Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bildt: Keeping Syria Under Assad’s Thumb?

One for the money...
 Anyone who knows about intel and field ops (or has ever watched 24) knows that staying in pursuit of the enemy means getting real time data. And that’s what Sweden is helping Syria’s President Assad to do these days. While other EU foreign ministers unanimously pushed for trade sanctions against the bloody-handed Syrian regime, the exemplary Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt weakened the sanctions by exempting two telecom firms. Bildt’s rationale seems to be turning a Swedish profit, since both firms sell Ericsson telecom technology to Syria. But Bildt’s actions work against the rationale of the sanctions—stopping the Syrian government from tracking protestors in real time.
SIJ readers know that “money before morals” is a bit of a theme for Bildt. In this case, (also reported by Tundra Tabloids) the problem isn’t cell phone use per se, but the complicity of cell phone providers in aiding the regime to track users.
...Two for the show
A CNN report on privacy issues reminds us that:
-“It doesn't matter whether your phone is a smartphone or whether you use it to make calls; as long as your phone is turned on, it registers its location with cell phone networks several times a minute.”
For Syrian protesters, cell phones have turned into tracking devices that allow Assad’s troops to hunt them down.  Bildt has claimed that the two firms he is exempting are essential to the functioning of Syrian telecom networks. He also denied that either state-owned STE or the South Africa-based mobile company, MTN, are providing such capacity to the regime. Evidence indicates that Syria has exactly that capacity. Banning the sale of equipment would limit the regime’s capabilities by preventing further expansion of surveillance and denying the re-supply of parts, which would reduce capacity further.

It’s nice that Bildt is concerned about the viability of the Syrian mobile phone networks. But now that everyone, including the Arab League, has “gotten the message” about Assad’s lethal repression, isn’t time to “hang up” business and save lives?

By Chanah Shapira

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