From 2006 to 2012 Dutch IT security company Fox-IT was very active in the Middle East surveillance market. The Gulf region was a significant market for the company from Delft. Fox-IT organised private workshops in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among others, during which they tried to sell their products to government agencies, the military and intelligence services.
In 2007 Fox-IT advised its partner company and intermediary AGT (Advanced German Technology) on how to evade the American trade embargo against Syria. In 2008 Fox-IT organised a training for the National Defence Council in Egypt, and in 2011 the company was involved in the construction of the Forensic Lab, a surveillance project for Saudi Arabia’s Home Office.
The actions of Fox-IT were revealed in Buro Jansen & Janssen’s investigation into the company’s affairs in the Middle East. The research is based on a large number of internal company documents and emails that Amsterdam-based Jansen & Janssen received about the relationship between Fox-IT and the German company AGT during the period from 2006 to 2012.
Fox-IT also works for the Dutch government and is contracted, amongst other things, to ensure the security of Dutch state secrets. The co-founder (and director until 2017) of the company is Ronald Prins. In 2018 he was appointed a member of A review board for the use of special powers by intelligence and security services (Toetsingscommissie Inzet Bevoegdheden, TIB, for its acronym in Dutch).
A number of western companies have been called into question in recent years due to their support of repressive regimes and their contribution to the surveillance state in different countries in the Middle East in the run up to the Arab Spring in 2011. Up until now Fox-IT was left untouched. However, the documents Buro Jansen & Janssen received cast a different light on the activities of the company and its contacts with repressive regimes in the Gulf region.
Fox-IT called into question
During the peak of the Arab Spring, in 2011, Fox-IT was called into question, partly due to questions raised in parliament and partly due to the Spy Files, documents released by Wikileaks about the surveillance industry. In these files Fox-IT is named as supplier of technology to repressive regimes in the Middle East. Then director Ronald Prins stated at the time that the company did not do business with dictatorships and explicitly denied doing business with Syria.
From 2006 onwards, the Middle East became a very important market for Fox-IT. The company mainly focused on the sale of the FoxReplay, interception equipment with the ability to analyse internet traffic real time, and the Fox DataDiode, a sort of one-way firewall between a public and a private network with which access to confidential information can be regulated.
AGT, controversial partner
Fox-IT worked closely together with German company AGT (Advanced German Technology) in the Gulf region. In 2007 the companies made a partnership and reseller agreement. AGT sells technology from western companies to countries in the Middle East as an intermediary. It had offices in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Among its customers were government agencies like the Egyptian Ministry for Communication and Information Technology and the Syrian state company STE (Syria Telecommunication Establishment), which oversees telecommunications in the country. No conditions are included in the partner and reseller agreement relating to the countries and customers to which AGT can (and cannot) resell Fox-IT products.
Therefore, Fox-IT had very little oversight as to where its products ended up and for which purposes they were being used. AGT was called into question at the end of 2016 when an investigation by Privacy International (Open Season; Building Syria’s Surveillance State) showed that AGT had assisted the Syrian government in establishing a surveillance state.
From 2006 to 2012 Fox-IT attended thirteen surveillance fairs in the Middle East, including the ISS World in Dubai and Milipol in Qatar, in order to find customers for their products. Fox-IT also provided several closed workshops in, among others, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The goal of these workshops was always the sale of the FoxReplay and the Fox DataDiode.
Participants in these workshops were mostly representatives of military units, intelligence services and the Home Offices of the concerning countries. For example, members of the Egyptian domestic security service SSIS (State Security Investigations Service) took part in Cairo and militaries of the SANG (Saudi Arabia National Guard), the bodyguards of the Saudi Royal family, attended Riyad.
Evading Syria trade embargo
On May 21st, 2007 Fox-It provided a workshop in Damascus for representatives of Syrian government services and intelligence agencies, both military and state security intelligence, during which they tried to sell their products. The Dutch company also had other contacts with the country, for example during a workshop for Syrian intermediaries in December 2007.
In July 2007 Fox-IT advised their partner AGT on possibilities of evading the American trade embargo with Syria. From email correspondence it is clear that AGT and Fox-IT cooperated on a project in Syria and that for this AGT required servers. Fox-IT was reluctant to order the servers in the US themselves due to possible legal consequences connected to the violation of the American trade embargo.
Fox-IT advised AGT to order the servers via the AGT offices in the UAE. Fox-IT writes to AGT: ‘We can not export USA Dell servers to Syria, so we need AGT to order them locally, or order non DELL-servers as described in the document.’
Training Egypt National Defence Council
Apart from a couple of workshops in Egypt, Fox-IT also provided a training to the NDC (National Defence Council) in Cairo from 24 to 26 June 2008. It concerned a forensic IT training and consultancy which is evident from a bill from Fox-IT to AGT and from internal emails.
The NDC is the advisory organ to the Egyptian government, generals of the Egyptian army and the heads of the different intelligence services, including the Egyptian intelligence service SSIS (State Security Investigations Service). The SSIS was disbanded in 2011 – in concordance with the demands of the democratisation movement – for having been culpable of torture on a massive scale.
Surveillance Lab Saudi Arabia
At the peak of the Arab Spring in 2011 Fox-IT was involved with the development of the Forensic Lab, a surveillance project of the Saudi Home Office. AGT and the Saudi company TCC (Technology Control Company) were the project leaders. From internal documents it appears the goal of the Lab was to establish a nation-wide surveillance system of all internet and phone traffic.
In addition to two meetings in which Fox-IT participated at the Home Office in Riyad in June and July 2011, they were also at a meeting in Berlin in September 2011 and were invited to the inauguration in November. In these meetings Fox-IT made some proposals for the set-up of the Lab. The involvement of Fox-IT with the project coincided with protests against the Saudi regime and the introduction of new laws that brought about serious limitations to internet freedom.
Fox-IT associates called into question
Several western companies have been called into question in recent years and have been prosecuted for supplying repressive regimes in the Middle East. Among these are some well-known associates of Fox-IT. The Italian company Area SpA, for example, received a fine from the American government in 2014 for evading the American trade embargo.
Area SpA was also prosecuted in 2016 in Italy on suspicions of violating the European embargo and delivering telephone and interception equipment to Assad. Area SpA and Fox-IT gave workshops together in 2007 and 2008 in, among others, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
A complaint was filed against a partner of Fox-IT, Utimaco, for complicity in war crimes. The German prosecution office has added the case against Utimaco to a judicial inquiry into crimes in Syria. Fox-IT has been a partner of Utimaco since 2006 and is a reseller of their products.
Further inquiries into Fox-IT?
The truth about the involvement of western companies in the establishment of the surveillance state in different countries in the Middle East has been surfacing more frequently in recent years. Some companies are being prosecuted for supplying to repressive regimes, specifically Syria, years after the fact. Until now Fox-IT was left untouched.
Internal documents and research by Buro Jansen & Janssen cast a new light on the activities of Fox-IT in the Gulf Region. From 2006 onwards, the Middle East was a major market for the sale of especially the FoxReplay and the Fox DataDiode. Further inquiry into possible illegal activity by Fox-IT in the Middle East is certainly warranted.
AIVD is the Dutch Intelligence Service
(Summary in Dutch)
(Dutch summary) (pdf)
– Fox-IT in het Midden-Oosten (Dutch)(pdf)
– Het onderzoek Fox-IT in het Midden-Oosten (Dutch) (pdf)