Gaddafi's high-tech computer spying facility revealed

I know it doesn't look like much, but see that "1.44" off to the right? That means they are high density floppies.

First Look Inside Security Unit [WSJ. Photos: Edu Bayer]


  1. To be fair I work in a fairly modern office, lots of large flat panel and touch screen displays, thin clients and new PCs and when digging through a drawer looking for some promotional sun block, I came across a case of 1,000 floppies that have been there god knows how long and which nobody wants to do the paperwork to throw away. 

    1. So true.  After all of the spying,  detaining, and running away from “the ungrateful rats”, who has time to check floppies for al-Gaddafi family photos? 

      One unheralded benefit from this revolution:  The endless debate over how to spell this psycho’s name can finally stop. 

    2. paperwork to throw something away? WTF? do you have to fill out paperwork to use them all?  do you need to fill out paperwork if you want to throw out the paperwork some employee just handed you authorizing them to dispose of a 1000 floppies?  i see an endless loop of tree killing bureaucracy in your future…

      1. Yes, paperwork to throw things away. Ever heard of WEEE?
        My company charge, internally, £10 to dispose of small items of IT equipment. Unfortunately every new PC comes with a new keyboard and mouse which nobody wants. We can’t get HP to stop sending them. Every old PC and keyboard/mouse is now stored in a couple of ISO shipping containers out the back of the building. No one really has any idea how to dispose of them effectively. Some sort of “accident” is probably the best solution… BOFH needed.

        1. Yeah, the security camera’s watching the *cough* storage module *cough* went bonkers and some chav’s decided it’d make a nice bonfire.  We’ll scrape off the melted plastic and sent the containers back once the fire brigade have finished putting it out.

          In all seriousness I feel your pain though.  IBM liked to ship only complete systems, including a monitor, which was a 19″ TFT back when that was awesome.  Someone had to take a hammer to each one and throw them in a skip, couldn’t let the staff take them.

      2. I’ve worked for banks, insurance firms and securities firms and they would all have you fill out forms before you throw data in the dump.  Otherwise you open the door for the personal information of thousands of customers (including bank account details) to be disposed of in ways that are not secure.  Or you might accidentally thrash details on the accounts of some customers who come to the attention of authorities in a decade’s time or so on.  All the kinds of activities that would lead to link posts here no doubt.

        In short, sometimes it pays to be cautious with data.

      3. Businesses like accountability.  You buy something it costs £1,000.  Ok, it cost a grand ten years ago and is now utterly obsolete and probably doesn’t work, not that you have a use for it.  But it’s still on the books as costing £1,000, so you have to fill out the paperwork and get it authorised so the business can loose £1,000 in assets from its books.

        Back as a teenager (20 years ago) the workshop I was in had a bunch of Sinclar QL’s complete with the micro-drives and some software, all in boxes and had been there since the store had stopped selling computers (shortly after the 80’s 8bit bubble burst).  They were utterly obsolete and had no hope of selling them; the QL never really took off and whilst some like to tinker with them it’s not like finding a pallet of Spectrum 48k’s to flog to the retro crowd, we needed space so I did the logical thing.   Each bundle was still worth £200 on the companies books.  So I was dragged in to the managers office and had to explain myself:  Why, exactly, was I taking several thousand quids worth of current, on the books, stock towards a skip?

      4. Aside from the accounting and data destruction verification already mentioned, there’s also the possibility of having to make sure that someone sits down, goes through the disks, and makes sure that any important data is copied to a newer medium.  Which means someone has to read all that data.  Which is a lot of time.

        But at least you can pick up a USB 3.5″ floppy drive at most big-box electronic stores for a relatively low price.  And besides, sometimes you still need one to flash a BIOS.

    3. During remodeling of our office, we found a drawer replete with not only 3.5s, but a trove of 5.25 floppies.  Myself and some of the geekier pleaded to hang on to the truly floppy floppies, for posterity.

      Sadly, I think we actually have some production systems running s/w that came on those 3.5’s.  If it ain’t broke..

      1. When part of our company upgraded a few years ago, I found a couple of copies of MS-DOS 6.22 in a drawer, still shrinkwrapped; I’m keeping them, for when 1994 comes round again.

        Come to think of it, somewhere in my late father’s house there’ll be copies of CP/M on 5.25s.  I must dig those out.  You know – just in case.

      2. Last time my employer moved offices I grabbed a nine track tape which was about to be thrown out. I know from experience that the magnetic material will scrape off if we try to read it. I keep it at my desk as a reminder of how we used to work.

    1. Archer: Holy shit, our security is atrocious. Seriously, it’s really bad.
      [He sits at the computer, which prompts him for a password]
      Archer: Password. Hmm, password? How about “Guest”
      [He types in “Guest” and it works]
      Archer: No way. It can’t be. Jesus Christ, that is just… babytown frolics.

      Anachronism FTWGawd I love Archer.

  2. My GOD!  Look at the size of those things!  I’d NEVER misplace them — not like these damn flash drives.  These “floppies” are a true innovation!  And what does that “1.44” stand for?  Is that in terabytes?

