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)