After MoJo Report, US Probes Tech Company Linked to Syria

Protesters wave Syrian flags at a May anti-government rally in San Francisco.<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bleuman/5750027924/sizes/z/in/photostream/">bleu man</a>/Flickr

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The US State Department is looking into allegations—first reported by Mother Jones last week—that the Syrian regime is using a California company’s internet-filtering technology to aid its crackdown on dissidents.

The company, Blue Coat Systems, denies selling its products to Syria. But that hasn’t been enough to head off a government probe into the matter. “The issue of Blue Coat’s technology being used in Syria is one that the State Department is taking very seriously and is very concerned about,” a State Department official told the Washington Post on Saturday. State Department officials are “reviewing the information” they have about Syria’s use of US technology and “monitoring the facts,” a spokeswoman told the BBC on Monday.

Tech experts say that electronic records released by the hacktivist collective Telecomix earlier this month prove that Syria is using Blue Coat’s technology. “Every IP address in all of the information released is registered in Syria,” Jacob Appelbaum, a computer science researcher at the University of Washington, told Mother Jones last week. “Every IP address routes from Syria or from known Syrian equipment with the expected latency of machines run in Syria.” 

Appelbaum believes the technology is capable of more than just blocking particular websites and search results: “It’s a super policeman with a general warrant who spies on every person, records everything about that person and their activities and then it acts as the judge, jury and executioner,” he said.

Selling internet-blocking devices or software to Syria directly would likely violate harsh US sanctions against the country. But if Syria obtained the technology through an intermediary, Blue Coat could be in the clear—provided that the transfer of the equipment happened without Blue Coat’s knowledge or consent. A Blue Coat spokesman told Mother Jones last week that the company forbids its customers from reselling its products to embargoed countries. The company has opened its own investigation into the allegations, a spokesman told the BBC. 

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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