British arms giant BAE Systems has reportedly made huge sales of sophisticated surveillance technology to repressive regimes across the Middle East, which could be used to threaten the UK’s own national security.
The powerful equipment, which has been sold by BAE to countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Algeria, could be used to read encrypted messages anywhere in the world, according to the BBC, which uncovered the sales.
Sources said that mass surveillance tools like the ones BAE sold were used by authoritarian governments to aid a brutal crackdown on dissent after the Arab Spring in 2011. Thousands of activists and civilians have disappeared, been detained without trial and killed since the wave of protests swept across the region.
An investigation by the BBC and the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information uncovered a system known as Evident, made by surveillance specialists, ETI in Norresundby, Denmark. BAE bought ETI, and later sold the technology those counties in the Middle East.
A former ETI employee told the BBC how powerful the system was: “You’d be able to intercept any internet traffic,” he said. “If you wanted to do a whole country, you could”.
“You could pin-point people’s location based on cellular data. You could follow people around. They were quite far ahead with voice recognition. They were capable of decrypting stuff as well.“
A former Tunisian intelligence official who operated Evident for the country’s veteran leader, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, said operatives simply had to input someone’s name and the system would bring up “all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user”.
The technology was used to track online conversations during the Arab Spring and, over the following years, BAE sold it across the Middle East, including to regimes accused of a string human rights abuses.
According to documents obtained by the BBC, BAE sold the equipment to Saudi Arabia, the UAE,…