Even with 13 U.S. service members killed and countless Americans abandoned to the tender mercies of the Taliban regime, most people assumed that the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan was the result of the Biden administration’s gross incompetence rather than duplicity.
What, then, is one to make of the Biden Pentagon’s latest proposal to sell $500 million worth of armed drones to the Qatari regime known for its cyberattacks against American organizations, its close ties to such terrorist organizations as Hamas and the Taliban, and its notorious laxity in controlling residents' financial sponsorship of terrorism.
Despite its reputation, Qatar's regime has established one of the best-funded foreign influence peddling operations in the United States. Its tentacles extend from major media operations to educational institutions and think tanks.
Last year, I encouraged the Department of Justice to require that “news network” Al Jazeera, whose parent company is solely owned by the emirate of Qatar, register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. For years, the network has faced allegations of propagandizing on behalf of Islamic terrorist groups such as Hamas and providing a platform for the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism. I stressed then, and continue to emphasize now, that “Al Jazeera’s record of radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts warrants scrutiny from regulators to determine whether this network is in violation of U.S. law.”
Despite common misconceptions, there is no statutory exemption from FARA registration for think tanks. Today, it is the norm for think tanks to employ lobbyists, pursue partisan politics, and even draft legislation. This shift in focus is critical when it comes to the question of foreign funding. If the organization in question is, in effect, working as the agent of a foreign principal to advance another nation’s interests, it should be subject to registration under FARA.
One recent example of this corruption in action is the work of the Stimson Center, a 501(c)(3) that deals with issues related to international security on behalf of the Qatari regime. According to emails obtained by Americans for Transparency and Accountability, Stimson actively lobbied congressional staff to kill bipartisan legislation designed to curb foreign hacking activity against U.S. companies and citizens. Stimson scholar Debra Decker made a full-court press to water down the Homeland and Cyber Threat Act (H.R. 1607), which had over 40 co-sponsors in the House. The HACT Act actually passed in the House with broad bipartisan support in the last Congress as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill, only to be stripped out in conference after a well-funded Qatari influence campaign.
The Qataris appear to be the sole funder of Stimson's “Just Security 2020” program, whose stated mission includes work on issues related to cyberattacks. Qatar is a notorious sponsor of cyberattacks against U.S. entities. What should be deeply concerning to the Justice Department and its FARA unit is that Stimson’s own literature admits that its Qatari-funded program ($600,000 in 2019 alone) on cybersecurity is “built around three interconnected tracks of activity,” with the first being “policy dialogues and public policymaker engagement.”
So it’s troubling, to say the least, that Stimson had been working to kill the legislation without registering. The changes advocated by Stimson would have gutted the bill’s central purpose by rendering it completely ineffective in holding foreign nations and their agents responsible for cyberattacks in the U.S. — a change that would just happen to benefit Qatar, among others.
As a result of this activity, I sent a letter to the DOJ requesting an investigation into possible FARA violations on the part of Stimson, given their Qatari funding. My letter was not even acknowledged by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The growing volume of lobbying work on behalf of the nation-state Qatar by third parties that are Qatari-funded is perhaps the most extreme example of lobbyists just outright flouting Foreign Agent Registration Act laws.
With the emir of Qatar scheduled to come to Washington for his first official state visit soon, there will be a perfect opportunity for lawmakers and the Biden administration to ask him about his efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy outside the scope of U.S. law governing the registration of foreign agents.
In the meantime, the Biden Pentagon’s proposed sale of $500 million worth of armed drones to the Qatari regime should raise alarm bells in Congress. Qatar’s abysmal human rights record should provide enough grounds on its own to seriously question this proposed deal.
Jack Bergman represents Michigan's 1st Congressional District.