How did a convicted criminal and serial paedophile come to be one of the main points of contact between President Donald Trump’s inner circle and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) of Abu Dhabi?
As far back as the Reagan era, George Nader was attempting to make himself indispensable to successive US administrations by offering back-channel lines of communication with figures in the Middle East who might otherwise remain out of reach.
In recent years, as a senior political adviser to the crown prince, Nader has been helping MBZ in his dealings with both Moscow and Washington, and has been key to the establishment of a new alliance between the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
But Nader has repeatedly been caught in possession of child pornography and has served a prison sentence for the abuse of young boys.
In June, he appeared in court yet again, charged with possessing pornography showing boys – some as young as two or three – being physically and sexually abused, including by animals.
One person who has known Nader for more than 25 years has told Middle East Eye that two of Nader’s contacts – one in Washington and one a leading political figure in the Gulf – shared what he termed “the same predilections”.
Others who know Nader – and who recall him as an awkward and anxious man with an obsession with money and a facial tick – are asking themselves: did his international contacts turn a blind eye to his criminal conduct because of his unlikely usefulness? Or does his paedophilia in some way help to explain how he came to be linked to several countries’ intelligence agencies?
‘It was amazing how little he knew’
Nader was born in 1959 and grew up in Batroun in northern Lebanon, in a Christian family. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio when he was 15, apparently before the outbreak of Lebanon’s civil war, and apparently with the financial support of Lebanese industrialist Georges Frem.
Having long harboured a desire to become a journalist, Nader launched his own magazine in 1980 from his home in Ohio – Middle East Insight. “That first issue sold 200 copies, mostly members of my church,” Nader told the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut.
“They probably bought them out of pity or curiosity. But in any case they bought them.”
Khalil Jahshan, then the executive director of the National Association of Arab-Americans in Washington DC, recalls a young Nader turning up at his office to ask for help with editing his articles. Nader was securing interviews with the likes of Palestinian Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat and Farouk al-Sharaa, then foreign minister of Syria. But, says Jahshan, “his language skills and editorial skills were very limited”.
An employee at the magazine in the early 1990s said Nader didn’t have a clue how to run a magazine – or about the region. “It’s amazing to me how little George knew about the Middle East,” he said.
According to the former colleague, just ahead of the famous White House lawn handshake in 1993 between Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin over the Oslo Accords, he was talking to Nader about their coverage plans.
“I told George, ‘We were going to do a full issue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and the Oslo Accords’. I said, ‘George, these guys are showing up at the White House’. He said, ‘Are the Palestinians really that important?'”
Despite this, it was Nader’s ability to connect American politicians to Arab leaders and journalists that provided him with real currency in the capital, the colleague said.
At a time when many in Washington enjoyed close links with Israel, but few were familiar with the Arab world, Nader filled a vacuum. “George made himself available,” a former colleague recalls.
During the same 1993 trip, Rabin wanted to speak with Arab journalists and asked who could put it together. “I said, ‘George Nader can,'” he said.
And Nader produced, inviting at least 40 journalists to the top of the Washington Hotel for the event.
But the night before, the former colleague said Nader came to him on the verge of tears, concerned about how he would introduce the Israeli prime minister. “I said, ‘What’s the problem?’ He said, “I don’t know anything about Rabin.'”
Whatever their opinions of his grammar and regional knowledge, former associates say he had a talent for bluffing his way into obtaining high-level contacts.
“He told people he knew so and so and he didn’t know them at all,” said the former colleague. “He was a conman, but the con was pretty good.”
A second employee, who worked for MEI in the late 1990s and hasn’t seen Nader in 20 years, said he couldn’t defend what Nader “may or may not have done,” but back when he knew him, he was a hard worker who earned his contacts.
“He was tenacious. He was well-respected, including by [former secretary of state under George H W Bush] James Baker. So anybody who says ‘How can you back him?” Hey, if James Baker gives him a seal of approval, who am I to think otherwise?”
The former colleague from the early 1990s said Nader, above all else, was fixated on cash.
“Money. Money, money, money,” he said. “He doesn’t give a shit about anything else.”
But while Nader wanted his magazine to be a journalistic success – and lucrative – Jahshan says he also craved recognition as a significant player in the politics of the region.
“He suffered from a syndrome quite common in Washington: he was a diplomatic wannabe.”
Gradually, exaggerating the depth and value of his contact list, the Walter Mitty figure transformed from a journalist with access, to an international fixer.
In 1987, he published a widely noticed interview with Ayatollah Khomeini, which was reproduced by the Washington Post. (Curiously, although Nader claims his pen was confiscated before the audience, he was able to produce 700 words of verbatim quotes from the Ayatollah.)
Before long, he was meeting with leading members of Hezbollah, then with Syrian intelligence officers and on to Israel. Jahshan noted that Nader appeared to be working with the intelligence agencies of several countries: “This was John le Carre material.”
But at the same time, Nader is said to have appeared to have had only a superficial interest in the political issues of the Middle East and US foreign policy in the region.
