Authorities revealed that three former United States intelligence officers confessed to working for the United Arab Emirates in carrying out sophisticated cybercrimes, including hacking and violating U.S. export laws that limited the transfer of military technology to foreign entities.
On Tuesday, court documents were made public which showed an alleged conspiracy where three individuals supplied the Emirates with advanced technology from the United States. The suspects are believed to have assisted Emirati intelligence operatives in efforts that aimed to damage the perceived enemies of the Persian Gulf nation.
American Double Agents
Authorities alleged that the three men worked for a company called DarkMatter, which was considered an extension of the Emirati government. The suspects are the latest in a series of former U.S. intelligence officers accepting work from foreign governments that wish to improve their capabilities using cyber operations.
Legal experts have struggled to adapt to the new generation of digital criminals and the recent charges against the U.S. intelligence officers mark a beginning to their counterattack. It is also seen as a deterrent to warn other former American spies from accepting work from international governments, the New York Times reported.
Officials identified the three suspects as Marc Baier, Ryan Adams, and Daniel Gericke, who admitted to violating American laws as part of a three-year deferred prosecution agreement. The deal will have the Justice Department dropping the criminal prosecution of the men. Each one will also be required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. The suspects will never be able to receive a U.S. government security clearance.
One of the suspects, Baier, was formerly affiliated with the National Security Agency unit responsible for carrying out advanced offensive cyber operations. The other two men, Adams and Gericke, were in the military and involved with the intelligence community.
Cyber Crime Agreement
"This agreement is the first-of-its-kind resolution of an investigation into two distinct types of criminal activity: providing unlicensed export-controlled defense services in support of computer network exploitation, and a commercial company creating, supporting, and operating systems specifically designed to allow others to access data without authorization from computers worldwide, including in the United States," said acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko in a news release, Reuters reported.
Prosecutors alleged that the three suspects left their jobs in the U.S.-based company operating in the UAE to join a local firm that offered them "significant increases" to their salaries. While the charging documents did not name the companies, former National Security Agency employee Lori Stroud said she had the opportunity to work with the men in the UAE. She named the company they worked for, DarkMatter.
DarkMatter's CEO and founder, Faisal al-Bannai, said in 2018 that his company had no involvement in hacking but acknowledged that his firm had a close relationship with the government. It also had business ties with the hiring of former CIA and NSA analysts. Prosecutors claimed that from January 2016 to November 2019, the three suspects "expanded the breadth and increased the sophistication" of operations given to the UAE government, NPR reported.