Fri | Feb 26, 2021

Israeli company wins Ja cybersecurity contract

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2021 | 12:16 AM
Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang
Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang

An undisclosed Israeli firm won a contract last year to provide cybersecurity equipment to the Government, National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang has confirmed without giving further details.

The update from Chang comes as he indicated that the administration will not be verifying the claim by the United States that the Chinese government has used a local network to spy on Jamaicans, as well as its former top diplomat here.

The unspecified equipment will join with others being procured by the Andrew Holness administration to establish a cyber academy, Chang explained to The Sunday Gleaner.

Canada, the United States, Australia and France are the other main suppliers.

Following Prime Minister Holness’ visit to Israel in 2017, the Opposition People’s National Party had said it was concerned that Holness had “engaged intelligence gathering capabilities that are not in keeping with legislative and constitutional provisions”.

Some of the Opposition concerns have been linked to the global outcry that stemmed from the use of Israeli-developed technologies, such as those produced by the firm NSO Group Technologies, to undermine human rights.

NSO’s best-known offering is a spyware called Pegasus, which, when deployed to the mobile phone of a target, scoops information from even an encrypted device.

But, there’s “no cooperation agreement with Israel”, Chang told The Sunday Gleaner, while declining to reveal details about the bid and the supplies.

He noted, “The Israelis are active in the field of cyber. They are very good at it. They have a number of things which they depend on for their own security. Similarly, the big countries are all involved in electronics. We were very backward in our technology.”

CLOSED-DOOR DISCUSSION

In 2019, then Opposition MP, now Senator, Peter Bunting, claimed the Israeli firms engaged by the prime minister have provided software capabilities to governments that have used them to spy on their political opponents and curtail the activity of human-rights activists.

Some aspects of expenditure for the security forces are not disclosed, in the interests of national security.

And, on that basis, Holness has repeatedly indicated his willingness to discuss the issues with the Opposition in closed-door meetings.

Several actions by Kingston close to and after the January 2017 Holness visit to Israel, have given watchers reasons to question whether there has been some agreement between the two nations.

These include Jamaica abstaining from or missing key UNESCO votes on the disputed city of Jerusalem, or in criticising America’s decision to transfer its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith has never articulated a full Jamaica-Israeli policy since taking office and neither has her ministry, or Jamaica House, provided any public context for the voting behaviour.

But speaking in the House of Representatives on September 2018, Holness acknowledged that Israel was “one of the leading nations in the world in cybersecurity” and said “I want to be absolutely clear that we are cooperating with any country around the world to build our capacity in all kinds of areas”.

NOT GET INVOLVED

Meanwhile, ahead of his departure from Kingston, US Ambassador Donald Tapia made the stunning allegation that Digicel Jamaica’s systems were used to listen in on his conversations in 2020.

The telecoms firm has rejected the claim.

Breaking the Holness administration’s silence on the issue, Minister Chang said Jamaica “will not get involved at all”.

“It’s not a matter of whether we can do anything. Big powers have the capacity to snoop on each other wherever they are on the globe, including within Jamaica,“ said Chang, on the claim that has been ridiculed in the local national security establishment, and even among the diplomatic circles here.

“We laughed at it, essentially,” said a very senior diplomat who didn’t want to be named when asked about the reaction among Jamaica’s key foreign partners.

editorial@gleanerjm.com