“He was a boring man, dull,” says Jahshan. “He was like a village idiot. But he wanted to be accepted as someone of value.”
In 1984, however, when Nader was still in his mid 20s, he was shown to have dangerous criminal tendencies of a sort that may have made him valuable to some of the world’s less scrupulous leaders and their intelligence agencies.
Child pornography charges
In March that year, a US customs inspector became suspicious of a package that was being sent to Nader from an address in Amsterdam. Opening it, he discovered several magazines depicting naked boys engaged in sexual acts.
Customs officers searched Nader’s home and found more material of a similar nature, and a federal grand jury in Washington, DC indicted him on two charges of mailing and importing child pornography. The indictment refers to “obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy magazines, pictures and films, commonly known as ‘child pornography'”.
However, the charges were dismissed after his lawyers successfully argued that his home had been searched under an invalid warrant.
In 1988, Nader again reportedly received material depicting underage boys. No charges were brought, although his home was searched and prosecutors allege that child pornography was found in his toilet.
In 1990, Nader was caught attempting to import two child pornography videos into the United States through Washington-Dulles International airport. The videos were found hidden inside sweet tins.
He pleaded guilty and received a reduced sentence after a number of people testified that he was working at that time to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon.
The court was told that Nader had met repeatedly with a number of Israeli intelligence officers and the leadership of Hezbollah as part of this effort.
He is thought to have spent around six months in a halfway house in Baltimore, under federal custody, and was fined $2,000.
Prosecutors said, on his most recent court appearance, that Nader brought 14-year-old boys into the United States in 1997 and 2002. One of them reportedly told FBI agents that he watched child pornography with Nader; the other said he was sexually abused.
But even earlier, there appears to have been a third teenage boy in Nader’s life. In the early 1990s, the former colleague said that he would sometimes find Nader crying at the MEI office in Farragut Square, a couple of blocks from the White House, looking at a photo of a Czech teenage boy who he thought was about 15 at the time.
“He’d say, ‘Oh, I’m just looking at this picture of my sweetie, my beautiful boy,’ and he showed me this picture of this boy from Eastern Europe whom he had kind of adopted and educated. His parents sent him over here,” the colleague said.
Occasionally, the colleague said, the boy would visit the office to see Nader. “It was clear to me that he hated George. He hated him,” he said.
Then in 2003 came Nader’s most serious conviction, when he received a one-year prison sentence in the Czech Republic on 10 charges of sexually abusing children. A spokesperson at the Prague Municipal Court confirmed the conviction to the Associated Press news agency.
MEE contacted Nader’s legal team to comment for this piece, but did not receive a reply.
In 1998, Nader had become involved in shuttle diplomacy between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights, an area which Israel captured during the 1967 war with its Arab neighbours.
Ron Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder companies, represented the Israelis and Walid Muallem, then Syrian ambassador in Washington, represented Damascus. Nader knew both.
According to a high-level Israeli official who was directly involved in the process, Nader accompanied Lauder to Damascus multiple times – potentially as many as 16 visits – to assist with translation and liaise with the Syrians.
“I found him to be likeable but unreliable,” the official said. “He lied, possibly to advance the talks, but lied nonetheless.”
While at the time the channel was a serious attempt, it ended in “catastrophe,” said a former mediator who has spoken to parties on both sides of the talks.
“It was fated to not work because George knew nothing about what he was doing. It was also fated not to work because he didn’t understand the Israelis. They were never going to give the Golan Heights back,” said the source.
According to the source, then-Syrian president Hafez al-Assad placed Muallem under house arrest when the talks collapsed because he believed he had been lied to about what the Israelis had agreed. Muallem was said to have told friends he thought he was going to be shot.
After the failure of this initiative, Nader disappeared from the United States for several years: his associates in Washington assumed he had returned to the Middle East.
This absence is explained in part by the time he spent in a Czech prison cell. On release, he showed up in post-invasion Iraq, representing himself as an agent of Blackwater, the private military company.
In a 2010 deposition, however, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, reportedly denied that Nader had worked directly for the company, describing him as a “business development consultant” hired to land deals with the Iraqi government without success. There is no indication that Prince knew about Nader’s previous convictions.
Nader also attempted to broker an arms deal between the Iraqi government and Russia – an enterprise that was reportedly successful, but then was cancelled a month later over apparent corruption concerns.
Subsequently he settled in Abu Dhabi, where he became a senior political adviser to MBZ.
In late 2015, he was instrumental in arranging a secret summit of Arab leaders on a yacht in the Red Sea, where he suggested that they should establish an elite regional group of six countries to supplant both the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League.
Nader’s plan was that the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Libya would counter the influence of Turkey and Iran.
In early 2018, within weeks of the FBI’s seizure of the latest cache of child pornography, Nader began to co-operate with Robert Mueller, the US special counsel who was investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Nader told Mueller that before the election he had developed contacts with both the Trump and Clinton campaigns. One of his points of contact with the Trump team was reportedly through Joel Zamel, the owner of Psy-Group, an Israeli private intelligence firm which specialised in social media manipulation.
Zamel is reported to have approached Nader at an economic conference in St Petersburg, Russia, asking whether he could raise finance in the Gulf for a social media campaign he was hoping to run on behalf of the Trump campaign. Zamel denies that he spoke to Nader about aiding Trump.
Psy-Group closed last year, and it remains unclear whether the firm did any work for the Trump campaign; its activities are thought to remain under FBI investigation.
But Nader’s strongest link with team Trump appears to have been through Prince.
In 2010, Prince had moved to Abu Dhabi, where he had overseen the formation of an 800-strong force of foreign mercenaries. MBZ has told US envoys that he does not trust his own armed forces not to turn against him if he is denounced by “a holy man in Mecca or Medina,” according to a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.
It is unclear how much success Nader enjoyed in his attempts to cultivate contacts with the Clinton campaign team before the 2016 presidential election.
What is known is that in August that year, three months before the election, Nader met with Prince, Zamel and Donald Trump Jnr, the president’s eldest son, at Trump Tower in New York. While Zamel is said to have taken the opportunity to explain how his company could give political campaigns a social media advantage, he denies that he eventually worked for the Trump campaign.
Immediately following Trump’s election victory – and while Barack Obama was still in the White House – MBZ flew to New York for a meeting with Nader and three key members of the new president’s incoming team: his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, who was lined up to become national security adviser, and his strategist Steve Bannon.
Obama and senior members of his administration are said to have felt let down by the United Arab Emirates: it is customary for foreign leaders to inform the US government of their plans to visit.
Nader is reported to have been a frequent visitor to the White House in the months following the election, becoming friendly with Bannon and also seeing Kushner.
One of the contacts he cultivated was Elliott Broidy, then-deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, which helps to develop the party’s policy and election strategy, as well as raise funds.
Nader is alleged to have wired $2.7m to Broidy through a company in Canada, apparently to pay for the costs of two conferences at Washington think-tanks, where MBZ’s betes noires, the government of Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, were heavily criticised.
Citing a number of leaked documents, the New York Times reported that Nader also helped to arrange deals with the UAE that were worth $200m to Broidy and said that he raised the possibility of a further $1bn of business.
The joint agenda of the two men, the Times said, was to push for the removal of Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state and to persuade the White House to adopt a more confrontational approach to Qatar and Iran.
According to analysis carried out by the Associated Press, Broidy has made donations of almost $600,000 to Republican congressmen and party committees as part of a campaign for legislation that would brand Qatar as a state supporter of terrorism.
Trump denounced Qatar as a funder of terrorism the following June and Tillerson was sacked in March last year. The White House has since softened its stance on Qatar, which is home to two major US military bases, including one which overseas US air operations over Iraq and Syria.
The Russian connection
By now, Nader was attempting an even more ambitious back-channel diplomatic manoeuvre, this time three-way talks involving the US, the Russians and the United Arab Emirates – apparently with the encouragement of MBZ.
Mueller concluded that Nader had become “a close business associate” of Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund. Dmitriev is in turn closely connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing him as his “boss,” Mueller reported.
Nader told Mueller that he believed Dmitriev to have the role of a Russian envoy to the Gulf region, and relayed his views directly to MBZ.
Following the 2016 election, Dmitriev asked Nader to introduce him to members of the Trump transition team, and Nader set up meetings with Erik Prince in January 2017. The three men first met in the Seychelles, at a Four Seasons Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Nader told Mueller that MBZ was also staying at the hotel, leading to speculation that the crown prince may have hoped to become an intermediary between Washington and Moscow.
Dmitriev appears to have been less than impressed: Nader told Mueller that he had been hoping for something of greater substance. Nothing came of the meetings.
By this time, Nader’s unlikely 30-year career as an international emissary was about to come to a juddering halt.
Arriving at New York’s John F Kennedy airport on 3 June, Nader was arrested and charged with an alleged crime that had come to light more than a year ago, shortly before he had begun to co-operate with Mueller.
In January 2018, while arriving at Washington-Dulles International Airport, he is alleged to have been in possession of an iPhone 7 on which was stored a dozen videos of boys – some as young as two or three years old – being sexually abused.
Although Nader had been granted immunity when he agreed to co-operate with Mueller, that deal appears to have extended only to his testimony on his links with the Russians – or has been withdrawn.
According to a statement sworn by an FBI agent who has reviewed the films, some of the abuse involved animals and some could be seen to result in the children being hurt.
The day after his arrest, Nader appeared in Brooklyn federal court, looking dishevelled in a khaki jumpsuit. He was refused bail after the judge heard that he had assets of around $3m, a sum that many who know him regard as laughably wide of the mark.
In addition to the videos, prosecutors said investigators had found text exchanges between Nader and MBZ, and with Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.
The court also heard that the Czech offence involved Nader transporting a 14-year-old boy out of that country, and then threatening the child and his mother with physical harm if they reported the crime.
If convicted, Nader faces between 15 and 40 years in jail. At the end of June, the court agreed that in addition to his nine lawyers, Nader can have access to three paralegals and a psychiatrist specialised in sexual offences.