Israel's Defense Ministry begins NSO investigation

Benny Gantz Photo: Tal Shahar Yedioth Ahronoth

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that use of Pegasus according to its license is first and foremost the responsibility of the governments buying the surveillance tool.

Representatives from several Israeli departments came to NSO's offices yesterday to begin examining reports and allegations recently raised, according to a brief announcement published by the Ministry of Defense. The announcement gave no details about who has actually visited NSO's offices for the investigation.

The probe comes in the wake of last week's major international reports about NSO's cyberattack activities worldwide. According to the international investigative report by a team of 80 journalists from 17 media organizations in 10 countries led by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, NSO sold its Pegasus spyware to governments worldwide, which used it for spying not only on criminals and terrorists but also on journalists, human rights activists and political leaders around the world including French President Emmanuel Macron.

President Macron reportedly called Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to demand clarifications on the matter. NSO completely denies the findings of the investigative report led by Amnesty.

NSO was founded in 2010 by Omri Lavie, Shalev Hulio and Niv Carmi. In 2014, control of the company was acquired by US private equity firm Francisco Partners, which sold its stake in 2019 to the European private equity firm Novalpina and founders Lavie and Hulio.

The exports of NSO's surveillance technology as well as 10 other cyberattack companies are subject to Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs licenses, which are not awarded to country's involved in terrorism or connected to Iran, including Lebanon, Syria and Venezuela.

In an announcement last week, Israel's Ministry of Defense said, "If it becomes clear that use was made in contravention of the terms of the license or declarations by acquiring governments, then appropriate measures would be taken."

Israel's Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, who is currently visiting France, is discussing the matter with his French counterpart Florence Parly. Gantz told him that Israel is operating according to international accords subject to strict licenses which are only granted for sales to governments in order to fight terror and crime.

He pointed out that France had itself been the victim of major terrorist attacks and was aware of the importance of such surveillance tools in the war against terror.

Gantz added that use of the spyware according to the license granted to it was first and foremost the responsibility of the governments buying the surveillance tool.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 29, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Benny Gantz Photo: Tal Shahar Yedioth Ahronoth
Benny Gantz Photo: Tal Shahar Yedioth Ahronoth
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