The US Is Buying Phone Hacking Tools for Ghana’s Police

Police officers guard the entrance of Ghana electoral commission office in Accra Ghana, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

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Police officers guard the entrance of Ghana electoral commission office in Accra Ghana, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

The State Department wants Ghanaian law enforcement to be able to access Android, Windows, and BlackBerry devices used in transnational crime.

The State Department is purchasing some very specific phone hacking tools that it plans to turn over to the Ghanaian police force to assist the country’s investigations into international crime.

The department released a solicitation Dec. 7 for phone hacking tools and hardware that are interoperable with tools used by the department and other U.S. agencies. Once purchased, the department will donate those tools through the U.S. Embassy in Accra to the Ghana Police Service’s cyber investigative unit.

“This will allow [the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement] to accomplish its foreign assistance mission in Ghana to build the capacity of law enforcement to combat transnational organized crime, such as cybercrime that directly affects Americans,” according to the sole-source justification document.

The State Department is looking for a small business able to provide specific hacking tools.

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The department is looking for a UFED Ultimate 4PC application developed by Cellebrite, the company that gained notoriety for being able to crack the iPhone used by a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California, in 2015, ending a legal standoff between the FBI and Apple.

The tool must be able to do several tasks, including bypassing security for Android devices, including HTC, Motorola and the Samsung Galaxy S, SII and SIII; data extraction and decoding for BlackBerry devices running OS 4-7 and Nokia BB5 devices; data extraction from any device running Windows phone 7.5 or 8; and decryption of trip logs for TomTom navigation devices.

The solicitation also asks for UltraBlock forensic kits, used as adapters to connect to any kind of device that needs cracking without compromising the device or the information stored within.

“Successful digital forensic investigations start by acquiring evidence from a wide array of modern and legacy storage devices,” according to the website for Digital Intelligence, UltraBlock’s manufacturer. “Be prepared for any forensic acquisition you’ll face.”

Current and former federal cybersecurity and acquisition officials who reviewed the solicitation noted to Nextgov that these tools have been used by nation-states for offensive operations around the globe.

According to the sole-source justification, these tools have been used by Ghanaian forensic examiners in the past, as well as by U.S. agencies, prompting the State Department to look for the same to ensure interoperability.

Questions on the solicitation are due by 11 a.m. Jan. 4. Bids are due by 11 a.m. Jan. 14.

State Department representatives did not offer comment on several questions posed by Nextgov.

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