Swiss Journalists Implicated in UAE Influence Operation Orchestrated by Alp Services

In a shocking revelation, it has come to light that Swiss journalists were involved in an influence operation conducted by Alp Services, a Geneva-based company, on behalf of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The documents obtained by investigative outlet Mediapart and shared with the media consortium EIC, including Swiss broadcaster RTS, provide evidence of journalists willingly or unknowingly participating in data collection and smear campaigns orchestrated by Alp Services.

The operation, which spanned from 2017 to at least 2020, involved Alp Services collecting data and organizing disinformation campaigns against individuals and entities allegedly linked to Qatar or the Muslim Brotherhood. This far-reaching influence campaign was commissioned by the UAE and had significant implications in Switzerland and Europe.

According to the disclosed documents, Alp Services collaborated closely with journalists in Switzerland and several European countries. Over the years, the director of Alp Services cultivated relationships with journalists, becoming a known figure within newsrooms. Journalists sought information from Alp Services, which was often generously provided. In some cases, Alp Services expected reciprocal information in return, blurring the ethical boundaries. While some journalists justified this collaboration in pursuing public interest information, others seemed to have dangerously crossed the line, risking compromise and manipulation.

One such journalist, Stephan*, an investigative journalist from the German-speaking region, had a long-standing working relationship with Alp Services. In 2019, Stephan invoiced Alp Services for research and two reports, demanding 3,500 francs for his services. Documents indicate that he was considered a “source” and even a “subcontractor” for the Emirati operation. Furthermore, Alp Services allegedly tasked him with creating a list of individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Switzerland.

When questioned by EIC, Stephan refused to confirm whether he had indeed compiled the list. However, he admitted to writing eight reports for Alp Services between 2018 and 2020, focusing on Islamists and alleged terrorists. He claimed ignorance regarding the destination of his research, stating that had he known it was for the UAE, he would not have provided his work.

During the same period, while receiving payment from Alp Services, Stephan published an article in Tamedia newspapers targeting the director of Islamic Relief, an Arab humanitarian NGO with a presence in Geneva. Alp Services expressed satisfaction with the article’s publication in an email exchange with their Emirati source, praising its “devastating details.”

Another journalist, Pascal*, working in French-speaking Switzerland, has a close relationship with the director of Alp Services, which extends over two decades. The two frequently meet and join dinners together at premier restaurants. Pascal has been considered a reliable source for Alp Services on various topics. In 2018, he published an article in Le Temps that raised concerns about questionable funding sources and connections of Nicolas Blancho, the president of the Swiss Central Islamic Council. A year later, Pascal focused on purchasing a luxurious property in Geneva by a Qatari minister. Both articles were part of Alp Services’ intelligence and influence operation.

Internal documents indicate that Alp Services employees were aware of the content of these articles before their publication. It raises questions about the extent of collaboration between Alp Services and Pascal. When confronted, Pascal claimed to have exchanged information with Alp Services on various subjects without compensation. He maintained that he was unaware of Alp Services’ affiliation with the UAE government and acknowledged the risk of being manipulated by biased sources. Le Temps declined to comment on Pascal’s article from 2018.

These Swiss cases are not isolated incidents. Alp Services leveraged its contacts with European journalists to exert influence and serve the UAE’s interests. French magazines Le Point and Valeurs actuelles, British newspaper The Times, and Spanish outlet OK Diario are among the media entities involved. Some journalists categorically denied any connection with Alp Services in written responses to EIC.

Alp Services also employed broader tactics, such as mass email campaigns targeting journalists. To discredit Nicolas Blancho during his trial for terrorist propaganda, Alp Services, under a false identity, sent emails to more than a dozen journalists in Switzerland, including RTS correspondents. The content of these emails aimed to expose opaque funding sources and alleged dangerous activities related to Nicolas Blancho.

RTS attempted to contact the author of the mysterious email but was unsuccessful. The media outlet chose not to exploit the email’s content, and it remains unclear whether the media campaign had any impact.

RTS contacted Alp Services and its director for comment, but they declined to respond. The company’s lawyers dismissed the revelations based on incorrect assumptions and speculations. The UAE government has not responded to the inquiries.

The involvement of Swiss journalists in the UAE influence operation raises serious questions about journalistic ethics, the role of media, and the potential for manipulation in the pursuit of information. The revelations have sparked a broader discussion on journalism’s need for transparency and integrity.

*Pseudonyms used to protect the identities of the individuals involved.

 

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