A company with “close ties” with Steve Bannon, ex-chief strategist of
Donald Trump, was hired by the UAE to launch a social media campaign
against Qatar, US website McClatchy has reported.
Quoting McClatchy, Al Jazeera News said that a $330,000 contract was paid by the UAE to the firm in order to launch a social media campaign that included calling for the boycott of Qatar.
The hired firm is SCL Social Limited and is part of the same group as Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica is the firm that Donald Trump hired during his presidential campaign to reach voters with “hyper-targeted online messaging”, the website said.
Bannon, who remains one of Trump’s closest advisers, has long had an interest in the Gulf region.
He has huddled with UAE officials behind closed doors, visited the country as recently as last month and pushed for a group of Middle Eastern nations, including the UAE, in their bitter dispute with Qatar.
On Monday, Bannon spoke at a day-long conference in Washington organised by the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank and paid for by multiple donors, entitled ‘Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood’.
“The speech follows Bannon’s September meeting in the UAE with its crown prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The two weren’t strangers: Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with crown prince at Trump Tower during the presidential transition in December. That meeting triggered controversy, as the UAE hadn’t notified the outgoing Obama administration about the visit as is customary,” McClatchy said.
The UAE also helped broker a meeting in January between a Bannon friend, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin to try to establish a back-channel line of communication to Moscow for Trump just days before Trump’s inauguration, according to the Washington Post; Prince met with the Russian in the Seychelle islands off East Africa.
According to McClatchy, Prince lives in the UAE and had a multimillion dollar contract with that government to assemble a mercenary security force there. His firm also does security work in Africa, much of it for Chinese interests.
But Bannon has encouraged Prince to move back to the US and run for office, and in recent weeks, Prince has begun to publicly consider a primary challenge to Wyoming GOP Senator John Barrasso.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut off all ties with Qatar in June, supposedly in response to its alleged support of terrorism and ties to Iran, and mounted a blockade against the nation.
Qatar hosts Al Udeid, the largest American military base in the Middle East, home to nearly 10,000 troops.
“The US has a pretty substantial presence across the Middle East, but Al Udeid is the most important,” said Mara Karlin, who worked at the Defense Department during the prior two administrations and is now a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“Another firm, the Harbour Group was paid more than $2.5mn by the UAE for work between October 2016 and March 2017, according to the most recent filing available, and signed a contract with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia 11 days before the blockade was announced paying the firm $80,000 per month. Harbour, which has represented the UAE for 15 years, declined to comment.
“SCL Social Limited, which shares the same ownership and leadership as Cambridge Analytica, recently disclosed a $330,000 contract with the National Media Council of UAE for “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” according to Foreign Agents of Registration Act records. It received $166,500 on September 20.
“Bannon, who served as White House chief strategist until August, retained an ownership stake in Cambridge Analytica worth $1mn to $5mn when he entered the White House, according to his financial disclosure report. He had served as vice president and secretary for Cambridge Analytica and received a monthly consulting fee for his work before resigning his position there in August 2016.
“Bannon was supposed to sell the stake while he served in the administration as part of his ethics agreement and obtained a certificate of divestiture in April 2017 to defer taxes on the potential sale. However, there’s no indication that he actually sold the stake, as he never filed the transaction report that’s required after the purchase or sale of any asset.
“Another of the company’s owners is Robert Mercer, the billionaire who spent millions of dollars helping Trump get elected. Cambridge Analytica didn’t respond to a request for comment,” Mclatchy added.
The House Intelligence Committee, which is looking into whether Trump associates worked with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election, has questioned Cambridge Analytica, according to the Dailybeast.
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