HP Spy Gear Not ‘Knowingly’ Supplied To Syria

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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HP says kit may have found its way to Syria through third parties

HP has denied that it knowingly supplied equipment for a Syrian government surveillance system, after accusations emerged that it had broken export rules and shipped equipment to the country’s regime.

In letters made public on Friday, HP said that the equipment used in the Syrian system may have been supplied by a partner who was not aware of the products’ ultimate customer.

Export restrictions

HP made the statement in a letter dated 9 October and made public on Friday as part of a filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in response to a 6 September request by the SEC for information on HP’s contacts with Syria and Iran. Both countries are subject to US export restrictions.

“We are aware of November 2011 news reports that your equipment was installed by the Italian company, Area SpA, in Syria as part of a nationwide surveillance and tracking system designed to monitor people in that country,” the SEC wrote in its September letter. “Please describe to us the nature, duration, and extent of your past, current, and anticipated contacts with Syria and Iran, whether through subsidiaries, distributors, resellers, vendors, retailers, or other direct or indirect arrangements.”

In its 9 October letter, signed by associate general counsel David Ritenour, HP said it did not knowingly supply products to Syria and affirmed that Area SpA was “required under the terms of its contract with HP to comply with all applicable export laws,” including specific prohibitions from selling HP products into countries under US embargoes or sanctions.

While HP did have a relationship with Area SpA, HP denied having supplied the products in question to the Italian company directly. HP said it was not aware of how the products had come to be in Area SpA’s hands, but speculated it had “procured those products from an HP partner that was not informed of the ultimate destination for those products”.

In another document supplied to the SEC HP said it ended its relationship with Area SpA in April 2012.

Restricted countries

HP said that its products may make their way to countries such as Iran or Syria without its knowledge due to the structure of the channel. “It is always possible that products may be diverted to Iran or Syria after being sold to channel partners, such as distributors and resellers,” HP said in its letter.

While the 9 October letter was made public, HP in its regulatory filing asked the SEC to keep a separate document confidential because it contains sensitive information.

In a statement, HP said compliance with US and international trade laws are its “highest priority”.

In October Cisco ended a seven-year relationship with Chinese tech vendor ZTE following an investigation that found that ZTE had sold Cisco networking products to an Iranian company.

HP said in the letters disclosed on Friday that it would continue to work with ZTE.

Autonomy writedown

The SEC had also requested information about HP subsidiary EDS and its activities in Iran, Syria and Sudan. HP said its policy regarding Sudan is the same as that on sales to Iran or Syria.

Last year WikiLeaks launched a campaign, together with Privacy International and Bugged Planet, to reveal the extent of survelliance of civilian populations, alleging that mass surveillance is now a multi-billion dollar industry, in which Western intelligence contractors carry out mass surveillance on behalf of governments round the world.

HP announced an $8.8 billion (£5.3bn) writedown last week, claiming there were accounting improprieties related to its acquisition of UK software firm Autonomy, for which HP paid $10.3bn in 2011. Later in the week the FBI was reported to be investigating the allegations.

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