Last Updated on September 23, 2021 by Calvin C.
VPNs are used to keep your browsing activity secure and anonymous. If you use a premium VPN like ExpressVPN, the last thing you want is a VPN provider hiring a spy. That is exactly what happened in this shocking development that got ExpressVPN CIO fined $1.6 million for cyber spying.
The CIO, Daniel Gericke, was reportedly part of Project Raven, a mercenary intelligence unit that assists United Arab Emirates spy on enemies.
Gericke was not alone, as two other ex-US intelligence operatives, Marc Baier and Ryan Adams, were also involved in committing the crimes.
When the net closed in on the trio, the best option was to cooperate with the FBI to avoid prosecution. Consequently, they were fined a total of $1.6 million dollars, with Gericke paying $335,000 of that amount.
According to Reuters, Gericke and his partners in crime were tasked by Project Raven to spy on human rights activists, journalists and other governments.
All the intelligence gathered was passed on to the United Arab Emirates, the authors of the whole operation.
A day after the acquisition of ExpressVPN by Kape Technologies, a series of events took place leading to the exposure of the clandestine operation.
This development is one of the reasons why I regard NordVPN as the overall best VPN and you can start using it now:
What is Project Raven?
This was a confidential operation that helped the UAE spy on foreign governments, activists and journalists.
Former U.S. intelligence agents were also involved in the initiative, using their special skills to hack victim’s computers and mobile devices.
Back in 2016, a spyware called Karma was used by Project Raven to remotely exploit iPhones anywhere around the world, without any detection by the phone owner.
This is similar to Pegasus, a spyware that prompted Apple to release an emergency iOS update as you will find out in this article.
Daniel Garicke’s role in Project Raven
Part of the publication released by the US Department of Justice read:
“On Sept. 7, U.S. citizens, Marc Baier, 49, and Ryan Adams, 34, and a former U.S. citizen, Daniel Gericke, 40, all former employees of the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) or the U.S. military, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) that restricts their future activities and employment and requires the payment of $1,685,000 in penalties to resolve a Department of Justice investigation regarding violations of U.S. export control, computer fraud and access device fraud laws. The Department filed the DPA today, along with a criminal information alleging that the defendants conspired to violate such laws.
According to court documents, the defendants worked as senior managers at a United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)-based company (U.A.E. CO) that supported and carried out computer network exploitation (CNE) operations (i.e., “hacking”) for the benefit of the U.A.E government between 2016 and 2019. Despite being informed on several occasions that their work for U.A.E. CO, under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), constituted a “defense service” requiring a license from the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), the defendants proceeded to provide such services without a license.”
You can follow the link above to read the full Deferred Prosecution Agreement.
Further information indicates that the trio used military-grade surveillance tools that can compromise a target’s device without detection.
To escape jail, Gericke, Baier and Adams also agreed to do the following:
- Immediate relinquishment of any foreign or US security clearances
- Full cooperation with U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI
- Lifetime ban on future U.S. security clearances
- Future employment restrictions, especially involving computer network exploitation
ExpressVPN gave a statement
On 20 September 2021, ExpressVPN gave a revised official statement on Daniel Gericke and the company distanced itself from Project Raven.
Part of the statement read:
“We find it deeply regrettable that the news of the past few days regarding Daniel Gericke has created concerns among our users and given some cause to question our commitment to our core values. To be completely clear, as much as we value Daniel’s expertise and how it has helped us to protect customers, we do not condone Project Raven. The surveillance it represents is completely antithetical to our mission.”
Daniel was hired by ExpressVPN in 2019 and the company was only aware of his association with the U.A.E., not any classified activities.
The company defended Daniel Garicke, highlighting his achievements and regarding him as an “expert on offense.”
This may not go down well with ExpressVPN users and the VPN provider has been left with a bruised reputation.
How did ExpressVPN end up hiring Daniel Garicke? The official statement touched on that:
“Some may ask: How could we willingly invite someone with Daniel’s past into our midst? For us, the answer is clear: We are protecting our customers.”
And here’s their explanation:
“Someone steeped and seasoned in offense, as Daniel is, can offer insights into defense that are difficult, if not impossible, to come by elsewhere. That’s why there is a well-established precedent of companies in cybersecurity hiring talent from military or intelligence backgrounds.”
I’m not sure if all users of ExpressVPN agree with that, more importantly, the targets.
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