A pro-Iran pundit at the Koch- and Soros-backed Quincy Institute was more involved than previously known in an international private spy operation targeting critics of a Gulf State sheikh, according to new court filings.
In a U.K. affidavit filed last month, a British private eye said the Quincy fellow and onetime foreign agent Amir Handjani, along with a lawyer for Ras al Khaimah (RAK), a small United Emirates Kingdom, "instructed" him to investigate who was funding a Jordanian businessman's lawsuit accusing the RAK of detaining and torturing him at a black site prison. The private eye said he later enlisted an Israeli hacker to handle the case. The affidavit does not specify who was specifically targeted in the investigation.
At the time, Handjani was an adviser to Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, the authoritarian ruler of RAK, which is implicated in several lawsuits that accuse its leadership and advisers of hiring private spies and hackers to dig up dirt on enemies. RAK is one of the seven monarchical states that make up the United Arab Emirates and its ruler is known to have deep financial and diplomatic ties to Iran.
Handjani has been a vocal media advocate for the Iran nuclear deal from his perches at several prominent D.C.-based think tanks including the Truman National Security Project and, until last year, the Atlantic Council. His role as an adviser to hostile foreign leaders and as a registered foreign agent for Saudi Arabia's public investment fund—while simultaneously serving as a think tank donor and expert—illustrates the seedy and complicated ways that foreign governments can influence American political discourse, where his work has been featured in publications like Foreign Policy and Bloomberg.
Handjani has denied knowledge of the alleged hacking campaigns, but the private investigator's court testimony is raising questions about Handjani’s role in authorizing at least one private spy operation carried out in 2020—and has led to a request that Handjani turn over records as part of a separate U.S. federal lawsuit.
Handjani did not respond to a request for comment.
The British private investigator said that during a breakfast meeting at the Royal Automobile Club in early 2020, Handjani and the Dechert attorney Neil Gerrard gave him orders to investigate the funding of a lawsuit against RAK.
"During that breakfast, one of the topics of conversation that came up was the funding of various proceedings involving RAK," wrote the private investigator in the affidavit.
"[Gerrard] then said words to the effect of 'we need you to find out who is funding all of this.' Neil and Amir then instructed me to do this," continued the private investigator.
The British private investigator said he hired a former Israeli intelligence operative who produced a report that was sent to Handjani through an encrypted messaging system, according to the testimony, which indicated that the Israeli investigator routinely used SIGINT, a term that refers to the "hacking of confidential emails and the unauthorized access to other confidential electronic data."
Handjani's involvement in authorizing this spy operation has led to a records request in a case against him. Handjani's lawyers are fighting against the motion.
An attorney for RAK's investment fund, Dechert lawyer Andrew Levander, threatened to sue the Washington Free Beacon for defamation over its coverage of Handjani's role as an adviser to the authoritarian sheikh.
Gerrard and Dechert have also been the subject of litigation over the alleged hacking operations. "We have no comment on the proceedings beyond that we are defending the claims issued against the firm and its partners," Dechert told the Free Beacon.
The Quincy Institute did not respond to a request for comment. The Atlantic Council said Handjani left the group's board last year.
A representative for the Truman National Security Project said the think tank "does not comment on ongoing legal investigations, especially as they pertain to matters outside of our organization. We do, however, have a strict code of conduct for our members and fellows, and those who do not adhere to our policies are subject to removal from the membership."