“At their most advanced, cyber arms—code that governments use to spy on or sabotage computers—are created by Ph.D.s working for defense contractors such as Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. But the market for those products is limited to the U.S. and the select few allies who can afford them. The rest is dominated by lone-wolf savants and boutique companies whose interactions are characterized by what economists politely call a trust deficit. It’s hard for buyers and sellers to know whether their counterparts are scammers, thieves, or something more dangerous.
Mauritania, a country of 4 million people on Africa’s western coast, has seen 10 coups and attempted coups since independence in 1960 and is perhaps best known to the West as one of the few countries in the world where slavery still exists. It’s also a hot spot for Islamic fundamentalism, which has made its government both an American ally in the war on terrorism and an avid consumer of spy tech—for use against terrorism suspects, but also, potentially, journalists, activists, and political opponents.”