The Bangladesh government, criticized for its dismal human rights record, has bought spyware and surveillance equipment from four Israeli companies but had to use intermediaries as it does not recognize Israel as a state.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the surveillance and spying tools were sold to Bangladesh last year. Official documents support that, despite the fact that Bangladesh is not on Israel’s list of partner countries for such sales.
What’s more, Bangladesh, the third-largest Muslim country in the world, does not recognize Israel, and the two countries have no diplomatic relations. This is the reason both Dhaka and the Israeli companies had to use intermediaries in Cyprus.
Passitora, a Cyprus-based company controlled by Israeli businessman and former intelligence commander Tal Dilian, sold the equipment to a branch of the Bangladeshi Interior Ministry last year.
The equipment, said to be able to intercept calls, texts, and internet traffic, was sold to the National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre (NTMC), responsible for the surveillance of internet and social media.
Passitora is part of Intellexa Alliance, an umbrella firm under which a network of companies sell similar technologies to governments around the world, including a militia in Sudan.
The Israeli government said that it has no oversight of the activities of such surveillance companies, according to sources cited by Haaretz – even though the country bans selling such tools to Bangladesh, and Dhaka also prohibits accepting bids from Israel.
Haaretz has previously shown how Israeli company Cellebrite sold spyware to a Bangladeshi police unit called the Rapid Action Battalion, which is known to have a poor human rights record. Similarly, Israeli company Picsix also sold phone surveillance capabilities to Bangladesh’s military intelligence.
The human rights and free speech record is not looking great in Bangladesh. Dhaka has previously detained and tortured journalists for reporting and criticizing the government.
Reporters Without Borders recently said the Bangladeshi government was even using relatives of expatriate journalists as hostages.
Authorities are also using enforced disappearances to harass critics, so the worry is that the government is going to use the acquired spyware to target journalists and activists even more extensively.
Israel is a haven for companies selling spyware. In 2022, the European Union delegation visited Israel and said that half of the EU member states had purchased the infamous Pegasus spyware.
The United States has previously sanctioned the NSO Group – it created the Pegasus tool – for “malicious cyber activities.” According to the US Department of Commerce, NSO Group “developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments.”
This July, the Pegasus Project revealed that the spyware had been used in hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials, and human rights activists. The spyware acts through iPhone and Android mobile devices and lets it access messages, emails, photos, or even secretly record calls and activate microphones.
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