Bangladesh Bought Israeli Spytech, Despite Lack of Diplomatic Ties, Al Jazeera Reports

An investigation by Al Jazeera claims that Bangladesh made a deal with Israeli spytech firm Picsix through a middleman: ‘The technology is very aggressive and intrusive’

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Armored personnel carriers make their way to the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka.
Armored personnel carriers make their way to the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka.Credit: Andrew Biraj REUTERS

An investigation by Al Jazeera into corruption in Bangladesh published on Tuesday revealed that the Muslim country purchased surveillance technology produced by an Israeli company, despite the fact that the two nations do not have diplomatic relations.

Al Jazeera’s investigative unit obtained documents showing the sale of "passive" cell phone monitoring and "interception" systems made by the Israeli cyber-surveillance firm PicSix to the Bangladesh army. The documents show that despite the fact that the company is registered in Israel, Israel is not the country of origin for the sale, but rather Hungary.

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Al Jazeera’s report details how the sale was orchestrated through a middleman in Thailand. In a recording, the broker is caught admitting that the so-called P6 Interception system is actually Israeli-made.

Picsix, based in the central Israeli suburb of Even Yehuda, offers surveillance technology focused on mobile and internet networks. The P6 Interception tool is what is called an “international mobile subscriber identity-catcher," or IMSI-catcher for short. A form of what is called a “man-in-the-middle” hacking tool, it emulates normal cell towers to trick cellular devices into giving them their locations and identity details. Technologies of this type are used, for example, to monitor attendance at protests but can also be used for other purposes.

The IMSI-catcher was sold to Bangladesh’s intelligence services through a middleman called James Moloney. The man, an Irish national, owns a company called Sovereign Systems, which is registered in Singapore, though he himself is based in Bangkok.

Moloney is quoted by the report as saying that Sovereign Systems was a front for Picsix's business in Asia. According to the report, Moloney admitted that the surveillance technology is “from Israel, so we don’t advertise that technology… We put the cellular or WiFi interception on the website. We are very careful about our public profile," and added that, "The technology is very aggressive and intrusive. You don’t want the public to know that you’re using that equipment."

The report also details how non-disclosure agreements were inked as part of the deal to make sure the sale would not be traced back to Israel.

“The contractor said no way that people in Bangladesh should know that this product comes from Israel,” an undercover source who spoke to Al Jazeera said.

Moloney, the investigation claims, had ties to Haris Ahmed, the brother of the chief of Bangladesh's army. The deal between Picsix and the Muslim country was sealed a day after Aziz Ahmed was appointed to the head of the country’s armed forces. The technology itself was purportedly shipped from Hungary, where Ahmed’s brother, Haris, had relocated in the past.

The source claimed that representatives from the Israeli company met with those from Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence in Hungary, where they "illegally intercepted calls" to demonstrate the technology’s abilities.

In an interview with the BBC, Bangladesh’s foreign minister denied the sale, as did its army.

The "Bangladesh Army denounces the false information provided in the report with respect to procurement of the Mobile Interceptor Device [sic] from Israel," it said in a statement, according to the Bangladeshi daily The Dhaka Tribune. “The truth is the equipment was procured from Hungary… Nowhere in the equipment was mentioned/written that these were of Israeli origin. There is no scope of defense cooperation/procurement from Israel since Bangladesh does not have any formal diplomatic relation with the country,” the army was quoted as saying.

According to the report, Moloney said nothing regarding his role as a middleman in the deal, but told Al Jazeera that Sovereign Systems was not the company that contracted with the Bangladeshi Army.

Picsix did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

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