WASHINGTON – Three former American intelligence officers hired by the United Arab Emirates to conduct sophisticated cyber operations admit violating hacker crimes and U.S. export laws that restrict the transfer of military technology to foreign governments, so Court documents released on Tuesday.
The documents describe a conspiracy by the three men to equip the Emirates with advanced technology and assist Emirati intelligence officials in attacks aimed at harming the supposed enemies of the small but powerful Gulf nation.
The men helped the Emirates, a close American ally, gain unauthorized access to “obtain data from computers, electronic devices and servers around the world, including computers and servers in the United States,” prosecutors said.
The three men worked for DarkMatter, a company that is practically an arm of the Emirati government. they are Part of a trend former American intelligence agencies taking lucrative jobs from foreign governments in hopes of strengthening their cyber-operation skills.
Legal experts have said the rules for this new age of digital mercenaries are unclear, and the charges released on Tuesday could be some sort of opening salvo in a fight to prevent former American spies from becoming weapons for overseas use.
The three men, Marc Baier, Ryan Adams and Daniel Gericke, admitted breaking US law under a three-year deferred prosecution agreement. If the men abide by the agreement, the Justice Department will stop prosecuting them. Every man will also pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines – the amount he earned working for DarkMatter. The men will never be able to obtain security clearance from the US government either.
Mr. Baier worked for the National Security Agency unit that conducts advanced cyber offensive operations. Mr. Adams and Mr. Gericke served in the military and in the secret service.
DarkMatter had its origins in another company, an American company called CyberPoint, which originally received contracts from the Emirates to protect the country from computer attacks.
CyberPoint obtained a license from the US government to work for the Emirates, a necessary move to regulate the export of military and intelligence agencies. Many of the company’s employees had worked on top-secret projects for the NSA and other American intelligence agencies.
But the Emiratis had bigger ambitions and repeatedly pushed CyberPoint employees to step beyond the company’s American license, according to former employees.
CyberPoint rejected requests from UAE intelligence officials to try to crack encryption keys and hack websites stored on American servers – operations that would have violated American law.
So in 2015 the Emiratis founded DarkMatter – a company that is not bound by US law – and lured numerous American employees from CyberPoint to join.
DarkMatter employed several other former NSA and CIA officers, some of whom make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, according to a staff roster obtained from the New York Times.