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Vietnam 24 August 2006

UK and US companies sold mobile phone tapping equipment to Vietnam

Reporters Without Borders has learned that a British company, Silver Bullet, and a US company, Verint Systems (a subsidiary of Comverse Technology), sold equipment for intercepting mobile phone calls to the Vietnamese intelligence services. The source of this information, the UK-based Jane’s Defence Weekly, said a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries acted as intermediary in some of the sales.

“We are appalled to learn that our phone calls with Vietnamese cyber-dissidents have been monitored with equipment provided by European and US companies,” the press freedom organisation said. “Coming a year after it emerged that Yahoo! cooperates with the Chinese police, this new case reinforces our conviction that telecommunications companies must be forced to respect certain rules of ethical conduct. In particular, they should be banned from selling surveillance equipment to repressive governments.”

(JPEG) The sales were revealed by Robert Karniol in an article headlined “Vietnamese army enhances mobile phone monitoring” in the 31 October 2005 issue of Jane’s Defence Weekly (JDW). He said the London-based Silver Bullet had recently sold two P-GSM stations (portable mobile phone listening devices - see image) to Vietnam for $250,000 each. Elta (a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries) and Aikap Group, another Israeli company, acted as intermediaries in this transaction.

The JDW article said the equipment sold by Silver Bullet complemented similar equipment provided to Vietnam in 2002 by the US-based company Verint Systems. Verint is a subsidiary of Comserve Technology, a telecommunications company quoted on the Nasdaq exchange whose former boss, Kobi Alexander, is wanted by the FBI for securities fraud and is a fugitive from justice.

Reporters Without Borders tried to contact Silver Bullet and Verint Systems yesterday, but nobody in either company was available to comment on the JDW article. The organisation found information about the P-GSM interception system on the Silver Bullet site yesterday, but the site was down this morning.

The JDW article was picked up yesterday in the newsletter published by an organisation that defends the rights of Vietnam’s Montagnard people.


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