Interesting Article on Libyan Internet Intelligence Gathering

This is worth reading, for the insights it provides on how a country goes about monitoring its citizens in the information age: a combination of targeted attacks and wholesale surveillance.

I’ll just quote one bit, this list of Western companies that helped:

Amesys, with its Eagle system, was just one of Libya’s partners in repression. A South African firm called VASTech had set up a sophisticated monitoring center in Tripoli that snooped on all inbound and outbound international phone calls, gathering and storing 30 million to 40 million minutes of mobile and landline conversations each month. ZTE Corporation, a Chinese firm whose gear powered much of Libya’s cell phone infrastructure, is believed to have set up a parallel Internet monitoring system for External Security: Photos from the basement of a makeshift surveillance site, obtained from Human Rights Watch, show components of its ZXMT system, comparable to Eagle. American firms likely bear some blame, as well. On February 15, just prior to the revolution, regime officials reportedly met in Barcelona with officials from Narus, a Boeing subsidiary, to discuss Internet-filtering software. And the Human Rights Watch photos also clearly show a manual for a satellite phone monitoring system sold by a subsidiary of L-3 Communications, a defense conglomerate based in New York.

Posted on June 5, 2012 at 6:07 AM20 Comments


bf skinner June 5, 2012 7:00 AM

Corporations are money making systems. The only concern is profit. If corporations were truly people we’d classify them as socipaths.

Mike B June 5, 2012 7:00 AM

If a western (or Chinese) firm helps a regime set up a monitoring system you surely don’t think that the regime will be the only one doing the monitoring…or its citizens the only ones being monitored. 😉

noresemblance June 5, 2012 7:27 AM

If a nation is exporting terrorists, do the citizens of that nation deserve the right to privacy?

bf skinner June 5, 2012 7:40 AM

@norez, You miss the point.

For a corporation to be profitable they have to deliver products and services at lowest cost.

This technology isn’t a set of one offs. It may be the first deployment but the company harvests it’s IP, packages it into a portfolio and then resells it anywhere it can. A R&D investment is, thus, recouped.

We’re seeing this in the drones and thier survellience suite. Now being demonstrated for US state and local LE.

Ben June 5, 2012 7:44 AM

If corporations were always and only solely concerned with making money, you’d expect them to be better at it. You look at publishers and the like and many of them are essentially self-destructive – many for rather stupid reasons that they’re not willing to change. Like they’re only willing to publish books that support their political viewpoint, or they like a large head office in New York. Consequently they offer awful contract terms to writers and stick DRM on their ebooks and so on. When, if they were concerned with making money as their highest goal, they wouldn’t.

That’s not to say there aren’t evil companies out there. But most companies that manage to change are moved more by desperation than anything else. The vast majority of companies don’t manage it in time and are just killed by startups that don’t have their legacy costs/prejudices when the price of entering the market comes down far enough.

chixxy June 5, 2012 8:30 AM

@ Ben – just because corporations are always and only sole concerned about profits both long and short term especially short term for immediate shareholder gratification – does not mean they are smart enough to be good at it!

Ben June 5, 2012 9:54 AM

Oh yeah, how silly of me. I forgot that The System is set up by The Man to stop the smart people looking up how to file a business plan, acquiring some venture capital, and crushing the stupid people 😉

MikeA June 5, 2012 10:51 AM

It is a huge mistake to think of “the corporation” as a single-minded entity. I have never worked at a corporation that was like that, and suspect they don’t exist. Much of what appears to be stupidity is just individuals or groups within the organization maximizing their own short-term return at the expense of the corporation’s long-term survival. In biological terms, they are parasites, but with an advantage of the ability to easily move on to another host when (or slightly before) they kill the current one.

Much “corporate evil” is an emergent property of the behavior of many such malignant cells.

Figureitout June 5, 2012 1:58 PM

They bombarded YouTube with flags for copyright infringement and inappropriate content; they waged a constant back-and-forth battle with critics of the regime, whom they would barrage with emails and offensive comments.

–Gov’t sponsored Trolls…nice

Regarding the drones, I spotted them (in the continental U.S.) with my own eyes before the big media storm we’re seeing with them now. You can tell because you see a light that doesn’t seem to move, and they fly in circles or back & forth and they’re silent (I tried to look at them with a telescope but was unsuccessful). They would fly at night (typically from 11pm-1am) and fly in groups. Upon seeing one flying straight at me on a late night run, I gave it a choice gesture with both hands. Within a stone’s throw (you can hear them when they’re that close), the drone proceeded to chasing me down, and veered off after about 50-75 yards. I’m sure the operator had a good laugh, I just wish I had a nice stone…

Wael June 5, 2012 3:56 PM

@ noresemblance,

“if a nation is exporting terrorists, do the citizens of that nation deserve the right to privacy?”

If a nation is exporting jobs, do the citizens of that nation deserver the right to work?

Rajesh June 5, 2012 8:50 PM

@ wael

Nations are of two types; the one with natural borders and the other with political boundaries. Some made to live, some made for politics and/or other reasons.
In this case, security is a tax on the citizens. Nevertheless privacy is a birth right, its a No-Trade-Zone. History of the world politics always concluded with privacy security during peace, and the right security during war time.

Wael June 6, 2012 12:59 AM

@ Rajesh,

I guess I understand about half of what you are saying. You are basically saying: In war time, citizens must pay for security with their privacy (the tax). At peace time, privacy is not negotiable – tax free (birth right, no-trade-zone). Correct?

Forgive me if I was not able to gather the meaning of the rest by myself.

Rajesh June 6, 2012 2:40 AM

@ Wael

Dear do you remember the days of chatting..

1) asl pls?
2) what’s up?
3) tc bye.

Haha..and few smileys..

Wael June 6, 2012 2:54 AM

@ Rajesh,

Try to be coherent and make sense or I will ignore you. I bailed out of the last thread because you derailed it.

NZ June 6, 2012 5:34 AM

Thus reminds me of a topic much discussed elsewhere: is it technically feasible to deploy a system capable of recording all phone conversation and storing them for a prolonged period of time? E.g. assuming the population in question is 50M and the records are stored for 10 years.
AFAIK, opinions vary drastically 🙂

wael June 6, 2012 10:45 AM

@ Rajesh,

What a pity! Have some integrity man!

“@ Rajesh,
Do we know each other? The Rajesh I know always used to say “Even nine women put together cannot bear a baby in one month”
Posted by: Wael at June 3, 2012 11:56 AM
@ wael
Sir Bruce would never allow social engineering attempts thru his security blog..
Posted by: Rajesh at June 3, 2012 12:52 PM”

Dirk Praet June 6, 2012 6:12 PM

@ noresemblance

If a nation is exporting terrorists, do the citizens of that nation deserve the right to privacy?

You are confusing a people with its regime. Under an authoritarian regime or pseudo-democracy, it’s especially those who don’t associate or agree with that regime that need privacy even more than others do.

As to this extensive list of Big Brother enablers, I suppose they can at some point expect their online defenses to be probed by certain folks hanging out in anonymous chat rooms on some secretive IRC server. Not everybody considers their deals with oppressive regimes a particularly ethical or legitimate business.

Anοnymοus June 7, 2012 9:19 AM

What list of Western companies? Amesys is French, and there is clear evidence against them — in fact they are being subjected to a formal investigation right now, and may be prosecuted.

However the rest of the list is nothing of the sort: Ukrainians, Chinese, South Africans, and home grown Libyan tech.

(True, two other western companies have been named, but only evidence that the Libyan government tried to contact them; at present there is no evidence they actually did anything.)

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