Fingers at work, a symphony of contradictions
Bastian Brinkmann, Jasmin Klofta and Frederik Obermaier

MUNICH - It’s all so simple in the 1998 Disney movie Mulan. The heroine disguised as a boy joins the Chinese military to fight the enemy – armies of shadowy, faceless Huns that darken the horizon. Classic good versus evil.

Martin Münch says he knows who the bad guys are, and that he’s one of the good guys. The problem is many people don’t think he’s a good guy. To them, he’s on the wrong side of the Arab Spring. Some human rights groups accuse him of selling his software to totalitarian governments either knowingly or with flippant disregard for the use they can make of it.

Münch, 31, is a developer of spy software for computers and smartphones. Thanks to his FinFisher Trojan, the police and secret services can follow what somebody types into Google and says on Skype, and check out what they bought on their smartphone. Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is testing FinFisher for possible use.

Münch is proud of his product, and for the first time he recently showed German journalists how it works. Up to this point, the media had not been given access to his development offices in Munich. The plaque out front reads: Gamma Group. Inside, a dozen staffers sit in front of screens.

Münch, co-owner and CEO, is good at explaining technological toys. Maybe that’s because he’s self-taught. He didn’t study computer science – he’s a musician, jazz piano and guitar. But nowadays he’s showing folks at security conferences how to infect computers. Münch sees himself a bit like Mushu, the little dragon in Mulan – the cool helper who stands by Mulan during battle. Münch named the company through which he owns 15% of Gamma International GmbH “Mushun” confessing with a sheepish grin how he added the ‘n’ that ends the name the same way as his own.

Martin Münch - Source: buggedplanet

Both the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Guardian are in possession of documents showing that Gamma Group owns a company in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven. When he was asked about this, Münch at first vehemently denied the existence of the company. When the Guardian sent him relevant documents, he apologized: he really did not think, he said, that such a subsidiary existed. During the visit to Gamma offices, Münch answers business questions evasively. No he doesn’t have any figures, doesn’t know who company partners are. "I’m just a little technician guy," he says adding that he is also the one who makes the strategic decisions.

Gamma’s bestseller in its FinFisher family is FinSpy. Münch leans over an Apple laptop and shows what the program does. First, the user selects the targeted operating system: iPhone, Android cell phone, PC with Windows or Linux. The Trojan can be sent via many servers in different countries so that even computer-savvy victims can’t tell who is monitoring them.

Users also control how the Trojan behaves. Key logging? Screen recording? Other options include using the microphone as a bug; appropriating data; locating cell phones. The Trojan can also turn the target’s webcam on. FinSpy presents all devices under surveillance as a list. Double click and you’re on whichever one you select. The Trojan is so powerful it’s like being with the target, looking over their shoulder.

FinSpy normally costs around 150,000 euros but can run into the seven figures, Münch says. Authorities have to buy a license for every device being monitored. Most buy five licenses, he says, but some buy up to 20. "The targets are individual criminals,” Münch says. Not “alleged criminals.” He uses “criminals” and “perpetrators” as if they were synonyms for “suspects” or “targets.”

Spy software for a police state?

In Bahrain, the island state in the Persian Gulf, those who oppose the regime are targets – and the regime used Martin Münch’s software to get back at them. Regime critics at home and abroad started getting weird e-mail messages. Their e-mails were being read by government agents, their phone conversations listened to, all thanks to Gamma Trojans. The Citizen Lab research institute at the University of Toronto in Canada examined some of the spam e-mails and found references to “finspyv2” – the second version of FinSpy – and “Martin Münch” in the program code.

Spy software for a police state? Gamma says that somebody stole a client demo version. But it has provided no clear-cut statement with regard to Bahrain, keeping things very hush-hush.

In early February, Reporters Without Borders and other human rights activists complained to Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi), demanding stricter controls on Gamma exports in line with OECD recommendations. If the Ministry follows-up, it could call on Gamma and the activists to meet at the Ministry to seek a mutually acceptable way forward.

Münch stresses that Gamma respects German export laws. That sounds good, except that FinFisher products aren’t shipped from Munich but from the UK where the mother company Gamma Group is headquartered in Andover near Stonehenge. Its founder – and, along with Münch, majority shareholder – is Louthean Nelson.

It is not publically known how many of Gamma’s customers are dictatorships. Citizen Lab has found servers with FinFisher traces in Brunei, Ethiopia, Turkmenistan and the UAE.

Gamma came to widespread public attention during the Arab Spring, after Egyptian protesters found a written tender to the fallen regime – software, hardware, and training – all for 287,137 euros. Münch claims nothing was ever delivered.

To Andy Müller-Maguhn, Gamma is nothing less than a "software weapons supplier." On his website buggedplanet.info he publishes press reports, lists information about Gamma companies and their principals. Since Münch’s address has been revealed he’s been receiving anonymous postcards that read: “I have a right to privacy.”

Münch speaks indignantly about his critics. "We have this bad boy image. It’s not a good feeling,” he says, and he doesn’t believe Gamma deserves it. He is promising greater transparency, for example, the appointment of a human rights delegate to the board. Then he says he will probably fill that role himself. After several hours in Münch’s company there is the impression that his moral compass doesn’t have a needle.

However, Münch also says he’s having a code of conduct drafted. And Gamma is talking to two unnamed human rights groups about providing advice on exports. He’s not sure of his ground there, he says: after all, the U.S. tortures too, in Guantanamo – does that make it a lawless state? "Just how much torture is acceptable?" If several human rights organizations come out and condemn a country Gamma will not sell its products there, Münch says – even if that country is not on government warning lists.

The scandal came as a big surprise to Münch: "Software doesn’t torture anybody," he says, claiming not to understand what the big deal is about. "I think it’s good when the police do their job” – going after the bad guys. The problem is that in some cases the “bad guys” are political opponents.

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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