As the Arab Spring swept around the Middle East in February, Moammar Gadhafi's regime stepped up its online spying of Libyan citizens thanks to a lot of technical support from Western companies, reports the Wall Street Journal. On February 15, the day uprisings started in Benghazi, Libyan officials met in Barcelona with Boeing's Narus, a company that makes advanced Internet monitoring systems. "The urgency was high to get a comprehensive system put in place," said a person familiar with the meeting. Narus refused to go to Tripoli and Gadhafi turned off the country's Internet in early March, but Libya already had advanced spying technology in place.
Phone and online monitoring increased after sanctions were lifted on Libya in 2003. Many of the country's top "deep packet inspection" systems were installed by Amesys, a unit of France's Bull SA, in 2009. China's ZTE Corp also provided monitoring technology, and VASTech SA, a small South African firm, provided phone tapping tech. In a room in a Tripoli building recently abandoned by Gadhafi's forces, the Journal found files with emails to and from Human Rights Watch's Libya monitor Heba Morayef. "The law is on our side in this case, but we are scared," wrote a Libyan activist to Morayef in 2010. "We need someone to help." (Read more Libya stories.)