n the years after 9/11, former U.S. counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke warned Congress that the country needed more expansive spying powers to prevent another catastrophe. Five years after leaving government, he shopped the same idea to an enthusiastic partner: an Arab monarchy with deep pockets.
In 2008, Clarke went to work as a consultant guiding the United Arab Emirates as it created a cyber surveillance capability that would utilize top American intelligence contractors to help monitor threats against the tiny nation.
The secret unit Clarke helped create had an ominous acronym: DREAD, short for Development Research Exploitation and Analysis Department. In the years that followed, the UAE unit expanded its hunt far beyond suspected extremists to include a Saudi women’s rights activist, diplomats at the United Nations and personnel at FIFA, the world soccer body. By 2012, the program would be known among its American operatives by a codename: Project Raven.
Reuters reports this year revealed how a group of former National Security Agency operatives and other elite American intelligence veterans helped the UAE spy on a wide range of targets through the previously undisclosed program — from terrorists to human rights activists, journalists and dissidents.
Now, an examination of the origins of DREAD, reported here for the first time, shows how a pair of former senior White House leaders, working with ex-NSA spies and Beltway contractors, played pivotal roles in building a program whose actions are now under scrutiny by federal authorities.
To chart the UAE spying mission’s evolution, Reuters examined more than 10,000 DREAD program documents and interviewed more than a dozen contractors, intelligence operatives and former government insiders with direct knowledge of the program. The documents Reuters reviewed span nearly a decade of the DREAD program, starting in 2008, and include internal memos describing the project’s logistics, operational plans and targets.
Clarke was the first in a string of former White House and U.S. defense executives who arrived in the UAE after 9/11 to build the spying unit. Utilizing his close relationship to the country’s rulers, forged through decades of experience as a senior U.S. decision-maker, Clarke won numerous security consulting contracts in the UAE. One of them was to help build the secret spying unit in an unused airport facility in Abu Dhabi.