CNN: Fake news created by Russian hackers contributed to diplomatic crisis with Qatar

CNN is reporting that Russian hackers may have had a role in what is being called the Qatar crisis:

US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US’ closest Gulf allies, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.

The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, Qatari and US government officials say.

Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion first reported by the Qatari government two weeks ago, US officials say. Qatar hosts one of the largest US military bases in the region.

As mentioned above, Qatar has claimed for two weeks that a story that appeared on state media was, in fact, a hack. The Independent reported the claim on May 24th:

A statement from Doha issued on Wednesday said that the Qatar News Agency website was hacked by an “unknown entity” and that “a false statement attributed to His Highness has been published”. An investigation into the alleged incident was under way, and those responsible would be held accountable, the government communications office continued.

But the planted story, in which the Emir of Qatar said relations with Iran were good and that Trump would not last long in office, was picked up by other outlets in the Middle East and created some anger, especially in Saudi Arabia. Part of the reason the hacked story got circulated in the first place is because it plays into pre-existing views Saudia Arabia and the UAE have about Qatar, specifically that the country has a soft spot for Iran and for Hezbollah.

Where this gets more complicated is that President Trump has now claimed credit for the decision to cut ties with Qatar. He says that decision was the result of Qatar’s alleged support for extremism, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood. So is Trump responsible for the break or was the article to blame? That’s a question that seems difficult to answer. Maybe it was a bit of both?

Domestically, this is more ammunition for those who want to emphasize the potential for fake news created by Russia to have a significant impact on politics.