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US think-tank fires staffers after email leaks 'reveal UAE influence'

The UAE is a top donor to the Center for American Progress [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 January, 2019

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A US think-tank has reportedly fired two staff members suspected of leaking emails revealing the influence of the UAE over the organisation's operations.

A US think-tank has reportedly fired two staffers suspected of leaking emails revealing the influence of the UAE over the organisation's operations, The Intercept reported on Wednesday.

The staffers were reportedly investigated by The Center for American Progress (CAP) after The Intercept learned of an email exchange detailing the think-tank's public response to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Intercept had been investigating the role of progressive groups in the legislative fight to end US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen when it learned of the email exchange in December.

The exchange between staffers seen by The Intercept related to an internal debate at CAP about how to frame the organisation's response to Khashoggi's gruesome murder in October by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

An initial draft statement condemned the killing and Saudi Arabia's role in it and called for specific consequences.

But Brian Katulis, a Gulf expert at CAP, reportedly objected to including any specific actions, and the final statement merely called to "take additional steps to reassess" the US-Saudi relationship, according to the emails.

The UAE, a fervent ally of Saudi Arabia, is a top donor to CAP, and Katulis is closely linked with the controversial UAE ambassador in Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, according to The Intercept.

The UAE gave CAP between $500,000 and $999,000 in 2017, according to the organisation's website.

Otaiba played a key role in promoting Mohammed bin Salman to the position of Crown Prince, using his influence in US policymaking circles to market him as a moderate reformer.

The Intercept reported that "CAP's acceptance of UAE money has also been controversial within the organization for some time".

A spokesperson for CAP told The Intercept that two employees had been fired following the leak investigation but that the leak was not the reason.

Sources said, however, that internally the leaks were the "leading rationale" for the dismissals.

The Intercept said that the CAP email exchange concerning the response to Khashoggi's killing was not leaked by the fired CAP staffers, but was described by an outside source and then confirmed by another source within CAP.

Khashoggi was killed on 2 October in a case which stunned the world and threatened a serious rift between Riyadh and Washington.

The journalist was murdered and his corpse dismembered inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.

Evidence subsequently emerged that the killing was committed by a team of Saudis sent from Riyadh and closely linked to the crown prince. Washington subsequently demanded a transparent investigation.

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