© Reuters. File photo: At the annual European police conference held in Berlin, Germany on February 4, 2020, a man reads at the booth of NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli technology company that can remotely monitor smartphones. Pegasus is famous for spyware. REUTER
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters)-Israeli sources said on Wednesday that Israel has set up a high-level inter-ministerial team to investigate increasing allegations that spyware sold by an Israeli internet company has been abused globally, adding Said that export review is unlikely.
According to sources, the team is led by the Israeli National Security Council, which is responsible to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and has a wider range of expertise than the Ministry of Defense, which oversees the export of NSO Group’s Pegasus software.
“This incident is beyond the purview of the Ministry of Defense,” the source said, referring to the possible diplomatic backlash that famous media reported this week after the alleged abuse of Pegasus in France, Mexico, India, Morocco and Iraq.
On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex stated that French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a series of investigations into the Pegasus spyware case.
The French newspaper Le Monde said on Tuesday that Macron’s call was on the list of potential surveillance targets on behalf of Morocco in the Pegasus case.
The source has first-hand knowledge of the Israeli team, but requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. He believes that the new restrictions on Pegasus exports are “suspicious.”
The source did not describe the team’s task as a formal investigation, but said: “The goal is to find out what happened, investigate the issue and learn from it.”
Commenting on the developments, an NSO spokesperson said: “We welcome any decision made by the Israeli government and we believe that the company’s activities are not flawed.”
Bennett’s office declined to comment. At the web conference on Wednesday, the Prime Minister did not mention the NSO incident.
A global survey of 17 media organizations led by the Paris-based non-profit news organization Forbidden Stories released on Sunday stated that Pegasus had been used to successfully hack smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.
NSO rejected reports from media partners, saying it was “full of false assumptions and unproven theories.” NSO stated that Pegasus is only used by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to combat terrorism and crime.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a speech on Tuesday that these purposes are also reasons for guiding Israel’s export policy. However, referring to the allegations concerning Pegasus, he added: “We are currently studying the information released on this matter.”
At the meeting, Bennett stated that Israel has signed a memorandum of understanding on cyber security with dozens of countries, and he hopes to upgrade it to a “global cyber defense shield.”
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