US fines intelligence agents who aided Saudi Arabia in espionage

The US Department of Justice announced that the three former intelligence agents who assisted the UAE government in a spy operation against dissidents will be fined a full amount of US$1. million. The settlement made in the courts guarantees that they will no longer be investigated or face imprisonment, in exchange for compensation and other guarantees of cooperation in federal investigations.

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    Marc Baier, Ryan Adams and Daniel Gericke were part of the so-called Project Raven, an initiative that involved securing breaches and creating systems to spy on enemies of the emirate government and carry out industrial espionage operations. The operation was revealed in 1281 after members of the group denounced it to US authorities, concerned about possible industrial targets within the country itself and sharing secrets with the UAE monarchy.

    The trio was among the main experts involved in Raven, being also responsible for recruiting other intelligence officers. In addition to activists, journalists, dissidents and political opponents, the project would also have been responsible for intrusions into the systems of American companies and for the creation of at least two malware that would allow the invasion of cell phones to obtain information.

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    According to the documents related to the process, Baier, Adams and Gericke are related to the creation of tools called Karma and Karma 2. They were used to obtain credentials and authentication tokens from targeted users, allowing the invasion of email accounts, social network profiles and other personal accounts. The work would also have been carried out from servers in the USA and reached devices whose operating system was developed by an American company, which was not mentioned by name.

    Project Raven was aimed at spying on dissidents, political enemies, activists and journalists. The United Arab Emirates operation also involved attacks on American companies and the exploitation of vulnerabilities in software developed in the country (Image: Rawpixel)

    However, the process claims that the second version of Karma was created after this company performed software updates that prevented the first one from working. US authorities even collaborated with the company in developing security fixes, while Project Raven also acted to the point where, at one point, both solutions became effective.

    Measure to discourage

    A The Justice Department’s decision to waive prison terms did not go down too well. Baier will pay US$ 750 thousand, while Adams and Gericke will deliver US$ 600 thousand and US$ 335 thousand, respectively; the three will also have to give up all security permits and official government documents they have and will be prevented from working in technology, defense companies or those that have relations with the UAE government.

    Originally, the trio were accused of crimes such as computer fraud and access, and they violated export laws that impeded business between Americans and certain individuals, organizations or governments without prior authorization. According to Attorney General Mark Lesko of the US Department of Justice’s division of national security, the decision is unprecedented, but it is also related to the type of information and assistance that individuals can provide if they find themselves, henceforth, obliged to cooperate with investigations by the FBI and other federal agencies.

    Despite this, the expectation is that attitudes of this type will not become a precedent, since, in the view of lawmakers, participation in circles of government intelligence does not give free pass to such activities. In the case of the three, more specifically, there was also a failure to comply with federal orders for them to cease their relationship with the emiratic monarchy, something that did not happen. Above all, in the legislator’s view, the high fine should serve to discourage similar activities, even if the pay offered to experts is high.

    Source: US Department of Justice

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