US intelligence officials believe Russian hackers planted a false news story that led Saudi Arabia and several allies to sever relations with Qatar, prompting a diplomatic crisis, CNN reported Tuesday.
FBI experts visited Qatar in late May to analyze an alleged cyber breach that saw the hackers place the fake story with Qatar’s state news agency, the US broadcaster said.
Saudi Arabia then cited the false item as part of its reason for instituting a diplomatic and economic blockade against Qatar, the report said.
Qatar’s government said the May 23 news report attributed false remarks to the emirate’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel, and questioned whether US President Donald Trump would last in office, according to CNN.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told the broadcaster that the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news. “Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis is being based on misinformation,” he told CNN. “It was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency, which was hacked and proved by the FBI,” he added.
If accurate, the allegations would indicate Russian efforts to undermine US foreign policy, building on US intelligence concerns that Russian hackers attempted to influence last year’s presidential election, won by Trump.
The Kremlin denies meddling. Russian officials, meanwhile, angrily rejected allegations that Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news story that led to a split between Qatar and the other Arab nations.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday dismissed Tuesday’s CNN report containing the claim as “yet another fake, another lie.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also dismissed CNN’s report on Tuesday, saying it “further undermined its reputation as an independent and objective media outlet.” “CNN and some other media sit and wait for any kind of scandal … to automatically and without any evidence blame it on Russia or Russian hackers,” he said at a news conference following his talks with Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis.