Trump friend sues Qatar, says emails stolen, aired

Lawyers for Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser close to President Donald Trump, on Monday filed a lawsuit accusing the government of Qatar of hacking into his emails and conspiring with Washington lobbyists to besmirch his reputation.

The lawsuit is one of the first high-profile attempts to hold a foreign government accountable in U.S. courts for cyberespionage. It comes at a time when hacking is becoming an increasingly common tool among a growing number of states seeking to punish enemies or achieve political goals.

Broidy, a Los Angeles investor, has been an antagonist of Qatar in Washington. He has accused it of supporting Islamist extremism, and he has provided millions of dollars in financial support for think tank conferences amplifying those criticisms. He has made the same arguments to Trump and Republican lawmakers.

At the same time, Broidy also owns a defense contractor, Circinus LLC, that in the past year signed a contract worth more than $200 million with the United Arab Emirates and is pursuing another large contract with Saudi Arabia. Both countries are engaged in a bitter dispute with Qatar.

Several recent news articles, including three on the front page of The New York Times, have called attention to the overlap of Broidy's political advocacy and his business interests. Most of those articles, including those in the Times, relied in part on copies of emails from Broidy's account that were provided to journalists by an anonymous group critical of his views about the Middle East.

The lawsuit is the latest volley in an ongoing battle involving the UAE, Qatar and a host of Washington power players. Agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller detained Broidy's business associate, George Nader, at Dulles International Airport in January. Nader agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Nader had wired $2.5 million through Canada for an influence campaign Broidy was coordinating in Washington that accused Qatar of being a state sponsor of terrorism.

"We believe the evidence is clear that a nation state is waging a sophisticated disinformation campaign against me in order to silence me, including hacking emails, forging documents, and engaging in espionage and numerous other illegal activities," Broidy said in a statement Monday.

In a statement, a spokesman for Qatar said the suit was "without merit or fact." The spokesman, Jassim al-Thani, of the Qatari Embassy in Washington, called the lawsuit "a transparent attempt to divert attention from U.S. media reports about his activities."

The lawsuit says the attack began Dec. 27, when Broidy's wife, Robin Rosenzweig, received an email that appeared to be security alert from Google. She entered her password as the alert requested. It turned out to be a phishing attack, according to the lawsuit, and the information she provided was used to get access to her account, Broidy's and that of his company Broidy Capital Management.

After the emails began appearing in the news media, Broidy retained a team of forensic experts, including at least one former U.S. intelligence official. According to the lawsuit, their initial analysis indicated that the attacks appeared to originate from computer servers in Britain and the Netherlands, but the researchers later concluded that addresses of those servers had been used to mask another point of origin.

"A more thorough review of the server data" showed that for a brief time on one day -- Feb. 14, 2018 -- "problems with the attackers obfuscation techniques" had "revealed that the attack originated in Qatar."

The lawsuit also claims that a Republican lobbyist, Nicolas Muzin of Stonington Strategies, conspired with Qatar to exploit the hacked emails to damage Broidy's reputation. Stonington Strategies is registered as a foreign agent of Qatar.

In a statement, Muzin said, "Mr. Broidy's lawsuit is an obvious attempt to draw attention away from his controversial work, and is as flimsy as the promises he reportedly made to his clients."

Information for this article was contributed by Tom LoBianco of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/27/2018