Mossad targeted cell phones ‘unofficially’ with Pegasus software, report alleges

NSO GroupISRAEL’S EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, the Mossad, made unofficial use of the Pegasus spyware, whose developer has been sanctioned by the United States government, according to a report from Israel. NSO Group Technologies was one of two Israeli firms that were placed on a US Department of Commerce sanctions list last November. According to a statement issued by the US Department of Commerce, the two firms engaged “in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”.

The move followed revelations about a spy software known as Pegasus, which is marketed by NSO Group. Pegasus is able to install itself on targeted telephones without requiring their users to click a link or download an application. Upon installation, the software provides the spying party with near-complete control of a targeted telephone. This includes the ability to browse through the device’s contents, such as photographs and videos, record conversations, as well as activate the telephone’s built-in microphone and camera at any time, without its user’s consent or knowledge.

Now a report by Haaretz, one of Israel’s leading newspapers, alleges that, under its previous director, Yossi Cohen, the Mossad worked closely with NSO Group Technologies. Citing NSO Group “employees, who asked to remain anonymous”, Haaretz alleges that Mossad officials “frequently visited the company headquarters in Herzliya”, in the northern outskirts of Tel Aviv. Initially, the Mossad officials sought to learn about the uses and capabilities of the spy software, according to Haaretz. Later, however, they began to bring with them foreign officials from countries like Saudi Arabia and Angola, whose governments were interested in acquiring the software.

On “several occasions”, the Mossad officials asked NSO Group to make use Pegasus in order to “hack certain phones” on behalf of the Mossad. It is not known whether this was because NSO Group’s spyware was more advanced than the Mossad’s spyware, or whether the spy agency was engaged in “unofficial intelligence gathering”, says Haaretz. The paper adds that, under its current director, David Barnea, the Mossad has distanced itself from NSO Technologies.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 February 2022 | Permalink

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