BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states

BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states


A year-long investigation by BBC Arabic and a Danish newspaper has uncovered evidence that the UK defence giant BAE Systems has made large-scale sales across the Middle East of sophisticated surveillance technology, including to many repressive governments.
These sales have also included decryption software which could be used against the UK and its allies.
While the sales are legal, human rights campaigners and cyber-security experts have expressed serious concerns these powerful tools could be used to spy on millions of people and thwart any signs of dissent.

The investigation began in the small Danish town of Norresundby, home to ETI, a company specialising in high-tech surveillance equipment.
ETI developed a system called Evident, which enabled governments to conduct mass surveillance of their citizens’ communications.
A former employee, speaking to the BBC anonymously, described how Evident worked.
“You’d be able to intercept any internet traffic,” he said. “If you wanted to do a whole country, you could. You could pin-point people’s location based on cellular data. You could follow people around. They were quite far ahead with voice recognition. They were capable of decrypting stuff as well.”
One early customer of the new system was the Tunisian government.
The BBC tracked down a former Tunisian intelligence official who operated Evident for the country’s veteran leader, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
“ETI installed it and engineers came for training sessions,” he explained. “[It] works with keywords. You put in an opponent’s name and you will see all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user.”
The source says President Ben Ali used the system to crack down on opponents until his overthrow in January 2011, in the first popular uprising of the Arab Spring.
As protests spread across the Arab world, social media became a key tool for organisers.
Governments began shopping around for more sophisticated cyber-surveillance systems – opening up a lucrative new market for companies like BAE Systems.
In 2011, BAE bought ETI and the company became part of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence.
Over the next five years, BAE used its Danish subsidiary to supply Evident systems to many Middle Eastern countries with questionable human rights records.
Freedom of information requests submitted by the BBC and the Dagbladet Information newspaper in Denmark revealed exports to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco and Algeria.
While it is not possible to link individual cases directly to the Evident system, increased levels of cyber-surveillance since the start of the Arab Spring have had a direct and devastating impact on the activities of human rights and democracy campaigners in many of the states that acquired it. –BBC


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