Ex-US intel agents helped UAE hack phones of critics: report

Ex-US intel agents helped UAE hack phones of critics: report

A team that included more than a dozen former U.S. intelligence operatives hacked into the phones of rivals of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a clandestine operation brought to light in a new Reuters report

Project Raven, an effort that included U.S. operatives working with the UAE government, spied on and hacked the phone activity of activists, foreign governments and militants whom the UAE saw as a threat, according to the Reuters investigation. 

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The team hacked the targets using a spying tool called Karma. Reuters was unable to identify the creators of Karma, a program that is able to exploit iPhones to reveal extensive data. Project Raven obtained information including the phone users' local data, photos and messages, according to Reuters.

Lori Stroud, a former intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency who participated in the covert operation, told Reuters that she discovered Project Raven was surveilling U.S. citizens. Stroud had left the agency for private sector work before joining Project Raven. 

“I am working for a foreign intelligence agency who is targeting U.S. persons,” she told the news service. “I am officially the bad kind of spy.”

The FBI is currently investigating whether the former U.S. intelligence officials who worked with Project Raven leaked classified information to the UAE, former Raven employees told Reuters. Stroud said she is cooperating with the FBI.

The FBI declined to comment on the report.

Former Raven operatives told the news service that Karma, the program they used to hack hundreds of UAE rivals, took advantage of flaws in Apple's iMessage. They said they were able to implant malware on iPhones through iMessage using Raven, even if the phone user didn't use iMessage.

Apple declined to comment for the report and did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

The Raven operatives successfully hacked into the phones of hundreds of activists, government leaders and those identified as possible perpetrators of terrorism against the UAE, according to Reuters.

According to Reuters, the team hacked information from iPhones, among other avenues, and then compiled it for analysis.