Uber used former CIA officers posing as businessmen to collect trade secrets and other intel, explosive letter claims

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, addresses a gathering at an event in New Delhi, India, December 16, 2016.

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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, addresses a gathering at an event in New Delhi, India, December 16, 2016.
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REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

  • There are a lot of explosive claims in a recently unsealed letter written by a lawyer for a former Uber intelligence manager.
  • One claim is that Uber contracted with ex-CIA operatives to bug hotels, infiltrate WhatsApp groups, and obtain sensitive information.
  • In one example cited in the letter, these operatives were able to record executives at a competitor holding a business meeting at a hotel reacting to news that Uber had receieved billions in funding from the Saudi government.

An explosive letter recently unsealed in the Uber-Waymo trade secrets legal battle has a lot of details that Uber probably wishes weren’t public.

The so-called “Jacobs letter” was written by a lawyer for a former Uber intelligence manager, and it contains allegations that the company had internal teams tasked with bugging hotels, infiltrating sensitive WhatsApp groups, and obtaining trade secrets from its competitors.

A lot of this espionage was conducted by actual CIA-trained “case officers,” who posed as legitimate businessmen and businesswomen, but collected intelligence on the side for Uber, according to the letter. Uber called these operatives “LATs.”

Uber hasn’t verifiedall the claims in the so-called “Jacobs letter,” a spokesperson told Business Insider on Friday.

Here’s the footnote from the letter describing Uber’s LAT operatives:

Uber LAT

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Public records

Here’s what it says:

“LAT operatives are CIA-trained case officers fielded by Gicinto. They are capable of collecting foreign intelligence in priority locations for Uber. They are commercially covered, deeply back-stopped business persons with established reasons to travel to high priority locations important to Uber on little notice. They conduct business meetings, but collect intelligence for Uber on the side. Around early-to-mid 2016, they quickly became Uber’s stable of non-official cover operatives. These independent contractors were given the meaningless acronym “LAT” to protect discussions about this resource and poke fun at Tal Global, a former vendor who provided intelligence collection support to Uber. LATs were seen as the opposite of Tal, who Uber had discontinued work with due to their low quality work.”

Uber exec allegedly said that its CIA-trained spies were “Boy Scouts now”

Uber's contractors used to work at the CIA, according to the Jacobs letter.

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Uber’s contractors used to work at the CIA, according to the Jacobs letter.
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Thomson Reuters

“Gicinto,” in the above passage, refers to Nick Gicinto, who was in charge of Uber’s “Strategic Services Group.” The group was responsible for collecting sensitive information using in-house Uber employees and outside vendors, according to the letter.

The letter claims Gicinto said that although the LAT operatives had conducted espionage in their previous careers, they were “all Boy Scouts now.”

These LATs show up several times in the narrative presented in the 37-page letter, which alleges that LAT operatives impersonated actual people to access closed social media groups, placed recording devices, and collected information on political figures and parties.

One claim in the letter is that an Uber LAT operative had found a “new technical capability” in a redacted foreign country that allowed it to collect mobile-phone metadata, including call logs with the time and date of various communications, likely phone calls and texts.

“The subsequent link-analysis of this metadata occurred on U.S. soil and revealed previously unknown, non-public relationships between Uber opposition figures, politicians, and regulators with unfavorable views on Uber and the ride-sharing industry,” according to the letter, which claims the LATs conducted “foreign espionage” against a sovereign nation.

LAT operatives were also active in the United States, according to the letter, citing an example of an operative gaining access to a private WhatsApp chat group by impersonating a taxi driver. In one example cited in the letter, LAT operatives were able to record executives at a competitor holding a business meeting at a hotel reacting to news that Uber had receieved billions in funding from the Saudi government.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Uber had several groups dedicated to collecting sensitive business information from competitors and regulators, but contracting with former CIA spies is an aggressive move, even for a company that regularly pushed the boundries of the law.

Read the entire Jacobs letter below:

2401-1 – Unsealed Jacobs Letter- 12.15.17 by Kif Leswing on Scribd