Three former U.S. intelligence and military operatives have agreed to pay nearly $ 1.7 million to resolve criminal charges that they supplied sophisticated hacking technology to the UAE. Jenny Kane / AP .
. Jenny Kane / AP
Jenny Kane / AP
WASHINGTON Three former U.S. Secret Service and Military agents have admitted to providing sophisticated hacking technology to the UAE and agreed to pay nearly $ 1.7 million to resolve criminal charges in a deal the Department of Justice described Tuesday as the first of its kind.
Defendants Marc Baier, Ryan Adams and Daniel Gericke are accused of working as senior executives at a United Arab Emirates-based company that carried out hacking operations on behalf of 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.
The case, in federal court in Washington, accuses former US officials of violating US export control and computer fraud laws. This appears to be part of a growing trend highlighted a few months ago by the CIA of foreign governments hiring former U.S. intelligence operatives to bolster their own espionage, a practice officials say risks revealing information about them. American secrets.
The charges were filed under a deferred prosecution agreement which, in addition to demanding a payment of $ 1.68 million, will also require the men to cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation and shut down everything link with UAE intelligence or law enforcement services. If they meet these conditions for three years, the Department of Justice will not initiate any prosecution.
As part of the deal, the three men did not dispute any of the facts alleged by prosecutors.
The Justice Department described it as the “first such resolution to investigate two distinct types of criminal activity,” including the supply of unlicensed technology for piracy.
“Hackers and those who otherwise support such activities in violation of US law should expect to be prosecuted for their criminal conduct,” said Mark Lesko, acting deputy attorney general of the national security division of the United States. Ministry of Justice, in a press release.
Prosecutors said the trio left a US-based company that operated in the UAE to join a distinguished company that would give them “significant increases” in their wages.
The companies are not named in the prosecution documents, but Lori Stroud, a former National Security Agency employee, said she worked with the three men in the United Arab Emirates at the United States-based CyberPoint, then for DarkMatter, owned by the United Arab Emirates. Company founder and CEO Faisal al-Bannai told The Associated Press in 2018 that DarkMatter was not involved in any hacking, although he acknowledged the company’s close business ties to the UAE government, as well as his hiring of former CIA and NSA analysts.
Prosecutors said that between January 2016 and November 2019, the defendants “broadened the scope and increased the sophistication” of operations provided to the UAE government. They bought exploits to get into computers and mobile devices from companies around the world, including those based in the United States, according to the Department of Justice.
This includes a so-called “zero click” exploit that can penetrate mobile devices without any user interaction that Baier bought from a US corporation in 2016.
Lawyers for Adams and Gericke did not immediately return the messages seeking comment, and a lawyer for Baier declined to comment.
The Justice Department described each of them as former U.S. intelligence or military personnel, and said their work for the UAE-based company began after they left the government. Baier is identified in a 2019 Reuters report as having previously worked in an elite NSA hacking unit.
The CIA warned in a letter earlier this year of “an increase in the number of former officers who have disclosed sensitive information about CIA activities, personnel and commerce.”
The letter sent to former CIA officials was signed by Sheetal Patel, deputy director of the counterintelligence agency. He described as a “detrimental trend” a practice of foreign governments hiring former intelligence officers “to enhance their espionage capabilities.” Some examples listed included using access to CIA information or contacts for business opportunities as well as “working for state-sponsored intelligence companies in non-fraternized countries.”
“We ask you to protect yourself and the CIA by protecting the classified commerce that underpins your business,” Patel wrote.
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