Spy technology

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by SheepDog223, Dec 15, 2011.

  1. SheepDog223

    Well-Known Member

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    Here is the transcript of an Opb show I heard yesterday. Get yer reading glasses but it's worth the read... Here is the audio link if you can get it to work. I couldn't... Fresh Air from WHYY : NPR

    Heard on Fresh Air from WHYY

    December 14, 2011 - TERRY GROSS, HOST:

    This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Many of the activists in Arab Spring protests used text messages and social media to communicate and organize events. Our guest, investigative reporter Ben Elgin, has found that some regimes cracking down on protests have acquired new, sophisticated surveillance systems that enable them to hack into protestors' computers, monitor their cell phone calls and text messages, and track their movements.

    Most of that surveillance technology was provided by Western companies that are part of a booming new industry that is secretive and largely unregulated. Elgin writes for Bloomberg News, where he and his colleague Vernon Silver have spent months looking into the growing surveillance industry and its connections to repressive regimes. He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.


    Well, Ben Elgin, welcome to FRESH AIR. You have a story in October, which begins with an opposition journalist in Iran who is under arrest. Describe what he experienced and why you began that story there.

    BEN ELGIN: Sure, yeah, his name is Saeid Pourheydar, a 30-year-old opposition journalist. And he was very involved with the protest movements that occurred after the 2009 contested presidential elections there. And he would often speak with outside media, such as the BBC and Voice of America.

    He was arrested about a year ago and was brought in for questioning, and he was beaten severely. He ended up having four of his front teeth punched and kicked out. And in between beatings, he was interrogated with transcripts from text messages that he had sent, from phone calls he had made.

    And these were un-broadcast phone calls that he had had with, you know, media from outside of the country. And he was baffled, you know. How did they get this information? And here it was being used against him in a very severe way. And, you know, things only got worse for him.

    At one point, you know, they led him out of his cell and told him that a judge had decided that he was to be executed. So he was brought into another room and blindfolded and handcuffed and, you know, made to stand onto a stool with a tightened noose around his neck.

    Saeid, you know, stood there. His legs were trembling and, you know, sweating thoroughly. And he thinks he stood there for about 25 minutes when finally the guard said oh, there's been an administrative mistake, we'll have to do this at a later time.

    And it's just the mental torture he went through, along with the physical torture, was extreme. And why we led with this example is just to show the way that this monitoring and surveillance technology is being used against activists inside of these repressive regimes and just what sort of impact that it can have.

    DAVIES: Now, what are some of the capabilities of this surveillance technology that you write about?

    ELGIN: It's basically to tap into the digital communication, so all Internet use, conversations that are happening over mobile phones or even tracking people's locations, where they go, through their mobile devices, so basically all communications and movements being made.

    DAVIES: So email, cell phone calls, text messages?

    ELGIN: Absolutely. Yeah. And some of these regimes are utilizing very sophisticated text message-analysis systems. So, basically, all text messages sent - and I should say first that text messages is far more ubiquitous in places like Iran and Syria than Internet access. And so all text messages being sent are copied and stored away in an enormous archive system.

    And authorities can then come in later and search. They can search by recipient. They can search by sender. They can search by content. So they can basically say look, I want to know anybody who texted anything about a protest on, you know, December 9th, and all these text messages will come back.

    DAVIES: And it's, of course, been written widely that a lot of the protests in the Arab spring, you know, were driven by the use of social media and digital communication. This is obviously a very serious matter for them.

    ELGIN: Absolutely. Technology definitely contributed in a significant way, no doubt about that. And it enables these people to connect and communicate, and I think it's in no small part driven by this explosion in communications tools there.

    For instance Iran, five years ago, it was something like two out of 10 citizens had mobile phone subscriptions, and now it's something closer to nine out of 10, on par with the United States. So this significant ramp-up in the last five years certainly contributed to this, but what we're seeing is there's definitely a dark side to this technology, as well, and we're just seeing that play out.

    DAVIES: You and your partner, Vernon Silver, wrote about the use of some of this surveillance technology in Iran, in Syria, in Bahrain, in Tunisia. To what extent are American or Western firms involved in the technology used here?

    ELGIN: Western firms, I would say, are the primary suppliers of this stuff. And these are very secretive deals. Companies do not want to be known as the supplier of message filtering and monitoring software to, you know, the Assad regime in Syria or the Iran government authorities.

    So this is pretty secretive stuff, but what we've really focused on over the last nine months was trying to follow this technology and figure out who exactly supplied this stuff to these regimes, how did it get there, and how has it been used against these activists. And what we really found is a number of European, as well as U.S., companies have supplied very important pieces of this technology.

    DAVIES: Do you want to take one of the American firms that you have reason to believe has been, you know, supplying this kind of technology to a repressive regime and tell us what they're doing and, you know, how you found out - what they say about it?

    ELGIN: Yeah, well, there's the case of Syria. They've been building an Internet surveillance system, and actually engineers have been on the ground since February, and that's coincided with the bloody crackdown there that began in March and has now claimed over 5,000 lives according to the U.N.

