Israel sets up team to ‘look into spyware allegations’
TEL AVIV: Israel has set up a senior inter-ministerial team to look into growing allegations that spyware sold by an Israeli cyber firm has been abused on a global scale, an Israeli source said on Wednesday, while adding that an export review was unlikely.
The team is headed by Israel’s National Security Council, which answers to Prime Minister Natali Bennet and has broader areas of expertise than the Defence Ministry, which oversees exports of NSO Group’s Pegasus sotware, the source said.
“This event is beyond the Defence Ministry purview,” the source said, referring to potential diplomatic blowback ater prominent media reports this week of suspected abuses of Pegasus in France, Mexico, India, Morocco and Iraq.
On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said French President Emmanuel Macron had called for a series of investigations to be carried out into the Pegasus spyware case.
Macron’s phone was on a list of potential targets for possible surveillance on behalf of Morocco in the Pegasus case, France’s Le Monde newspaper said on Tuesday.
The source, who has first-hand knowledge of the Israeli team and requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, deemed it “doubful” that new curbs would be placed on Pegasus exports.
Stopping short of describing the team’s task as a formal investigation, the source said: “The objective is to find out what happened, to look into this issue and learn lessons.”
Commenting on the development, an NSO spokesperson said: “We welcome any decision made by the government of Israel, and we are convinced that the company’s activities are without flaw.” Bennet’s office declined comment.
Addressing a cyber conference on Wednesday, the prime minister did not mention the NSO affair.
A global investigation published on Sunday by 17 media organisations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said Pegasus had been used in atempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.