WikiLeaks, known for its releases of the “Collateral Murder” video, the Afghan & Iraq War Logs and the US State Embassy cables, began a release of the Syria Files. The files, according to the media organization, consist of over two million emails from “Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012.”
Editor-in-chief Julian Assange said of the release, “The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents. It helps us not merely to criticise one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it.”
One of the first stories to come out of the release being reported by L’Espresso out of Italy is that the Italian giant Finmeccanica aided President Bashar Assad’s regime in the past months. The Finmeccanica-owned Selex Communications company sent systems that included TETRA and also technology for helicopters.
A Greek company known as Intracom was allegedly involved as well. They sent an order of 500 mobile radio devices from Selex to the Syrian police to use in Muadamia days after the uprising began in May 2011.
It is known that helicopters have been used to attack or gun down people in Syria. Additionally, shipments of communications technology may have been signed off on by Italy in a contract agreed upon before the uprising in Syria.
TETRA is an abbreviation for “Terrestrial Trunked Radio.” It is a European standard of digital communications. According to the Finnish multinational communications company Nokia:
TETRA was developed to meet the needs of the most demanding professional radio users who need fast one-to-one and one-to-many radio communication using voice and data in their daily work. Users are typicallypublic safety and security organisations like police, fire and rescue forces, ambulance services, frontierguards and other professional cellular users like transportation companies, courier services, energy utilities,airports and so on.
Publico, based in Spain, notes this is not the first instance of Finmeccanica providing a TETRA system to a regime that used the technology for repressive purposes. In 2007, according to Publico, Finmeccanica sold $8.2. million worth of radio equipment to the Iranian Interior Ministry for the police forces of Isfahan and Mashhad. This caused a dispute in the summer of 2006 with US diplomats, and ahead of the proposed sale, Simone Bemporad, Finmeccanica Senior Vice President for Media Relations and International Affairs, and Camillo Pirozzi, Head of Public Affairs in Finmeccanica’s Institutional Relations Department, met to” inform the US government of Finmeccanica’s interest in bidding on a contract to provide communications equipment to two city police forces in Iran. The Finmeccanica representatives said they requested the urgent meeting to preclude any misunderstanding with the USG — given the sensitivities of dealing with Iran at this time — and to ensure their business interests in the United States are not adversely affected by possible Finmeccanica investment in Iran.” (The incident was revealed in 2011 when US State Embassy cables were released.)
The data comes from “680 Syria-related entities or domain names, including those of the Ministries of Presidential Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Information, Transport and Culture.” The emails cover the time period of August 2006 to March 2012. They show what has been happening with Syria as 6,000-15,000 people have been killed in Syria in the past 18 months. And the organization claims they show not only how the Syrian government and economy has been operating but also how the West and Western companies “say one thing and do another.”
The organization gave a short press conference at the Frontline Club in London this morning. Sarah Harrison presented the release to the press. She announced the media partners that have joined with WikiLeaks to release the emails: Al Akhbar English (Lebanon), Al Masry Al Youm (Egypt), ARD (Germany), Associated Press, L’Espresso (Italy), Owni (France) and Publico.es (Spain). (Some of the partners were partners for the release of US diplomatic cables.)
One partner’s editor-in-chief, Al-Akhbar’s Ibrahim al-Amin finds the release to be critical because it is “important to determine the facts of what is transpiring on the ground in Syria.” That is why the media organization intends to collaborate on the release throughout the coming weeks.
Assange was not present at the press conference, as he remains in the Ecuadorean embassy in London while he waits for Ecuador to decide if they will grant him political asylum.
In April, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that imposed sanctions on companies, agencies or individuals in Syria or Iran that used digital technology to help the “two nations’ governments crush dissent.” A key criticism of the order at the time from human rights organizations was that, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “the move was likely to have little impact since it doesn’t target companies that make or sell the technologies at issue.”
“This seems to be a much more focused action and punitive action on Iran and Syria, versus a more comprehensive look at how do you prevent these kinds of technologies from falling into the hands of bad actors generally,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human-rights director for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
Mr. Ganesan suggested that the U.S. require companies to obtain licenses if they want to sell technology to a broader swath of countries that might use it to crack down on dissent.
Depending on how much duplicity or hypocrisy the Syria Files reveal, a debate among human rights organizations on how to regulate the sale of technology to governments so people’s civil liberties and rights are not violated may be rekindled in the US.
Frontline Club Press Conference