The public program for this week in Abu Dhabi, the hub state of the United Arab Emirates, was focused on religious harmony. There was the historic visit from Pope Francis and an international interfaith conference featuring local Muslims and American Evangelical and Jewish religious “leaders.” Pope Francis said his visit had shown him “good will” to move towards peace in Yemen, news that must have gratified the American religious visitors.
Unfortunately, there were other big news headlines this week about dealings in bad faith, violations of trust by the militaries of Saudi Arabia and the UAE against an abused American ally in their cruel war in Yemen.
CNN, with brilliant reporting on the ground, proved an Amnesty International charge that the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been supplying state-of-the-art American military equipment, and not just guns, CNN says, but “anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, heat-seeking lasers and artillery” to favored local militias in Yemen.
CNN even tracked half dozen MRAPs, the newest and best anti-IED troop carrier in use by American forces in Syria and Afghanistan today, to one Yemeni group linked to Al Qaeda.
Can you say reverse engineering?
Well, it is well known the Iranians can, and CNN saw two more MRAPS in the hands of two top leaders of the Iran-supported Houthis, the Saudi/Emirati coalition’s main enemy in the Yemen war. Iranian security, CNN was told, have examined a lot of captured or bought American military gear from the Yemen war. At least one of the Houthi MRAPs, CNN could document, was part of a 2014 U.S.-UAE arms deal.
Key to that deal was the promise that none of the weapons sold to the Saudis or the Emiratis was to be moved to a third party, much less to third parties tied to Al Qaeda or Iran. The Defense Department confirmed to CNN that there is now “an ongoing investigation.”
But that kind of end-user treachery is very 20th century. Reuters broke a blockbuster investigation of its own, that points not to the past but the rest of the 21st century.
The UAE, Reuters reported, has been using American surveillance equipment, set up by American psy-war mercenaries who were training Emerati hackers and snoops, to spy on government enemies: political critics and human rights advocates.
Then, one of the team of more than a dozen more former staffers or contractors from the National Security Agency (the NSA) discovered there were Americans on a secret Emirati target list, who were listed for state-of-the-art surveillance.
For contractor Lori Stroud, a red line had been crossed. She went to her boss at a Baltimore-based security company. Nothing happened, so she blew the whistle to Reuters, which says, eight other former American security contractors who worked on Operation Raven in Abu Dhabi have backed up anonymously what Lori Stroud said on the record.
A bad faith week on the Arabian peninsula and a bad news week for U.S. policy-makers. How do you deal with two so-called allies who seem to have come completely off the rails?
Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He is the author of the new book Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons and Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and was a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s International Security Advisory Board.
His commentary has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Financial Times, Kyodo News, Moscow Times, Foreign Policy, The Hill, Daily Beast, and Huffington Post. He has appeared on ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, PBS, MSNBC, Fox News, BBC News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NHK, Russia Today, and Al Jazeera.
Cirincione worked for nine years in the US House of Representatives on the professional staff of the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Government Operations. He is the author of hundreds of articles on nuclear weapons issues, the producer of two DVDs, a frequent commentator in the media, and he appeared in the films, Countdown to Zero and Why We Fight. He previously served as Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress and Director for Nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has held positions at the Henry L. Stimson Center, the US Information Agency and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He teaches at the graduate School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.