violent jihad gets the headlines, but stealth jihad gets the results. So each of them will provide a perspective, personal or investigative, on Al Jazeera and at the end I’ll ask them each to address a policy issue about whether Al Jazeera should be required to register as a foreign agent under the new provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019. So Alberto, can we start with you?
FERNANDEZ: Certainly. Glad to be here. It’s a real honor to be with all of you and with this distinguished panel. First of all, I want to make the usual declaimer that comments I’m making are not those of the government of the United States or that of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks Inc., but my own.
You know, it’s interesting to have to talk about Al Jazeera. I’m happy to do so. Of course, when I talk about Al Jazeera, I’m talking about Al Jazeera Arabic. I appeared on the station dozens of times, maybe hundreds of times from 2005 to 2017. I did all kinds of programs. First as a diplomat, of course, and then after I retired, as a–as a pundit.
As a diplomat, I actually twice worked to get Al Jazeera journalists out of prison, once in Jordan, a local guy who later became head of Al Jazeera, by the way, but more importantly I was–when I was head of the US Embassy in Sudan I worked on getting one of the great cause celebres of Al Jazeera, there cameraman, Samuel Hajj released from Guantanamo, something the State Department and Defense Department worked to do. And I was there when he arrived at Khartoum International Airport. I remember the military escort cutting his plastic cuffs and handing them to me as he was taken away to a big Al Jazeera press conference.
I think when you look at Al Jazeera, often there’s a mistake made that we make, and that is the major problem with Al Jazeera is not that it has false information. It often does have false information. And it’s not that it’s deeply anti-American, it’s very against this administration, but it’s generally anti-American, or even that is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. It has all of those elements in its daily makeup, but–but those are not the heart of the matter, nor is it the fact that it is a slavish and faithful tool of Qatari foreign policy, something you can see, for example, if you watch Al Jazeera, which makes a big effort about how they are for a free press and free media and yet when it comes to the world’s largest and jailer of journalists, Turkey, Erdogan’s Turkey, they are silent because of this cozy relationship that exists between the Turkish government and Qatar.
But he gives this impression of kind of being, you know, being kind of a patron of press freedom. None of those things are actually the heart of the matter. All those things are important, they’re significant. The fact that there is anti-Semitism–anti-Semitic material in Al Jazeera is significant. This fact that it has a daily diet of anti-American material is significant. All of those things are significant.
But the greatest problem with Al Jazeera is how, for a generation, it has mainstreamed and normalized an Islamist grievance narrative, which has served as sort of the mother’s milk for all sorts of Islamist movements. You know, sometimes we think, you know, we’ve heard of Hamas for example, but–but basically what–what Al Jazeera did for decades was to serve as kind of the foyer of–of jihad is him and Islamism or the–the entree point for jihadism and Islamism, even groups that didn’t necessarily agree with each other.
So at different times in Al Jazeera’s history, it’s been a partisan, for example, of Hamas, continues to be of course, but of Hezbollah. It’s not so much now but there was a time, 2006, 2007, when it was very much pro-Hezbollah and very much pro-Hezbollah narrative. Al Qaeda and ISIS, these are all groups, of course, that fight each other, they’re all along the spectrum of Islamism and jihadism, but–but Al Jazeera did is it set the mood music for the kind of political violent revolutionary appeal that these groups were going to make.
So in a sense, it prepared the ground, the kind of ideological, psychological, political ground for them. If you look at the media in the Arab world, the media in the Arab world in many ways is the media of regimes, right? It’s the discourse of authoritarianism. The discourse of dictators. Well, Qatar is an authoritarian regime, but its media is different than that of the others. It seeks to be the media of revolution, whatever that revolution is.
So if you watch it at times, it sounds left-wing, other times it sounds Islamist, other times it sounds very much in sync with something you might hear coming out of Moscow or Tehran. It’s not just, you know, Islamism and jihadism, even though Qatar is an authoritarian regime like its neighbors. Its media is the media of revolution, mostly Islamic revolution, but not just Islamic revolution.
And so, what it’s done in its politics is to amplify the appeal that these groups have. This, I think, is the most important thing, how they’ve basically tried to ride the populist wave of contending Islamism and jihadism for their own purposes so they would promote this kind of unabashed grievance narrative, which is tailored for Islamist and jihadist solutions.
So they paint the world in a certain way. This is the way the world is. This is the reality of the region. The people responsible for your miserable condition are the usual suspects. And then, from the masses rise the great champions of, you know, re-unification of the Arab masses whether the MBE or Hamas or Hezbollah or ISIS or Al Qaeda.
So in a way, it’s brilliant because Al Jazeera is not Al Qaeda television or ISIS television or any of these, but it basically prepares the ground for the–the narrative and the discourse that they’re going to push out. The region is polarized, that region is unstable, but this kind of revolutionary doctrine amplified in their media makes it even worse.
And I think a fair person would say yes, Alberto, but Al Jazeera are not the only ones to do this. That’s true. There are actually more poisonous networks out there. There are worse things out there. The problem is Al Jazeera is the worst one that has a large audience. There are stations throughout the Arab world that put out, you know, 100 percent racist or 100 percent bigoted stuff without any disguise, but they tend to have small audiences. There are significant, they–they poison the waters, they encourage extremism, but they don’t have the very large footprint that Al Jazeera has.
So Al Jazeera is, you could say, the most extreme or the most dangerous of those networks or stations or outlets that tend to put out this type of poison. You know, you–you can say in their defense, and I think it’s worth exploring, is are they the chicken or the egg? Did Al Jazeera cause people to become extreme or cause this, you know, kind of ferment, or is it basically reflecting and amplifying a kind of, you know, extreme polarized conspiracy ridden Xenophobic narrative that exists in the world will Arab world as well? That’s–that’s certainly something that we can say.
I think that when we look at this problem, and I think it is a problem, we do have to look at ourselves a little bit. It’s not hidden what Al Jazeera, in the service of Qatari foreign policy, is doing. And I think three American administrations have not done a great job of monitoring Al Jazeera content and making the issue a bilateral one of real importance between the United States and Qatar. In a way they’ve–they’ve been able to get away with it because we haven’t been as prepared as we should be.
There was, in the Bush administration, there was brief briefly and interagency Al Jazeera Working Group, I was one member of that group, that was to monitor its content and see how it could be improved. But that initiative was not sustained over time or through administrations. The problem then becomes when administration officials of different administrations would engage with a Qatari’s, they didn’t have the information necessary to basically say why are you doing this, why are you not doing that, why are you putting this thing out because it’s not, as I said, it’s not that they were putting out fake news, sometimes it was fake, but it was more that they were putting out skewed, biased, selective news that led to kind of the pushing of a certain worldview.
For that, you need someone who really knows what they’re talking about, right? Who can–who can kind of address that whole thing. Address that whole reality. And unfortunately, what’s happened in the United States with the American administration is there never was one stakeholder in official Washington who had this portfolio. Some would say, for example, that America, I think, and I think this is true, I think you would probably agree, does not do a great job when it comes to tracking propaganda and ideology.
And when we talk about the threat of–of Islamism and jihadism, much of the threat, a large part of the threat, as you said, is ideological. It’s in the mind. The easy thing is when something gets blown up or somebody gets killed. But kind of the ideological ferment, the kind of incitement that Al Jazeera and others will do–will do is–is a harder thing to put your finger on.
In an ideal world, State Department’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public affairs could be the office to kind of do that monitoring and do that engagement, but it hasn’t turned out that way. You could say the near East bureau of the State Department could do that. It hasn’t actually happened that way. And of course, DOD or the intelligence community or even the State Department, when they deal with Qatar, there’s only a certain amount of bandwidth.
If you go in and you have 10 issues and Al Jazeera’s number 9, your–your intern interlocutors, your Qatari interlocutor are going to understand that, well, that’s important to you but it’s not that important. You know, number one, two and three, this thing related to bases or this thing related to funding or this thing related to whatever cooperation, they’re going to realize well, we can give–we can give on those issues and still continue to do the things that we’ve been doing.
Unless, if it’s raised as a priority issue in a bilateral context, it will never be fixed. It will kind of continue yeah, yeah, yeah, we hear you, we understand you, but not really making the changes that are required. We need to prepare ourselves to have a kind of much more substantive understanding of what they are doing to be able to address it.
The steady, constant drip, drip of poison on Al Jazeera, not a big, awful thing, but lots of small, lethal things every week is something which is hard to put your finger on with precision if, you know, if you’re a senior official who gets a briefing checklist with 20 things on it that you need to be able to talk about and your–your–your–your Qatari counterpart on those issues is going to be able to kind of finesse it and kind of push you off and move on to the next item, which maybe is more concrete because when you’re talking about something related to popular propaganda when someone is talking about related to an narrative and ideology, it’s a lot harder to put your finger on.
So I think that there’s plenty of–of–of blame for–for the reality we face. I think the Qatari’s, in many ways, have been allowed to do that because they haven’t–they haven’t had a really strong response from us. As I said, it comes and goes. We would chastise them about things which were actually not the most important thing, you know, getting a story wrong. The problem isn’t getting a story wrong, the problem is–is how you skew and spin stories throughout the day. The things you highlight, the things that you don’t highlight. And that’s a much more complicated thing.
I know earlier today people talked about Qatar’s influence operations in the United States. Well, Al Jazeera is, in a way, is an influence operation in the Arab world. And what it has done, it has been able to move the discourse, to move the discussion, to move the political ferment in ways which have given aid and comfort to enemies of the United States.
They been able to have their cake and eat it too. It didn’t need to be that way. I don’t think it’s too late for us to actually challenge them on these things and demand real change rather than the lip service we’ve gotten in years past. Thank you very much and I’m happy to answer questions later on.
PIPES: I’ve got one question for you now. We’ve heard before how Qatar has used its soft power because it doesn’t have hard power, used as money for football, for schools, how do you really reconcile that with your interpretation of Al Jazeera as a revolutionary channel? How–they would seem to be contradictory.
FERNANDEZ: Well, it’s the idea of the, you know, the guy that keeps throwing people to the tiger hoping that they’ll be the last one to be eaten, right? They are going to ride that tiger for all its worth and they think that it’s–it’s useful for them.
And by the way, one of the interesting things in the–in the Qatari media space is the Qatari’s have learned from Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera area is an Islamist television network. That’s its identity. And in recent years, what they’ve tried to do is diversify and so now you have, for example, you have pan-Arab nationalists media outlets, which are not Islamist that are also controlled by the Qatari’s and the stuff that Azmi Bishara is doing, for example. This is not Islamist, but it’s also friendly or kind of complementary to Qatari foreign policy.
So there are–they are expanding putting their eggs more than in one basket but–but–but ideally, they see themselves as–as, you know, an authoritarian regime, a traditional regime like its neighbors, but one that has bet on the–the–the dissatisfaction and ferment of the region that already exists and which today work with, you know, amplify, manipulate is of–is of use to them.
PIPES: A dangerous game, no?
FERNANDEZ: Yes. Dangerous game.
PIPES: Thank you. Mohammed.
FAHMY: Please allow me to share a story with you. I entered the prison and Egypt accused of fabricating news and belonging to the Muslim brotherhood and, you know, fabricating news to fit their agenda. I just want you to imagine walking–sitting in a prison for a crime you didn’t commit but then suddenly you are approached by scores of 20-year-old students, Muslim brotherhood students or sympathizers of the Muslim brotherhood.
