UAE defence group CEO Faisal Al Bannai sells cyber-consultancy DarkMatter

20 November 2019 3 min. read

Appointed to lead a new UAE national defence group, DarkMatter founder Faisal Al Bannai has sold the cyber consultancy, with CEO Karim Sabbagh also departing. 

Faisal Al Bannai, the founder and managing director of cybersecurity consultancy DarkMatter, has been appointed to lead the newly-established UAE national defence group, Edge. Early last year, Al Bannai handed over chief executive duties at DarkMatter to Karim Sabbagh, who has now moved on. The shake-up follows Al Bannai’s recent divestment announcement, and earlier pressure following accusations that the firm had been involved in surveillance activities.

“In less than five years we have been able to build essential and trusted digital enablement, cyber resilience, and secure communications capabilities enriching the lives of many, both here in the United Arab Emirates and beyond,” Al Bannai said of DarkMatter’s complete, pending sale to a number of unnamed private equity firms. “We can be proud of these foundations and confident that the new owners will continue to build upon these achievements in the future.”

Al Bannai, who also previously founded Axiom Telecom, will in his new role as CEO of Edge oversee an entity consisting of 25 independent and government-owned companies, with a combined headcount of around 12,000 employees. The UAE hasn’t issued any investment details around the massive new venture, but is already believed to be among the world’s top 15 biggest military spenders – contributing to an inordinate regional defence outlay as per GDP.

UAE defence group CEO Faisal Al Bannai sells cyber-consultancy DarkMatterSpeaking with CNBC, Al Bannai did however reveal some of the motivating factors behind the move. “We have many strong allies that support us in our defense,” Al Bannai stated. “But like any nation, at the end of the day, when it comes to its own security, every nation wants to ensure it has sovereignty on very specific security capabilities. And one area is we are building these capabilities to ensure that (for) critical technologies, UAE has the sovereign capability.”

Beyond increased defence independence, EDGE has been formed with a clear eye to the export market. “EDGE will invest extensively across R&D,” Al Bannai said earlier. “The solution to address hybrid warfare, lies at the convergence of innovations from the commercial world and the military industry. Established with a core mandate to disrupt an antiquated industry generally stifled by red tape, EDGE is set to bring products to market faster and at more cost-effective price points.”

Al Bannai’s appointment to the position offers greater insight on his decision to off-load DarkMatter, although the digital and cyber consultancy has been weathering a publicity storm this year following a Reuters’ special report alleging it was complicit in a state cyber-espionage operation – an accusation which it denies. “We have never, nor will we ever, operate or manage non-defensive cyber activities against any nationality,” Sabbagh stated in a letter to Mozilla.

The former DarkMatter CEO, who previously spent close to six years as a senior partner with Strategy&/Booz & Company, has yet to be linked to a new position. Many of DarkMatter’s senior leaders however remain, with a number of them formerly of big name consultancies, including McKinsey, Strategy&, and Deloitte. Former Accenture managing director and Middle East digital lead Tony Karam joined DarkMatter as a Senior Vice President in May.