Special Report: Chinese firm helps Iran spy on citizens
Steve Stecklow – Reuters March 22, 2012
A Chinese telecommunications equipment company has sold Iran‘s largest telecom firm a powerful surveillance system capable of monitoring landline, mobile and internet communications, interviews and contract documents show.
The system was part of a 98.6 million euro ($130.6 million) contract for networking equipment supplied by Shenzhen, China-based ZTE Corp to the Telecommunication Co of Iran (TCI), according to the documents. Government-controlled TCI has a near monopoly on Iran’s landline telephone services and much of Iran’s internet traffic is required to flow through its network.
The ZTE-TCI deal, signed in December 2010, illustrates how despite tightening global sanctions, Iran still manages to obtain sophisticated technology, including systems that can be used to crack down on dissidents.
Mahmoud Tadjallimehr, a former telecommunications project manager in Iran who has worked for major European and Chinese equipment makers, said the ZTE system supplied to TCI was "country-wide" and was "far more capable of monitoring citizens than I have ever seen in other equipment" sold by other companies to Iran. He said its capabilities included being able "to locate users, intercept their voice, text messaging ... emails, chat conversations or web access."
The ZTE-TCI documents also disclose a backdoor way Iran apparently obtains U.S. technology despite a longtime American ban on non-humanitarian sales to Iran - by purchasing them through a Chinese company.
ZTE's 907-page "Packing List," dated July 24, 2011, includes hardware and software products from some of America's best-known tech companies, including Microsoft Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co, Oracle Corp, Cisco Systems Inc, Dell Inc, Juniper Networks Inc and Symantec Corp.
ZTE has partnerships with some of the U.S. firms. In interviews, all of the companies said they had no knowledge of the TCI deal. Several - including HP, Dell, Cisco and Juniper - said in statements they were launching internal investigations after learning about the contract from Reuters.
Li Erjian, a ZTE spokesman in China, said his company only sells "standard" equipment to Iran. "Our main focus for business in Iran is to provide standard communications and network solutions for commercial use to help operators upgrade their network. "We are a small scale telecommunication equipment supplier in the Iran market. We sell standard equipment in Iran as we do globally," he wrote in an email.
TCI officials in Tehran either didn't respond to requests for comment or could not be reached.
The United States, Europe and many Arab countries accuse Iran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran denies. But Beijing, along with Moscow, has repeatedly vetoed attempts to strengthen sanctions against Tehran. China is Iran's largest trading partner with business between the countries surpassing $45 billion last year, up $16 billion from 2010, according to Iran's FARS news agency.
ZTE, China's second largest telecom equipment maker, is publicly traded but its largest shareholder is a Chinese state-owned enterprise. The fast-growing firm, which says it sells equipment to more than 500 carriers in more than 160 countries, reported annual revenue of $10.6 billion in 2010.
TCI is owned by the Iranian government and a private consortium with reported ties to Iran's elite special-forces unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
In a recent interview Mahmoud Khosravi, managing director of Iran's government-controlled Telecommunications Infrastructure Co., boasted that sanctions have had no effect on Iran's telecom industry. "We have the latest technology in our networks," he said. Iran's cat-and-mouse game on sanctions:
Comment – March 23, 2012
Note that the above report doesn’t say that equipment sold is being used to spy on Iranians, simply that it could be used to spy. Equally it could also be used for counter-espionage, or any number of other uses some of which could be perfectly innocuous.
The implication is however, that those evil Iranians will use the technology to monitor Iranian dissidents. The article provides no evidence to substantiate this but then it doesn’t have to. It merely implies as much.
Meanwhile, new measures allowing the U.S. government more power in the surveillance of its own citizens and giving the National Counter-terrorism Center new privacy busting power are ignored. It’s left to the alternative media to report on that…
Steve Watson – Prison Planet March 23, 2012
New guidelines put forth by the Obama administration will allow US spy agencies to keep records on innocent Americans without oversight for up to five years.
As the AP reports , previously the National Counterterrorism Center, was legally obliged to immediately destroy information that it gathered about American citizens if it found no clear links to terrorism.
Following the 2009 Christmas day underpants bomber debacle, US representatives immediately called for the NCTC’s authority to be expanded, saying that there was not enough communication between intelligence agencies.
“Following the failed terrorist attack in December 2009, representatives of the counter-terrorism community concluded it is vital for NCTC to be provided with a variety of data sets from various agencies that contain terrorism information,” National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr. said in a statement late Thursday.
“The ability to search against these data sets for up to five years on a continuing basis as these updated guidelines permit will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively.”
The NCTC, made up of a combination of intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and has drawn criticism ever since for infringement on the Fourth Amendment and basic privacy rights.
“It is a vast expansion of the government’s surveillance authority,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said of the new guidelines.
Noting that the new rules contravene the Federal Privacy Act, Rotenberg added “The fact that this data can be retained for five years on U.S. citizens for whom there’s no evidence of criminal conduct is very disturbing.”
An Obama administration official said that privacy will be safeguarded because there are strict measures in place to ensure that any intelligence gathered on American citizens “is likely to contain significant terrorism information.”
However, given that the Department of Homeland Security now considers banal bodily activities  such as yawning, staring and goose pumps as “suspicious activity” indicative of terrorism, those assurances are unlikely to appease concerned Americans.