Falcon Eye: The Israeli-installed mass civil surveillance system of Abu Dhabi
Details about a covert security relationship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates have emerged, revealing a high-level partnership that has seen an Israeli-owned company become responsible for protecting the critical infrastructure of Abu Dhabi.
Emirati authorities, according to well-placed MEE sources who work closely with the companies involved, have contracted an Israeli-owned security firm to secure oil and gas installations in the UAE as well as to set up a globally unique civil surveillance network in Abu Dhabi that means “every person is monitored from the moment they leave their doorstep to the moment they return to it,” according to the source.
The UAE does not recognise Israel as a state and the two countries do not officially have any diplomatic or economic relations, a policy borne out of stated Arab solidarity with the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Revelations of a security relationship, which analysts have said would
In December, MEE revealed details of a secret jet being flown between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi by analysing publicly available flight data. At the time it was not known who was commissioning Swiss airline PrivatAir to operate the route, although Israeli daily Haaretz hinted that it may be entrepreneur Mati Kochavi as his security company Asia Global Technology (AGT) International was known to be doing business in the UAE.
An MEE business source in Abu Dhabi, who is familiar with the workings of AGT, said Kochavi is at the heart of Israeli security trade in the UAE and is the one commissioning the private jet. The source, who asked to remain anonymous, said Kochavi has become an “almost constant visitor of Abu Dhabi”.
Covert business ties between Kochavi and UAE companies
Kochavi, according to Haaretz, lives in the United States and made a “fortune” in the property market before becoming involved in homeland security after the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York. He is said to have “forged contacts” within Israel’s military establishment and in 2013 it was reported that his AGT digital-based security company was operating on five continents managing contracts worth $8bn.
After setting up the Swiss-based AGT in 2007 Kochavi won his first contract with the Abu Dhabi government in 2008. The AED3bn ($816m) agreement contracted his company to “protect all the vital facilities within the emirate of Abu Dhabi” according to a report in the same year by al-Ittihad, the second largest Arabic language newspaper published in the UAE.
It was the beginning of a lucrative relationship for AGT but in order to comply with UAE law they needed local partners, who have been identified as Advanced Integrated Systems (AIS) and Advanced Technical Solutions (ATS). The 2008 deal saw the three companies provide “
AIS does not have a website, although it posted a profile to a UAE-based job site that said “traditional defence technologies cannot meet the overwhelming security needs of the modern era” while outlining the company’s security services:
"AIS takes a holistic approach to security, integrating physical security technologies such as sensors with information technologies such as databases, software, and artificial intelligence, while incorporating its operational expertise throughout.”
ATS describes itself as “a highly qualified telecommunication solutions provider with extensive experience and global capabilities, specialising in turnkey telecom projects for the oil & gas industry.”
The three-way business partnership has been shrouded in secrecy – AGT makes no mention of working in the UAE on their website and AIS have no online platform – but local UAE press reports have hinted at their working relationship.
The Dubai-based news site Emirates 24-7 reported in 2008 that AGT had been awarded a contract to protect “critical assets” in partnership with AIS and a 2011 article from UAE-based English language newspaper Khaleej Times referenced a partnership between AIS and ATS.
The two UAE firms, AIS and ATS, share office space on floor 23 of Sky Tower on al-Reem Island in Abu Dhabi.
An MEE source in Abu Dhabi, who works in high-level business and is close to the three companies involved, said AGT bases its UAE operations out of the AIS offices in Sky Tower.
Israeli and Emirati leaders have not commented on the direct trade taking place between the two countries, but last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and UAE Prime Minister, said that the Emirates would be willing to trade with Israel if they made peace with the Palestinians.
“We will do everything with Israel – we will trade with them and we will welcome them – but sign the peace process,” he said.
The UAE and Israel have been increasingly viewed as potential, if not already, regional allies due to both countries’ opposition to Iran and Hamas.
In spite of the two countries not having official relations, at least publicly, the AGT, AIS and ATS business partnership has flourished and now dominates the UAE homeland security market.
“In the UAE alone we hold 80 percent of the national security market,” said AIS chief executive officer Khalfan al-Shamsi after a homeland security exhibition held in Paris during June 2012.
This market domination has coincided with the advent of the Arab Spring and while the UAE has avoided the domestic upheaval seen elsewhere, the uprisings have led to authorities tightening legislation
Falcon Eye: the mass surveillance of Abu Dhabi
A key project for the AIS-ATS-AGT tripartite business partnership was announced with three deals worth $600m in February 2011 to supply “local law enforcement agencies with ‘complete holistic solutions that includes different types of sensors integrated into one command and control system’.”
Although AGT were not mentioned in the report announcing the deals, their involvement in the project – known as “Falcon Eye” – is confirmed by the LinkedIn profile of David Weeks, a former vice-president of operations at Kochavi’s company.
The Falcon Eye project is an emirate-wide surveillance initiative approved by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who has, according to the New York Times, a secret private mercenary army that was established by Erik Prince, the founder of private security firm Blackwater.
Few details of the project are publicly available, although it is mentioned in a brief – using the name “Safe City” – posted online by a security company given a reference by AIS and ATS:
“The Abu Dhabi Safe City project enables multiple governmental agencies to utilise a unified, cost-effective city platform for an abundance of crucial city functions including crime prevention, traffic management, and emergency preparedness. The project infrastructure consists of high-definition sensors powered by advanced data processors and analytics, an integrated intelligence and investigation tools and multiple tailored to various governmental agencies use.”
