WASHINGTON • The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbours, according to US intelligence officials.
Officials became aware last week that newly analysed information gathered by US intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation.
The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the Emir, among other things, had called Iran an "Islamic power" and praised Hamas.
The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after US President Donald Trump completed a lengthy counter-terrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.
Citing the Emir's reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned could undermine US counter-terrorism efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In a statement released in Washington by its ambassador, Mr Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE said the Washington Post story on Sunday was "false".
"The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article," it said. "What is true is Qatar's behaviour. Funding, supporting and enabling extremists from the Taleban to Hamas and (former Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalisation and undermining the stability of its neighbours."
The revelations came as e-mails purportedly hacked from Mr Otaiba's private account have circulated to journalists over the past several months. That hack has been claimed by an apparently pro-Qatari organisation calling itself GlobalLeaks.
All the Gulf nations are members of the US-led counter-ISIS coalition. More than 10,000 US troops are based at Qatar's al-Udeid Air Base, the US Central Command's regional headquarters, and Bahrain is the home of the US Navy's 5th Fleet. All are purchasers of US defence equipment and tied to American foreign policy priorities in numerous ways.
The conflict has exposed sharp differences between Mr Trump, who has taken the Saudi and UAE's side in a series of tweets and statements, and Mr Tillerson, who has urged compromise and spent most of last week in so-far unsuccessful shuttle diplomacy among the regional capitals.
"We don't expect any near-term resolution," Mr Tillerson's aide, Mr R.C. Hammond, said. The Secretary of State, he added, had left behind proposals with the "Saudi bloc" and with Qatar, including "a common set of principles that all countries can agree to so that we start from... a common place".
Qatar has repeatedly charged that its sites were hacked, but has yet to release the results of its own investigation.