The Dark Side of Surveillance: Unraveling the UAE’s Intelligence Network in Europe
Strategic Alliances: How the UAE’s Intelligence Network Impacts Europe
The events unfolding in the Middle East during the early third millennium, particularly the Arab Spring, highlighted the crucial need for modernizing intelligence services in the region, with the United Arab Emirates taking particular notice. The rapidly changing political, economic, social, and technological landscape called for an adaptation of intelligence practices to effectively address the evolving challenges. The distinctive attributes of the Middle East region led major global powers to seek alliances with Arab countries there, primarily aiming to enhance cooperation with their intelligence services for specific missions.
In this context, the UAE emerged as a particularly shrewd player, recognizing the vital importance of intelligence networks as a potent force multiplier. Rather than solely relying on the economic and financial strength of the Gulf states, the UAE placed greater emphasis on thoroughly evaluating and understanding the true value of intelligence networks, leveraging them effectively against rivals like Qatar. The United Arab Emirates has built a complex intelligence network that involves various entities and practices. The network is designed to gather intelligence, conduct surveillance, and carry out operations both domestically and abroad. In this article, we will explore how the UAE intelligence network works, who the players involved are, how these players are interconnected, and the effect of UAE’s intelligence network in Europe and the European Union.
Objective of UAE Intelligence Network
The United Arab Emirates has become highly skilled in employing various methods to harm its rivals, including hacking operations and defamation campaigns. To exert influence, the UAE has allocated significant funds to enlist the support of lobbyists, think tanks, former diplomats, and, notably, Swiss private intelligence agency ALP Services for Smear Campaign. A March 2023 report revealed extensive details about a smear campaign orchestrated by Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed, who enlisted the services of the Swiss-based company, Alp Services.
The UAE intelligence network has a twofold objective: gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance both within the country and overseas. The UAE government has made substantial investments in constructing a sophisticated intelligence network that involves multiple entities and practices. This network is specifically tailored to acquire information and intelligence on targeted individuals and organizations considered adversaries of the UAE, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. Its operations encompass both domestic and international activities.
Who are the Players Involved?
The UAE intelligence network is composed of several important individuals fulfilling specific roles. Roland Jacquard, a French journalist, facilitated a connection between the UAE andMarioBrero, the founder of Alp Services.
Brero presented an idea to Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) involving ‘dark PR’ strategies to tarnish the reputation of the Emirates’ adversaries. This approach included spreading false and defamatory information about the targets. MbZ entered into a contract with Brero to focus on their long-standing rivals, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. ALP Services, along with the involvement of UAE government and intelligence officials, played a central role in executing these activities. Emirati senior intelligence officer Matar Humaid al-Neyad and Italian-American scholar Lorenzo Vidino were also among those who received payment from Alp Services.
The players involved in the UAE intelligence network are interconnected through various means. The government is the primary player in the intelligence network and contracts private intelligence companies to gather information and intelligence on targeted individuals and organizations.
UAE’s smear Campaign Exposed
The disclosure of the Abu Dhabi Secret Files, often known as “UAEGate,” has exposed the elaborate anti-Qatar defamation campaign orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates. These files contain compelling evidence that UAE intelligence, in collaboration with the Swiss company Alp Services, directed its focus towards numerous European Muslims during the peak of the Qatar diplomatic crisis in 2017. Alp Services also held covert meetings with Emirati officials, including Matar Ali, a UAE intelligence official.
The investigation further highlights the deliberate targeting of journalists and influential figures as part of the misinformation campaign. Nicolas Fontaine, editor of Histoiresroyales.fr, was falsely implicated in the publication of defamatory articles against a member of the Qatari royal family. French journalist Atmane Tazaghart, with ties to Abdelrahim Ali, was also involved in producing critical articles about Qatar. These instances reveal the campaign’s intention to discredit individuals and organizations associated with Qatar.
Alp Services Pledges to “Seriously Damage” Muslim Brotherhood in Europe
Ali Saeed al-Neyadi, a senior intelligence officer from the UAE (Matar’s superior and a ministerial-level aide to Tahnoun bin Zayed), gave approval for ALP Services’ operation, which had the primary objective of targeting Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, both considered adversaries by the Abu Dhabi regime. ALP Services committed to “seriously damaging” the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe using a multifaceted approach, including identifying their network and leaders, conducting media attacks, and influencing policymakers. Their strategy encompassed launching aggressive and confidential online campaigns while discreetly disseminating negative but factual information to discredit their targets.
