Torture of dissidents in Bahrain enabled by Nokia Siemens, charges Bloomberg report

In Bloomberg Magazine, a damning report that links surveillance and torture of dissidents in Bahrain with Siemens AG and Nokia Siemens Networks. The report focuses on the interrogation and brutal abuse of Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar:

First, Bahraini jailers armed with stiff rubber hoses beat the 39-year-old school administrator and human rights activist in a windowless room two stories below ground in the Persian Gulf kingdom’s National Security Apparatus building. Then, they dragged him upstairs for questioning by a uniformed officer armed with another kind of weapon: transcripts of his text messages and details from personal mobile phone conversations, he says.

If he refused to sufficiently explain his communications, he was sent back for more beatings, says Al Khanjar, who was detained from August 2010 to February.

“It was amazing,” he says of the messages they obtained. “How did they know about these?”

The answer: Computers loaded with Western-made surveillance software generated the transcripts wielded in the interrogations described by Al Khanjar and scores of other detainees whose similar treatment was tracked by rights activists, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its October issue.

The spy gear in Bahrain was sold by Siemens AG (SIE), and maintained by Nokia Siemens Networks and NSN’s divested unit, Trovicor GmbH, according to two people whose positions at the companies gave them direct knowledge of the installations. Both requested anonymity because they have signed nondisclosure agreements. The sale and maintenance contracts were also confirmed by Ben Roome, a Nokia Siemens spokesman based in Farnborough, England.

Read: Torture in Bahrain Aided by Nokia Siemens - Bloomberg.

NSN has a statement out responding to the Bloomberg report.

The article alleges that a monitoring center was supplied by a Siemens business that subsequently became part of Nokia Siemens Networks when it was formed in 2007. Nokia Siemens Networks subsequently divested this monitoring center business in March 2009 and no longer provides this technology to any country.

Nokia Siemens Networks is aware of allegations that monitoring centers, used around the world by virtually every government for legitimate law enforcement purposes, have been abused in some countries.

Nokia Siemens Networks has stated clearly that such abuse, if it has occurred, is wrong and is contrary to its Code of Conduct and accepted international norms. The company condemns such misuse.


  1. How can you blame a systems manufacturer for adhering to local government requirements? Without adding interfaces for law enforcement access, NSN wouldn’t be able to sell equipment to Germany, the UK and other “more civilized” countries either. And the same requirements applies to any systems manufacturers, be it Huawei, Sony Ericsson or whoever.

    It’s really the same interfaces that you are now heavily complaining about in the Bahrain case. You can’t require tools to have certain features and then blame the tools maker if someone abuses these features.

    This stuff wasn’t developed for Bahrain, it was developed to satisfy your own government’s need to spy on criminals and terrorists. Think about it.

    1. And if there was a story of how a planned massacre of innocent school children was averted because of the text messages gleaned by this program, it probably never would have been reported. 

      ALL surveillance equipment and programs can be misused. From binoculars to spy planes. I hate to say this, but it’s the user, not the program or device. Sure, we could lock it all up like bingo daubers. 

      HOWEVER, I would be interested in who requested this type of program to be researched and developed. Usually, this is a bid for contract type product, like fighter jets. 

      FINALLY, any smart person, either a mass murder or human rights citizen, would assume these text’s are not private. There already exists a vast network of disposable phones and secret codes sent by text. Not a smart move on his part. Just because the information or goal he has is 100% moral, true and right doesn’t mean it’s even close to 1% moral, true and right for others. Therefor, even truth and good information may need to be delivered subversively. 

      Re-read the entire story, but replace this new high-tech software/hardware with a homing pigeon and falcon.

      “It was amazing,” he says of the messages they obtained. “How did they know about these?”  It seems that I purchased an American how-to-book on  training homing pigeons and they purchased an American how-to book on falconry and they trained their falcon to intercept my pigeon.

      1. Without secrecy, there is no free world. If all communications are open to secret police, then opposition is always impossible. 

        Recall that before the last Royal Wedding, the cops “pre-arrested” those they identified would be trouble – I assume from watching their communications. Now “pre-arrest” is always possible. What’s next?

        If such technology existed in 1775, there would have been no American Revolution.

        1. I think it’s only recently that people expect to be able to communicate, in the clear (as in unencrypted), over a public communications system, without an authority being able to eavesdrop.

          Heck, Julius Caesar used ciphers. So did his enemies.

    2. I can blame them. That was the whole point to take away from WWII. The corporations that bond to the governments are as guilty when their toys kill and maim people. If you don’t want the blame, don’t enable spy software – and don’t do business with the government of that country. If you make less money, so be it. Money is NOT all.

      Some company made the camps for the Reich, you know. 

      That’s the point we keep making about corporations – unlimited power, but *no responsibility for their actions*. And yes, being government licensed creatures, they are beholden to more than profits – they are beholden to the people who permit them to exist. We are their bosses, not the other way around.

    3. They didn’t just sell the equipment; NSN *still* provides technical and back-end support to Bahrain for the surveillance equipment, as the article also pointed out.

  2. I could see saying “Surveillance enabled by Seimans”, but how exactly was thw software used to assist in the torture?

    When I see something like “Computers loaded with Western-made surveillance software generated the transcripts wielded in the interrogations ” I’m wondering if the bad guys rolled up the transcripts and struck the dissidents?

    Is this surveillance software anything every other government in the world isn’t using? Are the communication companies only supposed to sell the software for GOOD surveillance?

      1. Shut off that klaxon! All personel step down from alert positions! Its perfectly reasonable to raise the subject of the 3rd reich when discussing corporate/governmental collusion in oppression isnt it?

    1. Agreed. The Feds – and any other law enforcement agency –  can monitor your voice text and data communications, and  all service providers are required to give them the access. In my experience it is not easy for them to obtain the necessary warrants though. Good oversight is the key to curbing abuse of this kind of thing.

  3. So … NSN should do what? Surveillance products are a matter of regulatory compliance, the same as frequency stability or out-of-band emissions performance. Are you suggesting that NSN should cease operations? If so, I hope you also advocate that all manufacture of rubber hose should also cease, due to the possibility that their products could be useful to those who would violate human rights.

  4. I can see peoples point when they say “this is the same software we use in country X so what’s the big deal?”.
    I think the big deal is that in this case it is being used to facilitate human rights violations. And of course, NSN were not required to sell Bahrain anything. Also, from reading these articles, it sounds as if NSN was aware of the human rights issues and divested themselves from the Bahrain operation. They knew it was wrong but only acted after the fact.

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