What the Seychelles Trump-Russia story reveals about Emirati intelligence
April 11, 2017 1 Comment
Emirati intelligence has to be seen in two disparate tiers: actual home-grown intelligence efforts, which usually revolve within the small policing and military forces of the United Arab Emirates (UAE); and more elaborate, highly secretive, outsourced activities that use the UAE as a facilitating conduit or go-between with a clear advantage to Emirati interests.
The first tier is relatively modest and somewhat easy to describe: each emirate within the country has its own police force that takes responsibility to gather and act upon any intelligence, usually encompassing security, crime, and drug-trafficking. Additionally, the police forces of the two main cosmopolitan areas, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, each have their own departments to investigate, arrest, and prosecute transgressors. The capitol police in Abu Dhabi prides itself on ultra-modern intelligence capabilities, and cooperates with international organizations, other countries, and policing agencies. In addition, the UAE leadership has taken initiatives recently to create a domestic level of intelligence scholarship and professionalization, namely in the form of the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi. But those long-term aims are still just that: long-term and far from being fully developed and realized.
That leaves the aforementioned Tier Two, which involves plots worthy of Hollywood. The first aspect of Tier Two Emirati intelligence involves the outsourcing of performance to private companies. This is best exemplified by the agreement announced at the end of February with the Harris Corporation, following a $189 million two-year contract that was granted to provide a battle management system to the UAE Armed Forces. The BMS system de facto means Harris will be responsible in the UAE for initial operational capabilities, as the country tries to develop advanced contemporary battlefield management solutions. These types of agreements are very much a foundation for the actual realization and enactment of Emirati intelligence capabilities, in that they rely on the expertise and technological materiel of professional corporations (almost never Emirati themselves). It is indeed a basic ‘dollar for defense’ purchasing scheme. This strategy provides the nuts and bolts of Tier One Emirati intelligence, while simultaneously creating an intelligence dependency that works at cross-purposes with the institutional mission of the aforementioned National Defense College.
The second aspect of Tier Two Emirati intelligence is intensely strategic, deeply covert, and blatantly Machiavellian. An emerging story only now coming to light in the West is a perfect example of this second aspect. There are new investigations into a proposed ‘secret meeting’ between the Trump and Putin teams in the Seychelles, roughly two weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration. The supposed facilitator was the original founder of Blackwater (now Academi), Erik Prince. Less emphasized but more important was the fact that the UAE was the country truly responsible for this meeting. The true importance of this story is not just Russians and Trump meeting secretly: it is how much it reveals the preferred intelligence culture of the UAE in the modern day. Namely, covert back-door deals epitomized by the strategic triangulation of major players to bring about Emirati interests.
Such triangulated intelligence interests actually revolve around the UAE’s animosity toward Iran, and its strategic priority to constrain Iran’s ability to project power. In essence, the UAE was interested in brokering this deal as a pathway to convince Russia to pull back from its partnership engagement with Iran, including their apparent joint interests in Syria. This would push back against what the UAE perceives to be Iran’s inappropriate claims on regional hegemony across the Middle East. The UAE was adequately self-aware of its own intelligence weakness: it did not have the capability to offer Russia anything of relevance on its own that could achieve the larger strategic goal. However, triangulating between Russia and the United States, helping Russia to establish back-door channels to the incoming American presidential team, does this: since America also shares the Emirati intelligence goals of undermining Iranian power, separating Russia from Iran, and constraining Russian-Iranian maneuvers in Syria, those shared interests might be more easily achieved if the incoming American presidential team offered caveats to Russian interests (namely, the elimination of Western sanctions). This is how real Emirati intelligence works: in essence, substituting the lack of real military and intelligence power with soft power connections.
So as this story continues to unfold in the West, and is dissected for its potential value in exploding the Trump presidency, it should truly be valued for the secret insight its gives to the intelligence culture of the UAE. It may be a state with limited intelligence capabilities, but it is also an extremely creative innovator, transforming its shortcomings through a maximization of relationship networks to achieve national security and intelligence interests with a ruthlessly efficient pragmatism.
- Dr. Matthew Crosston is Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Rising Powers.
► Author: Matthew Crosston | Date: 11 April 2017 | Permalink