And all they are telling you, and you’re the bureau chief who just took the job a few months ago that they’ve received cameras from Al Jazeera. They have sent footage, mostly to Al Jazeera Arabic, that they have received 200 to $300 for videos that they sent to the network. Now, to me, here I am trying to prove my innocence, I’m shocked and I’m angry at the same time because I come from a–an idealistic background, the journalist that walked into Iraq on the first day of the war with the Los Angeles Times as a cub reporter in 2003, you know, worked with CNN for three years, Alhurra for a while.
And what I realized is that Al Jazeera had spread this network of students and Muslim brotherhood sympathizers across Egypt and these kids were telling me that they would receive these $200, they would keep 100 bucks, save–save it to get married, and they would invite their friends, they would organize a protest, film it, send the footage to Al Jazeera, and they would buy sandwiches for the protesters and produce posters.
At that point, I was angry because if I was told this was happening and I had agreed to it, then I would be accountable, but this was happening behind my back as a bureau chief of the Al Jazeera English office. So I decided to get the actual confessions of these young students from the prosecutor and I sat in my cell reading their confessions and a lot of it was corroborated for the stories they’re telling me.
So often, we judge Al Jazeera by what you see on the screen, but a lot of it that angers a lot of these security officials in Egypt and other countries and people who criticize the network is what happens in the newsgathering process, which Al Jazeera has applied in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and many countries where non-journalists–we all want to be the first to give a story and the exclusive, we all compete to be the best journalists and the first on the–on the front line, but what they did defied everything that is related to journalism. And I took it even further and I sued the network for their contribution to my incarceration, which made my situation even worse in front of the Egyptian government and I am against the incarceration of any journalist and I have an organization that advocates press freedom, but this is not about press freedom.
This is about a network that has resulted in the death of people. A lot of these young students were radicalized or were poisoned by the ideas that this network puts on the screen and what they–they stand for. I mean, if you look at some of the content, and I’ve done a documentary film and I’ve done extensive research that I included in my lawsuit against this Qatari arm that they call a news network and I am very angry man when it comes to Al Jazeera and they’re watching now and they know that I’m after them and I will not stop because this is not just a personal issue.
Some of my friends in Al Jazeera, journalists, are going to die and some of them have been incarcerated and killed because they have been unknowingly working for a network that recruits terrorists and Muslim brotherhood agents, if you want to call it, across the Middle East. So you see al-Qaradawi, one of the–this collar that was–that ran away from Egypt and was given the–the citizenship in Qatar and he–he’s a cleric that educates the mirror of Qatar and his father about Islam and everything.
This guy sits on TV saying the–the anchor asks him, do you agree with suicide bombings in Syria. The guy goes, “No. You should not act alone. You should never blow up yourself unless it is endorsed by the brotherhood.” This is a man who is being watched by millions of people. This is a network that results in the death of soldiers. This is the same guy that sat there saying yes, kill Egyptian soldiers in Sinai. Yes, it’s okay for Al Jazeera to say that those who kill Israeli civilians are martyrs.
2008, Kuntar, the Hezbollah guy, the–the–they call him the resistance, he’s a terrorist. He was in prison. He comes out of prison, he’s killed four Israelis and a young girl. They celebrated his release and Al Jazeera’s office in Beirut and aired it on TV. Is this a news network? And I’m telling this network that I am after you.
And tonight everything that’s been said in this room about Qatar is true. This is a country that has crossed the line and this is a network that has 80 offices across the world and more and their journalists, some of them–some of them are great journalists, but they–if they were in my situation and they saw what I saw in prison, nonstop stories by brotherhood youth, and some of these brotherhood youth, it’s not even their fault. They’re fighting for a cause and this network is allowing them to work illegally in Egypt. They’re allowing them to fabricate news. They’re allowing them to forward their agenda by putting this content on TV.
When I worked for CNN covering the revolution in Egypt, maybe three or four times I took footage from people who actually filmed an explosion that we didn’t get on camera. We weren’t there. But before I put it on air, I put the name of the person on the video. I made him sign a document. I corroborated that this guy is not, you know, a member of a specific group. That’s what a network does. That is citizen journalism, not what Al Jazeera does where they give cameras and resources and devices and money all over Egypt in poor areas.
So here I was sitting on my cell dealing with my incarceration as a journalist and my lawyers were like, “You need to just, you know, figured out. Are you going out to all this?” I’m like, “Yes. I will go out to all this because I’m not going to stand in front of the judge all day saying I’m not a Muslim brotherhood terrorist. I’m going after the network as well because what I saw inside was unbelievable.”
And a lot of these youth, these Muslim brotherhood youth were telling me how they watched Al Jazeera and how they believed in it. So you know, it’s not–it’s a network that calls for revolution, but you never see them calling for–calling out the nondemocratic state of Qatar that has no labor unions, no press freedom, no elections, it’s only the other countries that need to have elections. You know, and in my lawsuit, I’m having so much fun with my lawsuit because it allows me to discover more and more. And if you’re watching, you know what I got.
You know, these guys not only do they, you know, there was a–there was the hacking thing, you know, Al Jazeera does a really cool. You know, they and–and the Qatari intelligence, they hack the people, anyone that criticizes them, and that’s what happened to me as well, and they send the New York Times reporter the flash drive. He calls me and others and says yeah, you know what, I got all these documents and stuff and I’m going to write a story. I’m like, “Go ahead. Write the story. Al Jazeera already has their guests ready because the story is coming out tomorrow and their sourcing the New York Times.” But it’s all been orchestrated by the Qatari intelligence that has full control of the network. It’s not even debatable what does Nate work is about.
When people say I am all for press freedom, I have been calling every government out there since I started my career about respecting journalism and what it stands for, but when you have a network that uses it’s Qatari–and you know, they spread their money, as we all said here today to these great organizations like CPJ and Amnesty and others when–when they get all cornered about, you know, signing up for FARA and saying oh, this is against press freedom, it ain’t about press freedom. This is a network that promotes terrorism, it–it promotes the incitement and results in death and radicalization of people. There’s no question about it.
PIPES: So what–.
FAHMY: –Thank you–.
FAHMY: Thank you so much.
PIPES: Could you tell us the nature of your lawsuit? What is your–.
FAHMY: Yeah. So my lawsuit is based on the fact that they were working without proper documentation. That’s one. The second fact is that they were, without telling us journalists, that they were dealing with people who are considered as terrorists and giving them equipment, like I said, and giving the money and defying all the–the ethics of journalism while their professional journalists were trying to do their job ethically.
So they were basically supporting these terrorist groups, working illegally in Egypt without telling us, and of course I submitted all these emails, that corroborate me asking them are you working legally in Egypt. They say, “No, no, no, don’t worry about it. You take care of your editorial stance and we got it under control.” Okay, and yeah so basically that is what the website, the lawsuit is about.
PIPES: So in effect, you were hired under false pretenses.
PIPES: It seemed like you were this, but you were in fact that.
FAHMY: That is correct.
PIPES: And where is the lawsuit?
FAHMY: The lawsuit is in Vancouver, Canada. I am Canadian-Egyptian, so I filed it in the British Columbia Court, and I’ve submitted hundreds of documents, including affidavits from, you know, the former Qatari minister, justice minister. And when they hacked my inbox, they got a–they got–they saw all my cards before I even submitted the–the documents for the lawsuit. So they started taking it more serious and they started preparing themselves and they banned the justice minister from leaving Qatar and Amnesty did a whole thing about it.
I mean, you know, these guys operate, you know, in such an evil manner. I mean, when I say I’m after you and when I send them this message, I’m after you in my pen, with my camera, and in court. You’re taking it out of court, that’s another thing. Play ball.
PIPES: Thank you.
FAHMY: Thank you.
MANDELES: First, I want to say that it’s a real honor to be here. Thank you to Dr. Pipes and my colleagues at the Middle East Forum for working so hard to organize this event. And of course, to my esteemed co-panelists. It’s really a pleasure.
So we just marked the 17th anniversary of the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal a few years after his death, his father, Professor Judea Pearl called Al Jazeera one of the most dangerous organizations in the world today. We are talking here about an organization which is committed to weakening the West and they are doing it under the cloak of ordinary journalism.
Professor Pearl’s observation shows why it is crucial, I argue, that the US Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission require Al Jazeera to register as a foreign agent. It is time our government helps to strip this harmful network of this veneer of legitimacy. Aside from its seemingly limitless Qatari funding, Al Jazeera’s major strength as an anti-Western propaganda outlet is its methodological flexibility, it’s adaptable Da’wa, if you will.
Al Jazeera does core ideology is Islamist, Islamic supersessionism and supremacy and a belief in the fundamental evil of Jews, Christians, and the West in general. That’s constant. It doesn’t change. But in service of these ideals, deception and incitement to hatred and violence are key tools used from platform to platform, language to language, and the network shifts its messaging to entice and seduce its unique audiences and ultimately increase worldwide support for its causes and values.
For the Arab and Muslim world where anti-Jewish, anti-American conspiracy theories are common and part of the normal discourse, you might say, Al Jazeera engages in Islamist accusations of a Jewish control, American government or American media subservience to Jewish actors and, of course, predictions of Islam’s conquest of the United States. For instance, in August, Arab News reported that since the 2016 presidential election, Al Jazeera has savaged the administration and Donald Trump in more than 1,800 disparaging news and opinion pieces, often describing him in crudely anti-Semitic terms, calling him the conductor of the orchestra of Satan, and insisting that he is either Jewish or controlled by Jewish forces.
The network’s equal contempt for America and its president were communicated for just a days after the 2016 presidential election in a published open letter to the President-elect titled Message to Donald Trump. After declaring Trump devoid of culture and a stupid person, the author explained that he actually hoped Trump would win the election so the world could see America’s ugly face. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera Arabic political cartoons on Trump, his image as caricatured as a worm, a serpent, or with a bag of cash stuffed into his mouth.
And indeed, Trump’s victory has been kind of a windfall for Islamists the world over, including Al Jazeera. In the West, where serious citations of the protocols of the Elders of Zion are less acceptable, Trump policies such as the much protested Muslim travel restrictions, which is termed the Muslim Ban by American Islamist groups, have inspired an explosion of nonprofit Islamist networks, substituting motifs of Jewish control and those with–with those of Zionist influence. It is just as Alberto talked about. This nonprofit Islamist network has exploded a victimhood narrative.
In English, the network attacks American society and President Trump under the guise of anti-racism and advocacy for oppressed populations. Al Jazeera English’s website uses language crafted to attract Western progressives. It’s About Us section claims that its vision is to be the voice for the voiceless and its values deceptively include speaking truth to power in our journalism as well as amongst ourselves.
This language mirrors language used by the larger American Islamist scene. In the last decade or so, American Islamist organizations and Al Jazeera’s Western geared programming have increasingly inspired and mimicked one another. For example, the Islamist organization, American Muslims for Palestine, or AMP, honors, hosts, and employees of speakers who use Arabic to spout anti-Jewish and anti-American conspiracy theories. At AMP’s annual conference in November, it posted a Turkey based professor called Abdallah Maruf (SP), whose Arabic tweets espouse vicious anti-Semitic motives and stereotypes.
But AMP’s English website features a quote from the group’s cofounder, the notorious is the most Professor, Hatem Bazian, exhorting others to listen to the voice of the voiceless. Meanwhile, in this March, AMP’s annual fundraising banquet will feature Marc Lamont Hill, delivering a keynote lecture on the theme of, you guessed it, speaking truth to power.
The Al Jazeera conglomerate has harmless harnessed left leaning audiences even beyond those in groups like AMP with, as Brooke talked about, AJ+, an online news platform featuring short, easily shareable video clips. It broadcasts in several languages and is integrated very closely with social media platforms so it’s attractive to millennials like myself. AJ+, even more than Al Jazeera English, targets young, left-leaning Americans by focusing on areas of progressive interest such as the patriarchy for LGBT Q rights.
