The Qatar Connection: Judicial Watch Probes Funding of U.S. University
A tiny and vulnerable country that punches well above its weight, Qatar takes a traditional route to security: it spreads money around and cultivates alliances far and wide. Contradictions abound. The Persian Gulf monarchy has strong business ties to Iran, angering its Saudi neighbors and the U.S. But it hosts the Americans at the critical Al Udeid Air Base—the forward operations post for the entire U.S. military effort in the Middle East. Qatar supports terror-aligned groups such Hamas, but sponsors the freewheeling Al Jazeera television network. A Sunni nation, its Shia minority worships freely. But its media is filled with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda. It’s an inconsistent partner in the American-led war on terror and terror financing. Regional players, led by Saudi Arabia and angered over Qatar’s ties with Iran and support for the Muslim Brotherhood, slapped an economic blockade on it in 2017. But Qatar’s dynamic economy, powered by vast oil and natural gas reserves, shook it off.
Qatar’s influence operations extend into the U.S. In 2017, it quadrupled American lobbying efforts to $16 million spread across 23 firms, including targeting friends of the president, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Qatar also pours money into American universities. Luke Rosiak of the Daily Caller put the numbers together. Qatar has given $1 billion to American universities since 2011, with more than $830 million directed to three U.S. universities—Georgetown, Northwestern, and Texas A&M. Not coincidentally, all three now operate satellite campuses in Qatar.
Does Qatar’s money come with strings attached? Is it supporting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities at American universities? Inquiries have hit stone walls. Universities have “refused to discuss where strings are attached,” Rosiak noted. Qatar hired the powerhouse law firm Squire Patton Boggs to crush a freedom of information request to Texas A&M. At Georgetown, Rosiak wrote, requests for basic information about Qatari funding were “repeatedly ignored.”
In April, Judicial Watch took up the Texas A&M case. We filed a petition to intervene on behalf of our client, the Zachor Legal Institute, which is seeking information about Qatari funding of the university. Qatar and Texas A&M want to prevent the release of that information.
“Judicial Watch and the Zachor Legal Institute are battling in court for the truth about how the foreign government of Qatar lassoed Texas A&M into setting up a campus in a country run by a government known for its promotion of terrorism and extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic policies” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
The case began when Zachor—a think tank and advocacy group investigating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities—started asking questions about how state-funded Texas A&M was able to establish a campus in Qatar without the approval of the Texas state legislature. Zachor filed a request to Texas A&M under the Texas Public Information Act seeking summaries of all monies directed to the university. In a later request, Zachor sought all Qatar-connected communications related to the funding.
That’s apparently when Qatari officials grew alarmed. Squire Patton Boggs stepped into the case on behalf of Texas A&M and the Qatar Foundation. The foundation is an arm of the Qatari royal family that directs funding worldwide. In a letter to the Texas attorney general, the law firm argued that Texas law prohibits release of the information because it would give commercial advantage to competitors, disclose trade secrets, and reveal the identity of donors.
Judicial Watch is fighting back. In our court filing, we point out that the Qatari government and its agencies are not protected under Texas public information law.
In addition, the law is specific: it protects only the identity of private donors, not government entities such as the Qatar Foundation. There’s no doubt the Qatar Foundation is a government entity. The Judicial Watch filing notes: “the Qatar Foundation was created by the emir of Qatar, is chaired by his consort, and is sponsored and supported by the government of Qatar, a monarchy.”
Why does any of this matter? Go back to that $1 billion Qatar has been spreading around American universities. “We suspect that Qatar may be using university grants to surreptitiously fund radical individuals and groups on campuses and if this is happening, we expect to find evidence through the financial records,” Zachor president Marc Greendorfer told the Jewish News Service.
If you’re the government of Qatar or Texas A&M, that’s a secret worth hiding.
We’ll keep you updated on the case. For more, read Judicial Watch’s filing and related documents here.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: [email protected]
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