How Israel used NSO spyware as diplomatic calling card
من الصحافة اخترنا لكم
In the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett came up with an idea to curb the spread of the disease. Let NSO, a military spyware maker, track every move of fellow citizens.
Suggestion from the current man Prime Minister of Israel Did not pass the convocation.But it shows a close relationship in which an Israeli company was attacked for sale by rights activists. Military grade surveillance software The oppressive regime has the highest levels of the state.
NSO’s Pegasus software, which requires a government license for export to be considered a weapon, has become an important part of Israel’s diplomatic support in recent years. This role has been focused on since this weekend. Revelation by a newspaper consortium It dates back to the mobile phones of 37 journalists, lawyers and political activists. The software secretly turns your phone into a listening device while exposing encrypted content.
“Since the 1950s, Israel has used the sale of weapons for diplomatic interests. Only the name of the country changes,” says Israel, which has been trying for years to revoke its NSO export license. Said Eitay Mack, a human rights lawyer. “The question is whether there are any changes in export policy.”
While a recent news media leak about Pegasus has caused international anger, criticism in Israel has been silent. “It’s a commercial motivation and looks kind,” the report said, saying former Deputy Military Secretary Magister Militum jumped in support of the NSO in a television speech. “NSO is not the only one to do that.”
The Defense Ministry, which must approve all licenses to export weapons, said that “appropriate measures will be taken” if a breach of the export license is proven.
Shalev Hulio, co-founder and chief executive officer of NSO, is a consortium claiming that NSO spyware is regularly used by members of civil society, opposition leaders, and people unrelated to terrorism and crime. Denied the findings of.
“We are very vocal insisting that these are not Pegasus targets, or have been selected as Pegasus targets, or potential Pegasus targets. This is a customer of our company and NSO Technology. It has nothing to do with, “he told Financial Times, vowing to shut down the customer’s system, which has been proven to infect devices owned by journalists and members of civil society.
NSO has stated in the past that it cannot access the client’s target. Hulio said the company contacted each of its clients individually to reach that conclusion.
“Toys that everyone wants”
In recent years, Israel has improved bilateral relations by providing Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with secret security cooperation against shared enemies in the region, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Iran. Is calling.
As the country approached, groups such as Amnesty International and Citizen Lab have tracked an increase in Pegasus invasion of journalists, opponents and activists across the region.
“It’s like the toys that every intelligence officer wants,” said a person involved in marketing NSO products in the Gulf. “They love demos and love that they are from Israel.”
Similarly, the Pegasus attack has been documented by critics of governments in Hungary, India and Rwanda, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking an alliance with right-wing leaders.
For years, Israel has ignored calls from UN reporters on freedom of expression and others to put the sale of spyware in the moratorium and to regulate it more tightly.
NSO’s CEO has pushed back the proposal that the company’s products have been utilized by Israel abroad.
“We are not a tool for the Israeli government’s diplomacy. We are a commercial company and our shareholders are UK private equity,” Hulio said of Novalpina Capital. “These claims are just a theory.”
“The government wants to help them.”
Those who have fought the NSO’s influence in Israel say the company enjoys strong support from Israeli law and politics.
An Israeli judge has imposed a gag order on Mexican rights activists, allowing them to secretly hear proceedings against the company.
A judge with a long background in military intelligence oversees a case filed by a friend of Saudi Arabian dissident and murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. A friend claims that the NSO knew that his phone was being targeted. The judge refused to resign himself, despite proclaiming a prior relationship with an NSO lawyer.
“The impression I got is that the government is eager to help them, especially when it comes to keeping the debate away from public surveillance,” said Alaa Mahajna, chief attorney in both proceedings. I did.
“Companies should be held accountable for the dangerous technologies they sell, but the most efficient way is prevention, and unfortunately only the Ministry of Defense can do it.”
Hulio refused to comment on the ongoing proceedings. The NSO said: “These issues have previously been filed in proceedings against NSO and others, and the court has never accepted this stance.”
As part of that, the NSO did not keep its relationship with the Israeli government secret. In 2019, the lawyer claimed in a lawsuit that revealing the list of clients “does meaningful harm to the state’s diplomatic relations.” In another filing, the company also states that the Israeli government itself uses NSO technology. Many of its staff are from elite military intelligence units.
The NSO has hired well-known Western advisers, including former US Department of Homeland Security secretary Thomas Ridge and assistant secretary Juliet Kaiem in the same department. The current PR attack is led by a former Israeli censor.
From time to time, the Israeli government intervened to direct the sale of the company, the two who knew of the issue said, especially after a famous scandal such as when a Saudi operative was killed. Khashoggi in Istanbul October 2018.
The NSO initially suspended its contract with Saudi Arabia on allegations that Saudi technology was being used to track Khashoggi and his associates. However, the two people who are aware of the issue said they renewed the contract in 2019 with the full approval of the Israeli government.
“There was direct encouragement to maintain this relationship,” he added, adding that NSO employees returning from the Gulf were often reported by Israeli intelligence. Hulio of NSO denied that such a briefing had taken place.
“Holy cow of the economy”
In many cases, Israeli government links are more public. After the dam collapsed in Brazil in January 2019, killing hundreds of people, the government dispatched NSO Hulio, a reserve for the Israeli army’s search and rescue team, as part of its aid mission.
“I traveled there as part of my reserve duty. I’m proud of what I’m doing and it has nothing to do with NSO,” he said.
Hulio showed how to use NSO software to triangulate the position of a cell phone to the last centimeter, according to people familiar with his travels.
“Israel has specific diplomatic goals, and the interests of Israel and the interests of these for-profit companies can sometimes match,” said the author and research journalist who first published NSO’s secret technology in 2012. Shay Aspril says.
“The Israeli people do not fully understand what is happening inside high tech (the holy cow of the economy). The Israeli people are not so interested and pressure the government to change something. It is not.”