Though promoting intersectionality, feminism, and same-sex marriage appears at odds with Islamist ideology, Al Jazeera allows AJ+to cover such topics favorably so that a sinister accompanying ideological message is afforded legitimacy. AJ+is branding allows Doha to peddle anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism to a younger audience under the guise of minority rights.
Casting Israelis and Israel in general as racist or oppressive is crucial to Al Jazeera and Western Islamist at large broader agenda to manipulate the thinking of their audiences. The AJ+ branch thus dedicates considerable airtime to covering aspects of Islamist groups like AJ+, excuse me, aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict to portray Israel as the aggressor. Like American Islamist groups, AJ+ and Al Jazeera English then insulate themselves from charges of anti-Semitism by condemning overt acts of anti-Jewish terrorism in the United States, such as the Pittsburgh shooting.
AJ+ spreads anti-Americanism with a similar antiracist slant. One AJ+ plus video features short clips of young adults in American flag plastered clothing. “Not to brag, but we have the most incarcerated people in the world. God bless the prison industrial complex. Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s painkillers. Makes sense though, right? I mean, racism in this country is a big pain in the ass.”
The size and influence of Al Jazeera’s network and with it, Qatar’s ability to influence public opinion, has truly ballooned. With more than 65 bureaus worldwide and broadcast and multiple languages, Al Jazeera has succeeded in branding itself as a hard Hillary–hard hitting example of, in Hillary Clinton’s notorious words, real news. Instead, Al Jazeera is just another cog in a vast Islamist machine that has managed to cultivate its strongest allies among those who should know better and oppose it most forcefully, liberals. For these reasons, it is crucial that the network’s anti-Jewish and anti-American propaganda and duplicity in every language be identified and publicized. Thank you.
PIPES: Thank you.
I have a lot of questions for you, but I’m told that we are out of time. So you are spared.
Thank you all. Thank you, Samantha, Ambassador, Mohammed Fahmy.
FAHMY: Thank you.
PIPES: Thank you for this very (INAUDIBLE).
ROMAN: Thanks, everybody. We’re going to take a quick five-minute break. There’s candy bars and some snacks that are over there if you need a real quick boost of caffeine and some energy, a little sugar boost, and we’ll come back here immediately at 2:30.
Hi, everybody. I hope you’re enjoying your favorite Hershey’s chocolate treat. They are not a sponsor, but we just really like Hershey’s because we’re all from Philadelphia. That’s where the Middle East form is based. It’s our local chocolatier, if that’s even a word. But I would appreciate it if you would please make your way back from the dining area back to your seats so we can begin our next panel. We’re going to get started one minute as the panel makes their way to the dais.
Thanks, everyone. Please make your way back to your seats so we can begin the next panel. The topic of the following panel, moderated by Eli Lake, an opinion columnist with Bloomberg News and joined by Jonathan Spyer, the Executive Director–the co-executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, also a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a fellow at the Middle East Forum, Seth Frantzman, the opinion editorial editor for the Jerusalem Post and also a co-executive director of MECRA, the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, and Peter Theroux, a translator, author, expert of international affairs, and a recent recipient of the CIA career service medal. I may have gotten that wrong, but a very high award coming from the CIA having just left government service. Will be speaking, as I said beforehand, about understanding the Iranian-Qatari-Turkish alliance. Eli?
LAKE: Great. Well, this is a certainly very timely topic and I think I’m going to start sort of getting into it and–and with a little bit of a curveball here. And that is to sort of recognize that there is a long-standing American interest in Qatar because of Al Udeid Air Base and because of, you know, kind of a long-standing relationship with Qatar and the, you know, sort of modernized after the 2003 Iraq war. And, you know, I guess when you put it like this, and sort of you can go through the panel, what do you guys think–should–should the US have a–an important military base in Qatar or is that leverage against America to sort of push back on some of Qatar’s foreign policy that is against US interest in the wider region?
THEROUX: I’ll–I’ll take that, if you like. Thank you. I’m Peter. I’ll cut right to the chase and say I’ll echo what I think General–the General said this morning or somebody else, there are a lot of flat places for planes to land in the Gulf and maybe Al Udeid no longer needs to be one of them, looking into the short-term future. I served in the US government for a couple of decades, including a couple of years at the White House, and to the–to the larger point here, I want to talk a little bit about US behavior, specifically US government behavior, and how it has in inadvertently, in most cases, created an environment where Qatar behaves the way that we been observing all day long today.
I’ll go to another bottom line I have, which is Al Jazeera and Doha’s behavior, generally. It is about soft power. I was interested to hear Alberto Fernandez say Qatar is about the like the guy feeding everyone to the tigers so that it is eaten last. It is soft power, it is used to policies and including Al Jazeera to harass and deter its rivals in the region, and about, ultimately, regime protection and regime preservation.
Back in the mid to thousands when Al Qaeda was very, very active, and I’m sorry to say, successful in the Arabian Peninsula, we heard from virtually every little government in the Gulf. They said if Saudi Arabia goes south, were all going to–we are gone because Al Qaeda had a special grudge against Saudi Arabia and were killing a lot of people there. I think Qatar decided they’re not, even if Saudi Arabia goes south, they’re going to have enough chips with the Iranians and with Al Qaeda, specifically, and with everybody around the board that they would survive. If I could expand on that just a little.
THEROUX: The US government is an unwieldy thing to run on–on its best day. There are issues like Syria. Syria had the foreign fighter pipeline putting terrorist fighters into Iraq solely to kill Americans. And the Syrians did that with Iranian connivance so that we would never dream of regime change again when it came to the Syrians with the Iranians. Iran, as the General observed this morning, killed a lot of Americans using EFPs, those explosive formed penetrators. We were unable to respond to these acts of war.
So when you look at Qatar doing these bad things, it’s–it gives us basing, it behaves like an ally some of the time, so it’s an irritant and no wonder we were not really fully coherent with Qatari policy. 1995, ’96, we know in this period of time there was a coup assisted by Gulf neighbors against Emir Khalifa (SP) that brought in Emir Hamad (SP). They built Al Udeid for us. You’re probably aware, most of you, apart from Vandenberg, Air Force Base in California and Cape Canaveral, it’s only base that can accommodate the space shuttle. If it should, heaven forbid, have to land somewhere other than North America.
A further distortion and a further point of incoherence in the US government was the behavior of our ambassadors, frankly. I’m not going to name names, by the way, off-line I will, but in this forum I will not. There was a point when the United States was going to sell ATACMS, these Army tactical missiles to Bahrain. It’s a defensive system. The Qatari’s were up in arms about it and said they can only be used against Qatar, given the range and whatever other reasons. They have material territorial dispute over the Hawar islands and another city or two. We know Qatar used to be part of Bahrain.
There was a slanging match between–between our ambassadors, Johnny Young in Bahrain and the one I won’t name in Doha. The Bahraini–the US Embassy in Bahrain was doing what embassies do by saying yes, we’re trying to advance our interests and sell arms. Our ambassador, our embassy in Doha was behaving like an arm of the Qatari government strenuously, angrily, in open front channels, as we would say objecting to the sale. And it got so bad that then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stepped in and said stop it. You’re–you’re–everybody–your’e embarrassing everybody. That Ambassador in Doha’s diplomatic career was ended, and he’s been working basically for the Qatari government ever sense.
And if you look at a lot of our ambassadors who’ve served in this small Gulf countries, you look at the careers, many of them have had careers involved with those governments, often lobbying on their behalf. This reached a bad enough point when I was on the NSC, I was, by the way, director of Persian Gulf affairs, that I was asked we need to look at our ambassadorships there. Are we sending our best ambassadors or are we sending first tour inexperienced ambassadors to be the president’s representatives because these are just small countries?
My boss at the White House at that time was Elliot Abrams who cited to me, he has a very Latin American string to his bow, if you know Elliott, and also human rights, he said there was a point under the–during the Cold War when Ronald Reagan was the president where we really cared about Central America and made this calculation, are we sending strong ambassadors to send Salvador and to, you know, these other capitals there. They reached the conclusion yeah, we’re sending–we need bigger ambassadors. And then they sent Thomas Pickering and John Negroponte.
I won’t comment on anything about those two men other than that they had a lot of heft and we were thinking we need to–we need to staff our embassies differently in the Gulf. Complicated the picture, there’s been some mention of engagement with Israel on the part of some of the small Gulf countries, very much including Qatar. And we saw that. It happened when I was in government and it seems transparently a gambit to see if they could make some problems on their hill go away, if they could open a channel to Israel. It was done at a–not a high level, it was on a temporary basis, some countries did it informally, Oman and Qatar did it formally.
And at this time we were very angry at Qatar. I’m talking about 2003, 2004, 2005, because of Al Jazeera. It was like Al Qaeda’s television show. They were open to Hamas, the Taliban, Qaradawi was a–was a daily headache. The Qatari’s also hosted Xylem Kanyander Baev (SP), this nasty Chechen person and you all know probably how–how ugly that–it was, how that ended. The Russians blew–the Russians were angry. We were angry. We said get rid of him. He’s a–he’s a killer, he’s a terrorist.
They thumbed–this is one of the rare instances they thumbed their nose and almost lost their hand. The Russians blew up Kanyander Baev and his son in Doha. The Qatari’s tried to butt chests with the Russians and arrested some Russians and the Russians arrested every Qatari they could get their hands on and so the Qatari’s lost that round.
Again, getting to our own behavior when we look in the mirror and say why–why does Qatar get away with this, even in my very, very humble capacity on the NSC, if you know the NSC, a director is the lowest thing there is, but I talked to the Qatari ambassador all the time and we would scold, and demosh (SP) is the term of our–in the–in the US government, about we are unhappy with the how Al Jazeera is nicer to bin Laden than it is to the United States. And of course, our ambassador–the Qatari ambassador was wounded and he didn’t understand this and he–this comes out of left field, he thinks relations are great.
And that I get a furious phone call from the Department of State saying what did you tell the, this is from the Qatar-Bahrain desk office or someone more senior, what did you tell the Qatari Ambassador? He’s furious. We look bad. I’m having lunch with him tomorrow to commiserate and try to get him back on our side. And I’m thinking no, no daylight.
And literally, I would be told what am I supposed to tell the ambassador? You were–you are mean to them. I said, you tell them what our policy is. We’re angry at them. And they said no, we’re not. The Qatari–and then they are handing me brochures like they work for the Qatar foundation. I’m thinking we have–they have their stinking invested her to do that. The State Department should be representing our policy. It led Elliott to tell me, he said, I have this idea maybe we should establish a department, probably at the cabinet level, to represent our foreign policy.
What could we call it? Anyway, I’ll–I’ll wrap up here. A third–another distortion to show it isn’t always at a cabinet level thing, after we went into Iraq and things appeared to be smooth for a while, the president, George W. Bush wanted to go to the Persian Gulf region to thank our allies and everybody, almost everybody in the government said go to Kuwait. We fought a war for Kuwait, their grateful, their good or it was going to be Qatar. The first JDM (SP) was in the war was fired out of all you date into a Saddam Hussein regime target in Baghdad.
By coincidence, the Secret Service did their advance work in Kuwait and the ambassador was busy. The deputy chief of mission briefed them. They were not feeling what they want to feel when they’re putting a president–when they’re putting Air Force One into someplace. The Secret Service went to Doha where our ambassador–whether on our behalf or on the Qatari’s behalf, put on a dog and pony show about how safe Qatar is, about what a wonderful ally they are, the president went to Qatar instead of Kuwait and we were thinking what is he–what are we all say to everybody about this? Well, that was an executive decision and it was something else that mislead the Qatari’s into what they could get away with. It was a mixed message.
