Cyber-arms dealers offer to sell surveillance weapons to undercover Al Jazeera reporters posing as reps of South Sudan and Iran

Companies in the EU and China have been caught offering to commit fraud to launder sales of mass surveillance weapons to Al Jazeera reporters posing as representatives of autocratic regimes under sanction for gross human rights abuses; these weapons would allow their users to target and round up political dissidents for arbitrary detention, torture and murder.

Al Jazeera documents this in "Spy Merchants," a new series that shows two Italian companies (IPS and AREA) and a Chinese company (Semptian) conspiring with their reporter to launder cyber-weapons into Iran and South Sudan. The vendors promised to strip all logomarks off their products to make it impossible to trace them back, and offered ways of circumventing sanctions, such as selling surveillance tools to shell companies in Tunisia, who could then make a "gift" of them to South Sudan.

AREA offered the use of a Turkish partner, BTT, to help launder its sales: BTT proposed that the weapon be labelled as "telecom testing equipment" to beat sanctions.

The companies later said that Al Jazeera misunderstood their offers to break the law, and denied any wrongdoing.

Offered for sale were IMSI catchers and IP intercept systems.

The companies our undercover reporter approached seemingly had no problem in forging documents to make sure the deal would go ahead.

"First, we are ok with Iran. Of course, it's subject to export restriction. But this is something that we can manage," said IPS sales manager Ugo Castillo.

By using a sister company and describing the hardware sold by IPS as a "traffic management system", IPS said it could sell IP intercept systems to Iran.

In response to these allegations, IPS told Al Jazeera that they operate with full respect of the regulations.

They added: "We had no intention of completing this or any deal with the individual our staff met with. Any deal that we may have discussed with him would have to be dependent on obtaining the full legal authorisation from the authorities."

Exclusive: Spyware firms in breach of global sanctions [Al Jazeera Investigative Unit]

(via Naked Capitalism)

Notable Replies

  1. Hey, their money is just as green as ours.

  2. So that's what real journalism looks like!

  3. The really alarming part of the story is the implication that nation-state spyware is now cheap enough that South Sudan is a plausible customer.

    Nerd mercs being ethically flexible isn't news; but if South Sudan can afford this stuff, you know the barriers to entry are getting a trifle low.

  4. I guess it's a totally different issue if you're a business as opposed to Donald Trump whose first act in office was to reduce the sanctions against Russia and allow their FSB to buy our spy equipment?

    U.S. eases restrictions on cyber-security sales to Russian spy agency

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