Friday, December 3

France and Israel hold “secret” talks to deactivate line of spyware for phones | Israel

A senior adviser to the French President, Emmanuel Macron, has met with his Israeli counterpart to discuss the alleged targeting of French ministers by a client of NSO Group, the Israeli spyware maker.

A dispute over alleged surveillance has been described as a major diplomatic headache for the government of Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister.

The “secret” meetings at the Elysee Palace were first reported by the Axios news website and later confirmed by The Guardian’s partners in Project Pegasus, a consortium of media outlets that have investigated NSO.

The meeting between Emmanuel Bonne, a high-level diplomatic adviser to Macron, and Eyal Hulata, Israel’s national security adviser, was allegedly aimed at ending the “crisis” that has engulfed the two countries’ relationship since the summer.

In July, the phone numbers of some members of the French cabinet, as well as Macron himself, were reported to have appeared in a leaked database of mobile phone numbers that included some selected as potential targets for surveillance by government clients. by NSO.

The Israeli company is closely regulated by the Israel Ministry of Defense, which examines the export of licenses to NSO’s government clients.

Traces of NSO’s spyware, called Pegasus, were found on the mobile phones of at least five serving French cabinet ministers, the investigation website Mediapart recently reported, citing multiple anonymous sources and a confidential intelligence file. The discovery came weeks after The Guardian and other outlets published details of the leaked list.

There is no firm evidence that the phones of the five cabinet members have been successfully hacked, but Mediapart’s allegations indicate that the devices were attacked with powerful spyware, which can intercept phone conversations, text messages, emails and Photographs. You can also turn a mobile phone into a listening device by remotely controlling a phone’s recorder.

NSO has said that its spyware is intended to investigate serious crimes and not members of civil society. It has said that it has no connection to the leaked database that was investigated by Project Pegasus and that the tens of thousands of numbers contained in the list are not targeted by government clients of NSO. He has also flatly denied that Macron has ever been attacked by Pegasus spyware.

Commenting on the Franco-Israeli talks, an NSO spokesperson said: “It is not for the NSO to comment on the existence or content of the diplomatic meetings. However, with respect to the Project Pegasus allegations, we stand by our previous statements: the so-called list is not a list of Pegasus targets, therefore the French government officials mentioned are not and never have been Pegasus targets. “

Axios reported that the “crisis” between the two countries led to a “partial freeze” of diplomatic, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and France and the suspension of high-level bilateral visits. Hulata reportedly briefed Bonne on the status of an Israeli investigation into Pegasus and proposed a compromise to ban her customers from being able to penetrate French mobile phone numbers. Numbers for the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are also out of reach for NSO customers.

Diplomatic tensions underscore the seriousness of the allegations exposed in the Pegasus Project. Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based non-profit journalistic organization, and Amnesty International led the journalistic collaboration.

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