Strategies Employed by Alp Services and UAE Intelligence
In Geneva, ALP Services, under the leadership of Mario Brero, employed a systematic cataloging process that falsely associated innocent individuals with terrorism, leading to harmful smear campaigns. Working on behalf of the UAE’s secret services, ALP Services targeted more than a thousand people throughout Europe. This included innocent civilians, Muslim organizations, and businessmen, who were wrongly linked to Islamist movements or accused of having ties to Qatar. ALP Services employed a “guilt by association” approach, connecting unrelated figures to each other, resulting in severe reputational damage and potential harm to those falsely implicated in their campaigns.
The goal was to “discredit” these targets by disseminating false and defamatory information. Mohammed bin Zayed’s contract with Brero focused on their longstanding rivals, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood, perceived as a threat to the UAE’s authoritarian rule.
The extent of Alp’s work for the UAE became significant, and documents revealed that MbZ directly received the bills from Alp Services. Meetings between Brero, Emirati senior intelligence officer Matar Humaid al-Neyadi, and other UAE officials, including Ali Saeed al-Neyadi, indicated the appreciation for Brero’s work. Leaked text messages have revealed a direct meeting between Brero and an Emirati secret agent named Mohammed in November 2018. During this encounter, Mohammed assigned three significant tasks to Alp Services, resulting in a remuneration of €1 million. Subsequently, a contract was signed, entailing a payment of €1.2 million every six months. Communication related to these sensitive missions took place through anonymous email addresses on the encrypted service, ProtonMail, with secret meetings occurring in Switzerland and Abu Dhabi. Between August 2017 and June 2020, Brero received substantial compensation of at least 5.7 million euros for the campaign.
Alp Services also expanded its contract with the UAE over time, utilizing the research of Italian-American scholar Lorenzo Vidino on the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. Brero convinced the UAE to target more than 50 individuals from Vidino’s list of suspected Islamists in Europe. Vidino delivered to ALP Services a series of gossipy reports about the Brotherhood’s reach, which underpinned Brero’s work for the Emiratis. Vidino promised ALP Services information that he’d obtain while consulting for European security services about Islamist threats. Vidino also allegedly provided derogatory information to a British journalist on behalf of ALP about the Islamic Relief NGO in 2020.
How UAE’s smear campaign worked through ALP services
Influence on French Legislation and Financial Assets
As reported by Mediapart, the UAE skillfully employed its network of influence within France to influence discussions on legislation targeting radicalism, strategically advancing its interests against political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Additionally, the Emirati network was found to be gathering information on the financial assets of French politicians. The investigation also uncovered the Emirati network’s involvement in the publication of the book “Qatar Papers,” which falsely accused Qatar of funding Islamic associations in Europe, exacerbating tensions in the Qatar-Gulf crisis. This strategic partnership between the UAE and France is aimed at countering political Islam, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, while fostering collaboration in various sectors, including defense and energy.
Emirati lobby’s activities within the French corridors of power, employing what it calls a “stubborn lobby” strategy. Investigation exposes the mechanisms used by the UAE to influence influencers, opinion leaders, and decision-makers in France, shaping decisions and perceptions that align with Emirati interests in critical areas. The UAE has recruited influential media outlets like Euronews and private research centers such as the Bussola Institute to serve its interests, polish its image, and enhance its position in France. For instance, in 2017, the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Company acquired a 2% stake in Euronews, offering significant financial support. This investigation also reveals the UAE’s efforts to attract French politicians, such as Senator Nathalie Goulet, who has been involved in promoting the UAE’s agenda in combating terrorism financing.
The UAE’s lobby in France focuses not only on criticizing Qatar but also on shaping perceptions of the Muslim Brotherhood. Through parliamentary friendship groups and political alliances, the narrative linking Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, and terrorism gains traction among French parliamentarians. This influence is reflected in the passing of legislation to reinforce the principles of the French Republic to combat Islamic separatism.