Our solution to the Ambassador problem was to stop sending first tour junior ambassadors there. We chose a political appointee, I won’t name here, but grab me in a minute, who seemed solid. He had no diplomatic experience and unaware of how you need instructions to say anything. You–you have talking points because you’re the president’s representative. You don’t make stuff up.
In his first meeting with the Amir Hamad of Qatar where he was supposed to say nice to be here, we–we have to work on this relationship, he said the president would love to have you in Washington. He would–an invitation to Washington is something the NSC will argue about four weeks and he just thought this is like inviting them to my ambassador’s residence. We read that and–and thought this is–we’re a–we’re a hopeless government. We are so bad at everything we do. Briefly, I think–I–I question the need for the basing in the world were in today. I think that would be the beginning of the end of potentially for this bad relationship.
FRANTZMAN: Respond to the same question?
LAKE: Yeah. Should we have a base in Qatar?
FRANTZMAN: I think, I mean, I think the thing–the most interesting question is the way in which, you know, you’d think that having a very large base with thousands of–of people and huge amounts of investment would give the United States, a large country, a lot of leverage over Qatar. Well, instead in some weird backward bizarro world, it gives Qatar a lot of leverage over the United States.
And it’s not just about the base, is also the fact that, for instance, this has led to other things with the–the fact that the Taliban had representation there and that’s now led into these talks for the Taliban where Qatar is playing host. You know, in a weird way, Qatar is then therefore brokering the talks between the US and the Taliban. And once again, therefore has some sort of leverage over the US.
So I would say, in general, I mean, of course the US wants to have–wants to have bases they are, but I would think that, perhaps, talking more critically about this and challenging the Qatari’s and perhaps hinting at the idea that the US could of course be building the same style base somewhere else or at least investing in another base, I mean, Israel, sorry, the United States has gone through this with Turkey in terms of the base in Turkey. So there is a way the United States, which is the powerful country, can decide to indicate that it’s going to look for other options.
I think that would be a good thing, but that should’ve happened more than a decade ago if you look at some of the State Department discussions about this and complains about, we’ve heard about this in the panel, about the complaints about Qatar involving terror finance, for instance, and the fact that the United States was telling the Qatari’s for more than a decade, you’re one of the worst in terms of terror finance issues that we have. Yes, Saudi Arabia has issues, the UAE, all these issues countries have issues. Kuwait also had issues, but what they kept telling the Qatari’s, you’re one of the worst. You need to get–you need to be better on this.
And the evidence doesn’t seem to point to the fact that the Qatari’s have done a lot better, I guess, and so the question is, okay, so the Qatari don’t want to change their behavior, then maybe the United States should be thinking about, okay, so we’re going to start to change our behavior little by little. Of course, I would imagine building a base takes a long time, so just to build that base obviously took a long time and that was a result of other decisions that were made in the 1990s and things. So but why not just start down that road so that the United States has that–that option, which great powers should have an option, and great powers shouldn’t need to be tied just to one country or another country.
SPYER: Yeah, I–I do agree with the, in a sense, the way that Seth framed it, i.e., the question of the base should be the question of whether the base provides the US with leverage over Qatar or whether, in fact, it’s providing Qatar with leverage of the United States. I think, in order to examine that question, we have to look back a little bit at the trajectory of Qatari behavior in–in recent years in order to understand what exactly is Qatar up to and what can we therefore may be expect and what is doable and not doable in this regard.
And with particular reference, and I’ll go on to look at it in a moment, but with particular reference to the, you know, really quite profoundly destabilizing role that Qatar has played in the region, specifically over the last eight years or so of–of the, you know, regional unrest. It’s fascinating to know that all this is a relatively recent vintage. In other words, needing to think of Qatar very much at all and needing to think of Qatar as separate to other GCC states and having the strange, unique trajectory on its own. It’s not something that goes back decades and decades if we think about, with here, specifically, I suppose today to also look at the issue of Qatar and Iran.
And if we think of the early years of the existence of–of Islamic Republic of Iran and we try and look at if Qatar on that map, we find that Qatar in those initial years was a relatively normal–normal, you know, GCC or Arab league member state with regard to Iran. That is to say, it backs Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war, it eventually then, along with other GCC countries establishes diplomatic relations for the diplomatic relations with Islamic Republic of Iran.
But on, you know, Gulf issues also subsequent to that in those years, Qatar is kind of normal actor. When UAE had the, or when the issue of the ownership of the islands, of Abu Musa and then Greater and Lesser Tunbs–just a–if we’re allowed a moment of to have a moment of frivolity in this after lunch session, I always thought that Abu Moser and the Tunb would be a great name for a rhythm and blues band.
That’s another whole thing. But on that dispute over the islands, you know, Qatar goes with UAE and it’s a normative member of the community of Gulf countries. When we start to see this picture changing? Clearly, in the mid-90s with the issue of the wants of Al Jazeera, the possibility, this quite wonderful Machiavellian notion that Qatar has of punching massively above its weight through this judicious and very clever and original use of information, you know, building up leverage, in a certain sense.
In a certain sense, this is supposed to be soft power, but the Qatari’s translate it into hard power. Qatar can threaten you as another Arab country through the leverage of forwarded it by the ownership of the Al Jazeera satellite station. And then you start to see this, you know, this new Qatar emerging, this Qatar which is able to punch way above its weight to get a seat at the top tables in the Arab world via Al Jazeera.
And of course, this policy comes then into its own or, in a sense, enters the historical stage during the period of the Arab spring, let’s say when the Arab public’s first, well not first, in our living memory, when the Arab public finally got an in to the stage of history, in Tunisia, and Egypt, in Syria, Al Jazeera is playing a really central and pivotal role in fanning the flames of the uprising and directing them to a certain degree and deciding who gets to have an uprising and who doesn’t get have one debating on how nice or not nice they are, the Emirates of Qatar and so on and so forth.
So this is the point at which the kind of the, I don’t want to say monster, but the very strange phenomenon of Emirate of Qatar, both in ally of America with the Al Udeid Air Base, and at the same time profound agent of instability in the region starts to kind of, you know, to come into full vision and we see what happened in Tunisia, we see what happened in Egypt, we see the–the role played by the Qatari’s in Syria, specifically, in the way in which in Syria for, I don’t want to say for the first time, but may be for the first time in a–in a central way, Qatar starts to really try and–and play around with hard power to. It’s not only soft power and informational warfare anymore, now is backing militias, is trying to get into the–the game of backing Sunnis Islamist militias, Jabhat al-Nusra, of course, al-Harasan (SP) and the others.
And at this point, you have, you know, a regime that’s really into prime time. It’s playing a pivotal role on the regional stage. Now, here’s the interesting thing. The–that moment passes and it has passed, of course, we may well witness another 1848 type moment, so to speak, in our region, we’ll have a wave uprisings again, but this one, you know, has now, I think, unarguably, you know, is–is–is declining. It’s hard–you’d be hard put to find anywhere in the Arabic speaking world today in which a–a–you know, an insurgency from below is–is coming along.
So that strategy of Qatar stops making a great deal of sense, potentially, at that moment. And the way I see, the pivotal moment, which I think brings me to the answer the question, so to speak, is precisely the summer of 2017 when, in a certain sense, Saudi Arabia in the United Arab decide to pick that moment to try to radically pull Qatar back, so to speak, to put it back in its place and pull it back to kind of normative behavior.
And if you remember the set of demands that go with the breaking off of diplomatic relations, trade relations, transport relations with Qatar, you know, a radical set of relations, of demands including cut off links to the most Muslim brotherhood, shutdown Al Jazeera, in other words, change back to what you used to be. Go back to being, you know, what ought to be or we regard as your proper place in your proper role.
What does Qatar do? Does Qatar succumb? Does Qatar surrender, disc Qatar agreed to the demands of the Saudi’s and the Marathis (SP)? Clearly not. What Qatar does is, in a sense, it ups the stakes. Qatar goes from being this strange anomalous semi-loyal, semi-all that, it goes towards Turkey and it goes towards Iran, all right? And we can see the way very fascinatingly in which it is, in fact, Iran more than any other single country, that enables Qatar not to surrender to the demands of its fellow Gulf monarchies.
It enables Qatar to remain on the trajectory that it’s on. It is Qatar which enables, excuse me, it is Iran which enables catarrh to avoid isolation, which provides food, meat, vegetables, fruit and all from Bushehr across to Hamad Port north of Doha and enables the hot to keep on the trajectory it’s on. I think it’s a fascinating element of a larger picture, which we are witnessing in the strategic architecture of the region and it’s one in which, fascinating, we’d never have predicted this five years or certainly I or nobody I know would have done.
You know, from a moment in which it seemed that Qatar and Turkey were going to be part of a rising new Sunni Islamist power block in the region, you know, and at that time it looks like Egypt was going to be part of it to and Tunisia part of it to and Syria part of it too, from that moment, now of course that moment belongs to history. That’s all gone. What we are now seeing, it would seem to me, is that Turkey and Qatar are on their way towards a greater, maybe momentary, but nevertheless very profound connection to Iran and to the Iranians and their friends.
That is to say it’s not that Qatar is being pulled back to normality, it’s that Qatar threatened, because of the role it was playing, has gone further into that role, has gone further into being a role–playing a role of, you know, more and more open anti-Western activity and politics in the region and now it’s kind of hanging out with the really serious anti-western forces in the region. It’s no longer just supporting Sunni Islamist social movements here and there. Well, it’s now about a closer and closer relationship with Iran.
If we’re thinking about Qatar and Iran, we of course need to think also about the energy aspect of this, the North Dome, South Pass gas field and the fear that the Qatari’s have also with the of the Iranians with regard to the leverage that the Iranians have over Qatar because of the way in which Iran can–can–can destabilize that area. So factor that in as well and I think what you have is you have an–an emirate, a state which is on its way on a journey further and further away from anything remotely resembling a Western security architecture in the region and further and further towards the enemies of said architecture.
That to me would be the key question that you have to ask with regard to Al Udeid which is again does Al Udeid still provide leverage from the Western (INAUDIBLE) to stop Qatar from going further down that road or on the contrary actually is it just there and it’s becoming more and more a facility located in–on the territory of an anti-Western or increasingly anti-western state. It would seem to me that it would be an-an opportune time for the United States to begin to start sounding out possible alternative sites to Al Udeid and I would say that with regard to Incirlik in Turkey a similar answer could and probably should be given.
LAKE: We’ve got about five more minutes on this panel so let me just ask a quick question for everyone. Why do you think the Trump administration has dropped its solidarity with the rest of the GCC when it comes to Qatar? And why do you think the Qataris have paid under Trump very little price for their turn to Iran especially given the broader Trump Iran policy? We can go a little longer so.
FRANTZMAN: Well, that’s an interesting thing. When it first started if I recall
LAKE: It was a good tweet.
LAKE: It was like a good tweet and then–.
FRANTZMAN: Right, but we go back to that June 2017 when the relations were broken and I think there was some–they felt they had this headwind from the big meeting that happened when Trump had gone to Saudi Arabia and had maybe they felt there was a blank check to kind of put pressure on Qatar.
And then of course right after that, the Turkish troops showed up in Qatar which made it so that there would be no regime change going on clearly. And then I think if we recall what happened was Rex Tillerson went throughout the region trying to patch things up playing shuttle the diplomat and all of the sudden just like as maybe typically happens with the Trump administration a bit there tends to be something that seems like you know a real break with the past like the Syria withdraw which is okay, we’ll put the ball all the way to the endzone and then there’s a bunch of little bits of walk-back.
