UAE senior diplomat denies hacking Americans

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Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, speaks at an event at Chatham House in London, Britain July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – A United Arab Emirates senior diplomat denied on Thursday the country had targeted “friendly countries” or American citizens in a cyberspying program that a Reuters report said involved a hacking team of U.S. mercenaries.

The Reuters investigation published on Wednesday found that the UAE used a group of American intelligence contractors to help hack rival governments, dissidents and human rights activists. The contractors, former U.S. intelligence operatives, formed a core part of UAE’s cyber hacking program called Project Raven.

Project Raven also targeted Americans, and the Apple Inc iPhones of embassy staff for France, Australia and the United Kingdom, according to former operatives and program documents reviewed by Reuters.

Apple has declined to comment and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

When asked about Project Raven by reporters at a briefing in New York, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash acknowledged the country has a “cyber capability,” but denied targeting U.S. citizens or countries with which it has good relations.

“We live in a very difficult part of the world. We have to protect ourselves,” Gargash said. “We don’t target friendly countries and we don’t target American citizens.”

The French and UK embassies in Washington have declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Australian ministry of foreign affairs has declined to comment. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Joel Schectman and Christopher Bing in Washington; Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Richard Chang