UAE’s Meddling in German Affairs and ALP Covert Engagements with German Politicians
The leaked database contains an extensive collection of thousands of documents, emails, and diplomatic cables, providing compelling evidence of the UAE’s suspected interference in various sectors of German society, including politics, media, and business. The data strongly suggests that the UAE strategically targeted influential individuals, such as politicians and journalists, with the explicit purpose of shaping German foreign policy, advancing their own interests, and countering the influence of their rival, Qatar.
The leaked information also sheds light on how German politicians unknowingly became entangled with a state that shows little regard for human rights. Notably, the UAE identified Germany as a significant target due to its sizable Muslim population. Recognizing the sensitivity of Germans in openly criticizing religious and ethnic minorities, ALP Services discreetly engaged with “Aktion Deutschland Hilft,” seeking to capitalize on these dynamics to further their objectives. The revelations from the leaked data underscore the urgency of examining foreign influence on German affairs and safeguarding the integrity of democratic processes while protecting national interests.
ALP Services successfully established a covert communication channel with Christoph de Vries, a prominent member of the Bundestag representing the Christian Democratic Union party. In 2020, the exchange of emails between individuals claiming to be from a foundation and de Vries’ office had a significant impact, influencing him to publicly call for the cessation of funding for Islamic Relief, a project supported by GIZ. The agency’s report gained considerable attention when major media outlets, including “Zeit,” “Süddeutsche,” and “FAZ,” published its contents online.
Alp Services’ Troubling Collaboration with Journalists: Ethical Boundaries Blurred and Independence Compromised
Alp Services established close ties with journalists in Switzerland and various European countries over the years. The director of Alp Services cultivated relationships within newsrooms, positioning himself as a familiar figure among journalists. As a result, journalists sought information from Alp Services, blurring the lines of journalistic ethics. While some journalists justified their collaboration as seeking information in the public interest, others crossed dangerous boundaries, risking compromise and manipulation.
Notably, one journalist named Pascal, operating in French-speaking Switzerland, has maintained a decades-long relationship with the director of Alp Services, being considered a reliable source for the agency. The articles published by Pascal, focusing on exposing questionable funding sources and connections of prominent figures, were found to be part of Alp Services’ intelligence and influence operation. This collaboration between Pascal and Alp Services raises significant concerns about journalistic independence and integrity, potentially compromising the credibility of media reporting.
Stephan, an investigative journalist from the German-speaking region, had a well-established and extensive working association with Alp Services. The company would invoice him for research and reports, designating him as a “source” and at times, even a “subcontractor” for their Emirati operation. According to documents, Stephan was assigned the responsibility of compiling a list of individuals linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Switzerland.
Unjust Targeting of Individuals & Journalists:
The First Victim: Hazim Nada
Hazim Nada, a businessman based in Switzerland, fell victim to these orchestrated operations, which resulted in his bankruptcy. One of the primary targets was Nada’s company, Lord Energy, and himself, as his father had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. Mario Brero’s campaign aimed to defame Hazim Nada and portray Lord Energy as an entity linked to the Brotherhood and terrorism, causing severe damage to the business.
The attack on Nada began with an unknown caller contacting his mobile phone provider and requesting his call records, followed by another caller reaching out to his bank. Subsequently, blogs started publishing accusations that portrayed him as an al-Qaida financier. As a result, Nada’s bank severed ties with him, and his company, Lord Energy, which had annual revenues of $2 billion, faced collapse. However, it was only three years later that he discovered the reason behind becoming a target, as suspected hackers sent him documents revealing the motive behind the smear campaign.
According to Nada, Alp Services intended to showcase their capabilities by using him as an example. Unfortunately, this demonstration of the company’s expertise not only led to the ruin of his business but also took a severe toll on his mental well-being. At times, he admits contemplating drastic measures, such as arming himself and confronting the offices of the Swiss company. Currently, Nada is preparing to take legal action and sue both Alp Services and the UAE to seek compensation for the damages caused.
Nicolas Blancho: A Victim of Defamation
Nicolas Blancho, the president of the Central Islamic Council, also became a target of Alp Services’ smear campaign. He was portrayed as a dangerous extremist with alleged ties to Qatari authorities. While Blancho has faced legal consequences for propagating Al-Qaeda propaganda, he vehemently denies the accusations propagated by Alp Services. Blancho expressed concern over a company collecting and disclosing information while attempting to defame individuals on behalf of a foreign state under the guise of commercial activities.
