Ex-NSA operatives explain how they were able to spy on the UAE in the face of increasing investigation into illegal spying as well as shady defence contracts and mercenaries during the Yemen conflict. What are the goals to which UAE pursue its regional ambitions? UAE pursue its goals in the region?
In a ground-breaking story, Reuters details a massive spy and surveillance program known as Project Raven, which made the use of former NSA employees to monitor and hack governments, human rights advocates and American citizens.
After departing from the NSA in 2014, after the backlash from Edward Snowden leaks, Edward Snowden leaks, former intelligence analyst Lori Stroud, was approached by an old NSA friend Marc Baier to work for Cyberpoint the US cybersecurity company that was running Project Raven for the UAE.
The UAE will soon be replacing Cyberpoint with DarkMatter which is owned by Emiratis that would offer American contractors the option to quit or to sign up with the new firm.
After being let go of at the NSA at the end of 2014 Lori Stroud worked as an intelligence contractor in the UAE.
Shortly after joining Stroud, she was caught into a web of lies and espionage when she was requested to spy on her fellow Americans as well as underage teens and even enemies from the UAE.
Project Raven used a cutting-edge software called Karma which allowed them to hack into iPhones all over the world using security flaws to steal email addresses, location photos, text messages, and locations Five former employees. Karma made the whole process simple. The target didn’t have to click on a link or download virus.
In 2016 and 2017 , it was again and repeatedly on hundreds of targets in the globe, including administrations of Qatar, Yemen, Iran and Turkey, Reuters reports.
The employees walk into the offices of the cybersecurity company DarkMatter located within Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. DarkMatter is a cybersecurity company that has recruited Western security analysts it is accused of illegal spying. (Jon Gambrell / AP)
Digital mercenaries to hire
However, DarkMatter was not only making use of the expertise and abilities of its former intelligence agents. It also took Cyberpoint’s expertise in known as the Italian hacking Team that is on the very top of a secretive multi-billion-dollar business, providing law enforcementagencies, security agencies, and companies with cyber-spyware and spyware capabilities.
Saud al Qahtani is a close adviser to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS) who was fired over his role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, tried to hire the Italian-based hacking Team as a representative of the Saudi Arabian royal family as beginning in the year 2015. After that, he decided to sign a contract with his own Emirati firm DarkMatter According to unnamed sources for The Washington Post.
The UAE was a key player in establishing Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning cyber capabilities. Qahtani would be eventually brought into NSO Group Israeli NSO Group through the UAE which was the broker of an agreement between MBS representatives MBS as well as NSO Group. Israeli NSO organization.
As part of the deal, Saudi Arabia acquired the hacking tool Pegasus that it used for hacking journalists Jamal Khashoggi’s phone prior to his death in addition to numerous opposition figures, dissidents and political opposition.
A leaked spreadsheet that lists Hacking Team’s customers in July of 2015. (Wikileaks) (Wikileaks)
Stroud worked out of an old villa that was converted located in Abu Dhabi called simply ‘the villa’. The TRT World is unable to determine if this is the same house used to train intelligence officers at Abu Dhabi. In 2011 the UAE hired Larry Sanchez, a CIA veteran, to create the UAE’s intelligence department and also based the operations in a house that was the site of training according to an article from Foreign Policy.
Sanchez began training Emiratis in spycraft, surveillance and the art of working as paramilitary personnel via the business CAGN Global. This could lay the foundation for the UAE’s ever-expanding regional ambitions, later supported by the mercenaries, US military veterans as well as intelligence operatives and cyber warfare experts.
“The dream,” stated one source was to help the UAE create the country’s own CIA.
Was it legal?
The US enforces strict rules on the sharing of intelligence and military information and training with foreign countries due to it is the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations define these to be “exports”.
Sanchez’s business, CAGN Global, had an export license issued by the State Department for basic security and intelligence. The company was investigated in 2017 after Sanchez began blurring the lines of law regarding the services he offered and was eventually resolving.
The CIA was not a problem regarding his job. Three sources were speaking with Foreign Policy, the CIA station director at Abu Dhabi had no problem with the work they did. The wife of the station chief was employed by CAGN Global for some time.
As Project Raven started in 2009 The UAE did not have any knowledge of security and warfare. Cyberpoint, the company involved in the project was limited in the services it could offer.
“There were some types of offensive activities that CyberPoint International couldn’t or wouldn’t do for the client, and the client did not want to be told no,” said an employee who was formerly employed by CyberPoint International. In the end, the UAE set up DarkMatter which is owned by Emiratis to take over the project.
Employees were given the option of to sign up with DarkMatter or take a break. Stroud stayed.
However, DarkMatter didn’t appear to possess an export licence, considering that it wasn’t an American firm, but an Emirati company that employed American intelligence contractors during its purchase in the operation.
