Italian VAR Supports Syrian Crackdown With U.S., European IT Vendors: Report

Storage and archiving gear from NetApp, along with security technology from Sophos, Blue Coat, and Qosmos, are used as part of a project which an Italian-based surveillance company is building and installing under the direction of Syrian intelligence agents, Bloomberg on Thursday reported.

That project comes while Syria is cracking down on dissidents in the country protesting that country's government as part of this year's Arab Spring democracy movement. It can be used to track communications and Internet use in near-real time inside the country; map citizens' electronic contact networks; and intercept, scan, and catalog nearly every e-mail flowing through the country, Bloomberg reported.

Andrea Formenti, CEO of Area SpA, the Italian surveillance company, told Bloomberg that the company follows all laws and export regulations, and that many governments use "lawful interception" gear to find criminals.

However, Formenti said, there is no controlling political changes which often happen faster than business deals. "You may consider that any lawful interception system has a very long sales process, and things happen very quickly," he told Bloomberg.

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Area SpA is working with Syrian Telecommunication Establishment, or Syrian Telecom, a Syrian government-owned company to deploy the technology.

Included in the deal, which Bloomberg estimated to be worth nearly $18 million, is NetApp hardware and software for archiving e-mails; probes for scanning networks from Paris-based Qosmos SA; equipment for connecting tapped telecom lines from Sophos-owned Utimaco Safeware AG (USA); software from Abingdon, England-based security, and data protection software vendor Sophos; and Internet censoring software from Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Blue Coat Systems.

The U.S. government has banned most exports to Syria except food or medicine since 2004, and the European Union has some bans on some sales to Syria, although those bans do not prohibit sales of the equipment used in the Area SpA project, Bloomberg reported.

Executives or spokespeople from the vendors involved in the project either denied knowledge of the sales to Syria or said they would look into how to end their companies' involvement in the project, Bloomberg reported.

In response to a CRN inquiry about the Syrian deal, Qosmos said it is an OEM provider of components to other technology providers who then sell their products to their markets, and that Qosmos adheres to all laws related to the sale and use of its technology.

In its statement, Qosmos wrote, "Lawful Interception (LI) solutions are used by telecommunications companies to collect and retain usage data; they are mandated throughout the EU (ETSI), US (FCC) and most other countries worldwide for the purpose of evidence collection and legal analysis in accordance with local laws. Recent political events have shown that further regulation of LI, including more restrictive legislation, is required to prevent abuse and ensure the protection of citizens and open access to communications.

"As the Bloomberg article points out, technology projects such as this one are complex, involving multiple companies over the course of years. As events in the country unfolded, Qosmos re-evaluated the project and decided to withdraw. Furthermore, Qosmos has informed its OEM customers and partners it will neither supply nor support its technology to those who sell to authoritarian regimes."

NetApp, in response to a CRN request for more information, sent a statement that read, "NetApp takes these matters very seriously and is committed to global trade compliance. We are not aware of any NetApp products being sold or having been sold into Syria."

Blue Coat and Sophos did not respond to CRN requests for further information by press time.