Syrian Electronic Army Hacker Pleads Guilty
Peter Romar, 37, a Syrian national affiliated with the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), pleaded guilty today to felony charges of conspiring to receive extortion proceeds and conspiring to unlawfully access computers. Romar was previously extradited from Germany on request of the U.S.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente for the Eastern District of Virginia, Assistant Director James Trainor of the FBI’s Cyber Division and Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after the sentencing by U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton.
“Today’s guilty plea is by the latest international offender who believed that he could operate from abroad, behind the perceived veil of anonymity offered by the Internet, and use computers to threaten the security of our citizens and their property,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “It shows that the Department of Justice and the FBI stand behind their pledge to hold accountable foreign actors who assist in the hacking of U.S. victims.”
According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, beginning in approximately 2011, co-defendant Firas Dardar, known online as “The Shadow,” and other members of the SEA engaged in a multi-year criminal conspiracy to conduct computer intrusions against perceived detractors of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including media entities, the U.S. government and foreign governments. Dardar remains at large.
Beginning in approximately 2013, Romar and Dardar engaged in an extortion scheme that involved hacking online businesses in the U.S. and elsewhere for personal profit. Court documents further allege that the conspiracy gained unauthorized access to the victims’ computers and then threatened to damage computers, delete data, or sell stolen data unless the victims provided extortion payments to Dardar and/or Romar. If a victim could not make extortion payments to the conspiracy’s Syrian bank accounts due to sanctions targeting Syria, Romar acted as an intermediary in Germany to evade those sanctions.
“Cybercriminals cannot hide from justice,” said U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente for the Eastern District of Virginia. “No matter where they are in the world, the United States will vigorously pursue those who commit crimes against U.S. citizens and hold them accountable for their actions.”
Romar faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and will be sentenced on October 21. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with assistance from the NASA Office of the Inspector General, the Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security and other law enforcement agencies.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maya D. Song and Jay V. Prabhu and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon L. Van Grack of the Eastern District of Virginia, and Trial Attorneys Scott McCulloch and Nathan Charles of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs also provided significant assistance.