Not a raid. Authorities in Israel ‘visit’ the offices of surveillance specialist NSO Group, amid ongoing Pegasus spyware row
Officials from the Israeli defence ministry have ‘visited’ the offices of surveillance specialist NSO Group near Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
It comes after number of damning allegations about NSO and its Pegasus spyware were made by the Pegasus Project earlier this month.
The Project is a global media consortium of more than 80 journalists around the world, coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit, with the technical support of Amnesty International.
The consortium alleged that NSO’s Pegasus spyware had been used “to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale.”
The Pegasus Project alleged it had conducted “cutting-edge forensic tests on mobile phones to identify traces of the spyware.”
It also alleged it had obtained a list of 50,000 phones of alleged potential targets for spyware, including activists, politicians and journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi’s family.
It then uncovered evidence that allegedly revealed that the phone numbers for 14 heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistan’s Imran Khan and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as 600 government officials and politicians from 34 countries, were selected as people of interest by clients of NSO.
President Macron has since changed both his mobile phone and phone number in light of the Pegasus row.
President Macron then telephoned the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to ensure that the Israeli government is “properly investigating” allegations that he could have been targeted with Israeli-made spyware by Morocco’s security services.
In the phone call, Macron reportedly expressed concern that his phone and those of most of his cabinet could have been infected with Pegasus, which enables operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones from infected devices.
And on Wednesday officials in Israel have gone to NSO’s offices.
The defence ministry reportedly said in a tweet that the visit conducted by several state bodies was related to disclosures stemming from the Pegasus project.
According to the Guardian newspaper, early media reports had described the move on NSO’s offices as a raid, however the company said in a statement that the authorities had “visited” rather than raided its premises.
NSO stopped responding to media requests earlier this month, but in a statement it said it had been informed in advance that defence ministry officials responsible for overseeing commercial exports of sensitive cyber-exports would be doing an inspection.
“The company is working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities,” it added.
Virtually at the same time as the office visit, the Guardian newspaper reported that Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, arrived for a pre-arranged visit to Paris, in which the Pegasus revelations were discussed with his French counterpart.
Gantz reportedly told the French defence minister, Florence Parly, on Wednesday that Israel was investigating the matter “with the utmost seriousness”, according to a statement from the Israeli defence ministry.
The Guardian reported that the Israeli defence establishment has appointed a review commission made up of several government bodies to examine whether policy changes are needed regarding exports of cyber-surveillance technologies.