Foreign hacking of America’s information infrastructure poses a growing problem. Everyone has heard of the Chinese hacking of the federal employee database managed by Office of Personnel and Management (OPM), which devastated American security by exposing the details of many workers with security clearances. Even more famous is the hack aimed at the Democratic National Committee’s email server in 2016. Responsibility for that hack has never been comprehensively established, though Russia is widely suspected. This week, we learn that a hack based out of Qatar targeted numerous persons – including some of those who were trying to investigate the DNC hack itself.
According to the court filing, a group of U.S.-based lobbyists for Qatar arranged the hacking of more than 1,400 ranking persons, and then worked with media outlets to release damaging information in dozens of news articles. The targets included dozens of Americans, such as “former intelligence officials, former staffers from the Democratic National Committee and the Hilary Clinton Presidential campaign … and a researcher at a Washington, D.C., think tank currently investigating foreign influence in the 2016 elections.”
The hacking, as well as the subsequent operation to manipulate journalists in order to place negative stories in the press, was paid for by millions of dollars in dark money wire transfers. These transfers moved through shell companies in multiple transactions, across international as well as state lines, to hide the fact that a foreign nation – the nation of Qatar – was ultimately funding all this.
The recipients in the United States are alleged to be three Americans who had actually registered as foreign agents of Qatar, as federal law requires. Their names are Nick Muzin, Joseph Allaham and Gregory Howard. Muzin was formerly a high-level Republican operative, which might be a reason for taking the risk of becoming involved in a hacking campaign that targeted Democratic leadership but also some Trump allies. Qatar’s interest is more straightforward, according to the filings: it wanted to harm prominent critics of its régime.
Given that the hack targeted staffers from the DNC as well as the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign, and those who were trying to track the 2016 DNC hack, it is worth asking whether the Qatari government was also seeking to help Russia. The direct connection between Russia and Qatar is Iran. Both Russia and Qatar have been pursuing much closer ties with Iran and have both been increasingly active in supporting Iran’s expanding role in the Middle East. Qatar recently proposed an alliance between itself, Iran and Turkey. Iran and Turkey are the same two nations that Russia has been drawing closer to itself in an attempt to solidify Russian power in Syria.
Could Qatar have undertaken these hacks in part to help Russia cover its own tracks from 2016? It may be that this alleged racketeering conspiracy points up a new front in the war to expose Russia’s meddling. Those worried about Russia’s baleful influence, especially on America’s presidential politics, should watch this case closely.