Syria Crackdown Gets Italy Firm’s Aid With U.S.-Europe Spy Gear - Bloomberg
As Syria’s crackdown on protests has claimed more than 3,000 lives since March, Italian technicians in telecom offices from Damascus to Aleppo have been busy equipping President Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the power to intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country.
Employees of Area SpA, a surveillance company based outside Milan, are installing the system under the direction of Syrian intelligence agents, who’ve pushed the Italians to finish, saying they urgently need to track people, a person familiar with the project says. The Area employees have flown into Damascus in shifts this year as the violence has escalated, says the person, who has worked on the system for Area.
Area is using equipment from American and European companies, according to blueprints and other documents obtained by Bloomberg News and the person familiar with the job. The project includes Sunnyvale, California-based NetApp Inc. (NTAP) storage hardware and software for archiving e-mails; probes to scan Syria’s communications network from Paris-based Qosmos SA; and gear from Germany’s Utimaco Safeware AG (USA) that connects tapped telecom lines to Area’s monitoring-center computers.
The suppliers didn’t directly furnish Syria with the gear, which Area exported from Italy, the person says.
The Italians bunk in a three-bedroom rental apartment in a residential Damascus neighborhood near a sports stadium when they work on the system, which is in a test phase, according to the person, who requested anonymity because Area employees sign non-disclosure agreements with the company.
When the system is complete, Syrian security agents will be able to follow targets on flat-screen workstations that display communications and Web use in near-real time alongside graphics that map citizens’ networks of electronic contacts, according to the documents and two people familiar with the plans.
Such a system is custom-made for repression, says Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which promotes tighter sanctions against Syria.
“Any company selling monitoring surveillance technology to the Assad regime is complicit in human rights crimes,” he says.