Posts tagged with "Saudi Arabia"

Facebook yanks covert influence campaign by Saudis

August 2, 2019

Nathaniel Gleicher, who heads Cybersecurity Policy for Facebook and Instagram, reported on the company’s blog this week that his group had discovered “multiple pages, groups, and accounts” that had been targeted for what he called “coordinated inauthentic behavior .”

The materials immediately were removed from the sites.

According to Gleicher, “We found two separate operations: one of which originated in United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and another in Saudi Arabia. The two campaigns we removed were unconnected, but both created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing. We have shared information about our findings with law enforcement, industry partners and policymakers.

He noted that, “In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.

Specifically, the people behind this network used compromised and fake accounts—the majority of which already had been detected and disabled by Facebook’s automated systems—to run pages, disseminate their content, comment within groups and artificially increase engagement.

They also impersonated public figures and managed pages—some of which changed names and admins— posing as local news organizations in targeted countries and promoting content about UAE.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities,” Gleicher said, “our investigation found links to two marketing firms— New Waves in Egypt, and Newave in the UAE.”

Similarly, to coordinate inauthentic behavior , individuals in Saudi Arabia posed as locals in countries targeted by the campaign often using fake accounts—and created fictitious personas to run pages and groups, disseminate their content, increase engagement and drive people to an off-platform domain.

They managed Pages that masqueraded as local news organizations. The Page admins and account owners typically posted in Arabic about regional news and political issues, including topics like the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, his economic and social reform plan “Vision 2030;” and successes of the Saudi Armed Forces, particularly during the conflict in Yemen.

 They also frequently shared criticism of neighboring countries including Iran, Qatar and Turkey, and called into question the credibility of Al-Jazeera news network and Amnesty International. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found links to individuals associated with the government of Saudi Arabia.

To combat the operations that originated in the UAE and in Egypt, Facebook and Instagram disabled 259 Facebook accounts, 102 pages, 5 groups, 4 events, and 17 Instagram accounts. More than 13.7 million accounts followed one or more of these pages; about 9,000 accounts had jointed at least one of these groups and around 65,000 accounts had followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.

To combat illegal effort by the Saudi Arabia government, the company removed 217 Facebook accounts, 144 pages, 5 groups, and 31 Instagram accounts. About 1.4 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 26,000 accounts joined at least one of these Groups, and around 145,000 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

Gleicher stated, “We identified these accounts through ongoing investigations into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region. Our investigation benefited from public reporting by Bellingcat, an open source research organization.”

Research contact: @facebook

Trump parries with press on CIA report that MBS ordered Khashoggi murder

November 26, 2018

On Thanksgiving, President Donald Trump took time out from thanking himself for doing a wonderful job to say that the CIA did not reach a conclusion about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi—adding during a teleconference with U.S. military troops that Salman “regretted the death more than I do,” Politico reported.

The president previously had declined to listen to Turkey’s tape of the actual murder—or to confirm or deny reports that the CIA had concluded that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s assassination.

When asked who should be blamed instead, Trump said on the conference call from his residence and private club Mar-a-Lago, “maybe the world” because it’s a “vicious, vicious place,” and referenced oil prices as a reason not to punish Saudi Arabia further, according to pool reports.

Asked by a reporter if the CIA had a recording implicating Salman, Politico noted that the president responded: “I don’t want to talk about it. You’ll have to ask them.”

Later, he answered a question on the crown prince’s possible involvement by saying: “Whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently. His father denies, the king, vehemently. The CIA doesn’t say they did it. They do point out certain things, and in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn’t.”

Comments from both the press and the public were, on the whole, critical of Trump’s refusal to denounce the Saudis during the holiday and the preceding week.

“He’s actually publicly lying about whether or not the US government and its intelligence agencies have concluded … that Khashoggi was murdered and by whom, MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow tweeted on 1 p.m. on November 23.

According to a November 23 report by The Hill, Turkey’s top ranking diplomat scorched President Trump on Friday, accusing him of turning a ‘blind eye’ to the killing of Washington Post journalist and Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi.

“Trump’s statements amount to him saying ‘I’ll turn a blind eye no matter what,'” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said in an interview.

“Money isn’t everything. We must not move away from human values,” Çavuşoğlu added.

David Axelrod, director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, tweeted, “For all his bravado @real Donald Trump has proven himself pathetically weak in the eyes of the world, heeling like a Chihuahua on the end of a gilded Saudi leash,” at 8:42 a.m. on November 22.

Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, commented, “The president’s failure to hold Saudi Arabia responsible in any meaningful way for the death of Jamal Khashoggi is just one more example of this White Houe’s retreat from American leadership on issues like human rights and protecting the free press.”

Finally, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) tweeted, “ … [It] is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal #Khashoggi.”

A poll conducted at the end of October by Axios/SurveyMonkey found that most Americans think President Trump hasn’t been tough enough on Saudi Arabia in response to the  Khashoggi by Saudi agents—with just one-third saying his response had been “about right” and only 5% thinking he had been too tough.

Research contact: @LilyStephens13

Scores of companies back away from Saudi business over Khashoggi

October 25, 2018

A number of businesses and investors are backing away from doing business with Saudi Arabia until more answers are provided on the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom Turkish officials believe was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

According to an October 23 report by Axios, many of the world’s largest prospective financial deals involve Saudi Arabia and are predicated on trust in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as a reformer. Meanwhile, there is speculation that MBS was personally involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

In the three weeks since Khashoggi’s disappearance, several companies and individuals have pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative (FII), a massive conference nicknamed “Davos in the Desert.” The meeting is being hosted by MBS and the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund from October 23-25 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.

The conference is described by The New York Times as “an extravagant embodiment of Crown Prince Mohammed’s dream to modernize Saudi Arabia and wean it off its reliance on oil by 2030.

Indeed, the Times reported, on the first day of the meeting, MBS presented a blueprint for Neom, a $500 billion planned city that would rise from the desert as a futuristic Zanadu of high-tech jobs and robot workers.

Unfortunately, fewer investors than planned will be on hand to support that vision. According to Axios, the following business, financial, and government invitees have pulled out (in chronological order):

And the list goes on, including about three dozen more high-profile names—among them, J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, Ford Chairman Bill Ford, MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, Sotheby CEO Tad Smith, HSBC CEO John Flint, Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam, Standard Chartered CEO Bill Winters, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, President of the New York Stock Exchange Stacey Cunningham, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, U.K. Trade Secretary Liam Fox, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, and Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra.

In addition, several major Saudi supporters who are based in the United States and Europe have cut ties with the Kingdom:

  • Richard Branson, billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Group, announced on October 18 that he would suspend his directorships of two Saudi tourism projects and is suspending talks of a $1 billion investmentwith the country, saying: “What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government.”
  • Ernest Moniz, former energy secretary under President Obama, is suspending his involvement advising Saudi Arabia on its $500 billion smart city project.
  • Neelie Kroes, a Neom board member and former vice president of the European Commission, said she would suspend her role in the project until more is known.

The conference already has started, with fewer speakers scheduled to be heard.

Research contact: zach.basu@axios.com

Warner: Trump Tower meeting with Gulf envoys substantiates ‘larger pattern of concern’

May 22, 2018

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN on May 20 that Donald Trump Jr.’s alleged meeting at Trump Tower on August 3, 2016, with a Gulf emissary who offered help to his father’s presidential campaign could be “evidence of a larger pattern of concern.”

The meeting—which The New York Times disclosed on May 19—was supposedly arranged by former Blackwater head and Trump financial backer Erik Prince; and attended by the president’s eldest son; as well as George Nadar, an emissary for two princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; and Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel.

The Times further reported that Zamel talked about how his company could help a political campaign gain an advantage. According to the Times, the company had by then put together “a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.”

Donald Trump Jr. has said that he did not react to those offers of help from the Middle East. However, according to the Times report, “Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly … and … Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers—meeting frequently with … [the elder Trump’s son-in-law] Jared Kushner … and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser.”

The August meeting followed a June 2016 confab with a group of Russians that Trump Jr. at first had characterized as a discussion about adoption—but that has been shown by emails, leaks, and media reports to be an attempt by the presidential campaign staff to get dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

When news of the secret meeting with the Russians emerged a year afterward, a majority of U.S. voters polled by Politico/Morning Consult said that it was inappropriate for Donald Trump Jr. to accept an offer to meet with an attorney linked to the Russian government.”

Specifically, more than half (52%) said the meeting with a Russian government attorney was inappropriate. Only 23% of respondents characterized the meeting with a Russian government attorney as appropriate. The remaining 25% had no opinion.

I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent,” President Trump responded at that time—adding that it is “very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information.”

As information continues to come out about meetings with foreign intermediaries, Senator Warner said on Sunday, “”If the Times story is true, we now have at least a second and maybe a third nation that was trying to lean into this campaign,”

Warner said on CNN’s State of the Union. “I don’t understand what the president doesn’t get about the law that says if you have a foreign nation interfere in an American election, that’s illegal.”

Research contact: @maeganvaz