US Expresses Concern with Israeli Officials Over Pegasus Revelations | Surveillance
The White House has raised concerns to top Israeli officials about allegations that governments around the world have used spyware sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group to monitor journalists and activists and, potentially, government officials with close ties. with the US
Brett McGurk, one of the Biden administration’s top advisers in the Middle East, privately raised questions about NSO in a meeting last week with Zohar Palti, a senior official in the Israeli Defense Ministry, according to Axios reports and the Washington Post.
Palti reportedly told McGurk that the controversy was being taken very seriously and that Israel was examining whether it needed to change the rules on how offensive cyber weapons were sold to other countries.
Under current rules, Israel’s defense ministry reviews applications for export licenses before NSO’s surveillance technology is sold to a foreign country. NSO has said the reviews are rigorous and take into account a country’s human rights record.
The development comes two weeks after the Pegasus Project, a journalism consortium that includes The Guardian and 16 other media partners, revealed details of a massive leak of the phone numbers of people believed to have been selected as candidates for a possible surveillance by government clients of NSO. , including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Hungary.
The phone numbers for French President Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden’s envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, were among the tens of thousands who were apparently considered persons of concern by NSO clients.
Forensic analysis of dozens of phones by Amnesty International’s security lab, a technical partner of the Pegasus project, found that many of the phones analyzed and included in the leaked list had been infected by NSO’s spyware, called Pegasus, or that infections had been attempted.
When NSO’s Pegasus spyware infects a phone, government customers using it can gain access to a person’s phone conversations, messages, photos, and location, as well as turn the phone into a portable listening device by tampering with its tape recorder.
The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers that NSO customers are believed to have identified as persons of interest since 2016.
The appearance of a number in the leaked list does not mean that it has been the subject of a successful hacking attempt. NSO said Macron was not a “target” of any of its clients, which meansthe company denies that there has been any attempted or successful Pegasus infection on its phone. It says it is technically impossible for its foreign government clients to point to US phone numbers with Pegasus.
NSO has also said the data is “irrelevant” to the company, and has dismissed the Pegasus project report as “full of flawed assumptions and unsubstantiated theories.” He denied that the leaked data represented those who were being monitored by the Pegasus software. NSO has called the number of 50,000 exaggerated and said it was too large to represent Pegasus’ target people.
The Washington Post, a partner in the Pegasus project, reported Thursday that an Israeli official had confirmed contact in recent days between US and Israeli officials about the consortium’s findings, and that Israeli officials had told their US counterparts that the matter was being taking seriously.
Israel has also reportedly launched its own investigation into the matter.
Israeli authorities inspected NSO offices near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, at the same time that Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrived for a pre-arranged visit to Paris in which the Pegasus disclosures were discussed with his French counterpart.
Early media reports described the movements at NSO’s offices as a raid, but the company said in a statement that authorities had “visited” rather than raided its facilities.
NSO said it had been informed in advance that Defense Ministry officials responsible for overseeing commercial exports of sensitive cyber exports would conduct an inspection. “The company is working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities,” he said.