WASHINGTON ― An unnamed source who late last week leaked emails between a powerful ambassador and top figures in the U.S. foreign policy community shared a fresh batch of private messages with HuffPost on Sunday just hours before a new Middle East crisis erupted.
The new dump appears to contain messages between the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba and top members of the Obama administration as well as figures at the Atlantic Council, an influential Washington think tank that receives funding from the Emirates, and Elliott Abrams, a prominent official in former President George W. Bush’s administration who is popular among some Trump administration officials.
Late Sunday, Otaiba’s nation, the UAE, and three other U.S.-friendly countries ― Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain ― announced that they had severed ties with their neighbor Qatar, a wealthy nation which hosts the largest American military facility in the region. The weekend email dump shows the ambassador and others privately blasting Qatar.
The dramatic change in diplomatic ties came after a leak of messages that showed Otaiba communicating with former Defense Secretary Bob Gates and prominent alumni of the Bush and Obama teams about his disdain for Qatar, his desire to shut down the U.S. military base there and his support for public criticism of the country. The stream of leaks also showed the level of tension among U.S. partners despite President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the Middle East and the scale of a campaign targeting one of the most important diplomats in the U.S.
In a message accompanying the latest dump, the source claimed the emails were meant to expose how moneyed foreigners hijack U.S. foreign policy to their own benefit and Americans’ loss. The source had previously denied any ties to Qatar. HuffPost has confirmed the authenticity of six of the email exchanges.
On Feb. 10, 2015, Otaiba emailed Abrams a link to an Atlantic Council post suggesting that Qatar was intervening in Egypt to support the Muslim Brotherhood movement and undermine the country’s government, run by a former general close to the UAE.
“Hadn’t seen this. VERY interesting,” Abrams, the former White House director for democracy, human rights and international operations, wrote. “Too bad the Qatari armed forces can’t ... well, I shouldn’t say such things. That would be undemocratic.”
Contacted by HuffPost, Abrams declined to explain what action he was hoping for from Qatar’s military. In Egypt, the military in 2013 overthrew the country’s first democratically elected government, which was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a Sunday email, Abrams said he and Otaiba have been friends for years; they email frequently. “Qatari foreign policy has been the subject of many of those emails, but after fifteen years we haven’t seen much change,” he wrote.
A notable remark from Otaiba appears in the second confirmed exchange in July 2015. Atlantic Council analyst Bilal Saab wrote to the ambassador recommending a documentary about the legal troubles of the international soccer association, known as FIFA, which will host its high-profile 2022 World Cup event in Qatar. Otaiba replied: “FIFA and Qatar combined are the poster children for corruption.”
A third exchange in August, 2014, shows Saab sending Otaiba a link to an op-ed about tensions between Qatar and its neighbors with the subject line “things getting worse...”
On Sunday, Saab said he maintains relations with officials in both Qatar and the UAE, and was disappointed with efforts to boost public skepticism about Qatar in the U.S., including a recent conference that Otaiba touted. “I’ve sought his advice, I’ve sought his insight, knowing full well that obviously [Otaiba] is someone who protects his country’s interest,” Saab said.
The fourth confirmed exchange was between Jessica Ashoosh, a researcher at the Atlantic Council and former UAE employee, and officials inside the UAE government to help plan interviews for a report Ashoosh worked on with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former national security advisor Stephen Hadley.
Now the director of policy at Reddit, Ashoosh on Sunday said the correspondence concerned work that was entirely public and intended to aid U.S. foreign policy.
The fifth and sixth exchanges authenticated by HuffPost relate to the contentious question of foreign governments funding policy research in the U.S. The leaks show Atlantic Council president Fred Kempe emailing Otaiba, discussing payments from the Emirati government and seeking help in securing sponsorship for a council conference.
“All our funding from the UAE has been listed in our annual report and donor list and is cleared by our Nominating and Governance Committee as complying with our standards,” Kempe wrote in a Sunday email to HuffPost.
Otaiba and two other individuals named in the email exchanges did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Earlier this week, HuffPost confirmed the authenticity of the eight most significant email exchanges in the previous leak.
In the Sunday message, the source repeated that they are not personally opposed to the UAE or Qatar. Qatar and the UAE have been openly, viciously squabbling for over two weeks now.
In previous exchanges with HuffPost, the source claimed to support President Donald Trump because of his oft-made pronouncements that his administration will focus on American interests above all.
“The [group of leaked emails] will show you how [the UAE] played both sides pro and against trump depending on the situation which shows a dual character,” the source wrote on Sunday. “They may have been able to manipulate our media in the past but our media journalists will bring truth to limelight when they realize the lobbying done by gulf and african countries in the USA is for their interest and not Americans.”
The source has used “we” and “I” interchangeably in messages; HuffPost has not yet been able to confirm whether the leaks are coming from an individual or a group.
Asked in a Friday email whether it was a group and whether they were American, the source wrote, “I prefer not to answer this.”
On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Qatar ― a critic of Otaiba’s efforts ― reiterated Washington’s support for the relationship, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration might play a moderating role in the dispute.
This article has been updated as the authenticity of leaked emails has been confirmed, with comments from some of those involved in the exchanges and with updates about Arab states cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar.