Three ex-military and intelligence officials from the United States have admitted to providing computer hacking technology to the United Arab Emirates. They also agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle criminal charges. The Justice Department called Tuesday’s agreement the first of its type.
Marc Baier and Ryan Adams, as well as Daniel Gericke, are accused of being senior managers in a UAE-based firm that carried out hacking operations for the government. Prosecutors say the men provided hacking and intelligence-gathering systems that were used to break into computers in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
According to the Justice Department, the men were accused of computer fraud and violating export control laws by providing defense service without the required license. This case is also part of a trend that was highlighted by the CIA earlier in the year, where foreign governments are hiring ex-intelligence operatives from the United States to boost their spycraft. Officials have warned that this practice could expose U.S secrets.
Bobby Chesney, who is a Professor at the University of Texas School of Law and specializes in national security, stated that “this is a loud declaration” that the Justice Department takes such cases very seriously.
A deferred prosecution agreement was used to bring the charges against the men. It also required a $1.68million payment. The men will be required to cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation and to end all ties with any UAE intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies. Security clearances can also be renounced. The Justice Department will drop the case if they comply with these and other terms for at least three years.
The agreement stipulated that the men would not contest any facts made by the prosecutors.
It was described by the Justice Department as the “first of its kind resolution to an investigation into two distinct forms of criminal activity,” which included providing unlicensed technology for hacking.
“Hackers for-hire and others who support such activities in contravention of U.S. laws should expect to be prosecuted,” Mark Lesko (acting assistant attorney general in charge the Justice Department’s National Security Division) stated in a statement.
According to court documents, the trio quit a U.S.-based firm that was in the UAE to join an Emerati business that would offer them “significant increases” their salaries.
Although the companies weren’t listed in the charging documents, Lori Stroud (an ex-employee of the National Security Agency) said that she worked with the men in the UAE at U.S.-based CyberPoint, and then for UAE based DarkMatter.
Stroud claimed she quit after seeing DarkMatter hacking U.S citizens. She claimed she supported the FBI’s investigation and was happy to see the case resolved.
Stroud stated, “This is progress.”
An early Wednesday request for comment from the Emirati government was not answered immediately. Emails to DarkMatter officials in Abu Dhabi were not answered.
The company’s hacking activities have been made public and some employees have moved to G42, an Abu Dhabi-based company. This firm is linked to , a mobile app that has been suspected of being a spy tool and Chinese coronavirus test. American officials have warned against using this company due to concerns over patient privacy, accuracy and Chinese government involvement.
Faisal al Bananii, DarkMatter’s CEO and founder, stated to The Associated Press that the company does not engage in hacking. However, he admitted the firm’s close ties with the Emirati government and its hiring of ex-NSA and CIA analysts.
Prosecutors claimed that the defendants increased their operations for the UAE government between January 2016 to November 2019. According to the Justice Department, they bought exploits to hack into mobile devices and computers from companies all over the globe, including ones based in the United States. Baier purchased a so-called “zero click” exploit, which can be used to hack into mobile devices without user interaction, from an unnamed U.S. firm in 2016.
Lawyers for Adams & Gericke didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Baier also declined to comment.
Each of them were described by the Justice Department as former U.S. military or intelligence personnel. According to a former colleague, Baier worked previously at the NSA. This was due to the sensitive nature of the matter.
In a letter sent earlier this year, the CIA warned about an increase in ex-officios who had disclosed sensitive information regarding CIA personnel and activities.
Sheetal Patel was the assistant director for counterintelligence at the agency and signed the letter addressed to ex-CIA officials. The letter described as a “detrimental tendency” the practice of foreign governments employing former intelligence officers “to increase their spying capabilities.” It was signed by Sheetal Patel, the agency’s assistant director for counterintelligence.
Patel wrote, “We ask you to protect yourself and the CIA through safeguarding the classified tradingcraft that underpins the enterprise,”