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Why the CIA Doesn't Spy on the UAE (reuters.com)
66 points by Vaslo 57 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments



First- there is absolutely no way for a civilian reporter and civilian readers to know if this article is even true. The CIA doesn't make a practice of verifying where they are/aren't collecting intelligence around the world, for obvious reasons. If the CIA did collect HUMINT on the UAE they would be very careful about it- they don't want to damage the relationship we have with one of the few countries that lets the USA operate armed jets on regular missions (many countries allow the USA to base jets, but restrict taking off with weapons or other inconvenient things to the military).

Second, if the CIA actually doesn't collect HUMINT in the UAE, it's not because we think they are unimpeachable in their conduct. It's because we don't need to put people at risk to get the information we need. By themselves the UAE isn't capable of very much. The UAE's power comes from money and they conduct their business out in the open. The intelligence community gets all the information they need by watching bank transactions and that leads them to the people they really need to spy on.

The UAE is different from Iran, which not only funds malign groups but actually trains and commands its own network. Iran's money and people need to be watched, but the UAE doesn't get its hands dirty, so we only need to watch their money.

Edit: rather than fix all my grammar, when I say "we" I mean the USA as a nation, not that I'm some CIA agent with spare time to comment on HN.


> there is absolutely no way for a civilian reporter and civilian readers to know if this article is even true

This is a Reuters article. Reuters has been a respected news agency for a very long time. Back during World War I, the British government asked Reuters to slip covert British government propaganda into their news stream. Reuters responded with a clear refusal to do any such thing without equally covert monetary inducement.


I’m not questioning Reuters’ journalistic integrity. Even if they do everything right we can’t be sure if the story is true. Their reputable sources are ex-CIA, so they are out of the loop. Any active CIA persons with knowledge of operations in the Middle East are not going to be talking to journalists. Everyone involved in intelligence collection has signed NDAs and can go to jail if they reveal classified information, even after they retire. How many people are willing to risk jail for revealing an intelligence gap? What are the chances that these sources are just guessing or lying instead?

The people talking to journalists after they leave the CIA are looking to profit somehow, or they are disloyal or incompetent (or some combination of the above). They may also be good patriots spreading disinformation on behalf of the CIA.

None of the above scenarios are Reuters’ fault for publishing a story with multiple sources that were willing to go on the record. But that doesn’t mean we should doubt the truth of the sources. Why is this story being published? Who stands to benefit?


Let's say the CIA sends some agents to "leak" to Reuters. What is Reuters going to do to verify it? They could report on it or not, but they aren't going to fly to the UAE to check for spies.


This article is total rubbish. The CIA spies on Germany, France and even (yes even) the UK at times. Of course it spies on the UAE.


who could forget the Abu Omar Case, where the CIA kidnapped an individual in Milan. but they left evidence due to sloppy OPSEC. so we know for sure they used to do much worse. I guess most spying activities don't warrant such a detailed investigation though, so we never find out.

the Black Hat 2013 talk on this is a great watch: https://youtube.com/watch?v=bM0PmwOlifE


Agree. It's how they figured out Kurt Hendricks was in Dubai.


I'm kinda skeptical.

Also the article gets a bit more specific later:

>But the CIA does not gather “human intelligence” - the most valuable and difficult-to-obtain information - from UAE informants on its autocratic government, the three former CIA officials told Reuters.

Maybe they just don't have any valuable contacts ... at this time? Maybe everyone's phone is bugged and they don't need them?

I assume intelligence gathering involves a lot of shifting focuses and just random chance depending on any number of things. I'm not sure I buy into this article's premise that "doesn't spy".


Agreed. Piece reads like a CIA insider wanting funding for a pet project, designed to be put in front of the eyes of the public as a way to goad the members of the intelligence committees in congress to act.


I feel like this could be any number of things, but ultimately it is a story with a wonky title that IMO implies a great deal more than the information does, one source, and who knows what else.


> Robert Baer, a former CIA agent and author, called the lack of human intelligence on the UAE “a failure” when told about it by Reuters.

I would take any statements by Baer with an enormous bag of salt. He has built his post agency career on the Vanity-Fair-ization of CIA. He doesn’t get much attention or sell as many books when the Agency is doing things right.

Regarding a lack of HUMIT in the UAE, I am reminded of a quote from the Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”


Exactly the same quote came to mind when I read the headline, and kept getting louder throughout the article.


I'm surprised that electronic intelligence gathering isn't considered spying. The article correlates spying == human intelligence gathering.


