Dutch firm trained Iraqis to spy on NATO
By Matthew Campbell and Jon Ungoed-Thomas
BAGHDAD: A Dutch electronics firm provided Iraq with technology and training that were used to spy on NATO, documents unearthed in Baghdad have revealed.
Hoka Electronic, which makes data decoding equipment, supplied items to Baghdad as recently as 2000. It taught Iraqi intelligence officers how to use them in a Bulgarian security service “safe house”.
Horst Diesperger, the company’s director in Oude Pekela, a village in northeastern Holland, confirmed last week that he had travelled to Bulgaria to carry out training, but said the clients had told him they came from Jordan and Syria. He said Hoka “supplied the equipment not directly to the end user”. Knowingly providing Iraq with such equipment would have constituted a violation of United Nations sanctions, which prohibited the sale to Baghdad of items with potential military uses.
CODE30, as one of the Hoka programmes is known, “offers military, government and . . . monitoring installations the ability to enhance operators’ search and monitor operations in the HF radio spectrum”, says the company’s website, quoting from a reference in Jane’s Military Communications.
According to Hoka, the company’s main business is “development and distribution of software-based decoders” such as CODE30, CODE300 and CODE3-GOLD. An Iraqi who helped to broker the Hoka deal said Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime had acquired all three.
According to the Iraqi source, Hoka products were used with communications equipment provided by other countries to eavesdrop on military traffic in Turkey, a Nato member. The documents show that discussions went on for some time about a training session with Hoka in which a Bulgarian company acted as an intermediary between Diesperger and Iraq.
In November 1996 Diesperger wrote to Bulgaria saying the course would be run by “one or two engineers from our side” and that “the most easy way” would be to conduct the training in Oude Pekela “with all the necessary equipment”.
This apparently did not suit the Iraqis and it was not until March 1998 that a group of intelligence officers was dispatched from Baghdad to Bulgaria to meet Diesperger. The Iraqi source said Bulgarian intelligence officials had helped by providing the safe house in Sofia for training. They had organised the import of Hoka products to Bulgaria, after which the equipment had been transferred to Baghdad through Iraqi “front” companies in Cyprus and Jordan.
Diesperger acknowledged the visit to Bulgaria. “The training was for a small group of customers of this Bulgarian company,” he said. “The guys came from Amman, Jordan, and one of them, as far as I remember, came from Damascus, Syria.” Diesperger said Hoka would have had “no problem” supplying Iraq in spite of UN sanctions because no applications were rejected. “If we have a customer in whatever country and he wants a disk, we send it to him,” he said.
He said it never occurred to him that his products might violate sanctions: “It’s software and we sell it worldwide.” Asked if he had ever knowingly dealt with Iraq, Diesperger said: “No, never. I guess never. I’m nearly sure never. I don’t think so.” Among the documents, however, was a letter he had faxed to a number in Baghdad in which he wrote: “About the mentioned disks. This will give no problems.”
UN resolution 661 makes clear that supplying software that has a potential military use without its approval would be a breach of the sanctions. —TST