Three former U.S. intelligence and military officials have agreed to pay $1.7 million to the U.S. government and admitted to providing hacking technology to the United Arab Emirates, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.
Marc Baier, Ryan Adams, and Daniel Gericke made the admission as part of a first-of-its-kind deferred prosecution agreement, under which they are also to pay $1.68 million, cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation, cut ties with UAE intelligence and give up their security clearances. The Justice Department agreed to drop the prosecution if the three men comply with the terms for three years.
Lawyers for Adams and Gericke did not immediately return messages seeking comment, and a lawyer for Baier declined to comment.
Baier, Adams, and Gericke worked at a UAE-based company that carried out hacks on behalf of the foreign government, according to court documents. The trio provided their employer with hacking and spying systems used to break into computers in the U.S. and around the world, prosecutors say.
In a letter earlier this year, the CIA warned about “an uptick in the number of former officers who have disclosed sensitive information about CIA activities, personnel, and tradecraft.” The UAE case appears to fit into this pattern. One of the examples listed was “working for state-sponsored intelligence-related companies in non-fraternization countries.”
The DOJ accuses the three men of computer fraud and violating export control laws by providing defense services without the required license. Baier, Adams, and Gericke did not dispute any of the allegations as part of the deal with prosecutors.
“This is a loud statement” that the Justice Department takes such cases seriously, said Bobby Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law who specializes in national security issues.
The three men left a U.S.-based company that was operating in the UAE to join an Emirati company that would give them “significant increases” in their salaries, according to court documents.
“Hackers-for-hire and those who otherwise support such activities in violation of U.S. law should fully expect to be prosecuted for their criminal conduct,” Mark Lesko, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement.
The charging documents don’t name the companies involved, but Lori Stroud, a former National Security Agency employee, said she worked with the three men in the UAE at U.S.-based CyberPoint and then for UAE-based DarkMatter.
She quit DarkMatter when she realized the company was hacking U.S. citizens.
Stroud said she assisted the FBI in its investigation.
“This is progress,” Stroud said.
DarkMatter’s founder and CEO, Faisal al-Bannai, told The Associated Press in 2018 that his company has close business ties to the Emirati government and has hired former CIA and NSA analysts. He denied the firm was engaged in hacking.
Between 2016 and 2019, Baier, Adams, and Gericke bought exploits to break into computers and mobile devices from companies around the world, including those based in the U.S., the Justice Department says. The purchases included one so-called “zero-click” exploit—which can break into mobile devices without any user interaction. Baier bought the exploit from an unnamed U.S. company in 2016.