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Doing Business With Gaddafi: Making Millions and Risking Lives

The French company Amesys are alleged to have legally sold Internet spying systems to Colonel Gaddafi's regime, allowing him to track down opponents. Now a complaint has been filed, and questions about the deal continue to go unanswered.

by Jean Marc Manach On October 13, 2011

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À propos de l'auteur

A 5 ans, j'ai gagné un poste TV. A 15, je voulais faire du ciné. A 17, je lançais un fanzine, underground. A 20, une revue, expérimentale. A 25, un journal gratuit, sur les "arts de l'écran". A 28, je découvrais le Net.

Journaliste internet depuis 1999, j'enquête sur la montée en puissance de la société de surveillance, @OWNI, pour LeMonde.fr (Bug Brother), sur Facebook & Twitter.

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In recent weeks not one person, from the Ministry of Defence to the office of the Prime Minister, has been able to explain to us the legal framework that enabled the French company Amesys to sell electronic spying and Internet surveillance equipment to Colonel Gaddafi’s regime – in particular the infamous Eagle surveillance system. Suspicious minds might conclude that these deliveries went far beyond existing legal frameworks. Three months after OWNI first broke the story, and a month after it was confirmed by both Mediapart and the Wall Street Journal, we still do not know the reasons why Amesys felt authorised to deliver these materials which were used by the regime to help identify opponents who would then be tortured.

In the only statement issued by Amesys thus far, the head of communications for the Bull group – which took control of Amesys last year – said:

All of Amesys activities are in strict accordance with the statutory and regulatory requirements of international, European and French convention.

Their head of communications also happens to be the daughter of the current Defence Minister Gerard Longuet. On the same day Christian Paul, the Socialist representative for Nièvre, asked the government to clarify the exact role “of the French state in the sale and use of technological weapons used for monitoring the Internet in Libya”:

If these technologies were marketed without the official endorsement of the State, what measures do the government intend to take so that in the future (these technologies) would be subject to this procedure, and thus no longer permitted to be sold to authoritarian regimes ?

More than a month later there has still been no response from the government. On September 7, responding to a question from a journalist from Le Monde, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs nevertheless stated that “the Eagle software is [was] not subject to export customs control, and the state has (had) no visibility on its export; therefore we deny any involvement in surveillance operations carried out on the Libyan people.”

On September 12, the Sherpa Association announced the filing of an open complaint on the grounds that “to date, no government authorisation had been issued that would permit Amesys to sell the aforementioned surveillance system”.

Amesys take advantage of a loophole

OWNI contacted the CEO of the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI), who chairs the advisory board “on the marketing and the acquisition or possession of materials permitted to infringe upon individual privacy or confidentiality of correspondence”. She claims that her jurisdiction extends only to the manufacture, import, display, offer, lease or sale in France of these materials, but not to the export.

In its 2010 report, which has just been released, the National Commission for Security Interceptions (CNCIS), who sit on this committee, said that investment by foreign companies in the manufacturing or sale of “equipment designed to intercept correspondence and carry out remote surveillance of conversations” should certainly be made the subject of prior authorization by the board. But the export of the same material, including to dictatorial regimes who could use it to identify their opponents, is not governed by any system of prior authorization.

Contacted by OWNI, the Secretary General of Defence and National Security (SGDSN), responsible for the control of exports of military equipment, suggested that the Eagle system did not need to obtain the prior approval of the Interministerial Commission for the Study of Exports of Military Equipment (CIEEMG), responsible on behalf of the Prime Minister for approving, or not, such transactions.

Did Amesys have the right to protect Gaddafi?

The Shadow telecommunications jamming system, which the armored 4X4’s sold by Amesys were equipped with (as reported by Mediapart) falls well within the type of surveillance and electronic warfare material that cannot be exported without the authorisation of the CIEEMG; just like CryptoWall, the communications encryption software. Despite several reminders, the SGDSN has not been in a position to tell us whether the CIEEMG did or did not authorize Amesys to sell these products to Libya.

As for the Eagle Internet spying system, its delivery to Gaddafi’s regime would not violate “the French legal and regulatory requirements” which apparently don’t apply in this area. It’s a questionable approach.

Electronic warfare, the heart of Amesys business

Weaponry is the principal sector of Amesys’ activities, as evidenced by this release on ixarm.com, a portal for industry professionals.

The document (.pdf) is referred to by the Financial Markets Authority (AMF) which detailed the “contribution in kind” which allowed Crescendo Industries, the holding company which controls Amesys, to take a 20% stake in Bull – and in so doing to place Philippe Vannier, the creator of Amesys, at the head of Bull. He states that the corporate goal of the company is the “the study, manufacture, trading and maintenance of all electrical equipment, particularly in relation to electronic warfare, combat and defense” and that the company’s “business portfolio” consists mainly of products destined for Defense and Security:

Communications control, governmental information systems, electronic warfare equipment, signal processing for electronic warfare, cryptography …

Initially specializing in electronic warfare, the company has diversified into dual-usage technologies, as explained (.Pdf) in 2009 by their CEO Philippe Vannier:

Civilian applications, supported by our experience of military systems, allowed us to achieve from 2004 to 2008 an average annual growth of 27%. The figures are clear. In 2004, pure defense accounted for €18 million or 60% of our turnover, while our share of the security market was weak. In 2008, 80% of our €100 million turnover was divided equally between the two areas: €40 million for defense and €40 million for security.

Philippe Vannier also described as “very restrictive” the procedures and channels to follow to obtain authorisation to export sensitive materials:

In addition, the rules and criteria for export vary within Europe. In France, before making an offer you must obtain permission from an interministerial commission, (a process) which can often last two or three months. Foreign competitors beat us to the punch by making an offer first and asking for permission after. We are also forbidden from exporting a type of equipment allowed in Germany or England. It’s shocking.

Nevertheless in 2007 they succeeded in selling their “Homeland Security Program” to Libya for €26.5 million. In Amesys’ defence, according to documents made public by Mediapart that deal was concluded at the request of Nicolas Sarkozy, with the support of Claude Gueant and Brice Hortefeux, and the help of infamous intermediary and arms dealer Ziad Takieddine, whose name is mixed up in political and financial scandals and who, to top it off, donated the trifling sum of €4.5 million to I2E (which has since become Amesys).

BEN Marine, a subsidiary of Amesys specializing in civil marine navigation and military instruments, and presented as “the key to the success of the Amesys International company”, boasts of having a commercial activity in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. These are territories that will pique the interest of financial investigators looking to reconstruct the secret routes used by other French armament manufacturers.

Photo & Illustration Credit: Flickr CC-BY Ssoosay, Creativity103, SFBrit [CC-BY-ND]

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