Russian hackers are believed to have breached Qatar’s state news agency in order to plant a fabricated news story that may have influenced the diplomatic crisis in the Middle East, CNN reported on Tuesday.
US authorities said Russia’s goal may have been to sow discord between the US and its allies in the region.
Intelligence from US agencies signaled that Russian hackers were involved in the first cyberattack two weeks ago. Since then, a team of FBI investigators have been sent to Qatar’s capital city of Doha to assist the Qataris in the investigation, according to Qatari and US officials.
Although US officials pointed to Russia as the source of the hacking, it has yet to be determined whether the latest incident was traced back to criminal organizations in Russia or Russian military intelligence units, such as the GRU. However, as one unnamed official in CNN’s report said, based on previous intelligence on Russia’s cyberhacking activities, “not much happens in that country without the blessing of the government,” the official said.
On May 23, the Qatar News Agency published a story that they alleged was falsely attributed to the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. The story quoted him questioning the fate of Donald Trump’s presidency and the US’ hostility toward Iran, Qatar’s ally and adversary to other nations in the Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia.
The story in question quoted the emir as saying “There is no wisdom in harboring hostility towards Iran.” Qatar said that report and the quote attributed to the emir were false.
Since the publication, Qatar has called the report a “shameful cybercrime.”The rift between Qatar and nations like Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates also reached a diplomatic low this week, after they announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar and suspend flights in the region.
“Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”
As a key staging ground for US forces, Qatar contains several military bases for the US, including US Central Command’s headquarters in the Middle East.
“I think this is very dangerous,” said Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida on CNN. “This is something the world community needs to be on notice. When another country can cause this kind of a havoc and break diplomatic ties … this is something we all need to come to the table and negotiate these things.”