(New York, N.Y.) — Today, CEP released the second installment in a series of new reports on the Iran-backed Shiite group, the Houthis, who took control of Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa in 2014 and plunged the Arabian Gulf nation into a devastating civil war. This report examines Houthi efforts to gain control of Yemen’s telecommunications companies, and how these companies have since become key sources of intelligence and funding for the terror organization ruling much of Yemen.
To read the full report, The Houthis’ Use of Technology for Repression, please click here.
The latest report identifies how the Houthis have exploited Yemen’s mobile network operators (MNOs) and Internet infrastructure to gain information dominance. In addition, as one of the few growing industries in an otherwise dismal economic time in Yemen, the telecommunications industry provides a continuous source of revenue for the Houthis through taxes, “fines,” and “voluntary” funding of Houthi events.
Among the three major MNOs in Yemen, including Yemen Mobile and Sabafon, MTN Yemen (now operating as YOU Telecom) stands out after it was sold in 2021 for a single UAE dirham, the equivalent of 25 cents USD. The company, which represented about 30 percent market share, came into possession of Emerald International Investment, supposedly an affiliate of the company’s Omani minority shareholder. The report’s findings indicated that following the acquisition, YOU Telecom was able to operate uninhibited in Houthi-controlled areas and banned from territories controlled by the government of Yemen.
The report details how, for nearly a decade, the Houthis have monitored communications traveling over the networks of Sanaa-based MNOs. These wiretaps and 24/7 surveillance operations provide a broad infrastructure for intelligence and counterintelligence. Recently, the regime has expanded its arsenal to include spyware capable of collecting information directly from mobile devices.
Since 2004, Yemen’s Internet service providers (ISPs) and gateways to the global Internet have been under full government ownership and control. The seizure of Sanaa, however, allowed the Houthis to place their own officials in charge of the Internet infrastructure in Yemen. This enabled the Houthis to prevent the Yemeni public from viewing information contrary to the regime’s narrative (via Internet filtering technology), while in parallel they saturated the information space with their own propaganda and disinformation. According to a 2023 U.N. Security Council report, the Houthis have recently expanded their capabilities beyond censorship to include intrusive monitoring of Internet-based communications via deep packet inspection.
Read the full report The Houthis’ Use of Technology for Repression by clicking here.
To read the previous report in this series, How The Houthis Funded Terror Groups After Seizing Yemen’s Capital, please click here.