November 2, 2014 3:54 pm

UK and Qatar sign pact to combat jihadis and cyber warfare

GCHQ, the UK’s electronic eavesdropping agency©EPA

GCHQ, the UK’s electronic eavesdropping agency

The UK has signed a security pact with Qatar to share classified intelligence and deepen ties between the two countries’ security agencies in the face of a burgeoning international threat from jihadism and cyber warfare.

The security memorandum, negotiations over which have been in train since March, is one of the main accomplishments of diplomatic talks between the new Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and Prime Minister David Cameron, who met in London last week.

A main plank of the arrangement will be enhanced co-operation between the Qataris and Britain on digital defence, involving close work with the UK’s electronic eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, officials familiar with the document said.

As well as cyber security, the deal covers intelligence co-operation on combating terrorism, policy-level advice on improving security measures across government, and the sale of UK security products and expertise to the emirate.

The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, has added urgency to the need for collaboration between the west and the Gulf states in recent months.

Qatar’s particularly close links to groups fighting in Syria as well as its position in the middle of the Gulf have made it an important ally for members of the western intelligence community, in spite of public concern over the emirate’s ambiguous ties to some Islamist groups.

Qatar has come under fire from its neighbours in the region, as well as the US, for its tolerant relationship towards the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist movement vilified by the other Gulf states – and courtship of unpalatable Islamist factions fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.


Cyber warfare

Cyber security

As online threats race up national security agendas and governments look at ways of protecting their national infrastructures a cyber arms race is causing concern to the developed world

Further reading

Interactive map

Isis advances through Iraq and Syria

Isis' map

Chart the progress of the jihadi militants as they attempt to gain more ground

Downing Street was reported last week to have warned the Qataris about their association with the Muslim Brotherhood though both sides have played down the tone and nature of any disagreement over the matter.

Qatar has continued to play a central role in the military effort against Isis: al-Udeid air base, as a forward headquarters of the US central command, is the centre of US operations against Isis. It is also headquarters to the UK’s campaign against Isis, Operation Shader.

“We are pleased to be working in partnership with the Qatari government,” the Home Office said. “[The security agreement] will broaden and deepen the important security relationship between our respective countries.”

The costs of the new security arrangement will be borne by Qatar.

Sharing cyber defence expertise has become a valuable bargaining chip for western powers such as the UK and US who in return hope to expand their own cyber intelligence-gathering operations.

Like other Middle Eastern states, Qatar has been at pains to develop its cyber defence capabilities after a crippling digital attack against Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco nearly succeeded in obliterating the company’s entire corporate data records two years ago.

Qatar is pouring resources into strengthening its cyber defences. As well as discussing security co-operation, the Qatari visit to London also focused on future investment opportunities for the wealthy gas-rich state in the UK.

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