From Global Voices:
Evidence Suggests Bahrain’s Government Hacked its Own Fact Finding Commission
Posted 10 August 2014 21:46 GMT
While governments in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States are tracking individuals on hacking charges and proposing laws like the SOPA, David Cameron’s government seems to turn a blind eye toward the online piracy acts taken by their allies in Bahrain.
Bahrain, currently in its third year of a popular uprising, has witnessed a bloody crackdown that led to a fact finding mission called the “Bahrain Independent Commission of Investigation” (BICI) to be formed. The commission, established by a royal decree by the King of Bahrain, concluded that Bahrain has practiced systematic torture against dissidents, extrajudicial killings and other serious offenses, including the demolishing of places of worship.
Lately Bahrain Watch revealed that a malware targeting its member Dr Ala’a Shehabi has led to identifying the makers of the spyware used against activists in Bahrain. Gamma International, an Anglo-German company, is being accused of selling surveillance technology to Bahrain’s government. After a court ruling in May 2014, many NGOs have called on the UK government to take action against the export of surveillance technology to Bahrain. Now, further information came to the hands of Bahrain Watch’s activists when 40GB of Gamma International’s data was leaked on the internet. The leaks show the Bahrain government has hacked lawyers and activists with the spyware. It also shows two records of people who are presumably members of the King’s BICI commission.
KMA is assumed to be judge Khaled Moheyuldin Ahmed, a member of the commission and now employed by the Bahraini government, who sources confirm was using a Sony VAIO laptop during the time he worked with BICI which coincide with the dates of infection. The other target who shares the same operation code and is named Douglas is believed to be Douglas Hansen-Luke, another member of the BICI.
Activists have long been accusing Bahrain government of breaching their privacy. Ever since the 2009 order to keep a record of all emails sent and received [source in Arabic] they have been trying to fight to keep their privacy.
Lawyer Mohamed Altajer told the rights group Bahrain Watch that his computer was compromised after a CD containing private footage was sent to him. His computer became infected with the spyware after watching that CD, sent to him to blackmail him to step down from defending Bahrainis arrested and tortured for their role in the protests:
— Bahrain Watch (@BHWatch) August 7, 2014
Many others have said their photographs which were confiscated during police raids have turned up on porn sites and distributed across social media.
I asked Mr Matar Matar from the opposition society Alwefaq, who is a target of the spyware, to comment on the issue and he said when I asked if he can confirm if the society or any of its members were targeted:
Yes, the application was found on one of the devices in AlWefaq.
I asked him then if Alwefaq will take further legal action against Gamma, the Bahrain government or the any other party for this violatio. He answered:
The political influence on the judiciary System in Bahrain doesn’t provide any space to protect activists from surveillance. But this is an opportunity to move in legal action in UK courts. Now Alwefaq is in a better position to call HM Revenue & Customs, UK’s tax authority, to investigate in the illegal export of a hacking software for non-free regimes with a dark record of serious human rights violations. How come such a software is licensed to a regime which is considered be the third worst and 5th most declining regime in Freedom House report.
By UK law, Gamma must apply for country-specific licences in such cases and it doesn’t it seem did and Alwefaq is harmed by this violation. UK’s High Court already slammed the UK’s tax authority for hiding details about this issue. And this is the time for all those who were harmed by this violation to sue Gamma.
I asked him how does discovering Alwefaq is spied on affect the trust in the authority in Bahrain? He said:
Karim Fakrawi, co-founder of AlWefaq, was beaten to death in custody. During martial law, I was arbitrary detained with my colleague Jawad Fayrozz. Also the government revoked the citizenship of two former MPs from AlWefaq. They both are living in exile in addition to another 3 other MPs. In addition to that, five elected members municipality council have been dismissed. And currently AlWefaq is on trial for it to be suspended and three senior leaders are awaiting trial. Under these circumstances, the struggle with the regime is much beyond the surveillance.
I also asked Bill Marckzak of Bahrain Watch if he thinks the findings based on the leaks will be admissible in court and he commented:
I doubt the leaks themselves will be admissible in court, but, we are following up with the victims mentioned in the leaks to find out how they were targeted.
BICI was established based on a royal decree and the fact that it was spied on might suggest testimonies being tailored to mislead the commission. Gamma also deals directly with the government of Bahrain indicating that the spying is done with the knowledge of officials.
Meanwhile activists, bloggers and any other Bahrainis or anyone related to the situation in Bahrain could be on the list of people being spied on as the list is beyond political players as evidences of financial espionage were found. Bloggers like Takrooz were arrested due to similar technology and many more might be in danger. Their chances now are with taking Gamma International to court in the UK.
While the UK government tracks and arrests hackers it continues to allow selling surveillance technology to Bahrain and welcomes members of their widely criticized security apparatus to get training in the UK.