LONDON — 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…
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.
“This suit is the first of its kind,” said Lee Wolosky, a lawyer for Broidy.
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, the home to a major U.S. military base and vast natural gas deposits.
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. They describe what appear to be his promises of access to the Trump administration or congressional Republicans as he sought lucrative contracts with various foreign governments.
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.
Representatives of Broidy immediately suspected Qatar of stealing his emails, in part because the private emails of at least one other high-profile foe of Qatar — Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador to Washington — have also been hacked and disseminated to journalists in a similar fashion. The hack required a level of resources and sophistication that suggested a state was responsible.
“This is a case about a hostile intelligence operation undertaken by a foreign nation on the territory of the United States against successful, influential United States citizens,” the lawyers for Broidy charged in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
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 charges that 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 cyberforensic 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 D. 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, and the lawsuit says that Qatar pays him $300,000 a month. Qatar spent nearly $5 million on Washington lobbyists and media relations during the six months that ended in October, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Muzin has reportedly courted Jewish leaders and others by offering them trips to Doha, the capital of Qatar. “Starting last year, the State of Qatar, Muzin, and other foreign agents conspired in a strategic campaign to retaliate against and discredit Plaintiff Broidy,” the lawsuit claims. It specifically accused Qatar of orchestrating the hacking after Muzin “identified Plaintiff Broidy as an individual who was opposing the State of Qatar’s efforts to improve its image and relationships in Washington, D.C., and who was aligned with its regional rivals, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.”
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.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.