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The arrogance of Israeli spy firms

Israel has long been a global hub of terrorism. It is part of a global terrorist network run by the US empire. Israel’s spy agencies, such as the Mossad, are a notorious gang of killers, kidnappers and thugs.

Israel’s weapons industry has been a great asset to the cause of US imperialism over the years, arming various dictators and counter-revolutionary forces around the world at times when it was inconvenient for the hegemon to do so directly. The Iran-Contra scandal is a case in point.

Another example was Israeli aid for various other reactionary dictatorships in Latin America in the 1980s. The author of a book about the history of the AK-47 automatic rifle tells the story about how Osama bin Laden’s own Kalashnikov was provided by Israel via the CIA: it had originally bean seized in Lebanon after PLO fighters were made to evacuate Beirut in 1982.

It was the Mossad which planted the car bomb which murdered Ghassan Kanafani in Beirut, the famous Palestinian leftist playwright and activist. It was the Mossad which kidnapped the brave Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, using a “honey trap” to lure him to Italy and take him by force back to the country he’d fled, after leaking to The Sunday Times proof of Israel’s nuclear weapons.

The Mossad is adept at killing Palestinian civilians and political leaders. It also likes to exaggerate its real capabilities, as a sort of psychological warfare against its enemies, and against the wider Arab world.

This is not to say that Israeli spy agencies are not a threat; clearly they are. But, like any covert organization, and as with war in general, it’s in the interests of the parties to a war to inflate their capabilities.

An important component of Israel’s global network of terrorism is its arms manufacturers. An increasingly important part of these are its high-tech spy firms, which offer surveillance products to governments around the world. I suspect that one of their main target markets is compliant US-friendly dictators in the Arab world. But as these companies are secretive and totally unaccountable corporate dictatorships, it is hard to know for sure.

In any case, an interesting example came out earlier this month. The Vice website’s Motherboard section published an interesting story about two Wifi spy boxes created by Israeli companies.

According to the brochures intended to flog these devices (provided to Motherbaord by Privacy International and still online as of this writing), they are capable of stealing a vast array of private information from your mobile phone – or the phone of anyone else who happens to walk within the Wifi signal area of one of these boxes.

One of the companies, Rayzone, claims their device can steal this information without any approval or interaction from the owner of the phone – as long as the Wifi capability of the phone is switched on. Your personal photos, contacts, internet browsing history, email password and other important data could be stolen this way, the company claims.

The other device, by Wintego, another Israeli spy firm, is supposedly capable of getting around SSL encryption and accessing the email accounts of its targets (SSL is the strong encryption used by most websites – as such it seems this device targets those using webmail).

When contacted over the phone by Motherboard, Ron Zilka from Rayzone did not wish to comment: “I don't answer to any journalist … all the equipment is only for governments.” This arrogant comment seems emblematic of Israel in general. From a quick review of what seems to be the public listing of his Facebook profile, Zilka is a Zionist fanatic, having “liked” many extreme right-wing Israeli Facebook pages.

As with the Israeli arms industry, these spy firms often have a revolving-door relationship with institutions of the state. For example, Golan Sieradzki, a manage at Wintego Systems (responsible for the other box) lists on his Linked Profile that he was for three years a data analyst with an Israeli spy agency.

But are these claims about their own products genuine? As I said, it tends to be in Israel’s own interest to exaggerate its capabilities. And with corporations, there is the closely-related profit motive. (See for example the British con man who for years succeeded in passing-off novelty golf-ball detectors as “bomb detectors” to the Iraqi and Lebanese armies.)

As Motherboard notes, it was already known that western spy agencies target protesters with similar devices, albeit targeted at more analogue data, such as text messages. But this appears to be a significant evolution of the technology. But it’s not clear how their devices could really get access to all the data they claim.

Claudio Guarnieri, an activist and security researcher who monitors the surveillance industry, told Motherboard that: “in many cases when we get to learn more, it turns out they're not as good as advertised,” he said of similar products. “The power of this system relies on how credible the vulnerabilities they claim they have are.”

In any case, it certainly can’t hurt to switch off the Wifi on your phone when you’re not using it. That’s a good security practice anyway.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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