So like it seems that the Qatari thing that it’s almost like that as well, that there wasn’t going to be as you said a real price to pay and now what’s weird is the way in which the Qataris have inveigled themselves in this Taliban brokering, the Taliban thing which then of course makes them a key asset or a key part of what the U.S. is trying to do which is the U.S. is trying now to withdraw from Afghanistan in some ways to keep its peace with honor or something the way the U.S. tried to get out of Vietnam or something like that.
So and the Qataris are saying yeah, don’t worry, we’re going to help you, we’re going to smooth the path for you and we’re going to be a key part of that. And let’s also recall that if we go back to early 2018 as part of the Qatari lobbying efforts, I think we heard about that, millions of dollars spent on lobbying here. It’s not–it was spread all over everyone that they could spread it to and what’s interesting is there’s also this discussion or the strategic dialogue which if you recall Qataris came over and talked about yeah, but we actually have to have a special relationship with the U.S., a special strategic dialogue about just Qatari U.S. relations and the Qataris were very smart.
They almost flipped it from being all of the sudden what seemed like a very isolated, a very small country almost on the verge of what could be a massive collapse to all of the sudden being in Washington, all of the sudden sank well actually no it’s the U.S–U.S. Qatar is an axis of strategic alliance. We are going to work together and it seems to me that they have played their cards very, very well.
They bought up a lot of advertising by the way in U.S. media if you go into the FARA documents you can just see huge amounts of ads about U.S. Qatar, Qatar is a strategic partner and the blockade. So they–they were very smart in the way in which they poured resources into that. And we see that in other places.
I was reading CNN recently. There was a whole puff piece about some vacation destination near Doha or something and the website you could click on it and it talked about sponsored content and it said yes, this is part of some sponsorship connected to Qatar. Of course, Qatar doesn’t control the editorial aspect of this but I mean it’s very clear that Qatar has been able to find its way and almost flip things so that it becomes almost the real special ally in a way that you think well, wait a sec. Yeah, but shouldn’t there–shouldn’t the U.S. be more critical of what’s going on?
THEROUX: I would add that Qatar is very agile and as I referenced, we as the U.S. government we cannot get out of our own way to go after our major adversaries at times. It takes such an effort to do what we are doing against Iran and we are still not really doing the maximum that we could be doing against Iran by–almost by a long shot.
So with Qatar there is–and the Qataris understand this, there is risk versus reward as Eli referenced, they now have forces from at least two NATO powers on their soil and they are an extreme irritant but as an irritant they just don’t come to the level of the bigger issues and the bigger irritants and adversaries we grapple with. So they manage to stay under–under that radar annoyingly.
SPYER: Yeah, I do think I–I agree that look it seems to me also to be about U.S. Mideast strategy or the absence of same at the present time. I mean I just don’t think there’s lots of tweeting, there’s lots of positions. There isn’t a unified stance and there isn’t a unified set of stages that are going to be gone through. There isn’t the kind of coherence which one might hope for and that’s why I think it’s not surprising sort of speak if we think–we think we can give other examples where you know you have a tweet, you have an initial very strong response and then you have the kind of bureaucracy rushing to catch up with the President saying no, no, no we can’t do that. Don’t you realize we have a quite different relationship to Qatar than the one you are positing and therefore this needs now walking back and then it gets walked back?
So I think this has to do with that absence of coherence. I would and so it–it interest me deeply to wonder whether that’s now going to change. Many of us and I obviously came here–come here from Israel and many of us are looking from Israel at the notion of a determined U.S.-led policy to contain and rollback Iran in the region.
It’s interesting to note that Qatar is openly in defiance of the new sanctions against Iran. It’s interesting to note that Qatar is, in fact, increasing the number of flights each week from the Doha to Tehran, Doha to Doha to Shiraz. This month also flights to Isfahan are going to be increasing. Qatar is going in quite opposite direction to the way in which one would expect a Western ally in the region to go.
And it interests me if at a certain point you–you–there will be a process of Qatar building up a sufficient head of steam sort of speak that in the end it becomes untenable for it to continue in Ambassador Fernandez’s wonderful phrase to you know to eat its cake and have it too or have its cake and eat it too. It’s been doing that for a long time. It’s still doing it.
We are into serious days in the region right now in terms I think of the need to contain and rollback Iran. I think that question does arise, will Qatar continue given its behavior, given its increasingly defiant behavior to get away with it sort of speak in a way that it has done up until now.
LAKE: Well, I mean you–you mentioned earlier that they’ve made themselves somewhat indispensable in these talks with the Taliban which is an important priority for Trump. And I mean I looked at the State of the Union yesterday, last night and you know what he said that one of his key pillars of effective governing was no more dumb endless wars.
And even though we don’t really have a timeline and you are correct that the Syria announcement, the Syria withdraw doesn’t appear to be what everybody thought it was a month and a half ago you know the way I look at it is that the Qataris are not just playing a weak hand well, they are kind of elements that they can be very useful to the President’s foreign policy goals despite the other stated policy with regards to Iran.
I mean it is a little bit off-topic but I always thought don’t–don’t get too excited about this Iran stuff because (INAUDIBLE) keeps saying at one point he might want to renegotiate and he loves negotiating so that could happen and the Qatari’s understand that I think you know. You know so it’s just something to think about and I do think that you sort of nailed the sort of dilemma at this point which is that you know I don’t know that I agree with what you said that the main reason why so many career State Department types are you know defending the U.S. Qatari relationship.
I mean that always happens, there’s always this clientitis phenomenon but it’s also because you know the Qataris at times can you know serve different elements or different aspects of U.S. foreign policy depending on what’s accentuated at that moment and the Qatari’s understand that, too.
SPYER: I think that’s right and I think that you know in a certain sense that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What’s the bad thing it seems to me or the thing to ask questions about in recent years is the extent to which rather than us or rather than the West playing in the Qataris, the Qataris are playing the West. The Qataris get everything, appear to get everything they want, pay a little price for the very–the very long list of very negative things they are doing and at the same time play the positive role when all of the allegedly positive role when they wish to.
And the question one task to ask is why do they get away with it? What is it about the immense power they appear to wield that enables them to get away with it? There isn’t any immense power. So when you look at the real stature of that country it seems to me that the West could play a much tougher role with regard to Qatar and Qatar would still have the need and interest to play the useful role that it occasionally on notable occasions is able to play.
LAKE: And Qataris benefit for being in a region where their irritation is hardly the worst thing going.
LAKE: Especially when the Saudis are responsible for the Khashoggi matter which was a huge and whatever you want to say about it, it was a huge embarrassment to the United States, it was a huge embarrassment to Saudi Arabia and it was a huge political and diplomatic crisis. And so when you have stuff like that and then you have you know the constant predations of the Iranians and what Turkey is doing and the horror of the Syrian war you know the stuff that Qatar does is unpleasant but it doesn’t seem so terrible. And I do think that they kind of benefit from that not just in this particular moment, for the last 20 years.
SPYER: I’d agree with that. I think that we should note through all of Qatar as part of the role of those other states you just mentioned I think the way we need to begin to look at Qatar (INAUDIBLE) it’s not that Qatar itself is playing a positive or negative role but that Qatar is increasingly drifting towards a closer and closer relation of cooperation with a very interesting, possibly temporary, but very interesting convergence taking place at the moment between the Republic of Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran in a direction that is meant to challenge what’s left of the U.S.-led security architecture in the region.
I think that’s the way in which Qatar in a certain sense you know that Qatar enters the big kids’ game in that respect. It’s no longer to continue to tolerate it on the level of well, it’s not that important is a luxury that maybe is becoming less affordable when one notes the larger structure of which Qatar potentially is becoming a component in the present time.
LAKE: Okay. So I agree with that. My preference is for America to maintain the security architecture in the Middle East. But we’ve just had two presidents in a row who campaigned successfully on the idea that maybe that was a bad deal for America.
So at a certain point the democratic process will catch up with the foreign policy and I think you’ve got Trump I mean is kind of out there in the open right now when he’s pretty much saying at this point, I mean like you know Pompeo sings a very different tune, the Secretary of State, you get a very different tune from you know John Bolton. But when the president articulates his own policy and it’s not that different than some of his key things that he’s saying from what Obama did and I gather based on their success or at least the perception that this is a popular position in the United States. So agree with you that they are challenging that sort of American security architecture but at a certain point, I think that America is a little bit divided as to whether they themselves want that.
FRANTZMAN: It seems that it’s for some of the other states and to really step up. I noticed there was this Dead Sea meeting just about a week and a half ago in which Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE, and Saudi Arabia all came together. Obviously, Turkey wasn’t there, obviously, Qatar wasn’t there so that’s the emerging nexus of a bunch of countries that are very close to the United States that are part of one security infrastructure.
They are all also talking about reopening their embassies in Damascus and talking about seeing if Syria could come back to the Arab League. And it’s also interesting to note that for instance when there was the Manama Dialogue events there’s that set of people that come to Manama and then there’s a thing in Doha, a forum where there’s a whole bunch of other people that come to the Doha Forum.
And these–these are almost 2 different structures now in terms of who attends which, which foreign ministers come, who speaks and you know it’s very interesting this kind of post-ISIS period in which you have this kind of Turkey Qatar very close relationship and then somehow a relationship with Iran, Russia and then the other southern Middle Eastern countries two of which have connections to Israel and we know that of course, Israeli ministers were in UAE this year.
So and there’s I think that is part of this aspect and it’s something that’s the merging as the U.S. perhaps as you said both the last two, this president and the last president both tried to alter or change the trajectory in terms of American foreign policy in the region. So all of these states have to step up and become major regional actors and try to manage the strategic–that kind of regional security framework themselves. So the competition now is between those two or three camps and there’s a real division and a real cleavage that’s now between them.
THEROUX: Yeah, and for better and for worse I think that whole idea of making everyone step up, our allies step up including NATO is a big Trump theme and anyone who has served in the current administration knows that if President Trump has a bumper sticker when it comes to what we’re doing, and what our allies are doing, what our foreign policy objectives are it’s because he’s a very zero-based kind of thinker, the most basic–well, actually even applying to the White House Correspondents Dinner and going to Middle East issues what are we doing? Why are we doing it? What is it costing us and can someone else do it and why aren’t they doing it? That is–that is a template that–that people who talk to the President from any of the national security areas and any one region or functional area in the world that–that -those are the first questions that they are urged to ask. And so stepping up is a very common and you know the default thing after those questions.
SPYER: This takes us off the subject of Qatar a little bit but I think it’s fascinating just to respond to this and say the following. The problem I think with the list of states that you’ve mentioned is that if we look at the relative strength of the states in question what we will conclude is that both Islamic Republic of Iran and Republic of Turkey are exponentially stronger and more effective than the states you’re mentioning as the ones being expected now to step up and meet the challenge.
That’s the fact of the matter which seems to me therefore and again I’m talking here as somebody who’s based in Jerusalem and from that angle, but it strikes me that if you look at the way in which that’s working out for us sort of speak the–the retreat of America, the aggression of anti-Western states and the attempt by other states to step up it ain’t currently working out all that well.
Iran is rising to dominance in Iraq, Iran is present in Syria, the regime has won the Syrian war, the rebellion has been crushed and Hezbollah is now increasingly openly dominant in Lebanon. So many of the kind of conflict arenas between these forces, it’s the anti-Western force which is coming out on top arguably partly because of the increasing retreat of the United States which I accept is entirely legitimate. It’s the right of American voters to root vote for that and to want it. It’s fine.