There's some background necessary to understand the article. Each of the big five intelligence agencies has a special type of intelligence they collect. They generally don't overlap to prevent duplicated effort, wasted money, and unhealthy competition. The CIA specializes in HUMINT, while the NSA specializes in SIGINT. So the article saying, the CIA doesn't spy on the UAE should be read as the US government doesn't collect HUMINT in the UAE, instead of reading that the US government doesn't collect any intelligence in the UAE.


>Each of the big five intelligence agencies has a special type of intelligence they collect.

What are the other 3, and what is the special type they collect? I can only just think of the military and FBI, where the FBI does federal law enforcement (crimes by Americans or on American territory that crosses state lines.) What were the 5 you had in mind? (Just based on public sources, not anything classified if you read it, even if you read it off of wikileaks or something.) Curious.


The big five are the CIA, NSA, NRO, NGA, and DIA. You can start here as a branching off point: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Intelligence_Com...

Each agency's specialty isn't always a type of intelligence, but sometimes a domain (for lack of a better word).

CIA- HUMINT

NSA- SIGINT

NRO- space domain (shares with relevant agencies, i.e. SIGINT collected in space is shared with the NSA)

NGA- GEOINT (significant presence in space as well)

DIA- military domain (involved when the intelligence is militarily relevant)

That's a very broad overview. The intelligence community is larger than the big five, and there are probably very few people who understand the relationship between which agency should do something vs. which agency actually does that thing.


Thanks! Literally never heard of the other 3 you mentioned. Guess they don't get much press!!


For the curious: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_intelligence_gathering...

The big ones are HUMINT, GEOINT, MASINT, OSINT, AND SIGINT.

In the US the responsibility typically falls like this:

CIA = HUMINT & OSINT

NSA = SIGINT & MASINT

NRO / NGA = GEOINT (& probably some MASINT)

edit: A lad below me has a better (and more complete) answer.


Maybe Mossad shares enough that direct US spying isn't necessary.


US spies Mossad as well.


That’s dangerous.


Nobody gets into the Intelligence business because it's safe and easy.


I came here for the waters.


Excellent movie.


>The CIA’s hands-off practice - which hasn’t been previously reported in the media - puts the UAE on an extremely short list of other countries where the agency takes a similar approach, former intelligence officials said. They include the four other members of an intelligence coalition called “The Five Eyes”: Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Yeah, I call BS on this. There's no way the US doesn't spy on those four (or UAE for that matter).


The shift away from fossil fuels is a significant economic power shuffle. How the middle east's wealth reinvests is a huge question. I am surprised we are not in the middle of a Global Spy Agency Renaissance.


> I am surprised we are not in the middle of a Global Spy Agency Renaissance.

What makes you think we aren't? I suspect every intelligence agency views the Internet as a god-send. Much cheaper to watch people now than deploying shifts of teams to follow someone to determine if they are worth something.


Basically, all the big HUMINT questions such as who is this person connected to, who does this person listen to, what does this person consider important, and what skills does this person have can pretty much be answered by looking at their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles.


When I was in university not that long ago, I noticed my country (Canada's) major spy agency had a prominent presence at most job fairs. Maybe we are and it's jut not obvious.


The UAE is a pretty ruthless police state. Perhaps it's just that the CIA assessed the risk as too high.


the CIA spies on everyone and yes that includes the UAE, they have never cared about mass-surveillance and never will. Whistleblowers or not.


"I'm not spying."

- Every Spy


I am but a simple tailor


I am just a cook. Just a lowly lowly cook.


In fairness, neither of these guys was, at the time, spying.


The truly tragic thing is, if we just had better means of communicating with each other at a human level, we wouldn't need all this manipulation. Alas, the CIA interferes in things rather deliberately to undermine and usurp, where a concerted effort may allow a bigger-picture consensus to form.

I firmly believe that if we spent 25% of what the USA spends on its military every year instead on cultural interchange, education and language programs, nobody would be needing to invade anyone. It is the back-room corruption - i.e. ALL SECRECY and the means by which it is maintained - which is at the core of it.

Shut the CIA, and build more schools.


Spies are needed because humans engage in war. You can't eliminate war without eliminating or subjugating humankind's A) competitive nature and B) very basic, primitive instinct to engage in tribalism and defend ones own tribe against others.

I like what Sun Tzu says about it.

"Sun Tzu said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labor.

Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy's condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.

One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory.

Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

Hence the use of spies..."




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