Bangladesh buys Israeli advanced spy tech

SpearHead system

The Bangladesh government has bought advanced surveillance equipment, developed by a company controlled by the former commander of Israeli intelligence’s technology unit, in 2022. Bangladesh does not recognise Israel and the two countries have no diplomatic relations.

Israel’s left-leaning newspaper Haaretz carried a report in this regard quoting official government documents and international export records on Tuesday.

The report said the equipment, which is used to intercept mobile and internet traffic, was sold to the National Telecommunication Monitoring Center (NTMC), a department of the home ministry.

The Haaretz report, quoting export records, said that a SpearHead system was delivered from Switzerland to Dhaka in June 2022. The supplier was Passitora, and the buyer was NTMC. The shipment, weighing 991 kilograms, included the interception system, operating software and hardware components (servers, drives, monitors, etc.) at a total cost of US $5.7 million.

Passitora, a firm registered in Cyprus, is controlled by Tal Dilian, an Israeli businessman and former intelligence commander.

The company’s SpearHead system, which includes a van equipped with surveillance equipment and tracking software, that gathers data from mobile phones via cellular and Wi-Fi networks, including encrypted WhatsApp messages, Facebook chats, contact lists, calls and text messages within a radius of about half a kilometer.

A presentation on WiSpear claims the system can be used to inject spyware on computers and mobile phones within its range, Haaretz report added.

Under Passitora’s previous name WiSpear, the company was involved in a scandal that began with a boastful interview Dilian gave to Forbes, in which he revealed the existence of the company’s SpearHead system.

The Forbes report embarrassed the government in Cyprus, creating political turmoil and leading to an investigation into violations of European Union privacy laws.

In the end, all the allegations against Dilian and top company executives were dropped, but WiSpear was fined one million euros (about $1.1 million) for “extracting data unlawfully” from the devices of passersby at the Larnaca Airport.

The Haaretz report further said that Passitora is part of the Intellexa Alliance, a network of companies run by Dilian that acquired an array of sophisticated surveillance technologies, including mobile phone hacking spyware, that it sells to government agencies around the world.

According to Haaretz report, official documents of Bangladesh’s home ministry reveal that the commander of the NTMC and other senior officials flew to Greece in 2021 and 2022 to train on the spy vehicle they had bought.

NTMC is an arm of the home ministry and was formed in 2013.

Speaking to Prothom Alo about buying the Israeli surveillance equipment, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Tuesday said, “Nothing was bought on behalf of Bangladesh from Israel directly.”

NTMC director general Maj Gen Ziaul Ahsan also said the same on the issue.

In response to another question, the home minister said, “Until 2021 Bangladeshi passports had written on them ‘This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel’. That has been removed now. The passport of Bangladesh is now valid for all countries of the world.”

The Haaretz report also said that the newspaper carried a report in 2021 that reported that the Israeli company Cellebrite had sold mobile phone hacking tools to Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

Besides, Al-Jazeera revealed that another Israeli company, Picsix, sold to Bangladesh’s military intelligence mobile phone surveillance and hacking system for intercepting phone transmissions.