Qatar-Backed Spy Operation on U.S. Jews Puts Al Jazeera in Congressional Crosshairs

New effort would force Al Jazeera to register as foreign agent

Israel al Jazeera
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February 13, 2018

A months-long spy operation funded by Qatar's Al Jazeera news network targeting American Jews and pro-Israel groups is fueling a new congressional effort to force the Middle Eastern news outlet to register as a foreign agent under U.S. laws, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

Al Jazeera, the Qatari government's state-sponsored news organization, recently conducted a months-long spy operation on a slew of American pro-Israel officials and organizations as part of what Al Jazeera says is an upcoming documentary on supposed Jewish influence in the U.S. government.

The spy effort has prompted Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.) to begin circulating a letter to his colleagues urging support for an effort to force Al Jazeera to register as a state-backed foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, multiple sources with knowledge of the matter confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon.

The effort is being fueled by Al Jazeera's effort to secretly record American Jews and Israel supporters, according to sources who familiar with the letter.

As part of the upcoming documentary, a mole paid for by Al Jazeera infiltrated these organizations and recorded pro-Israel advocates discussing efforts to combat anti-Semitism and boycotts of Israel.

Ahead of Al Jazeera running this production, it has sent several letters to subjects who were secretly recorded asking them to respond to a range of allegations that the Qatari outlet claims confirm that American Jews are working to influence the American government and block global efforts to boycott Israel, known as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS.

Al Jazeera's actions are being viewed as tantamount to a foreign-funded spy operation on U.S. citizens conducted on American soil and are now fueling efforts in Congress to force Al Jazeera to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA.

Russia's state-controlled RT network was recently forced to register under FARA as part of a similar push to prevent government-funded outlets from posing as legitimate news sources despite receiving foreign government funding and direction, these sources said.

Al Jazeera is no different than RT—it remains a state-funded operation broadcasting into the United States in order to promulgate pro-government propaganda and influence American public opinion, these sources said.

A congressional letter currently circulating on Capitol Hill seeks to garner support for an effort to force Al Jazeera to register under FARA in light of its most recent effort to spy on the American Jewish community and its supporters, according to multiple sources familiar with the effort.

"Al Jazeera's fate was sealed when it sent letters to American organizations confirming they ran a spy operation against them," said one veteran foreign policy official with knowledge of Qatar's actions. "I think the Department of Justice likely has a case to shut them down entirely as an information warfare arm of Qatar."

"But the case for Al Jazeera being forced to register as a foreign agent is a slam dunk," the source said. "We now have evidence of a foreign state owned media entity attempting to influence American public opinion toward Israel and Jews. This is a textbook example of when you need to register under FARA."

A second source with direct knowledge of the situation said the congressional letter is just the opening salvo in what will be a much more public push to see Al Jazeera register under FARA once and for all.

"As Qatar's media mouthpiece Al Jazeera should have already had to register with the Justice Department, but by engaging in state sponsored espionage, they now have revealed themselves to be a textbook case for FARA registration," said the source, a veteran congressional adviser familiar with the effort. "The House letter is just the start of the upcoming pressure on the Trump administration."

President Donald Trump could play a key role in helping push the effort along, the source said.

"Ultimately, it'll be up to President Trump if he wants to outsource his policies to [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson or if he wants to stand up against Qatar and direct Justice to compel Al Jazeera to follow RT and China Daily and FARA register," the source said.

A host of American pro-Israel advocates and organizations have already received letters from Al Jazeera asking them to respond to allegations they are covertly working on behalf of the Israeli government to block various boycott efforts of the Jewish state.

The letters are being sent to these groups and individuals by Al Jazeera's Manager of Investigation Phil Rees, who has a history of working on anti-Israel propaganda pieces.

In addition to having allegedly received money from RT, Russia's propaganda network, Rees has a long history of criticizing Israel in the press, including referring to the Gaza Strip as "the world's biggest prison."

Rees also served as the executive producer of a documentary alleging the Western media treats Israel too nicely. That documentary was funded by Press TV, an Iranian state-controlled and funded media outlet.

Al Jazeera's upcoming documentary "will investigate how such [pro-Israel] groups secure support for Israel in Congress and how they have been drawn into

Israel's covert campaign to defeat BDS, the movement to boycott, divest, and impose sanctions on Israel," Rees writes in a form letter being sent to American pro-Israel officials and advocates likely to be featured in the upcoming piece, according to a copy of these letters viewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

"We have uncovered evidence, which suggests that this campaign may well involve these groups working with Israel to collect intelligence on and discredit U.S. citizens who support BDS, as well as others who are perceived as challenging Israel," the letter continues.

Another source familiar with Al Jazeera's operation told the Free Beacon that one of the Qatari government's hired representatives in Washington, D.C., has been managing the crisis eruption over the documentary.

"If media reports are true that one of Qatar's representatives in Washington has been involved in managing the Al Jazeera documentary controversy, that is prima facie evidence that Al Jazeera is not, as it claims, an independent news agency—but rather a media arm of the regime," said the source.

"If Al Jazeera was genuinely independent, there would be no role for an intermediary with the regime to play," the source explained. "And there would be no reason for the Emir to hold meetings with Jewish leaders in Doha about Al Jazeera's appalling behavior. The jig is up. It's time DOJ closed Al Jazeera's FARA loophole."

The congressional effort being spearheaded by Democrat Gottheimer has yet to garner much support from Republicans due to it being a contested election year, according to another source tracking the effort.

"This is getting dicey for congressional Republicans, who risk looking like they're throwing American Jews to the wolves," according to one Republican political operative who works with Congress on foreign policy issues.

"You've got Qatar, which sponsors Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. You've got Al Jazeera, a state propaganda outlet that ran an espionage operation in Washington, D.C., to demonize American Jews critical of Qatar. But right now Gottheimer, a vulnerable Democrat, is the only one out there pushing to hold Al Jazeera accountable under the law, which requires fake media outlets that work for governments to register as foreign agents," the source disclosed. "This should be a true bipartisan effort."

Gottheimer's office did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Disclosure: A current Free Beacon staffer received a similar letter from Al Jazeera in relation to her work for a previous employer.