  3. “Libya is one of several Middle Eastern and North African states to use sophisticated technologies acquired abroad to crack down on dissidents.”


    1. And just think, about 20-30 years ago, not only did the US sit at a similar technology level, we had plaid sofa sleepers!

  4. at least their top secret data is secure, who can read the data off of a floppy these days?
    also, the first version of wolfenstein fit on one floppy and could be considers a crude virtual reality troop training program, especially the hidden pac man level. -goobers idbehold iddqd (if i remember correctly, it has been years…*sighs*)

  5. Is that a Betamax cassette case I see just below the “1.44”?

    I am the proud owner of a 5.25″ floppy carrying case with tin-foil lining to stop the magnetos in the subway cars from erasing them!  It was very stylish – back in the day.  In said day I remember canvassing the floppy-wallahs on Queen Street for the best price for a skid of the 3.5″s.  Getting a free “submarine” game in every pack was certainly a powerful factor in these purchases.

    But for true retro-computing nothing beats the hand-cranked paper-tape rewinders! 

    1. Ever use a hole punch to notch the supposedly unusable side of a floppy to make it usable?


      Wait, that maybe was Gaddafi’s thinking: These kids nowadays are too lazy!  We only use floppies! Makes them strong!

      1. More like, he’s clued up that no one actually uses a floppy drive or actually has access to a floppy drive let alone one in their computer anymore… It’s so secure when no one can read whats on them!

  6. Oh wow, I’m flashing back to high school when I upgraded my computer from 384k to 640k.  That and the 3.5″ disk drives and was the baddest kid on the block.

  7. I’ve got an 8″ floppy in my portfolio, from a Compugraphic photosetter that we had in art college. Except for the Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, I don’t think I’ve seen an 8″ drive since then.

  8. You might be surprised to learn that some government stuff is still using 1.44M floppies.
    “Why?” You ask. The answer is fairly simple. USB is blocked because you could put 8G of sensitive data in your pocket and walk out with it.
    If you’re stealing data on floppies, it’s going to take you quite a long time to get anything worth having. (unless you’ve got some really big pockets and a lot of floppy drives as well as disks)

    1. True, that didn’t stop someone using a CD Burner though.  Having said that if you’ve the time to strip out all the happy clappy (.doc, HTML, XML) formatting and dump it as raw ASCII you’d be surprised just how much data can fit on the venerable old 1.44 floppy disc.

      Every word in the English dictionary for example. 

  9. The SNAFU Principle in practice. How much data do you need when you know better than to let your superiors know what’s up?

  10. Are there no lever arch files for right-to-left languages? I was puzzled for a moment when I saw them upside down on the shelf.

    1. To be honest, they’re writing in squiggles and dots, from right to left… do you really thnk they care that they have logos of some weird language on the bottom?

  11. I’m kind of curious as to what the place looked like before it was ransacked by the rebels/freedom fighters/insurgents (delete as applicable).  Some of those pictures seem to suggest they are post liberation partying.

  12. You know, depending on when these were made, they might have already started to degrade beyond practical/reliable use.

    ‘It’s not a bug it’s a feature!’

  13. After the new regime consolidates power this operation will be up and running within a year; staffed by some of the the same goons.

  14. High tech solutions aren’t always the best solutions.

    Obligatory XKCD:

    You can fit a lot of names and addresses of family members in a text file and put it on a 720kb floppy disk. Hand said floppy disk to a thug willing to do all sorts of nasty things for less money than most of us make in a week. That is likely how he does his information “management”.

  15. This manufactured Qadaffi spy meme is bullshit. More US Intel spin to justify our latest acquisition.

    His low rent system absolutely pales in comparison to the scope of first world surveillance. The US crawls up into the asshole of its citizens and all humans to an unmatched degree. Qadaffi is a middle school piker breaking into his sister’s diary compared to the US/EU.

    1. 1) Libya is not ‘our’ acquisition.

      2) The big difference in US and Libyan intelligence, is Libya had no problem, shuffling you away at night, torture, death, imprisonment with out lawyer or trial, threats to your family, etc etc etc
      One time I worked in a building owned by a company that made, imported, and embroidered hats. I got a few rolls of paper with holes in it, sort of like a punch card, I guess. They were programs for the old embroidery machines.

      1. The new Libyan government has said No Thank You to NATO troops. Whether or not that’s respected will be evidence of Western motives.

      2. “”2) The big difference in US and Libyan intelligence, is Libya had no problem, shuffling you away at night, torture, death, imprisonment with out lawyer or trial, threats to your family, etc etc etc””

        Whereas the US never did , does, or will do such despicable things. A big difference that makes a difference, democracy FTW!

  16. Of course, the whole “security through ancient floppy disks” thing was done by that hacker in the second “Ghost in the Shell” movie.  Didn’t work out for that guy either.

  17. The gallery also shows a box full of old VHS tapes, all of which appear to have had that “security” tab broken off so they couldn’t be recorded over. If you look close you can see signs that at some point a cheapskate put scotch tape over the hole so they could use them again.

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