Surveillance crosses creed line

Farooque Chowdhury | Published: 00:00, Sep 11,2018 | Updated: 00:09, Sep 11,2018

 
 

This August 25, 2016 file photo shows the logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building in Herzliya, Israel. — The Associated Press/Daniella Cheslow

‘LEARN about the dangers of the Internet before you start using it!’ ‘Anyone who thinks their computer or smartphone is not installed with government software is a child. We are all on the grid and we are all traceable to someone.’
These are only two comments from many in an Associated Press report headlined ‘Lawsuit lays bare Israel-made hack tools in Mideast, Mexico.’
The report datelined Paris, September 1, 2018, began with the following description:
‘One day late last year, Qatari newspaper editor Abdullah Al-Athbah came home, removed the SIM card from his iPhone 7 and smashed it to pieces with a hammer.
‘A source had just handed Al-Athbah a cache of e-mails suggesting that his phone had been targeted by hacking software made by Israel’s NSO Group. He told the Associated Press he considered the phone compromised.
‘“I feared that someone could get back into it”, he said in an interview Friday. ‘“I needed to protect my sources.”
‘Al-Athbah, who edits Qatar’s Al-Arab newspaper, now has a new phone, a new SIM card and a new approach to e-mail attachments and links. He says he never opens anything, “even from the most trusted circles in my life.”’
The AP report says:
‘Al-Athbah’s discovery touched off a process that has led, months later, to parallel lawsuits filed in Israel and Cyprus — and provided a behind-the-scenes look at how government-grade spyware is used to eavesdrop on everyone from Mexican reporters to Arab royalty.’
The AP story rolls on:
‘The first lawsuit, filed in a Tel Aviv court on Thursday, carries a claim from five Mexican journalists and activists who allege they were spied on using NSO Group software. The second, filed in Cyprus, adds Al-Athbah to the list of plaintiffs.
‘Both draw heavily on the leaked material handed to the editor several months ago. Portions of the material — which appears to have been carefully picked and exhaustively annotated by an unknown party — appear to show officials in the United Arab Emirates discussing whether to hack into the phones of senior figures in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, including members of the Qatari royal family.
‘Al-Athbah declined to identify his source and the AP was not immediately able to verify the authenticity of the material, some of which has already been entered into evidence in the Israeli case, according to Mazen Masri, a member of Al-Athbah’s legal team. But The New York Times, which first reported on the lawsuits earlier Friday, indicated that it had verified some of the cache, including a reference to an intercepted telephone conversation involving senior Arab journalist Abdulaziz Alkhamis. The Times said Alkhamis confirmed having had the conversation and said he was unaware that he was under surveillance.
‘The parallel lawsuits underline the growing notoriety of the NSO Group, which is owned by US private equity firm Francisco Partners.
‘One of the Mexican plaintiffs, childhood anti-obesity campaigner Alejandro Calvillo, drew global attention last year when he was revealed to have been targeted using the Israeli company’s spyware. The NSO Group’s programs have since been implicated in a massive espionage scandal in Panama. A month ago, respected human rights organization Amnesty International accused the company of having crafted the digital tools used to target one of its staffers.
‘The five Mexican plaintiffs, who were advised by Mexico City-based digital activism group widely known by its acronym R3D, are seeking 2.5 million Israeli shekels ($693,000) in compensation and an injunction to prevent the NSO Group from helping anyone spy on them.
‘Al-Athbah said he wanted the case to go even further and spawn restrictions on the trade in hacking tools.
‘“I hope selling such technology should be stopped very soon”, he said.’
Other media reports including a report by the Telegraph, UK, said on the first day of September 2018:
UAE used Israeli spyware to hack Saudi, Qatari and Lebanese rivals.
The UAE had asked an Israeli spyware company it had contracted to surveil dissidents to tap the phone calls of the prime minister of Lebanon and other Arab officials.
The Emirati government reportedly sought help from the NSO Group to hack the phones of a number of politicians. The Arab country’s leaders were particularly interested in spying on a Saudi prince, the leader of rival Qatar, and Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri — though it was not clear whether those officials were actually hacked.
The UAE rulers had been using Israeli spyware for more than a year, secretly turning the smartphones of dissidents at home or rivals abroad into surveillance devices.
The NSO Group has insisted in the past that it sells its software to clients on the condition that it should be used only against crime and terrorism and has shirked responsibility in cases where it was allegedly used for civil rights abuses.
But two new lawsuits being brought against the company have uncovered documents that assert the company and its affiliates have actively engaged in illegal activities for clients.
The New York Times based its report on leaked e-mails submitted in lawsuits against the spyware’s maker, the NSO Group.
The NSO Group told The Times it would not comment until it had a chance to review the documents.
A lawsuit filed in Tel Aviv is laying bare the details of how Israeli spyware is allegedly being used in the Middle East and Mexico.
It is the latest sign of how cyber espionage is increasingly permeating everything from Latin American health campaigns to intrastate conflicts in the Arab world.
The suit is being brought by five Mexican journalists and activists who allege they were spied on using software designed by the NSO.
The case draws on leaked e-mails obtained by senior Qatari journalist Abdullah Al-Athbah and also includes details of NSO’s alleged activities in the Gulf.
So, it is found:
Brethren are not spared from surveillance.
Business/trading companies have no creed.
Interests do not care about any identity including colour and creed other than concerned interests’ identity although the fact is regularly ignored by the mainstream scholars propagating colour and creed identity above interests, which is basically economic; and economic interests get manifested into politics. These scholars fan up false propaganda of identity above economic interests. To them, all of colour ‘C’ belongs to the same camp named ‘C’ and the same with the creed camp. It is done only to confuse victims of powerful interests although powerful interests are fully aware of its interests cutting across colour and creed line. Even, factional interest within the same class interest does not spare another competing factional interest having the same colour or creed identity.
In today’s world, admitting this fact — economic interests, neither colour nor creed, determine ultimate politics and organisation — a century after the proletariat in Russia achieved victory by trampling all divisive politics, is essential and imperative. Admitting this fact is not only essential and imperative, but also urgent as many well-intentioned progressives regularly raise functional issues on the basis of colour. Creed has no colour. But, strangely, many creeds are presented as divided on the basis of colour; and the mainstream fans up the practice. And, strangely, even those creeds do not oppose that colour-based sectarian approach. Even, funerals, in many cases, fail to cross the sectarian approach of colour. The group of progressives sympathetic to the colour-based weaker section never says or they dare not say: discard the colour line; it is sectarian, it is divisive, it hurts the common interests of the exploited everywhere. A shameful ‘cautious’ approach by the progressive group! This happens not only in the case of colour. This happens in other areas also. Thus, the mainstream’s divisive approach gets fuel and the common approach of the exploited gets hurt.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.

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