October 17, 2004, Updated September 13, 2012

‘A phone can remotely activate a bomb or be used for tactical communications such as a terrorist act, bank robbery, hostage situation or kidnapping.’Did you ever sit in the movie theater and wish you could click a button which would prevent all those cell phones around you from ringing and interrupting the film? Or have you ever discovered a leak from a sensitive business meeting, and located the source as an open cell phone?

Israel’s Netline Communications Technologies can prevent such occurrences – and for American homeland security and military departments, they can accomplish much more serious tasks. For that reason, when American law enforcement, military and homeland security departments need a communications expert, they turn to Netline – the world’s leader in cellular jamming and detection solutions.

Specializing in electronic warfare and cellular jammers, the company develops state of the art high-tech solutions, mainly for military, anti-terror units and homeland security needs. Their principal line of products is the C-Guard devices family – devices that create a cellular firewall, blocking all nearby cellular communications at varying ranges. Their jammers product line covers all possible needs, from small indoors coverage to high-power long range equipment designed for outdoor usage.

The main purpose of the jammers? To avert eavesdropping on security-sensitive conversations and to prevent bombs from being detonated by a mobile phone. And for countries in which the technology is allowed in the private sector, Netline is used for everything from disabling cell phones during church sermons, to preventing disruptions during theater performances, and ensuring that cellphones are not smuggled past prison walls.

Netline co-founders Ben Te’eni and Gil Israeli, 34, are graduates of an army intelligence unit, and worked for state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries after leaving the army. The pair decided to branch out on their own and set up Netline in 1998.

“The Israeli Air Force was our first customer,” Netline’s Marketing Director Loreen Haim-Cayzer told ISRAEL21c. “The need for cellular jammers became apparent about six years ago when there was a high security briefing in an air force squadron. One of the officers mistakenly pushed the redial button on his cell phone which dialed the last number, which happened to be a journalist. He heard the entire briefing, which of course was meant to be confidential.”

According to Te’eni, that first jamming device which prevents cell phone calls in select areas of a building or in the open air, has been sold to defense agencies of “blue chip governments” around the world.

The C-Guard is a digital, accurate jammer, hence it will not block or interfere with any other communication equipment. It’s being used by NATO, the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as many military and police forces around the world.

But jamming is only one of Netline’s talents. With a slight modification, cell phones become high-quality bugs. An owner can call the phone from anywhere in the world without it emitting a ringing tone while its screen remains blank, apparently turned off.

“The beauty of the cell phone as a bug is that it’s an innocent looking and ubiquitous object,” said Te’eni, introducing Netline’s device for detecting cell phone communications, especially from cell phones in apparently dormant mode.

“People trust cell phones, but modified and left in idle mode the cell phone can be used as a transmitter for up to a week. If it’s connected to a power supply it can provide endless intelligence. Professional bugsweepers will ignore the cell phone frequency since the phones are so common and not suspicious,” he told a security-based website.

The drawback for cell phones and what enables Netline to catch them out, however, is that they periodically transmit a signal to their base station. With Netline’s small Cellular Activity Analyzer (CAA) device left in a room, cell phone activity is detected and recorded with a visual and audio warning emitted.

“I can leave the CAA in the office before important meetings and it will tell me if there’s a cell phone in the room,” Te’eni said. “I can also leave it in the room overnight or for a number of days (after a meeting) to see if a bug has been left behind. The jammer can be used by bomb squads or VIP security services to prevent the detonation of bombs by cell phones.”

“We have also sold to prisons because top criminals are known to continue their operations or coordinate testimony using smuggled-in cell phones. In Brazil, riots were synchronized in five prisons using cell phones and in Paris a prisoner escape was coordinated using cell phones.”

Te’eni compared the innocent-looking and simple cell phone with the cardboard cutters used by hijackers of the planes used in the September 11 attacks in the United States. Both have non-lethal and everyday uses that are positive, but can also make life easier for criminals.

“A phone can remotely activate a bomb or be used for tactical communications such as a terrorist act, bank robbery, hostage situation or kidnapping,” Te’eni said. “There are so many negative ways for using cell phones which is why the ability to jam them is crucial.”

Last year, during a visit to Israel by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Netline signed an agreement with Santa Cruz’s Life Safety Systems to provide specialized terrorism-response equipment to U.S. federal, state and local agencies, government departments and military clients.

“Cooperation between the two companies will increase system’s availability while significantly shortening delivery response times to US distributors and governmental end-users who need these solutions deployed on short notice,” said Te’eni.

But Netline’s services don’t deal only with urgent life and death issues. Last month four churches in Mexico purchased Netline’s cell phone blockers to prevent the interruption of Mass by ringing cell phones. The blockers – the size of a hand-held radio have been tucked among the paintings of the Madonna and clay statues of saints to bring peace back to Mass.

“There are still many people who don’t understand that being at Mass is sharing a moment with God,” Juan Jose Martinez, a priest and spokesman for the Monterrey Archdiocese told AP. “Sadly, we had no other choice but to use these little gadgets.”

The devices, which cost about $2,000 each, can be turned on by remote control. They emit low-level radio frequencies that thwart cell phone signals within a 100-foot radius. Users get a “no service” or “signal not available” message on their cell phones and incoming calls do not get through.

While it’s illegal in the U.S. and in Israel for the jammers to be used by private parties, Netline’s Haim-Cayzer thinks it’s only a matter of time before Americans become as fed up with distracting cell phone noise as the Mexican priests have.

“Things are changing. France just passed a law allowing the use of cellular jammers in theaters and concert halls. We get calls in Israel all the time from theaters like Habimah and Hechal Hatarbut as well as from synagogues. And we even get strange phone calls from parents who want our device to make sure that when their teenager is up in his room, he’s studying instead of talking on his cell phone,” she said.

“Unfortunately, for us, the same laws apply in Israel as in the U.S. — it’s illegal for the private market. I guess it’s a matter of privacy. The FCC doesn’t want any person to be able to jam the cell phone of somebody else.”

But with all the benefits provided by Netline’s blocking systems, it’s likely that U.S. officials will soon decide that the cell phone cacophony that has become an everyday blight must be stopped. That’s when they’ll turn to Netline.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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