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French Firm Supplied Gaddafi’s Internet Spying Kit

Eric is a veteran British tech journalist, currently editing ChannelBiz for NetMediaEurope. With expertise in security, the channel, and Britain's startup culture, through his TechBritannia initiative

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French social media publisher OWNI claims Amesys provided dissident-surveillance equipment to Libya

As a follow-up to WikiLeaks revealing the enormous expansion of the surveillance industry, the organisation has aligned itself with OWNI, a French social media publisher, to release details of how deeply the government of Muammar Gaddafi was immersed in surveillance.

During this week, WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has released just under 1,100 documents revealing companies the organisation claims are involved in an electronic surveillance arms race. One of these was Amesys, a French company that sold its surveillance software to Libya.

Libyan eyes everywhere

The Libyan papers, compiled by OWNI.EU’s Jean Marc Manach, show that the Gaddafi regime kept tabs on all its main opponents. At least two of these are now back in Libya having accepted roles with the National Transitional Council (NTC) set up to manage the country until elections can be organised.

Amesys, which became a subsidiary of the Bull Group in 2010, does not deny selling a surveillance product to Libya, ordered in 2007 and supplied in 2008. The company emphasised in a press release issued last September that it had no knowledge of how the Libyans used the software.

The company also stressed that at the time the deal was made there was a diplomatic effort being made to ally Gaddafi with the countries that opposed Al Quaida. The sale was therefore a legitimate trade and the capabilities of the product were limited to monitoring a few thousand Internet links.

Since September, OWNI’s research claims to show that Amesys employees worked on a system known as Eagle. Manach has published a sales brochure for this system which shows it to be far more powerful than the system originally supplied to Libya.

The brochure states: “The Eagle core technology is the cornerstone of Intelligence system for government agencies. The solutions built by Amesys will deliver great benefits: productivity, intelligence gathering process, operational coverage, cutting-edge technological modules…

“The Intelligence solutions designed by Amesys are built on an extensive knowledge of the intelligence world. They are conceived to fit perfectly the need of governmental agencies,” it adds.

Manual suspect list

A manual for the system, Manach claims, also contains the pseudonyms and email addresses of Libyan opposition figures, as well as the names of two US officials, a British lawyer, and “dozens of employees of a Tunisian bank”.

A screenshot that was found with the manual had a concealed section which readily revealed a list of some 40 pseudonyms, email addresses and telephone numbers after some simple image processing. The scroll bar on the right of this screenshot suggested that the original document contained at least twice as much information – the system was limited to 80 connections.

The Libyan dissidents living in the US and UK were still targets “The electronic correspondence of all these figures was spied on by the extensive monitoring systems of Amesys, a French electronic warfare arms dealer which forms part of the Bull group.” Manach wrote.

OWNI has spent more than two months identifying the people listed only by their email addresses and pseudonyms. A key name was Annakoa who OWNI identifies as the pseudonym of Mahmoud Al-Nakoua, a 74-year old Libyan intellectual, journalist and writer. He was the co-founder of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) who lived in Great Britain for 32 years. In August, following the liberation ofLibya, he was appointed as the Libyan ambassador inLondon by the NTC.

Other major figures OWNI claimed to have identified included Ashour Al Shamis who lived in exile inBritain, where he ran Akhbar-Libya.com, an Anglo-Arab news site; and Atia Lawgali, who was one of 15 founding members of the executive board of the NTC and has since been appointed Minister for Culture in Libya.

Amesys has not officially responded to or confirmed the veracity of the OWNI revelations.