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The Tactics Institute has raised the problem of former spies going to work for foreign powers in a major new report which also highlights the need to combat cyber attacks.
The report, written by Alan Brill, a senior director at Kroll, the high-tech investigations practice, Angelos Kaskanis, an expert on terrorism and security studies from the University of Thrace; Ritesh Kotak, a cybersecurity analyst and consultant, who worked for a decade advising the Canadian Police; Brigadier-General Metodi Hadji-Janev security analyst and Associate Professor at the Military Academy General Mihailo Apostolski in Skopje; and Dimitrios Tsarapatsanis, a senior lecturer in law at the University of York, has painted a worrying picture where technology such as COVID’s track and trace, can be repurposed to suppress opposition and track political dissidents.
It has warned that the sale of technology and know-how to states who use it against their opponents or to subvert democracy, is short-sighted and risks surrendering the West’s “capability” lead.
In particular the report’s authors were critical of the unregulated market of former spies selling their services to the highest bidder, whether companies or regimes with poor human rights records and a history of suppressing their political opponents.
The report has set out examples of both legitimate and non-legitmate corporate cyber operations.
The Milan based Hacking Team, is one such company. Hacking Team work with a number of law enforcement agencies to break encryption, allowing the police to monitor communications between criminal groups. At the other end of the spectrum they detail the notorious Project Raven.
Project Raven was a UAE funded project, which commissioned US-firm DarkMatter, a company that hired, “…former National Security Agency hackers and other US intelligence and military veterans to build and hone an Emirati talent pool able to compromise the computers of political dissidents at home and abroad.” Targets included UK and American citizens and critics of the regime such as the British journalist Rori Donaghy.
Speaking to Reuters last year, one former DarkMatter employee said US trained government hackers, “…employed state-of-the-art cyber-espionage tools on behalf of a foreign intelligence service that spies on human rights activists, journalists and political rivals”.
“In some respects, cyberspace merely enables the continuation of an old game by new means. Last year Russia unveiled a memorial plaque in memory of the notorious Cambridge Five espionage network that provided the USSR with valuable insights for decades. However, the celebration of these members of the British establishment as Soviet heroes disguises the fact that one of the main instruments for leveraging their cooperation was blackmail. The danger of finding and threatening to reveal ‘compromising’ details of one’s private life – using the threat as leverage – is an ancient technique in espionage. The most recent high-profile case to elicit the cooperation of a high-ranking business leader involved the Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. In January 2020, UN investigators released a report that concluded with ‘reasonable certainty’ that Crown Prince Mohammed of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) was involved in hacking Bezos’ phone” the report said.
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