TRT World reached out to the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls to determine whether DarkMatter was a licensed exporter or authorization to utilization of US proprietary technology and intelligence methods The spokesperson for the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls stated that information “was not publically available,” and suggested contacting the company concerned.
When asked the same question, DarkMatter has not yet offered a response.
The CEO and founder of this company Faisal al Bannai’s father was a former major general. He affirms that the firm is owned by a private company. The company declares itself to be “already a strategic partner to the UAE government,” in press news releases.
DarkMatter’s offices are just two floors from the UAE’s intelligence agency that is the National Electronic Security Authority (NESA).
In a coincidence, DarkMatter’s senior vice president of technology research had previously been hired as a senior vice-president of technology research by NESA within the exact capacity.
China in Profit
DarkMatter’s illicit dealings did not stop there. They also had business dealings with China.
The main launch of DarkMatter was held during the Arab Future Cities Conference in November of 2015. They showcased their vision of more intelligent, technologically-driven cities.
Simone Margaritelli tells the story differently. In a blog post that he wrote following an interview for a position with DarkMatter in the year 2016 the company’s plan is to exploit security weaknesses and install malware that can track, trace or even hack any person anytime in the UAE and has been then verified by sources who spoke for The Intercept.
As Margaritelli says: “Basically it’s big brother on steroids.”
In the course of his conversation with DarkMatter The representative of the company identified the customeras The Emirati government.
“Imagine that there’s someone that is of interest in the Dubai Mall, we’ve already put up our surveillance devices throughout the city, and we hit an icon and BAM! The devices throughout this mall have been infected, and can be traced,” said the representative in Margaritelli’s blog blog post following the incident.
Margaritelli has refused to work for the cause. However, DarkMatter’s project was not stopped and could be to be completed.
On the 25th of April, 2017, DarkMatter signed an “Global Strategic Memorandum of Understanding” with Huawei to develop “Big Data” systems and “Smart City” solutions. Huawei is under intense scrutiny recently for its allegations of corporate espionage, and the threat to “infrastructure security”.
Press announcement on the Global Strategic Memorandum of Understanding which was signed by DarkMatter and Huawei on April 25, 2017. (DarkMatter)
What exactly does this mean? Huawei is widely acknowledged in the eyes of its Chinese administration for its contribution within the government’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). The one of the major initiatives in the BRI is the emergency management system that that it created in Ecuador. Huawei has invested heavily in the system, including surveillance equipment and facial recognition technology along with wireless access controls.
The possibility of a possible the transfer of secret technology developed by ex-intelligence agents with full access to NSA and CIA is the cause of nightmares for decision makers in national security from the United States.
However, with no oversight by the UAE government This did not raise any alarms.
After speaking with the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, TRT World was not given a response.
“Enough was enough”
Stroud expressed concerns about the legality of the work they were doing She was then escorted out the door and then dismissed.
Stroud didn’t last very long in DarkMatter following his departure from CyberPoint.
When she was working with DarkMatter Stroud was quickly exposed to many abuses of power, which she justified under the guise of security and counterterrorism for some period of. Then she learned the fact that Project Raven had also been monitoring other American citizens.
After speaking up about the issue two times she was fired, and then walked out of the workplace, and then decided to speak out about what transpired in the world.
“I am working for a foreign intelligence agency who is targeting US persons,” she disclosed to Reuters. “I am officially the bad kind of spy.”
Based on the experiences of the former Project Raven employees, the FBI is currently looking into how former American intelligence agents released classified US information or techniques or if they illegally targeted American networks while working.
TRT World reached out to the FBI for clarification, and the FBI said that they “can neither confirm nor deny” whether an investigation was in progress. If asked if claims made by the former employees were genuine The official spokesperson said the agency “could not comment on ongoing investigations” at the moment.
The rot goes deeper
To not be left out not to be left behind, the UAE has not only built capabilities for cyber warfare and espionage. It would later employ death squads and Colombian mercenaries. It also employed ex- American generals to head its troops, and act as a broker in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel as part of its efforts to gain greater influence in the region.
One of the main figures involved in the UAE’s cyber and military expansion in warfare is an Israeli arms dealer, billionaire and commercialist Mati Kochavi.
The company he runs, AGT International, also focused on ‘Smart Cities’. In 2007 the UAE approached Kocahvi’s business 4D Security Solutions to build an intelligent security system for surveillance in Abu Dhabi. AGT International won the contract worth $6 billion.
Mati Kochavi, owner of AGT International Group and Vocatif offered with the UAE using FalconEye. (VCG / Getty Images)
In 2016, he supplied the UAE in 2016 with FalconEye, a set of cameras and artificial intelligence sensors as well as cameras that enabled the UAE’s ruling family to institute massive surveillance of the city state which effectively allowed them to monitor everything within the city-states of the UAE.
