WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Three former US intelligence officers hired by the United Arab Emirates to carry out sophisticated cyberoperations admitted to hacking crimes and violating US export laws that restrict the transfer of military technology to foreign governments, according to court documents made public on Tuesday (Sept 14).
The documents detail a conspiracy by the three men to furnish the Emirates with advanced technology and to assist Emirati intelligence operatives in breaches aimed at damaging the perceived enemies of the small but powerful Gulf nation.
The men helped the Emirates, a close American ally, gain unauthorised access to "acquire data from computers, electronic devices and servers around the world, including on computers and servers in the United States," prosecutors said.
The three men worked for DarkMatter, a company that is effectively an arm of the Emirati government.
They are part of a trend of former US intelligence officers accepting lucrative jobs from foreign governments hoping to bolster their abilities to mount cyberoperations.
Legal experts have said the rules governing this new age of digital mercenaries are murky, and the charges made public on Tuesday could be something of an opening salvo in a battle to deter former American spies from becoming guns for hire overseas.
The three men, Marc Baier, Ryan Adams and Daniel Gericke, admitted violating US laws as part of a three-year deferred prosecution agreement.
If the men comply with the agreement, the Justice Department will drop the criminal prosecution.
Each man will also pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines - the amount they earned working for DarkMatter. The men will also never be able to receive a US government security clearance.
Baier worked for the National Security Agency unit that carries out advanced offensive cyberoperations. Adams and Gericke served in the military and in the intelligence community.
DarkMatter employed several other former NSA and CIA officers, according to a roster of employees obtained by The New York Times, some making salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.