Israeli company Cognyte got the contract to supply Myanmar with spy technology before the coup

A month before the Asian country’s military takeover in February 2021, Israeli company Cognyte Software Ltd. secured a tender to supply intercept spyware to a state-backed telecommunications company.

According to a court lawsuit recently submitted to Israel’s attorney general and made public on Sunday, the agreement was struck despite Israel’s claims that it halted transferring defence technology to Myanmar in response to a 2017 ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court.

Israel’s government has frequently publicly said that defence exports to Myanmar are prohibited. However, the judgement was subject to an unusual gag order at the state’s request, and the media cannot quote the decision.

Eitay Mack, a well-known Israeli human rights attorney who led the effort to get the Supreme Court decision, filed the complaint, which demands that the arrangement be subjected to a criminal inquiry. It charges Cognyte with “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Myanmar” together with anonymous defence and foreign ministry officials who oversee such sales.

More than 60 Israelis, including a former house speaker and well-known activists, scholars, and writers, submitted the complaint on their behalf.

Israel's Cognyte won tender to sell spyware to Myanmar before coup

Cognyte is listed as the chosen vendor for intercept technology in a letter from Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) to local regulators dated January 2021. It also states that the purchase order was issued “by 30th Dec 2020.” The activist group, Justice for Myanmar, gave the documents about the deal to Reuters and Mack.

Cognyte technology was tested by MPT

Without the help of telecom and internet companies, intercept spyware can provide authorities with the ability to listen in on calls, examine text messages and online traffic, including emails, and track the whereabouts of individuals.

Several Reuters comment attempts went unanswered by representatives for Cognyte, the military government of Myanmar, and MPT. KDDI Corp. and Sumitomo Corp., two Japanese companies with shares in MPT, declined to comment, claiming they lacked knowledge of the specifics of communication interception.

Israel’s attorney general did not answer inquiries about the complaint. Requests for comment about the agreement were answered from the foreign affairs and defence ministries, respectively.

The Cognyte technology was tested by MPT, according to two persons with knowledge of Myanmar’s intercept preparations who spoke separately to Reuters. They wished to remain anonymous out of concern for the junta in Myanmar’s punishment.

Despite naming the provider, a source with firsthand knowledge of the situation and three people who received briefings on the subject confirmed to Reuters that MPT deploys intercept spyware. Whether the Cognyte intercept technology sale to MPT was completed could not be ascertained by Reuters.