Kochavi received another contract worth $816 million for the implementation of the system. This same set of firms were later to offer bids project that would manage travel of the pilgrims towards Mecca in Hajj season. Hajj season. Although the bid was not successful, Bloomberg later reported that Saudi Arabia had an identical system to one that was proposed while examining other possible business opportunities with Saudi Arabia. Saudi royal family and Israel.
Kochavi’s staff are heavily upon Israeli Mossad in addition to Shin Bet agents. The most prominent of Kovachi’s advisers includes Major General Amos Malka, who headed Israel’s Military Intelligence from 1998-2001
Although there was no official connection with Israel but it is believed that a significant portion of the clandestine relations between the Israeli security establishment was developed through the assistance of Palestinian intelligence person Mohammad Dahlan. A former security strongman in the Palestinian Authority, he had been exiled within the UAE since the year 2011 and served as the security adviser to his counterpart, Emirati Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
Mentor to Saudi Mohammed bin Salman
As time passed over time, the UAE will begin to exercise its own power over its Saudi neighbors.
One of the key factors in MBS’s close connections with his close ties to Trump administration is UAE the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed whom presented MBS on his inaugural tour of Washington after having lobbied extensively for him.
The UAE established connections to MBS and the Israeli NSO Group as early in 2013, prior to hosting a meeting between representatives of the Israeli NSO Group and representatives from MBS to obtain hackers abilities.
The incident occurred months prior to MBS’s notorious purge in 2017 that resulted in the arrest of 159 Saudi Princes as well as business executives imprisoned at the Ritz-Carlton.
Whistleblower Snowden who was a ex- US intelligence contractor is of the opinion it is likely that Khashoggi was the victim of NSO Group’s hacking software that allowed Saudi Arabia to violate his privacy.
Omar Abdulaziz, another victim of hacking carried out by Saudi Arabia, believes that his conversations and Khashoggi were intercepted and influenced by the crown prince’s choice to kill the respected journalist.
What did Washington have to know?
The scandal is brewing over the latest leaks, both NSA and the State Department have declined to speak about Project Raven.
Although nothing has implicated the US administration directly in the spying, Project Raven employees believed that the US government had endorsed their actions.
The Reuters report came shortly following the Snowden leak which led to the introduction of more rules and limitations on intelligence. Something that former NSA contractors would have been especially cautious regarding.
Outsourced war by corporate companies
The US defence industry as well as the private contractor sector are heavily engaged in UAE.
Erik Prince, the owner of Frontier Group, formerly-known-as Blackwater was a trainer who provided instruction in the field to South American mercenaries for combat the Saudi-UAE-led coalition’s war in Yemen for $529 million.
Spear Operations Group, founded by Israeli security contractor Abraham Golan, provided the UAE with an army comprised of ex- American soldiers who performed “high-profile assassinations,” by Golan’s admission as well as being responsible for the death of the Anssaf A. Mayo, an ex-leader of the Yemeni Islah political leader.
The US Department of Defense itself has approved at the least $27 billion worth of deals on arms and defence in the tiny emirate in 2009.
There are a myriad of previous American generals and military leaders serve as leaders within the army of the UAE. Major General Staff Pilot Stephen A. Toumajan oversees his UAE’s Joint Aviation Command in Yemen.
Stephen A. Toumajan, is the American General of the Foreign Army accused of war crimes in Yemen. ()
One executive who was responsible for making sure Toumajan adhered to US regulations quit because Toumajan refused to provide access to make sure him and his colleagues at the Joint Aviation Command complied.
Former US Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL declined an invitation to serve as Trump’s national security adviser to run UAE Operations in the company Lockheed Martin.
The list is endless. The former General Stanley McChrystal, one-time commander of US forces in Afghanistan who was forced to quit following a defiant report published in Rolling Stone, served on the advisory board for strategic planning that is Knowledge International, employed from the UAE to oversee Toumajan and, in turn the campaign. On the board is the General Doug Brown.
If asked how Toumajon could be an important general in the foreign army Toumajon replied: “I think I’ll stay out of this one.”
Left to Right: Erik Prince, Stanley McChrystal along with James Mattis. Source: Getty Images (Getty Images)
In fact, James Mattis, following his retirement as Marine Corps General, was a consultantto the UAE prior to the time that Trump appointed him to the post of US Secretary of Defense.
It is yet to be determined how far the UAE’s aggressive focus on cyber and military modernisation will end up. In one way or the other it is clear that the UAE has proven its worth as a middle man, and also an important regional power.
Yet, repeated violations of violations of human rights committed by the UAE are in contradiction to its claims to be the most progressive forward-thinking, tolerant, and progressive state in the world.