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Spy-tech firms Gamma and Trovicor target Shell Oil in Oman
Not just activists this time, but Western commercial interests
British spooks are best chums with the Sultan ... but do they know about this?
A spokesman for Shell declined to comment on the documents, while Petroleum Development Oman did not respond to emails or calls from The Register.
The documents also show how Trovicor and Gamma International planned to install listening devices on the internal phone systems of Muscat University, a new institution due to open later this year – predominantly focused on developing private sector commercial expertise. Oxford University is lead consultant on the project acting through its wholly owned subsidiary ISIS Innovation.
A spokesperson for ISIS Innovation told The Register that the company was contracted “to assist with the formation of Muscat University, and to assist with implementation of its academic, research and knowledge transfer programmes ... this work does not involve discussion of intellectual property originating at the University.”
Matthew Rice, Advocacy Officer at Privacy International, the human rights group, said more government regulation on the sale of surveillance technology is needed.
“Systems such as this should not be sold and operated without clear and accessible legal frameworks," commented Rice. “States like Germany, where Trovicor is based, should also be looking at the risk of abuse from these powerful technologies.”
The government of Oman has been heavily criticised by Human Rights Watch for its record on guaranteeing freedom of expression – with multiple bloggers, journalists and human rights activists facing prison time, or harrassment by the security authorities. In 2012, twenty four pro-reform bloggers and human rights activists fell foul of new “cyber-crimes” legislation, and were imprisoned – many for “defaming the Sultan.” Human rights organisations documented numerous cases of torture being used against these prisoners.
Trovicor and Gamma declined to comment when approached by The Register. ®
[Sultan Qaboos of Oman and the British government are generally thought to be staunch allies, the Sultan having come to power as the result of an SAS-backed coup against his father in 1970. Military and intelligence cooperation between the two governments has a long history: just last year the Register exclusively revealed that GCHQ's much-discussed secret Middle Eastern submarine-cable-tapping spy base is located outside the Omani city of Seeb.
So it may be that British intelligence is fully aware that the Sultan's spies are listening in on British commercial operations in Oman - perhaps to the detriment of British commercial interests. Shell in particular, as a major UK-incorporated multinational, is known to have a close relationship with Britain's spy services.
However it could also be that Gamma and Trovicor's work on behalf of the Omanis is unknown to Britain's spooks and Shell's PDO poople, and that today's revelations might cause a bit of friction behind closed doors in Muscat and Whitehall. -Ed]