As counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush, Richard Clarke advocated vastly expanded spying powers for the U.S. government. As a private citizen, he sold the same idea to a Persian Gulf oil monarchy.
The Reuters investigated, and the resulting story, Made in America shows how and why private intelligence firms are flourishing. Undemocratic governments want to purchase the machinery of repression to stave off challenges to their power.
A group of former National Security Agency operatives and other elite American intelligence veterans helped the UAE spy on a wide range of targets through the previously undisclosed program — from terrorists to human rights activists, journalists and dissidents. Now, an examination of the origins of DREAD, reported here for the first time, shows how a pair of former senior White House leaders, working with ex-NSA spies and Beltway contractors, played pivotal roles in building a program whose actions are now under scrutiny by federal authorities.
American operatives for DREAD were able to sidestep the few guardrails against foreign espionage work that existed, including restrictions on the hacking of U.S. computer systems.
Despite prohibitions against targeting U.S. servers, for instance, by 2012 DREAD operatives had targeted Google, Hotmail and Yahoo email accounts. Eventually, the expanding surveillance dragnet even swept up other American citizens, as Reuters reported earlier this year.
After focusing on terrorist groups, Clarke’s company shifted focus to UAE domestic opponent who were not terrorists.
After the 2011 Arab Spring demonstrations shook the region, Emirati security experts feared their country was next. DREAD’s targets began to shift from counterterrorism to a separate category the UAE termed “national security targets” — assisting in a broad crackdown against dissidents and others seen as a political threat. The operations came to include the previously unreported hacks of a German human rights group, the United Nations’ offices in New York and FIFA executives.
Between 2012 and 2015, individual teams were tasked with hacking into entire rival governments, as the program’s focus shifted from counterterrorism to espionage against geopolitical foes, documents show.