Syria Files: More Western technology for the Syrian regime - Global Voices Advocacy
Western technology has played a key role in providing the Syrian regime with tools to track and repress citizens for years. The latest Wikileaks files on Syria, which include more than two million emails from political figures and companies, reveal that the involvement of Western companies in the crackdown against Syrian citizens has continued despite sanctions and international pressure.
Supplying support for communications equipment
According to emails published by Wikileaks on 5 July, Italian defence company Finmeccanica has been supplying support for communications equipment to the Syrian regime since 2008. That year Selex Elsag, a branch of Finmeccanica, signed a contract through the leading Greek telecommunications firm Intracom S.A. to supply high-tech radios. It agreed to increase the size of the contract in May 2011, by which time unrest had already spread across the country.
Finmeccanica-Selex Elsag is not the first Western firm involved in aiding the Syrian regime. Logs released by the activist group Telecomix last year exposed that the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment had been using U.S. company Bluecoat devices in order to filter and monitor HTTP connections in the country. (Note: A U.S. Department of Commerce spokesperson acknowledged in April this year that Blue Coat is under investigation.) Area SpA, a surveillance company based outside Milan, worked for years on installing a system that would allow the Syrian government “to dip into virtually any corner of the Internet in the country”, as well as into mobile phones, fixed lines and vehicles. Shortly before completing the project and amid media pressure against its support of the crackdown against Syrian citizens, Area announced it would exit the project. Selex, however, has continued supplying the Syrian regime.
As sanctions began to pose problems with the supply chain, Selex worked hard to find alternative ways to source the components for the project. In February 2012, almost a year after the beginning of the uprisings and when the death toll had already reached 10,000, it was confirmed that company representatives visited Damascus to train Syrian Intracom Telecom engineers. The relationship with the Syrian regime compromises not only the company but also the Italian government, since Selex is under the control of Rome.
Advice on PR and communications
Technology supply is not the only support received by the Syrian regime from Western companies. Other emails published by Wikileaks reveal that the communications firm Brown Lloyd James has been offering the regime advice on PR and communications. An email sent to senior Asma al-Assad aide Fares Kallas on May 19 2011 offers specific guidance on how to win the media battle: