It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but as of today, mass interception systems, built by Western intelligence contractors, including for ’political opponents’ are a reality. Today WikiLeaks began releasing a database of hundreds of documents from as many as 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry. Working with Bugged Planet and Privacy International, as well as media organizations form six countries – ARD in Germany, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK, The Hindu in India, L’Espresso in Italy, OWNI in France and the Washington Post in the U.S. Wikileaks is shining a light on this secret industry that has boomed since September 11, 2001 and is worth billions of dollars per year. WikiLeaks has released 287 documents today, but the Spy Files project is ongoing and further information will be released this week and into next year.
Selling Surveillance to Dictators
When citizens overthrew the dictatorships in Egypt and Libya this year, they uncovered listening rooms where devices from Gamma corporation of the UK, Amesys of France, VASTech of South Africa and ZTE Corp of China monitored their every move online and on the phone.
Surveillance companies like SS8 in the U.S., Hacking Team in Italy and Vupen in France manufacture viruses (Trojans) that hijack individual computers and phones (including iPhones, Blackberries and Androids), take over the device, record its every use, movement, and even the sights and sounds of the room it is in. Other companies like Phoenexia in the Czech Republic collaborate with the military to create speech analysis tools. They identify individuals by gender, age and stress levels and track them based on ‘voiceprints’. Blue Coat in the U.S. and Ipoque in Germany sell tools to governments in countries like China and Iran to prevent dissidents from organizing online.
Trovicor, previously a subsidiary of Nokia Siemens Networks, supplied the Bahraini government with interception technologies that tracked human rights activist Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar. He was shown details of personal mobile phone conversations from before he was interrogated and beaten in the winter of 2010-2011.
How Mass Surveillance Contractors Share Your Data with the State
In January 2011, the National Security Agency broke ground on a $1.5 billion facility in the Utah desert that is designed to store terabytes of domestic and foreign intelligence data forever and process it for years to come.
Telecommunication companies are forthcoming when it comes to disclosing client information to the authorities – no matter the country. Headlines during August’s unrest in the UK exposed how Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the Blackberry, offered to help the government identify their clients. RIM has been in similar negotiations to share BlackBerry Messenger data with the governments of India, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Weaponizing Data Kills Innocent People
There are commercial firms that now sell special software that analyze this data and turn it into powerful tools that can be used by military and intelligence agencies.
For example, in military bases across the U.S., Air Force pilots use a video link and joystick to fly Predator drones to conduct surveillance over the Middle East and Central Asia. This data is available to Central Intelligence Agency officials who use it to fire Hellfire missiles on targets.
The CIA officials have bought software that allows them to match phone signals and voice prints instantly and pinpoint the specific identity and location of individuals. Intelligence Integration Systems, Inc., based in Massachusetts – sells a “location-based analytics” software called Geospatial Toolkit for this purpose. Another Massachusetts company named Netezza, which bought a copy of the software, allegedly reverse engineered the code and sold a hacked version to the Central Intelligence Agency for use in remotely piloted drone aircraft.
IISI, which says that the software could be wrong by a distance of up to 40 feet, sued Netezza to prevent the use of this software. Company founder Rich Zimmerman stated in court that his “reaction was one of stun, amazement that they (CIA) want to kill people with my software that doesn’t work.”
Across the world, mass surveillance contractors are helping intelligence agencies spy on individuals and ‘communities of interest’ on an industrial scale.
The Wikileaks Spy Files reveal the details of which companies are making billions selling sophisticated tracking tools to government buyers, flouting export rules, and turning a blind eye to dictatorial regimes that abuse human rights.
see the rest of the article and search through files of intelligence providers at wikileaks.
and check out this article from the electronic frontier foundation:
In the past month—thanks to reporting from the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, as well as WikiLeaks and its media partners—a little sunlight has finally exposed a large but shadowy industry: Western technology companies selling mass spying software to governments. The amazing and dangerous capabilities of these tools are described in hundreds of marketing documents that were recently leaked to the media organizations.
The Wall Street Journal laid out many of the tools in detail, explaining how they can be used to spy on millions of the world’s citizens, most of whom are completely innocent. It’s also easy to see how tools can be used to track and repress those working for human rights and fundamental freedoms:
“The techniques described in the trove of 200-plus marketing documents, spanning 36 companies, include hacking tools that enable governments to break into people’s computers and cellphones, and “massive intercept” gear that can gather all Internet communications in a country.”
Much of what this software does would be considered malicious “black-hat hacking” if used by a private citizen. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal reported, many of these companies market their products as the kinds “often used in ‘malware,’ the software used by criminals trying to steal people’s financial or personal details.”
One program manufactured the company FinFisher, reportedly falsifies updates to popular software like iTunes, and when the user downloads it, the perpetrator can monitor the user’s every move—even see into their webcam, according to this promotional video. Another company, Packet Forensics, brags about its “man in the middle attack” capabilities, in which it can get in between two parties communicating and read the contents of any message, even when encrypted.
WikiLeaks and OWNI put together an excellent interactive map that details, country-by-country, which companies are operating where and what forms of communication are potentially being monitored. The list is long and worrisome.