Weapons Of Mass Surveillance Documentary Released
How Britain's leading arms company has sold mass surveillance tools to repressive governments across the Middle East.
A year-long investigation by BBC Arabic and a Danish newspaper has uncovered evidence that the UK defence giant BAE Systems has made large-scale sales across the Middle East of sophisticated surveillance technology, including to many repressive governments. These sales have also included decryption software which could be used against the UK and its allies.
In an investigation deep inside the secret world of cyber surveillance the BBC has spoken to many insiders from BAE, MI6, GCHQ and the British government. Former intelligence operatives in Tunisia, who have used the mass surveillance tool, reveal the devastating consequences for the political opponents it was used to identify.
According to numerous sources interviewed by the BBC, the abuse of offensive cyber tools, treated as weapons under international law, has greatly suppressed free expression in the Gulf countries that have bought them. Human rights activists in Oman describe how they were jailed, and their network destroyed. Cyber surveillance experts tell us it's highly likely this was a result of the Omani government’s mass surveillance system.
According to documents from the Danish government, BAE has also sold decryption technology to governments in the Middle East. In the documents, British authorities warn that these powerful tools, capable of decrypting our most sensitive data, could threaten the national security of the UK and its allies. Yet BAE has used its Danish subsidiary to sell this equipment to the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Morocco.
The BBC has also spoken to at least a dozen asylum seekers from the Gulf who believe their communications and movements were monitored. This, together with the government crackdown that followed, made them seek refuge in the UK.
BAE declined to speak to the BBC during the making of the film. The company has issued the following statement: ‘Our technology plays a crucial role in enabling the UK and its allies to combat the threat of international terrorism. BAE Systems is committed to operating ethically and responsibly. We have robust policies and procedures in place to ensure that our international exports to overseas governments are all fully compliant with international export regulations as well as our own strict criteria to evaluate every potential contract.'
No-one from the UK government was available for interview. A spokesman for the Department for International Trade told the BBC: 'All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against strict criteria, taking account of all relevant factors at the time of the application, including human rights considerations.'
The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also refused to speak to the BBC. In a statement they said that that ‘if an EU member state makes a request to the Danish Business Authority not to grant an export authorisation if the export might prejudice its essential security interests, then an export authorization will not be granted…in all cases [they will ] make a negative assessment if it can be established that there is a clear risk that the particular product might be used for internal repression and/or serious breaches of international humanitarian law.
The BBC has also asked for responses from the governments of Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE. It has not yet received any replies.
Source: BBC Arabic. This is the original press release issued by the producers of the BBC documentary, 'Weapons of Mass Surveillance'.