Targeting Journalist Francisco Carrión
ALP Services was involved in spying on journalist Francisco Carrión, who worked for The Independent. The UAE’s intelligence services targeted Carrión in response to his reporting on Matar Suhail al Yabhuni Al Dhaheri, a significant figure associated with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Carrión’s reporting took him to various countries, including Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Targeting UN Human Rights Council Actors
Alp Services also targeted individuals associated with the UN Human Rights Council, particularly those headquartered in Geneva. Operating under the alias “Probus,” the Geneva detectives of ALP directed their attention towards Kamel Jendoubi and Ahmed Himmiche, both Tunisian and Moroccan investigators, respectively. These two UN-appointed investigators were tasked with probing the war crimes in Yemen, involving various parties, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
In August 2018, Kamel Jendoubi presented the initial findings of their investigations in Geneva, which accused Abu Dhabi of committing war crimes. Seizing this opportunity, Alp Services proposed a campaign to discredit both Jendoubi and Himmiche. To achieve this, Alp Services meticulously compiled comprehensive dossiers on the investigators, delving into their professional and family ties, educational backgrounds, and political affiliations, aiming to identify any vulnerabilities that could be exploited. The smear campaign, which commenced in early 2019, targeted Kamel Jendoubi exclusively. TV channels affiliated with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, along with social media platforms, disseminated derogatory information with the aim of undermining Jendoubi’s honesty, neutrality, expertise, and integrity.
Islamic Relief Worldwide: A Prime Target of Alp Services’ Covert Perception-Shifting Campaign
Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), one of the largest Muslim aid organizations, became a major target for Alp Services. The company aimed to change the perception of IRW, which had received financial support from European governments, including Germany. Alp Services strategically presented negative information to media outlets and politicians, using intermediaries to maintain anonymity.
Disinformation Campaign Targeting 47 Norwegians
European Investigative Collaborations has revealed a purported disinformation campaign orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates through Swiss intelligence agency ALP that targets individuals across Europe, including 47 Norwegians. The campaign, described as a “mafia-like continental network,” seeks to falsely associate these individuals with radical Islamists, as disclosed in documents obtained by Mediapart, a French investigative journalism platform. The leaked documents have been disseminated to various European media outlets via the EIC network.
Dubious Reports Discrediting NGOs:
ALP Services crafted three extensive reports with the purpose of undermining the credibility of the human rights NGO Alkarama, where Chloé, a young woman, had previously interned. These reports blended factual elements with falsehoods, employing outlandish assumptions to construct a misleading narrative. Regrettably, innocent individuals connected to Alkarama were unfairly branded as terrorists or Qatar’s agents. The agency portrayed Alkarama as a deceptive NGO and a mere tool manipulated by Qatar, fabricating evidence to align with the UAE’s agenda.
Effect of UAE’s Intelligence Network in Europe and European Union
The impact of the UAE’s intelligence network on Europe and the European Union has been significant. Led by Mario Brero, ALP Services engaged in dubious practices during their collaboration with the Emirati secret services. Employing unethical tactics, the agency wrongfully targeted individuals and organizations, linking them to terrorism and disseminating damaging narratives. The absence of proper authorization and oversight in their operations raises serious ethical questions.
Private intelligence firms, like Alp Services, have been contracted by the UAE government to conduct surveillance on citizens of other countries, including European individuals. Engaging in smear campaigns against various individuals and organizations, including European Muslims and the Islamic Relief charity, is deeply concerning and directly infringes upon fundamental rights. Such actions warrant a closer examination and appropriate responses to safeguard individual liberties.
The UAE’s intelligence network has also had an effect on the relationship between the UAE and the European Union. The European Parliament has expressed concern over the UAE’s human rights record and has called for an investigation into the UAE’s use of private intelligence companies. The UAE’s intelligence network has also been implicated in a smear campaign against the Islamic Relief charity, which has operations in Europe.
While intelligence networks undoubtedly play a crucial role in safeguarding national interests, their operation must adhere to ethical standards and international norms. The UAE’s intelligence network stands as a potent example of the complex geopolitical dynamics at play in the Middle East and their far-reaching consequences on the global stage. As nations navigate the complexities of intelligence practices, it becomes imperative to strike a delicate balance between security objectives and safeguarding fundamental rights and liberties for all individuals and organizations involved. Only through transparent and accountable practices can intelligence networks contribute positively to regional stability and international relations.