U.S. officials say they are reviewing reports that Syria’s government is using the company’s products. “The issue of Blue Coat’s technology being used in Syria is one that the State Department is taking very seriously and is very concerned about,” said a State Department official who would discuss the matter only on the condition of anonymity.
A senior administration official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, noted that sanctions restrict U.S. companies from trade with Syria. “Our sanctions provide for some exceptions for certain software,” the official said. “Anything exported that is not covered by exceptions would violate sanctions.”
Blue Coat, based in Sunnyvale, said it has not sold equipment or software to the Syrian government, but a spokesman did not deny that Syria could have obtained the products through a third party.
“Blue Coat does not sell to Syria,” spokesman Steve Schick said in an e-mail. “We comply with U.S. export laws, and we do not allow our partners to sell to embargoed countries.” Sales by U.S. companies to Syria are illegal under sanctions imposed by President George W. Bush in 2004.
Eric King of Privacy International, a London-based nonprofit group that challenges government surveillance, said the company’s products can enable a government to monitor the Internet activity of large numbers of people. “In the wrong hands, Blue Coat technology can all too easily be used as a tool of political control,” he said.
Given the nature of the gray market for surveillance and monitoring equipment, Syria may have acquired the Blue Coat equipment indirectly, according to Pratap Chatterjee of London’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which is probing the allegations.
“A lot of the manufacturers don’t know or don’t want to know who’s buying their technology because they could be subject to fines or prosecution in their countries,” Chatterjee said.
Reports of Syria’s alleged use of Blue Coat products originated with Telecomix, a group founded by Swedish hackers in 2006 that has been providing support to dissidents in the Middle East.
Telecomix released electronic records from the Syria Telecommunications Establishment, which the group said showed that the government was using Blue Coat equipment to prohibit its citizens from browsing certain Web sites and social media. In August, Telecomix activists said they downloaded 54 gigabytes of Syrian telecommunications data that indicated that the Blue Coat technology was being used to filter Internet communications in the country.