It’s just our job to look at how that’s working out and from the point of view of Israel what it looks like to us is that as a result of that withdrawal, as a result of the weakness of the southern tier states sort of speak that you mentioned what’s happening is that the powerful states in the region Islamic Republic of Iran to a lesser extent Republic of Turkey in terms of anti-Western perspective are moving forward and they are moving forward in a way which potentially at a certain point will reach quite dangerous and worrying dimensions.
LAKE: Well, that seems like as good a place as any to end things. You know there are sanctions on the Iranian oil which is a big deal for them.
So I want to thank our panel and I guess now we go to a break. Thank you.
ROMAN: Thank you, Eli. Thank you, Jonathan, Peter, Seth. And we are actually going to go right into our next panel. So I’m going to ask Seth to stay up on stage and we’re going to welcome Jonathan Tobin, Michael Pregent and Sam Westrop. So we have to add one more chair up there. We are going to bring one more chair up there so we get the–. We have five. And Kyle Shideler who I did not list on the program but–. Okay. Right here. He can join in after they already start; it’s fine.
Okay. So this is our last panel of the day. We are going to probably end around 4 o’clock and the panel subject is Qatar as an Islamic benefactor. We are joined by Seth Frantzman again, the opinion editor and Middle East affairs analyst for the Jerusalem Post, co-executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. Michael Pregent, a Senior Middle East Analyst at the Hudson Institute. Sam Westrop, the Director of the Middle East Forums Islamicist Watch Program and Kyle Shideler, the Director of the Middle East Forums Counter-Islamist Grid Project. And the moderator will be Jonathan Tobin, the Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish News Syndicate, very well-known columnist and someone who’s been covering the subjects for decades. Jonathan?
TOBIN: Great. Thank you, Greg (SP). Thank you to all of you for staying for this last program of this very informative conference.
In this session we are going to focus on Qatar’s ability and its efforts to influence Muslim communities around the world and how that plays into both its efforts to promote Islamism as well as the connections with terrorism and how that plays into its overall efforts to influence the West, influence Americans and influence American Jews as well.
So we’re going to lead off with Sam Westrop. Sam, tell us a little bit about exactly how Qatar uses its money and its institutions to influence Muslims say here in the United States?
WESTROP: Yeah, sure as well how Qatar uses its money to influence Western portrayals of Muslims here in the United States. So I think were this five, 10 years ago and we were a group of people brought together to discuss a maligned Middle Eastern actor exerting a dangerous influence in the West the object of our focus would undoubtedly have been Saudi Arabia. Just five years ago that would be true.
Today things are very different beginning in of course 2013 and leading to the eventual ban in 2014 of the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia. Qatar has become the chief patron of Islamist in the West, the chief supporter, the chief financier. Islamist all around the world not just in the West you know from London to New York, from Brussels to Bangladesh.
TOBIN: Let me just jump in. So–so it has really supplanted Saudi Arabia in your (INAUDIBLE)?
WESTROP: It absolutely has and let me give an example of how you can see that on the ground within Western Muslim communities. A couple of years ago if you were a young Muslim student group you would have almost certainly at some point have collaborated with an organization called the World Association of Muslim Youth.
This is a Saudi organization set up by a mix of Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood activists. They were everywhere. They were running the campaigns, providing the literature for–for Islamist mosques and community groups. They were providing scholarships for young Muslim kids.
Today they are almost nowhere to be found in the West, nowhere. They have disappeared because they are a Saudi-associated organization and Islamist in the West not just the Muslim Brotherhood but South Asian networks like Jama-at-I Islami as well as (INAUDIBLE) Salafi groups have pretty much rejected Saudi influence and control over the last few years. And whereas once you could say that hundreds and hundreds of mosques, thousands of mosques throughout the Western world were not just built by Saudi Arabia but remained under its control, now it’s no longer the case. Saudi finds itself impotent when it comes to matters of Western Islam apart from a few Wahhabis(SP) hanging on on the outer fringes of some Salafi circles. Saudi Arabia really has very little to say in–in what’s going on today.
So how do we get to this point and more importantly where is Qatari money going to? I called it the chief sponsor, the chief supporter of American Islam but where does that money go, what does that support look like?
Well, in Europe you can certainly find mosques, community centers all overbuilt by Qatar, funded by Qatar in much the same manner that Saudi Arabia funded mosques and built mosques in the 1990s and 2000s. America, however, is really a bit of a different story and the Middle East Forum when we’ve been researching this subject have come to the conclusion that the Qataris looked back at what the Saudi’s did.
They reviewed the Saudi approach to spreading Wahhabism and saw the enormous backlash it caused from both elements of the left and the right who looked to Saudi interference in the same way the left looks to Russian interference now and said this is upsetting, this is dangerous, we do not like this. And I think most people would agree that there was a backlash against Saudi interference or funding over the last 10, 20 years.
Qatar looked at this, it reviewed it carefully. It saw that it needed to be smarter. And already today we heard some examples of how it has been smarter. I liked the term earlier influence operations. That’s exactly what Qatar does. It runs influence operations. And so Al Jazeera, of course, has come under the microscope today but it’s a very important institution not just as media networks go but also as bodies that coordinate work between the Qatari regime and its partners in the Muslim community, the Islamist in the Muslim community in America.
So Al Jazeera hires from both far left and from Islamist circles in the U.S. It partners with Islamist groups, it runs puff pieces about Islamist activities and it runs attack pieces on–on critics of Islamist activity including the Middle East Forum. It acts as a go-between between the Qatari regime and the Islamist-led Muslim communities across the United States.
The Qatar Foundation has been mentioned, a very similar story. This is a regime arm, it claims to be independent as we heard earlier from my colleague Dr. Orwin Litwin, it is not dependent. It openly works with U.S. public schools, with public universities and using those connections it brings Islamist into the fold of these public institutions.
It acts as a coordinated middleman that allow the benefits both Qatar which allows its credibility in the Western world to be vetted(SP) look, here is a wonderful foreign government giving us free textbooks and providing Arabic lessons and so on. And for the Islamist, the Qatar Foundation legitimizes Islamism as a form of Islam, as the kind of Islam they present to public schools and public universities across the country.
Qatar is in the habit of not funding Islamist directly in America. It is funding Islamist narratives. It is funding Islamist’s stories. It is creating bodies and funding bodies that advance Islamist ideas. I think Qatar Foundation is a particularly good example actually because they have given almost $1 billion to U.S. universities since 2012 and of that $1 billion only about $15 million to $20 million was actual gifts to universities. Now Saudi Arabia on the other hand just gives huge amounts of monetary gifts to universities.
But Qatar didn’t just give money they wanted something back. So these were contracts and they were contracts between the Qatar Foundation and U.S. universities and these American universities would get hundreds of millions of dollars in return for creating campuses in Doha and running events with Qatar Foundation here in the U.S. And that these events and these campuses in Doha very quickly radical (INAUDIBLE) started appearing in the student societies and the mosques, radical ideas are taught at some of the classrooms.
It was a clear example of Qatar influencing the way Islam and Islamism are seen both in the United States and among those American students who might go to study in–in Doha. We shouldn’t suggest for a second that Qatar doesn’t do what Saudi has done and that is just funds conversion material what’s called (INAUDIBLE) propaganda. Just in 2016, Qatar gave $1.6 million to a group called the Alpha (INAUDIBLE) Institute or Foundation in Illinois which sends Qurans to public institutions all around the world.
So that existing work does exist but Qatar specifically looked at what the Muslim Brotherhood is doing and what worked. When it came to Islamist groups in America it looked at all of them. It looked at their activities and it said what is working, what is not and what they saw was working was those Islamist groups who had worked out how to co-op liberal progressive language to advance their ideas. So behind closed doors they may say death to the homosexuals but in front of the cameras and standing next to their intersectional allies on the left they say long-live LGBTQ rights, long live immigrant rights, equal pay, prison reform, all of these left-wing buzzwords that both the left and centrist and indeed some conservatives could support some elements of.
And the Qataris looked to the Muslim Brotherhood doing, at the Jamaat-e-Islami doing this and even at elements of the Salafis who have sort of modernized and become progressive Salafism(SP). I’m not sure if that’s a thing, we need a new term for it. They, the Qatari’s looked to this, so how successful it was and sought to mimic it. So that’s what Al Jazeera Plus is, AJ+ that’s exactly what it does, it talks about transgender rights and prison reform. It also talks about Islamaphobia and the wickedness of Saudi and Emirati foreign policy. It mixes progress–New World progressive ideas with Middle Eastern Islamist ideas. Again the Qataris creating groups that act as a middleman that bring two ideas together.
So the Qatari’s look to this very successful co-option of progressive language, of progressive ideas and have sought to do the same especially when it comes to da’wa, this (INAUDIBLE) idea. So they were very keen to donate hundreds of millions to the Hurricane Katrina recovery fund for example. a fact that the Qataris like to remind Americans every few years when they hold various ceremonies and very public reminders that they helped.
But more importantly, it does what Islamist groups do locally in America which is do genuine charitable work, feed the hungry, home the homeless. Qatar is very involved in internal American da’wah charity work. Just here in DC last year Qatar gave huge amounts of money to local groups feeding local homeless people, feeding hungry people.
This is all about sanitizing Qatar’s reputation in the face of what is happening overseas with the foreign policy and the blockade. It’s about legitimizing Qatar and its Islamist proxies as the faces of American Islam or of worldwide Islam and it’s about accruing general moral and political legitimacy for these–these organizations.
It’s also–one another group that’s very important to mention is the Islamic Online University. This is huge online Islamic learning site based in Qatar, funded by Qatar. Its material is openly used in U.S. prisons or by prison chaplains and so on. Qatar is everywhere in every facet but it hasn’t provided the bricks and mortar of American Islam in the way that Saudi Arabia has done it. It’s done it much more smartly, it’s been much more clever and it’s much more insidious. And the thing we can only hope for now is better transparency, better understanding, and a newfound determination to reveal Qatar’s pernicious control and influence within American Islam and the West.
TOBIN: That’s fascinating because above all as much as there was genuine outrage about what the Saudi’s were doing this seems much more pernicious, much more–much less transparent and with a broader agenda. Seth, can you tell us a little bit about how–how–how this effort to spread the Qatari influence has worked in a broader sense?
FRANTZMAN: Well, I think what’s fascinating here is that you know the region in the Middle East is that some sort of a crossroads after this eight years of kind of chaos and the Syrian Civil War and the defeat of ISIS and the return of a stored of state system in the Middle East.
Qatar is playing a very important role in that because Qatar is very closely allied with Turkey. And you know all of the things that you’ve just said what we really seem to hear from that is look, Qatar is trying to sort of piggyback or step into the breach where the Saudis have decided to step back, where the Saudi’s now as we seen in the media, for instance, are finally actually–they’ve received a lot of criticism for things that they’ve done in the past, things that they’ve also done recently.
And–and the Qataris it’s extraordinary the degree to which they’ve been able to play this game not only in terms of media influence but also universities. They seem to just really understand in some ways I don’t know if the weakness is the West or the issues taking place in the West but then the West sometimes understands itself.
So, for instance, where is the version of Al Jazeera plus in Arabic? Where is the–and of course if you had asked Western diplomats there would be no sense of yeah, we need push back. You know like okay, so if they are going to fund our universities so we’ll fund universities there that teach like about liberal concepts or whatever. We–we will spread our ideas and it will be some sort of a thing.
Okay, so you’re going to have Al Jazeera here so we will beam in our channel into your country or what have you. Like maybe would have taken place in the Soviet period with where there was maybe more push back against Soviet domination. So it’s fascinating to the degree which the Qataris have been able to step into this.
