WASHINGTON – Three former US intelligence officers hired by the United Arab Emirates to carry out sophisticated cyber operations have pleaded guilty to hacking crimes and violating US export laws restricting the transfer of military technology to foreign governments, he said. Court documents were made public on Tuesday.
The documents detail a plot by the three men to provide the UAE with advanced technology and to assist Emirati intelligence agents in abuses aimed at harming perceived enemies of the small but powerful Gulf state.
Prosecutors said the men helped the UAE, a close ally of the United States, gain unauthorized access “to obtain data from computers, electronic devices and servers around the world, including on computers and servers in the United States.”
The three men worked for DarkMatter, a company that is actually an arm of the UAE government. they are part of the trend Former US intelligence officers are accepting lucrative jobs from foreign governments in the hope of enhancing their capabilities to conduct cyber operations.
The rules governing this new age of digital mercenaries are murky, legal experts said, and the charges announced Tuesday could be a shooting spree in a battle to deter former US spies from becoming weapons for hire abroad.
The three men, Mark Baer, Ryan Adams and Daniel Jeriche, pleaded guilty to violating US laws as part of a three-year deferred trial agreement. If the men comply with the agreement, the Department of Justice will drop the criminal case. Each man would also pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines – the amount he earned working at DarkMatter. And men will never be able to obtain a security clearance from the United States government.
Mr. Baer worked in the National Security Agency’s unit that carries out advanced offensive cyber operations. Mr. Adams and Mr. Gerrick served in the military and in the intelligence community.
DarkMatter has its origins in another company, an American company called CyberPoint that originally won contracts from the UAE to help protect the country from computer attacks.
CyberPoint has received a license from the US government to work with the Emiratis, a necessary step aimed at regulating the export of military and intelligence services. Many of the company’s employees worked on top-secret projects for the National Security Agency and other US intelligence agencies.
But the Emiratis had bigger ambitions and repeatedly pressured CyberPoint employees to go beyond the limits of the company’s US license, according to former employees.
CyberPoint has rejected requests from UAE intelligence agents to try to hack encryption codes and hack websites on US servers – operations that would have been inconsistent with US law.
So in 2015, the Emiratis founded DarkMatter – forming a company not bound by US law – and attracted several American employees of CyberPoint to join.
DarkMatter employed several former NSA and CIA officers, according to a list of employees obtained by The New York Times, some of whom were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.