A programme manager at AIS, Hassan al-Taffaq, states on his LinkedIn profile that he has worked on the "city-wide CCTB unique project in the world [sic]" since 2010 and that it had a delivery date of 22 March 2013.
David Weeks, the former vice-president of operations at AIS and AGT who was employed between August 2006 and July 2008, references the early stages of Falcon Eye under a list of responsibilities during his time at the company.
On his profile it says he was “UAE project director of all contract efforts related to the Abu Dhabi City Surveillance project” and responsible for the “integration of over 500 electro-optic systems, cameras, license plate recognition systems, and command centre.”
His involvement was clearly at the early stages of the deal, as he left the company in 2008, but since then Kochavi’s AGT has engaged in research that would appear useful for Falcon Eye.
AGT lists the German Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) among its partners, as has AIS in Abu Dhabi, and the Zurich-based company said it has worked with DFKI to “research around the use of advanced technologies for high-resolution safety, security products and Big Data Artificial Intelligence.”
“AGT takes research results from DFKI and other academic partners and applies them to the business contexts of our target customers,” it says on its website. “One of our joint projects applies video analytics research results to the problem of automatic vehicle tracking; our work has already produced a usable prototype.”
It is not known if the prototype has been used in AGT’s Abu Dhabi work – none of the three companies involved responded to requests for comment – but Kochavi’s approach to use big data analytics and the Internet of Things is key to his security solutions approach, according to his company's website.
“It sounds like Sci-Fi but it is happening today in Abu Dhabi”
The Internet of Things applies unique identifiers to objects, or in the case of Abu Dhabi, people to be followed, and provides large amounts of data on all aspects of an individual’s movements and activities based on the surveillance equipment used. Tools for the collection of data include all manner of devices, from cameras on the street to smart devices connected to the internet in the home and beyond.
“There are CCTV cameras on all of Abu Dhabi’s roads, as well as cameras in every public and commercial facility, all of which are connected to one central system that in turn is interfaced with a ‘Big Data Analytics’ operation,” said an MEE source, close to the Falcon Eye project, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The Internet of Things, according to AGT’s own research, “generates a tremendous amount of mostly unstructured raw data that lacks context”, which is where the big data analytics comes in.
Big data analytics organises unstructured information in such a way that it identifies patterns in behaviour, so as to inform authorities about a perceived threat level.
AGT has published a DIKW pyramid – Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom + Decisions – explaining how “raw data at the bottom of the pyramid” is filtered to “well-informed decisions at the top”.
MEE’s source close to Falcon Eye said the scale of surveillance was huge.
“Every person is monitored from the moment they leave their doorstep to the moment they return to it. Their work, social and behavioural patterns are recorded, analysed and archived. It sounds like sci-fi but it is happening today in Abu Dhabi.”
UAE security has become “hostage to the Israelis”
Although Kochavi’s AGT has been doing business as a private company in Abu Dhabi, political analysts have previously told MEE that trade must be approved by both Israeli and Emirati leadership.
“The relationship is high-level and the business has to be done with the blessing and participation of state actors but, of course, nobody admits this,” said Yitzhak Gal, professor of political economy at Tel Aviv University.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan is known to have had, in the past, “good personal relations” with former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, according to a 2009 leaked diplomatic cable from Wikileaks.
Israeli authorities have allowed the trade to pass freely with the UAE, although their refusal to allow a shipment of drones to be delivered to Abu Dhabi in 2011 has led to a protracted financial dispute between AGT and Emirati authorities.
Abu Dhabi had paid a $70m advance for the drones, according to a 2012 Intelligence Online report, but the sales and export department at Israel’s defence ministry blocked the deal.
MEE’s Abu Dhabi-based business source said Israeli authorities barred the deal from being delivered because it would pose a threat to Israeli national security if the “sensitive technical know-how were to be leaked to other parties”.
The source said the financial dispute is ongoing and has led to staff cuts at one of Kochavi’s other companies, which has played a key role in providing the equipment for AGT’s work in Abu Dhabi.
Logic Industries, which produces security software, was established by Kochavi in 2006 and operates out of Kibbutz Yakum in Israel. Amos Malka, a retired Israeli army officer who served as head of the country’s intelligence between 1998 and 2001, is Logic’s chairperson and MEE sources said “a group of retired senior Israeli army and intelligence officers” hold a plethora of key positions at the company.
It was revealed by Haaretz on 9 February that Logic will fire 250 of its 600 workforce “at the behest of a major client from the Gulf”. Military censorship in Israel, which allows for the barring of articles deemed damaging to national security, likely prevented the newspaper from naming Abu Dhabi as the client.
The company told Haaretz the staff layoffs were down to “a key project […] reaching its conclusion during the course of the year and that the company was adjusting its staffing accordingly”. The report said “the contract with the key customer (believed to be Abu Dhabi) will be moved from Logic to AGT” and that the Swiss-based company will hire new staff to replace the sacked Israelis.
While the financial dispute has imperilled AGT’s business in Abu Dhabi, MEE’s source said “the contract is too big and too far down the line to be scrapped”.
“Getting out of the deal (for the UAE) will be difficult, if not impossible. Security in the UAE has become hostage to the Israelis.”
The UAE and Israeli embassies in London did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
Stay informed with MEE's newsletters
Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked
Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.