When America’s Cyberwarfare Capabilities Are Used Against Us

Shadowy American military and intelligence contractors going rogue—using sophisticated spying technologies and techniques honed over years of government service for personal gain—is the stuff of James Bond films.

What stops those with these crucial national security skills from selling them to the highest bidder, providing foreign states these capabilities, and even targeting Americans?

That nightmare scenario is already a reality, according to an explosive legal complaint by venture capitalist Elliott Broidy and reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

Broidy, former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, alleges in a lawsuit filed last month that veteran CIA, NSA, and U.S. military members—acting as hackers-for-hire—were employed by the government of Qatar to target Americans and others around the world. The group of former intelligence operatives was marketed by a company called Global Risk Advisors (GRA), whose CEO Kevin Chalker is a former CIA case officer. 

According to the complaint, the group barely concealed its hacking capabilities in marketing materials, offering “penetration testing”—which refers to hacking into a network to identify its security weaknesses on its website. The company also published a promotional video in which the firm admits to having “advanced techniques to penetrate target networks,” including custom spear-phishing campaigns. 

Qatar allegedly paid GRA upwards of $100 million in consulting contracts, mostly for illegal activities. Their work allegedly began in the wake of Qatar’s World Cup bid, which was mired in controversy about the country’s slave-like labor practices for building World Cup infrastructure and by a bribery scandal now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. According to the complaint, GRA “outlined their ability to employ intelligence community skills and covert action campaigns” to be used against Qatar’s critics in the World Cup debate. It goes on to say that following a successful deployment against various FIFA officials, Qatar turned to GRA to carry out a range of operations targeting prominent American critics.

Ali al-Thawadi, a Qatari official who is the chief of staff to the Qatari Emir’s brother, allegedly was GRA’s primary contact, receiving regular briefings in which the American contractors delivered sensitive information about American citizens acquired through computer hacking, as well as physical and electronic surveillance efforts, “the information GRA brought to [al-Thawdi] included highly personal, non-public information on American citizens.”

According to the complaint: 

Mr. Chalker and GRA identified and proposed multiple national security enhancements and surveillance work, including “Project Deviant,” in which GRA would train Qatari officers in defensive counter-intelligence and offensive intelligence collection tactics, including advanced, sophisticated skills that trained former U.S. intelligence and military operatives are typically barred from sharing or conferring unto foreign governments.

Qatar has spent billions to convince Americans it is a U.S. ally despite its close ties to Iran, its role as one of the largest funders of global jihadist terror, and its support for anti-American Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet almost inexplicably, Qatar remains highly favored by many of America’s senior military and intelligence leaders.

If it is true that highly trained American former service members and intelligence personnel are sharing our country’s sensitive capabilities with a foreign government like Qatar, there is cause for genuine concern about the country’s national security.

American taxpayers invest huge sums to develop the world’s leading capabilities in the field of cyberwarfare. Defense materials and services, even for relatively common items like rifles and shotguns—or training in their usage—are strictly regulated by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Are we to believe that there should be no similar regulation for sophisticated intelligence techniques and cyberwarfare capabilities?

If all it takes is a few hundred million dollars to acquire some of the most important capabilities of the U.S. defense and intelligence agencies, what is to stop others from getting into the market? Organized crime, drug cartels, terrorist groups, and a range of other hostile governments could easily pony up the cash and do unimaginable damage. 

It is a time for our law enforcement, national security agencies, and legislators to get serious about this growing problem. America’s citizens—and their interests—hang in the balance. 

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About Kyle Shideler

Kyle Shideler is the Senior Analyst for Homeland Security and Counterterroism at the Center for Security Policy. You can follow him at @ShidelerK on Twitter.

Photo: Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images

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