In the Arab world, the most feared people or organization is the secret intelligence, called El-Mukhabarat*. Unlike in the U.S. El-Mukhabarat doesn’t come to the wanted person, instead they call the wanted person and ask him to come see them. El-Mukhabarat in the Arab world sometimes has a sense of humor because when asked why they need to see a person they answer “We just need him to drink tea with us.” The fear level of El-Mukhabarat in the Arab world is different from one country to another. In Syria and Libya they used to be the worst and in the Arab Gulf countries they are not bad. In Syria, for example, the person may never return back after his tea party with El-Mukabarat. And when his family asks about him they will simply say he didn’t show up, as simple as that.
For non-Arabs the best description of El-Mukhabarat and what they do is to think of it as communist Russia and Eastern Europe. It is that bad or maybe I have to say it was that bad before the ‘Arab Spring’.
But what about the land of freedom, USA and Western Europe?
In the U.S., they have a very controversial law called ‘Indefinite Detention’ without trial. The best example is prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Many activists asked the American government to relocate the prisoners to the USA but they refuse.
In 2002, a Jordanian friend of mine, who was working in the States, was jailed for three months without a trial. This happened after a woman called the American “Mukhabarat” to inform them that she saw two ‘Arabs’ driving a truck loaded with propane cylinders. Both men were actually workers at a gas station and they went to fetch propane cylinders to be sold at the gas station**. Unfortunately, my friend had an expired visa (or proper immigration documents) so he was detained. If he wasn’t a Muslim he would have been either asked to fix his immigration documents until a trial is being scheduled or in the worse case deported. But he was detained without any charges. His lawyer couldn’t do anything because there were no charges. After three months he was told he will be deported to Jordan but they refused to give him or his lawyer a date. Fortunately for him he was working on his Canadian immigration papers and was approved. I am not sure if having the Canadian documents expedite his release or not.
So, for those who don’t know in America its Mukhabarat can detain someone indefinitely without a trial, like the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.
In an interesting Ted Talk Mikko Hypponen, a computer security expert, talks about online attacks. He demonstrates how even in West Europe the government snoops on its citizens:
In the 1980s in the communist Eastern Germany, if you owned a typewriter, you had to register it with the government. … And this was done so the government could track where text was coming from. … And we in the West couldn’t understand how anybody could do this, how much this would restrict freedom of speech. We would never do that in our own countries.
But today in 2011, if you go and buy a color laser printer from any major laser printer manufacturer and print a page, that page will end up having slight yellow dots printed on every single page in a pattern which makes the page unique to you and to your printer. … And this is an example of the ways that our own governments are using technology against us, the citizens.
Remember how USA, after September 11, used to (and maybe still) send people to some Eastern European and Arab countries as well to be ‘interrogated’. It seems America liked the way these countries ‘interrogate’ their prisoners and it has nothing to do with intelligence if you know what I mean. In these countries, the secret intelligence service is above the law. They do whatever they wish without anyone questioning them.
Although the West is full of itself about freedom of speech and the right of every person to have an opinion, Mr. Hypponen has a different opinion:
What about Arab Spring and things that have been happening, for example, in Egypt? Well in Egypt, the rioters looted the headquarters of the Egyptian secret police in April 2011, and when they were looting the building they found lots of papers. Among those papers, was this binder entitled “FINFISHER.” And within that binder were notes from a company based in Germany which had sold the Egyptian government a set of tools for intercepting — and in very large scale — all the communication of the citizens of the country. They had sold this tool for 280,000 Euros to the Egyptian government.
So Western governments are providing totalitarian governments with tools to do this against their own citizens. But Western governments are doing it to themselves as well. For example, in Germany, just a couple of weeks ago the so-called State Trojan was found,which was a trojan used by German government officials to investigate their own citizens. If you are a suspect in a criminal case, well it’s pretty obvious, your phone will be tapped. But today, it goes beyond that. They will tap your Internet connection. They will even use tools like State Trojan to infect your computer with a trojan, which enables them to watch all your communication, to listen to your online discussions, to collect your passwords.
Of course intelligence service agency (or El-Mukahabarat) is very important for any country’s stability and safety. But when it terrorize its citizens it will eventually destroy itself and country it tries to protect as happened in Eastern Europe and now in the Arab world.
* In the Arabic language, “EL” and “AL” precede nouns to mean the. The difference between both of them is grammatically only.
** In USA, propane cylinders are sold at gas stations.