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WikiLeaks files expose surveillance-industrial complex

WikiLeaks highlights surveillance-industrial complex, including French company selling a "centralized intelligence system gathering all information" from an entire country's network.

President Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, warned that the military-industrial complex could "endanger our liberties or democratic processes." Today WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange is warning that the surveillance-industrial complex is even more dangerous.

A set of nearly 300 documents that the document-leaking Web site published today reveals how extensive and privacy-invasive the secretive multi-billion dollar industry devoted to surveillance technology has become.

"We are in a world now where not only is it theoretically possible to record nearly all telecommunications traffic out of a country, all telephone calls, but where there is an international industry selling the devices now to do it," Assange said in a video interview today.

What WikiLeaks has dubbed the "Spy Files" is a collection of marketing and technical documents, including previously unreleased presentations from companies that showed up at government-only conferences like ISS World Europe, billed as a gathering in 2008 for "telecom operators, law enforcement," and employees of spy agencies.

A related conference in Washington, D.C. in October included presentations like "Why Terabits is not a Challenge" and "Exploiting Computer and Mobile Vulnerabilities for Electronic Surveillance." Representatives of the FBI, the IRS, the Secret Service, and the U.S. military attended. The most popular conference of the sort, with 1,300 attendees this year, is in the Middle East, where nearby governments are "the most avid buyers of surveillance software and equipment," according to the Washington Post.

Amesys, a unit of French technology firm Bull SA, boasts in a leaked document how it can aid governments in moving from eavesdropping on one person to "full country traffic monitoring," including automatic translation and mapping of real-world social networks based on who's talking to who.

Amesys's presentation offers a one-stop shop for nationwide monitoring, including GSM cell phone communications, satellite signals, Internet communications, and phone calls. The company touts its "huge range of sensors and analyzing probes" and--in an echo of what the former East German secret police attempted decades earlier--a "centralized intelligence system gathering all information."

There were hints about the extent of the Amesys-provided surveillance apparatus before, including in an August article in the Wall Street Journal that described a room used by Moammar Gadhafi's secret police to monitor Internet traffic in Libya. The room sported Amesys logos, manuals, and posters, the article said.

But WikiLeaks' new leaks, which resume a dry spell for the group when it effectively halted disclosures after releasing a series of U.S. Defense Department and State Department documents, are likely to draw more attention to the surveillance-industrial complex and could lead to more legal oversight and reform efforts.

Amesys did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNET. It did distribute a statement in September acknowledging that it sold "analysis hardware" to Libya to help it fight terrorism, and included a vague threat of legal action against anyone who damages its "image or reputation."

Not all of the documents in WikiLeaks' archive are actual leaks. An HP brochure describing "technology that supports global law enforcement" is publicly available (PDF) on the company's Web site.

Earlier this week, an attorney representing Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks' alleged source for the U.S. government files who is now facing criminal charges, suggested that the megabytes of classified data his client allegedly turned over didn't truly harm national security. Manning, an Army private, was charged last July with sending a military video to a person not authorized to receive it and with obtaining "more than 150,000 diplomatic cables" from the State Department. A preliminary hearing in Manning's case has been scheduled for later this month.