Iran helping Zimbabwe snoop on internet

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By Itai Mushekwe

Iran’s ostracized leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has upped the ante in relations with Zimbabwe with reports that Tehran is involved in a massive cyber training exercise of hundreds of Zimbabwe’s intelligence and military operatives Nehanda Radio has gathered.

Didymus Mutasa (right) with the Iranian President
Didymus Mutasa (right) with the Iranian President

The move ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections expected in less than three months, has sparked fears of a crackdown against Zanu PF opponents.

The two nations it would seem are now consolidating their anti-western world foreign policy, amid remarks by Iran’s defence minister, Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi while meeting his counterpart defence minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa last April in Tehran that the Islamic republic:

“Will help strengthen their military so that they are able to protect their land and culture, especially so they are prepared against the pressures and threats from Western countries.”

Senior security service officials in a wide-range of briefings to us have confirmed that the cyber training program began in earnest in 2007, and had now reached it’s crescendo.

“The country’s then national security minister, Didymus Mutasa was instrumental in establishing the cyber training programme, with assistance from various Iranian intelligence organizations under the auspices of that country’s ministry of intelligence and national security,” said an official working with the state security ministry in Harare.

“Mutasa visited Iran in March 2010 where he was signing a uranium for oil deal, and took the occassion to monitor the programme he had commissioned. Groups of armed forces and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) personnel are undergoing intensive cyber training, which includes technological warfare techniques, counter-intelligence and methods of suppressing popular revolts among others, every six months.”

Mugabe is determined in his bid of holding onto power, to use rogue cyber assaults to perform complex eavesdropping and hacking techniques against perceived government opponents, including his own ministers and Zanu PF officials suspected of sympathising with the MDC and western diplomats, the officials said.

Tehran has developed one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the internet, enabling the regime to examine the content of individual online communications at a grand scale, after courting the assistance of some European telecommunications companies in developing its monitoring capabilities.

Some of the companies, which include German conglomerate Siemens AG, and Finnish mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia Corporation came under fire recently for doing business with Iran which has been slapped with financial sanctions by the EU over its controversial nuclear programme.

Now there is growing panic that: “Harare has already negotiated with Tehran to provide it with similar telecommunications technology it has developed, for internal use at home,” another source said.

A secretive intelligence arm, the Military Intelligence Unit (MIU) will be charged with the responsibility to monitor and tap into the communications of opposition figures, civil societies and journalists perceived to be “a security threat through their work”.

Our informants believe the little known MIU is as dreaded as the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the only difference being that the former is an apparatus operating under the defence ministry’s covert operations, reporting to the defence minister who in turn passes and coordinates intelligence with the army commander and president.

Through a technique called “deep packet inspection”, Iran’s sophisticated mechanisms of controlling the internet enables government authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it, to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for propaganda purposes, which is a dream come true for Mugabe’s egregious security law, The Interception of Communications Act passed in 2007 to allow government to wiretape all communications of the populace, without their consent or notification.

The law empowers the chief of defense intelligence, the director-general of the CJO, the commissioner of police and the commissioner general of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) to intercept telephonic, e-mail and cellphone messages.

This piece of legislation also empowers state security agencies to open mail passing through the post and through licensed courier service providers.

Apart from the covert cyber training, Iran announced in February 2010 through its ambassador to Zimbabwe, Rasoul Momeni, the construction of an airbase in the country that will be used to train local helicopter pilots, technicians, make possible supplies of new aircrafts, together with assistance in maintenance and repairs.