It seems to me that you know not only do we need more transparency to understand the full nature of what’s going on and to use the tools that exist. In the end of the day, America is a democracy in America has powerful tools to deal with this. The problem with democracies is historically they tend to be a little bit slow just like in the 1920s and ’30s the democracies were slow to catch up to what’s going on with the rise of fascism in Europe or by the way democracies are very slow to understand not only the Soviet threat but also for instance and I understand if you look back at the 1960s and ’70s the way the Soviets tried to co-opt certain protest movements or whatever.
The Soviets played the same game, right? There’s no protest at home in the Soviet Union. But we’re going to find a bunch of workers strikes and protest in your country but you don’t get to do that in our country. Okay, but eventually the Soviet Union obviously fell apart. Fascism was defeated.
I just think that democracies are slow but the fact is that there probably should be a way in which eventually the United States begins to understand what part of what part of what the Qatar is doing is–is threatening or problematic and what part of it isn’t. And probably there’s parts of the things that the Qatari’s are doing that are are maybe not as problematic and then there’s parts that are but the important thing is to reveal it, to show it and to explain it.
And also to understand you know why–why is this one very small country trying to fund so many things, right? If this was another country, I assume some of the way that Qatar is able to show up as if it’s not a controversial issue at all is if people many people just haven’t really heard of it.
It’s like well, if Chad showed up and so well Chad would like to endow your university. Well, I never heard of Chad, if you’d like to endow a campus in Chad $100 million our university needs that and media is the same way. We see the same we see the way in which for instance media is being decimated in America in terms of job losses, right? You can’t go almost a month without hearing about a newspaper closing or online like what happening with Huffington Post and other places. Even places that were pioneers of new media are now closing and another new media is coming along.
And I think Qatar is also trying to fill not just Qatar but other countries whether it’s Turkey and other places or Russia, they are trying to fill some of those gaps–gaps as well. So but I think the more knowledge we have about the way in which some of these countries are playing a role or why they decided to play a role in our academic systems or training police. The more we know about that the better and the more that there’s congressional oversight or things like FARA are actually being used the way they should be. Hopefully, the more you know we can–some of that can be addressed.
TOBIN: Before we get to Michael who will tell us a little bit–turning–turn the issue a little bit around Cliff, could you tell us a little bit about what exactly is Qatari teaching about the ideology and the nature of this massive effort to influence our society? What–what exactly are they trying to–to get out there, other than their own self-interest and how–how–what impact is that having on Muslims as well as those who are influenced in the West?
CLIFF: Sure. I mean, I think–am I good? I am good. Okay, when we talk about what the Qatari’s teach and believe, I go back to what a US ambassador to Qatar once said in 2005, which is there’s only one Islamic thinker in Qatar that matters and that is Yusuf al-Qaradawi. And so, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, you know, came to Qatar very early on, he didn’t really have a religious education system at that time. This was in the 1950s and 60s. And Qaradawi helped him build that.
For those of you who don’t know who Yusuf al-Qaradawi is, he was a major, is a major thinker of the Muslim brotherhood. He was a contemporary of the major Ikhwani thinkers like Sayyid Qutb. So he is a man whose Islamist pedigree goes back all the way to the very beginning. His various serious thinker. He is a very serious man.
And very quickly, he became sort of the central idea that Qatar was promoting. It was you had Qaradawi. You know, so he led their secondary school, Institute for religion, he was the Dean of Qatar University for Islamic studies, he has Qaradawi center at Qatar foundation, right? And he was doing this sort of Islamist thinking at a very high level. And so, when–you know, we get the question that–that Sam raised, which is, you know, how is it that Qatar took over so much of Islamism in the West so quickly?
In large part I believe that has to do with Qaradawi and his–his networks and his capabilities. Qaradawi pioneered something called the feet of minorities, which was a concept of Islamic jurisprudence dealing with how Western Muslims should respond when they lived under non-Muslim governments, right? How do they deal with certain aspects of sharia when they live in the United States or they live in the Netherlands and so on and so forth.
And so to do that, he built up a series of institutions including, for example, the European Center for Fatwa and Research, staffed those organizations with Muslim brothers, and those organizations, to this day in large part, control sort of what Islamic legal thinking is for Islamists in the West. And that all comes out of thinking pioneered by–by Qaradawi. So at the same time, Qaradawi is building Qatar’s institutions internally, he is also building these institutions externally.
He is also building international forums to discuss these issues and–and modernize, in his terms, modernize and bring to–bring to bear is sort of Islamist thinking. We see that with, for example, the international Union of Muslim Scholars, which is best known in the West for a 2004 Fatwa that they issued against Americans in Iraq saying that Americans could be killed and–and kidnapped in Iraq. But of course, they issue Fatwas on all manner of life, not just violence, but also everything else.
And so, this is part of how Qatar, through Qaradawi, is able to influence Islamist thinking in the West. And at the same time, Qaradawi is sort of functioning on that level, the intellectual level, he’s also functioning in the terror, finance world through his chairmanship of something called the Union of the Good, which is a treasury designated terrorist finance entity, which is actually a coalition of many charities, some of whom are also designated terrorist organizations. And they are known, many of these organizations are known to fund both Muslim brotherhood organizations, but also Muslim brotherhood terrorist group Hamas, certain elements of Al Qaeda, for example all of which is happening through Qaradawi Union of the Good.
Now, the Union of the Good, as I said, was designated. Qaradawi himself was never designated. The–some of the elements of the Arab quartet have begun to designate Qaradawi. They’ve designated, for example, the international Union of Muslim Scholars at UAE and so we are seeing some of that where some of our Arab partners are looking at this–these international networks of Islamist thinkers and where they connect with actual jihadis and they are–they’re trying to do some of the designations at that level and I think that’s–that’s viable.
But it–it goes to show you how, you know, we talked a lot about Qatar’s media savvy and their communications networks and the sorts of things, but even if you have the television program, you’ve got to have something to put on the TV. And when they choose to put on TV? They choose to put on Qaradawi, right? And so, in the same–same thing where you have these relationships between the American universities and Qatar in the Qatar Foundation and they put–so you’re able to put an American university right next to the al-Qaradawi Center for Moderation and that results in both–.
TOBIN: –Oxymoron or not.
CLIFF: Oxymoron or not, but it–it results in sort of whitewashing Qaradawi in what he’s able to do, at the same time spreading your ideas further in the–in the West. So I think it’s–it’s fascinating how Qatar uses its money both to whitewash guys like Qaradawi, while at the same time they use guys like Qaradawi to give them heft and influence in the Islamist world.
You know, we talked about how Qatar is playing this role in negotiations with the Taliban. Well early on, when negotiations with the Taliban were first being discussed, about 2011, there was an article in–in Indian newspapers saying that Yusuf al-Qaradawi was playing a role in that. And so if you’re going to talk to Islamic terror groups like the Taliban, a man Yusuf al-Qaradawi gives you credibility. You know, you are–you are able to move within the Islamic movement as–as guys like the Taliban see it, in a way that’s respectable and serious. And Qaradawi gives Qatar some of that that–that the other, you know, that the other states don’t have.
TOBIN: That’s fascinating, especially because, as you brought into focus, the influence of the Muslim brotherhood and the way that Qatar uses its cash, uses its influence operations to promote an ideology that is identified with terrorism, that is the godfather of terrorist movements like Hamas, it is also clearly connected to terror, even as it represents itself as the opposite of terror. So Mike, can you give us a little broader idea of how all of this effort plays into the–the global effort to–to fight terror at the same time then there’s so much funding to–to basically whitewash it?
PREGENT: Well, I look at Qatar as an intelligence officer and the best thing that Qatar has going for it is it’s not Iran and it’s not Saudi Arabia. And it–it finds a way to exploit this breach that both countries afford it. If you look at the Obama administration’s support for–for Morsi in Egypt, Qatar took advantage of that. If the Obama administration is for Muslim brotherhood, we can–we can step into this breach.
When the Muslim brotherhood initially tried to take credit for the civil uprising in Syria and tried to hijack the movement, you–you started seeing that–that role. I look at Qatar as an intelligent officer. Every time I went to Afghanistan or Iraq, I went to Doha and I got a work visa in Qatar in order to go into Iraq and Afghanistan and then we also did our R&R in Qatar as well.
But it’s–it’s like the bar in Star Wars, it’s–it’s like you can going to Qatar and you can drive by the Taliban office and take a photo, this is where the Taliban hangs out, you see that the Qatar continues to host designated terrorists, US designated terrorists, and, as the US ranks our Sunni regional allies in the war against terror, Qatar always falls a little bit short because Qatar will not go after US designated terrorists unless the UN has also designated them. But even the ones that the UN has designated, Qatar won’t go after them.
So when people constantly, you know, I’ve been an Iran guy for a while and people always bring up the contrast between Iran and Saudi Arabia, what about Saudi Arabia? How come Saudi Arabia isn’t as good as–as Iran is? Well, because Qatar is. Qatar is better at this stuff. It’s–it’s almost like this–this country has supports everything everyone from Hamas, Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda, even supports Lebanese Hezbollah and is now tilting towards Iran and they can argue well, we live in a very dangerous neighborhood, therefore we–we made contact with everyone and we are the Oman if Oman was Vegas. Meaning you can come here and talk to these entities or we can talk to these entities or you can put pressure on us to do things, but we want a trade-off.
And–and one of the biggest problems of US smart power, soft power, or hard power is that we have a base in Qatar, Al Udeid airbase, and that should give us leverage. Instead, it gives the Qatari’s leverage over us in that when we point out support to these organizations, they are always able to say well, yeah but we’re also helping you in the fight against ISIS. The uniform Qatari military security and intelligence apparatus isn’t funding these terrorist organizations, it’s, unfortunately, it’s members of the royal family. It’s adventurists that are doing these things.
And in Syria Saudi Arabia, it’s de-synched (SP). So in Saudi Arabia, it’s adventurists saying, you know, who wants to topple Assad and five groups raise their hands and adventurists give the money saying shalla, go do good things. Qasem Soleimani says who wants to do this, we’ll give money, but were married to you now. You will do exactly what we want you to do and it’ll lead to a strategic goal.
Qatar just simply has the benefit of–of its almost like a spouse that’s cheating on you that says but I made you dinner last night and I’m going to make you coffee in the morning. I mean, what are you complaining about? That’s a terrible analogy, but Qatar–Qatar just has this benefit of being able to do all of these bad things. And the interface here, we’re talking about the United States, we’re talking about Qatar being able to penetrate our education system with–with books and ideology, but it’s also the interface.
So as an intelligence officer, when I want to talk to and I recce in Baghdad, I don’t have CAIR standing in front of me keeping me from talking to this individual, the Council for American Islamic Relations. I can talk directly to the Iraqi. But in the United States, you have these organizations is trying to get in front of law enforcement. That’s why the FBI had to sever its relationship with–with CAIR. And the UAE went as far as designating CAIR because of its alleged ties to the Muslim brotherhood.
So there are–there are things that–that Qatar is able to get away with simply because, for some reason, these have become partisan issues. Remember when everyone used to dislike the Islamic Republic of Iran? And now it’s a partisan issue. But dislike of Saudi Arabia is bipartisan. And Qatar benefits from that.
TOBIN: Tell me a little bit about how that, if it does, compromises, you know, as–as somebody with experience in–in intelligence. How does it compromise America’s ability to know what’s going on and to be able to do something about it if it can?
