Former Intelligences Officials Plead Guilty to Hacking Crime

Former Intelligences Officials Plead Guilty to Hacking Crime

( – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) started employing former United States intelligence officers a few years ago to engage in cyber-surveillance of other governments and groups critical of the country’s monarchy. In 2016, the project transferred to a UAE cybersecurity company called DarkMatter. Once under its control, the operation started targeting Americans.

On Tuesday, September 14, 2021, the Justice Department announced two US citizens and a former citizen pleaded guilty to violating hacking and US export control laws. The men entered into an agreement to defer prosecution provided they meet certain conditions.

To begin, the men have three years to pay more than $1.6 million in penalties. They also agreed to a lifetime ban on receiving US security clearances and restrictions on future employment opportunities.

According to the Justice Department, the men carried out hacking operations for the UAE government between 2016 and 2019. They used zero-exploit hacks to obtain credentials for accessing online accounts operated by US-based companies.

Using those hacks, the men were able to gain access to computer systems and mobile phones to spy on journalists, human rights activists, and political rivals of the UAE.

Additionally, some of the legitimate work performed by the men constituted a “defense service” that required licensing through the US State Department.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko for the Justice Department’s National Security Division characterized the three men as “hackers for hire.” According to him, their guilty pleas constituted a unique resolution of a case involving “unlicensed export-controlled defense services” and “computer network exploitation.”

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