Bangladesh may not recognize Israel, but its army has reportedly bought surveillance equipment from the Jewish nation to spy on hundreds of people, sparking a huge controversy.
A report which proved to be a damning indictment of the Sheikh Hasina government claims that the Bangladesh army had brought Israeli-made spyware to monitor the mobile phones of its citizens.
Documents obtained by Al Jazeera revealed that Bangladesh’s army brought the P6 Intercept via a Bangkok-based middleman in 2018. Bangladeshi military intelligence officers were trained in Hungary by Israeli intelligence experts to use the surveillance software.
The P6 Intercept is a so-called IMSI-catcher, a product of PicSix, an Israeli firm, believed to be used to track down protestors during a demonstration via their mobile phones. PicSix was created a decade ago by former Israeli intelligence officials, and according to its website, the firm offers “solutions as well as custom-tailored alternatives to best meet agencies’ interception, counter-interception, and other tactical intelligence needs.”
The website of the firm describes P6-Fi5, another technology, as being a “comprehensive tactical solution enabling law enforcement agencies to tactically intercept UMTS and LTE traffic inclusive of calls, SMS, VOIP and data.”
The Al Jazeera investigation reveals that the “spyware contract involved paperwork that tried to disguise the true nature of the deal and involved front companies”.
“It was, in effect, a deal between the Bangladesh military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), and PicSix, with a Bangkok-based Irish national, James Moloney, acting as a middleman,” the report added.
The contract between the two parties involved signing a non-disclosure agreement, which listed the country of origin for the equipment as Hungary. However, the secret recordings, as mentioned by the report, say the equipment is originally from Israel.
“The contractor said no way that people in Bangladesh should know that this product comes from Israel,” Al Jazeera has quoted its undercover source, Sami, whose name has been changed for his security, as saying.
It is pertinent to mention that Bangladesh has no diplomatic relations with Israel and trade between the two countries is prohibited. Bangladesh, along with many Muslim countries, doesn’t engage with Israel as a policy owing to the treatment of Palestinians by the Jewish state. Bangladesh, too, maintains the position that until Palestine is recognized as a separate state, no relations with Israel can be established.
The explosive revelation is part of Al Jazeera’s exhaustive investigative report exposing the purported close relations between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and a powerful Bangladeshi crime family. At the center of the expose is Haris Ahmad, a convicted criminal and brother of the Bangladesh Army chief, General Aziz Ahmed. Haris, who had been absconding following a murder investigation against him, has now returned to Bangladesh.
“The investigation reveals how the Ahmed family has all the tools of the state at its disposal, including the commuting of sentences, obtaining false documents, and the arrest of political opponents,” claims the report.
The explosive report has rocked Bangladesh with the government issuing a series of statements refuting the Qatar-based news group’s allegations. The country’s defense ministry issued a statement saying it was actually part of a vested group designed to destabilize Bangladesh in recent times.
“Bangladesh Army Headquarters condemns in the strongest possible words the concocted and ill-intended report,” the army said in a statement.
“The nexus among the ill-motivated and vested personalities is clearly visible in their past credentials,” the army said, referring to three commentators who were part of the investigation.
The revelation, part of Al Jazeera’s All the Prime Minister’s Men, which already has over 2.7 million views on YouTube, rattled the Bangladesh government, attracting widespread criticism from the public.
Bangladesh’s foreign minister on Monday said that the country had never bought mobile phone interception equipment from Israel while talking to BBC. Although the government may be doing the firefighting, it’s unlikely the blaze will die anytime soon, considering the convincing evidence Al Jazeera has put forth, which has put the Hasina government in an embarrassing situation.