PREGENT: Well, it can actually give you leverage when you know a–an ally is doing something wrong. It can give you leverage in getting what you want and–and using that as a, you know, unfortunately, I guess in this–in this form here, using it as a way of we want you to do this or else we will expose these–these ties. There’s always those types of conversations.
I wrote a piece contrasting Saudi Arabia and Iran in Foreign Policy. Initial title was Saudi Arabia is a Necessary Ally in the War Against Terror, Whereas Iran is a Dedicated Enemy. Foreign policy changed the title to Saudi Arabia is a Great American Ally. And nobody read the op-ed and just called me a sellout. But–.
PREGENT: Yeah, the challenge is that you are always going to be able to use US levers of power to get our allies to do things. And we simply, an Iraqi said this to me the other day, he said all the United States has to do is do this and this would be the balance of power in Iraq is do this, just simply push a little bit and you get everything you want in this country, in Iraq. We don’t do that. We don’t act like a superpower.
We keep letting Qatar tell us that because they live in a bad neighborhood, they are moving closer to a shrinking economy in Iran, an economy that’s $400 billion. They’re tilting towards Russia, a $1.9 trillion economy instead of tilting towards United States, because we haven’t made it a binary choice for them. We–we–we’ve said you can have us, you can do that as well, and we’ll continue to make excuses for you. And you look at the lobby.
I mean, the one thing that are Sunni regional allies should–should look at is look at how successful Qatar is at doing all of this. The successful media outlets, successful lobbying campaign. And again, Qatar has the benefit of not being Saudi Arabia and not being the Islamic Republic of Iran, not being Al Qaeda, not being ISIS, so they almost become a back-burner issue. And because there a back-burner issue, they get to do a lot of things that continue fueling our primary adversaries.
I mean, they’re going to help Iran offset US sanctions, they’re going to continue to fund Sunni Islamist groups that keep the US tied in areas, as they–again, this is another back-burner issue for a lot of Americans, the–the influx of this ideology through textbooks and through education and our country. It’s not as important as ISIS, it’s not as important as Al Qaeda, it’s not as important as the Islamic Republic having a nuclear weapon so you can benefit by being a back-burner issue and they are very successful at it.
TOBIN: That–that’s fascinating. That’s really important because you’ve outlined for us that there is a choice here. You know, that–that we have a choice, we can push harder and get more of what we need and what we want. The question is why aren’t we and how do we change that?
PREGENT: This is how we change it. President Trump, ask Qatar to release Hillary Clinton’s emails and everyone will be against Qatar.
TOBIN: Okay. I guess before anybody accuses you of collusion–.
TOBIN: –That–that sounds like a joke, but Sam, let’s address that. You know, this is a choice and it’s one that’s being influenced by, you know, a powerful and insidious influence operation. Where do we start the process of–of reversing that?
WESTDROP: Well, certainly when it comes to Qatari subsidy of violent Islamism, as was outlined, you know, it very much is a choice. When it comes to the nonviolent lawful Islamism, what’s the complaint that Qatar is giving too much money to our schools for kids to learn a foreign language or Qatar is helping our universities broaden their horizons? It’s a difficult argument to make, especially when Qatar is careful in many instances not to overdo the amount of extremist ideologies that accompanies this munificence, this–this (INAUDIBLE).
There is a meeting point between nonviolent and violent Islamism funded by Qatar, though. And that is found in the terror finance industry. It’s found in the Islamist charitable industry. And two examples pop to mind just now with American charities. First, the Helping Hand for Relief and Development. It is a–the foreign international aid charity of Jamaat-e-Islami, which I mentioned is South Asian Islamist group. It openly works, despite being a registered 501(c)(3) here in the United States, it openly works with Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan, the group responsible for the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and countless others since.
There is an example where enforcing existing laws, which show that a Qatar aligned, a Qatar funded American charity is openly working with designated terrorists, there’s a great deal that can be done there to expose Qatar’s dangerous influence. The other very interesting example happened just last week. In Tunisia, the–they have a commission, a financial task force commission that deals with money laundering and terror finance. And this hasn’t made Western media yet for some reason. At the moment, it’s just confined to Tunisia media.
But they, it turns out, were conducting an investigation in this investigation leaked. And if the reporting around this is to be believed and the report that leaked is–is genuine, what appears as the case is that Islamic Relief, international aid charity founded by one of Morsi’s right-hand men, man called Essam El-Haddad is now the largest Muslim charity in the US, in the UK, across the Western world. It has a branch in Tunisia. And the Tunisian authority is authorities were investigating this because it appears it is providing support for jihadists on the Tunisian Libyan border.
Now, the person that ran this charity is a pretty prominent Islamic Relief official who, more importantly, set up the Qatar charity in Tunisia. His wife runs now the–or is a senior official in the Qatar charity and his brother is a very senior Al Jazeera executive. And so–.
TOBIN: –So it all comes together.
WESTDROP: Well, the Tunisians are saying here’s an example of a Qatar funded Western Islamist group, Qatar and the West coming together to meet in Tunisia to fund jihadists on our border with–with Libya. Investigations of the existing use of Western charitable networks in the US and across Europe, often funded by the taxpayer by the way, at least over 1 million of US taxpayer’s money has gone to Islamic relief, enforcement of existing laws, better investigation, better scrutiny of registered charities in the West would reveal not just the Islamist efforts to fund terror abroad, but also the involvement of malign foreign states like Qatar.
TOBIN: Seth, we’re the two journalists on this panel. A lot of what we’ve been hearing about is something that is out in the open, you know, there’s no great deep dark secrets here. What do you think is the reason why Qatar has gotten–for some–is it just Al Jazeera, is it just because they are not Iran and they’re not the Saudi’s? How have they slipped below the radar for most–radar for most of our (INAUDIBLE)? They don’t get a lot of coverage for–for their bad activities.
FRANTZMAN: I think that’s a great–a great question and I want to read, I just looked at this and I want to read it–read it word for word. In 2009, a leaked US diplomatic cable was leaked a few years later but it was originally from 2009, this is what it said about Qatar. This is what the US diplomat said.
“Qatar has adopted a largely passive approach to cooperating with US against terrorist financing. Qatar’s overall level of cooperation with the US is considered the worst in the region. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, UN 1267 listed Lashkar-e-Taiba,” that you just mentioned, “And other terrorist groups exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale. Although Qatar’s security services have the capability to deal with direct threats and occasionally have put that capability to use, they have been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the US and provoking reprisals.” Now wait a second, we get the–.
TOBIN: –That’s a lot to–that’s a lot to digest.
FRANTZMAN: It’s a lot to digest.
TOBIN: So basically, they’re are the worst. That’s the headline there.
FRANTZMAN: There the worst is (INAUDIBLE).
TOBIN: They’re the worst and nobody’s doing anything about it.
FRANTZMAN: Well, wait. What’s fascinating is look, we could (INAUDIBLE). The part about provoking reprisals, okay, we get it. You don’t want to disappear a bunch of Al Qaeda operatives because you don’t want Al Qaeda to blow something in Doha because then, of course, your economy tanks. Okay, so you can expel them, fine.
But I thought the most interesting thing is also the fact that they don’t want to appear to be aligned with the US. Wait a second, this is a country that has a US base. What do you mean, appear to be aligned with US? This isn’t some country that were not really sure about, right? This is, ostensibly, supposed to be one of America’s closest allies, supposed to be a country that comes to Washington and has a strategic dialogue.
Now look, since that was written, you know, Qatar has made improvements on terror financing, it has made changes, it’s also involved in the Afghanistan at such and such and such. But the amazing thing is, just that when you said wait, you know, how–why is this out–why isn’t this out in the media, why don’t we know this? But the thing is people do know it. The thing is it should be pretty clear there’s a lot of evidence of this. What’s being talked about on these panels is–is a lot of things that are kind of out in the open.
So I mean, you would think eventually it would sink in. Eventually someone would say what do you mean you are–you don’t want to be aligned with us? I mean, why–why is America, you know, considered the kind of–the kind of pathetic friend that you don’t want to know at school? Isn’t America supposed to be the powerful one and it’s supposed to be the other way around? And we’ve heard this again and again, which is that the leverage seems to be the other way around. America is considered the country you don’t want to deal with.
TOBIN: Yeah. We’ve just got a couple of minutes left. Let me quickly go to both of you, Cliff, and you, Michael. Give me some more thoughts on what we are not doing as to make this–to–to make deal with this issue just–just briefly.
CLIFF: Well, I would echo very much what Sam has said, which is in part, if we’re going to ask supposed allies and not, you know, strategic threats like Qatar, to do better on terror finance, we have to do better on terror finance. You know, this country hasn’t designated a Islamic maturity for terror finance since, what, 2009? That–and it’s–and it’s not because they aren’t–it’s not because there aren’t American charities funding jihadists either.
As, you know, Sam can–can give you chapter and verse on that. So we have to do better if we expect others to do better and we need to start putting pressure on them in a way that they will feel it. So not just of the guys with guns, but the guys that are preaching and the guys that are paying money.
TOBIN: Final thoughts on how we deal with this Star Wars bar where we are just one more–one more–one more pigeon in–in–for the bad guys to–to deal with.
PREGENT: Exploit it and use our–use our levers of power and the–the lease is up in 2024 for Al Udeid airbase and we should move it to the UAE.
TOBIN: As simple as that?
PREGENT: We’ve got to start using–start using levers of–we’ve got to take away the excuse that yes, we’re doing all these things but were also hosting you. You know, we’re hoping you bomb the things that we are paying for.
TOBIN: How do you–just briefly because we’ve don’t have much time, what do you think the reaction to–if–if the Trump administration or the successor to the Trump administration were to actually do that, what do you think–how–how they react?
PREGENT: Well, they–they would probably be shocked, but we should also add–
TOBIN: –We–we know they be shocked.
PREGENT: They’d be shocked, they lose it, they would probably start making some overtures and that’s the biggest risk. It goes back to what you said. We have to start looking–looking for simple overtures from these governments in order to release sanctions or–or increase economic opportunities for these countries. We’re looking for something like that from Iran and we keep saying that. If Iran does this, we might do that. We need to take away from our allies or strategic foes here, the incentive to just do enough in the US will back off. Doing enough needs to be doing a lot and we’ve identified everything today on what we need to be looking at.
TOBIN: All right. Do we have any more time? Okay, the answer is no. I want to thank everybody in this panel for a great job of illustrating.
Sam, Seth, Michael, Cliff, for illustrating the problems and what we’re going to do about it.
ROMAN: Before we close, there’s a few things that I’d like to deliver. We do have to be off the floor by 4:10, so this will be brief. First of all, I want to thank EJ Kimball (SP) for media support from our staff and also Tricia McNulty (SP) who is involved vital in planning this for the last four months.
All the right food, all of the great (INAUDIBLE) that you had came from her. There’s also our speakers who came, thank you all of you for showing up today, everyone who helped with media support with EJ and Patricia, and there’s a lot of unnamed individuals that are responsible for live streaming, for sound, for audio, for the stage construction, for allowing us to have the space, and especially thanks to the International Spy Museum for really putting on a very, very nice time for us, having this be one of the first events in their new space.
Make sure you check out the Bond vehicle downstairs. It’s a great Aston Martin. There’s no rockets to come out of it, but just on a–on a few final thoughts, you heard many different items today, we encourage you to follow up on meforum.org, our website, on Twitter, on our Facebook page, but I’d like to give this stage to Daniel Pipes for a few final thoughts, our founder and president, and thank you all for joining us today. So please just give some time to Daniel and–and will get out of here.
PIPES: Thank you. I don’t need much time. I just want to thank Craig who is actually the one who put this together. So thank you to you. Thank you all for joining us.
Let’s take this message to the world.