    And this Internet surveillance system is being primarily built by an Italian company, a company called Aria(ph), you know, they're a wiretapping firm. But they've used key components from other European firms, and a very key component is coming from a U.S. company called NetApp.

    And NetApp is a $15 billion market cap company here in Silicon Valley, based in Sunnyvale. And what they do is they provide the storage and the archival system which is usually important, particularly for an Internet surveillance system.

    Basically, this system is copying the emails scanning across the network, and they copy these down and put them in a searchable database and so authorities can then come and do searches of this at a later date.

    And the size of this system is huge. I mean, early schematics of this proposal, which we were able to obtain through the course of our reporting, had this NetApp system at four petabytes, and I didn't even know what that meant. I mean, I had to look it up. And four petabytes is essentially the amount of data that would be in one trillion pages of printed text. I mean, it's a humongous data system.

    And the cost of this was significant, as well. You know, according to the documents we saw, the NetApp component was priced at around 2.75 million euros, which is close to around $4 million. So this is a significant deal.

    Now NetApp, for their part, said look, we have no idea how that got into Syria. We just don't understand how this happened, and we're willing to cooperate with government authorities. It was a very kind of terse and short statement that they made, and they since haven't followed up and were unwilling to tell us, for instance, who in fact was the supposed customer was here and who, in fact, is the customer on the software license or the warranty.

    I mean, there's a lot more information out there that hasn't been disclosed. But it's a pretty common explanation that we've heard by U.S. companies. They basically say look, we just don't know, it's a rogue distributor, we don't know how our stuff got into Syria or Iran.

    DAVIES: So I'm an American company. I made this stuff, and I know I can't sell it legally to Syria or Iran, but I could sell it to somebody else, who sells it to somebody else, and after that it's not my responsibility. That's what you hear?

    ELGIN: Absolutely, yes. So in the case of NetApp, we understand that it was sold through an Italian distributor to Aria, who is serving as the general contractor on this big Internet surveillance system within Syria. Now, we do know that there were some direct communications between NetApp and Aria. You know, we've seen emails, you know, of correspondence.

    But yeah, basically, it's perfectly legal for NetApp to sell this to this Italian distributor. What would be illegal is if this was sold into Syria. So they're basically saying look, we sold it to Point B; we have no idea how it got to Point C.

    DAVIES: In Syria, you said that there was this Italian-based firm, which was setting up this big monitoring network while the protests and the repression was going on. Was it ever operational that you know of?

    ELGIN: From what we understand, it got up to a test - a kind of a testing mode, right. They had most of it built, and they were testing to see how it worked, and there were some technical hiccups going on. And what occurred is we wrote about it, and there was just a bit of a firestorm of protest and indignation about it, and Aria has said a couple weeks ago that they will not proceed with this technology, and they're going to pull out of the deal.

    Now, so it looks like it's being stopped. However, you know, as journalists we need to follow this up and to make sure that in fact that has occurred because from we gather all of the technologies there, you know, the NetApp storage and archiving system that we discussed earlier, I mean, that's there. And so is it at a point now where somebody inside of Syria can just finish up the wiring and have this thing, you know, become activated? We don't know.

    But yes, indeed, that was built to near completion and was in a bit of a testing mode.

    DAVIES: We're speaking with Bloomberg News investigative reporter Ben Elgin. We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


    DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Ben Elgin. He's an investigative reporter for Bloomberg News who has spent months looking into sophisticated surveillance technology, which has been exported to Middle Eastern countries and in some cases used in repressing protests there.

    Let's just talk a little bit about the scale of this surveillance technology industry. How big is it? How fast is it growing?

    ELGIN: Yeah, it's booming. You know, so it really got its legs after 9/11, and we've heard estimates of between $3 and $5 billion in terms of the market size for this. And one kind of way to illustrate this is there's a trade show that's sort of like - it's known as the Wiretapper's Ball, and it's sort of the place where all the intelligence agencies across the world gather with the technology companies.

    And there they make deals and discuss the latest and greatest, and the Washington Post actually had a really good story on the ball, you know, a couple weeks ago, and they basically described how there was 35 people at the original show in 2002, and now it's - you know, the latest show had something like 1,300 attendees. I mean, it's become a very big business.

    And U.S. agencies are frequently there. At the most recent one in Washington, there were apparently 35 U.S. federal agencies, everything from the FBI to the Fish and Wildlife Service are there checking out the technologies.

    DAVIES: So they're not there as regulators there, they're there shopping?

    To much to download. Go to NPR for the rest of the text......
  2. Redcap

    Lewis County, WA
    Well-Known Member

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  3. SheepDog223

    Well-Known Member

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    "tl;dr...why dont you give up on your unabridged edition of War and Peace or at least stop posting it here?"

    I dont get what you are saying.

    There is a link to listen to the show if you don't like to read. It's at the end of the second line.
  4. Mark W.

    Mark W.
    Silverton, OR
    Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    "you know" I would but even I can't read "you know" that many times in one day and not want to Kill KIll KILL so I'll just sit here on the group "W" bench and be quiet.
  5. pdxjohann

    Portland near Tigard

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    thanks for the input. I missed that issue of a sometimes informative show.

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