Three former US intelligence and military officers have admitted to working as mercenaries for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and carrying out sophisticated hacking operations targeting victims in America.
The charges against them are being released amid growing fears that foreign states are compromising US security by recruiting intelligence personnel to bolster their own capabilities.
The men, named Marc Baier, Ryan Adams and Daniel Gericke in an unsealed court document, have been charged with violating computer crime laws and export controls and have agreed to pay more than $ 1.6 million dollars (£ 1.1 million) in a deferred lawsuit. agreement.
According to the court document, after quitting a job with the U.S. government, the three men worked for a U.S. company that provided licensed services to the United Arab Emirates.
But in January 2016, “after receiving an offer for higher pay and a larger budget,” the men left that company and joined a newcomer called Dark Matter based in the Gulf state.
The underground unit helped the UAE spy on human rights activists, journalists and rival governments, according to Reuters, which reported on the underground unit known as Project Maven before the charges were handed down public.
While working for the United Arab Emirates company, which did not have an export license to receive hacking technology from the United States, the men developed “two similar hacking and data collection systems. “clickless” intelligence that was used to target victims in America.
“Today’s announcement highlights the illegal activities of three former members of the intelligence community and the US military,” said Steven D’Antuono of the FBI’s Washington field office.
“These individuals have chosen to ignore the warnings and use their years of experience to support and enhance the offensive cyber operations of a foreign government.
“These charges and the associated sanctions make it clear that the FBI will continue to investigate such violations.”
Bryan Vorndran, Cyber Division of the FBI, added: “This is a clear message to anyone, including former U.S. government employees, who had considered using cyberspace to mine controlled information at exporting to a foreign government or foreign trading company – there is a risk, and there will be consequences. “
As part of the delayed prosecution, Baier, Adams, and Gericke must cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation.
They agreed to pay $ 750,000 (£ 542,000), $ 600,000 (£ 430,000) and $ 335,000 (£ 242,000) respectively over the next three years – funds for which the UAE will not prohibit them. not the refund.
They also received a lifetime ban from receiving security clearances, as well as being employed as hackers or by “certain organizations in the United Arab Emirates”.