The Justice Department ordered an Al Jazeera online news platform based in the US to register as a foreign agent on Monday, declaring that the outlet is “an agent of the Government of Qatar,” according to a letter from the Justice Department obtained by CNN.
The designation for that platform, AJ+, came on the same day that Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed agreements to normalize relations with Israel at the White House — an event attended by Qatari officials who were in Washington for a series of bilateral meetings with the US just the previous day.
An Al Jazeera spokesman said the news outlet had received the letter on the eve of the normalization agreement’s signing – known as the Abraham Accords – and purported that the determination could have been a UAE precondition to signing the agreement.
The UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, denied that there is any link.
“At no point in our discussions was Al Jazeera or even Qatar raised,” Al Otaiba said. “They’re really not as important as they think they are.”
Al Jazeera also said that this has long been a goal of the UAE and its lobbyists in Washington.
“Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the UAE what it wanted,” the spokesman said. “We are reviewing the determination and considering our options.”
The Justice Department’s letter indicated that the Al Jazeera review has been long underway, noting that the department has been in touch with AJ+ – which is an affiliate based in San Francisco and Washington, DC, and part of the company backed by Qatar’s royal family – since 2018 about why it may be subject to these constraints. Since then it has collected information, including from Al Jazeera itself.
CNN has reached out to the Qatar Embassy for comment.
The letter said that AJ+ has about 80 employees in the US whose salaries “are paid by funds originating with the Government of Qatar” and whose work is carried out “at the direction and control” of Qatari leadership. AJ+ publishes current events on its own website and on various social media platforms.
The letter also noted that the company’s style guide “reveals AJ+’s intention to influence audience attitudes with its reporting” with policies such as calling the Israeli Defense Forces the Israeli army instead of the IDF and not using the words terrorist or terrorism. Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
“Journalism designed to influence American perceptions of a domestic policy issue or a foreign nation’s activities or its leadership qualifies as ‘political activities’ under the statutory definition… even if it views itself as “balanced” or aims to balance reporting by other journalists,” said the letter from the chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division, Jay I. Bratt.
The Department of Justice would not confirm the order when asked by CNN.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, was created decades ago to prevent foreign propaganda from swaying the American public. Companies or individuals considered to be working on behalf of a foreign government in the US are required to disclose their funding and relationship with a foreign government or actor with the DOJ, which then publishes the information online.
Registering under FARA does not prohibit a news outlet from operating and publishing. In fact, other American-based companies that work with foreign media outlets, such as Japanese broadcaster NHK and Chinese newspaper The China Daily, are also registered under FARA, and those outlets continue their work.
In 2017, the production company behind the American version of the Russian state-funded network RT filed as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice.