Was Israel Aware of NSO Clients’ Surveillance Targets?

The terms “Israel” and “NSO” returned 9,680,000 results on Google on Thursday. That’s a good result for the Pegasus spyware created by Startup Nation. It also marks Israel with the dubious status of a nation that helps dictators persecute human rights activists, journalists and friendly states. Stealth tapping is the bread-and-butter of intelligence services. Embassies have constantly tapped targets, even those of friendly states. Regimes monitoring and blocking Facebook or Twitter accounts have become almost “acceptable” and it rarely raises undue interest.

For example, we’ve already forgotten the American NSA’s stealth tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, which jolted German-American relations, or the Americans’ tapping Ehud Barak’s apartment.

– Israel goes to the Olympics with high hopes, American ringers and no Arabs

Israel goes to the Olympics with high hopes, American ringers and no Arabs

The mass of information gathered by the information corporations through the social media about millions of people, and the loss of privacy resulting from it, are leading to new legislation and pushing to develop advanced technological means to protect information. But this time it seems the furor and fear stem from the wholesale scope – some 50,000 telephone numbers, the targets marked for surveillance, including heads of state, senior politicians, business people, as well as journalists and social activists, and the espionage’s purposes.

NSO’s name made headlines some three years ago following the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. In March 2019 the company’s director, Shalev Hulio, said in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” “I can tell you very clear (sic), we had nothing to do with this horrible murder.”

But a Guardian expose found that the phone of Khashoggi’s wife, Hanan al-Atar, was pasted in the software several months before his murder, and that a few days after the murder an attempt was made to paste the telephone numbers of Khashoggi’s friends in the software. The Guardian is now partner to the Pegasus Project, together with dozens of journalists and media organizations worldwide who are investigating the company and its software’s involvement in the espionage cases.

The Turkish prosecutor general’s phone number was on the list of phone numbers “of interest” that had been discovered. However, it is not clear if the software operators had succeeded in installing it in his phone.

Tapping the Turkish prosecutor’s phone was critical for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who wanted to know about the ongoing investigation and whether the findings could incriminate him in initiating the murder.