US company in talks to acquire NSO’s burglary technology

L3Harris is based in Florida and has annual sales of about $ 18 billion (Getty)

The Guardian, the Washington Post and Haaretz revealed in a joint report to these three newspapers that US defense contractor L3Harris is in talks to acquire NSO Group’s surveillance technology, in a possible deal, which will give a US company control. of the most sophisticated and controversial burglary tools in the world.

According to the three newspapers, several sources confirmed that discussions centered on the sale of the Israeli company’s core technology as well as a possible transfer of NSO employees to L3Harris. But she added that any agreement still faces significant obstacles, including the blessing of the US and Israeli governments, which have not yet given the green light to reach an agreement.

Fears and warnings

In a statement, a senior White House official said, “Such an agreement, if passed, would cause serious concern for security and intelligence for the U.S. government.”

The tripartite report argued that, if agreed, the agreement would be an astonishing turnaround for NSO, less than a year after the Biden administration blacklisted the company, accusing it of acting “in conflict with United States foreign policy and national security interests “.

The report states that NSO government agents have used surveillance technology to target journalists, human rights activists, senior government officials in US allied countries and lawyers around the world.

Asked for comment on the talks, a L3Harris spokesman said: “We are aware of the capabilities and are constantly assessing the national security needs of our customers. At this stage, anything further is just guesswork.”

Talks between L3 and NSO were first reported by Intelligence Online.

The White House said it was not “in any way involved in this reported potential transaction.”

The senior White House official also said that the US government “opposes attempts by foreign companies to circumvent US export controls or sanctions, including being listed on the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List for malicious cyber activities.”

If the deal is agreed, the report quoted a person familiar with the talks as saying it would likely include selling NSO’s capabilities to a significantly reduced customer base, including the US government, the UK, Australia , Include New Zealand and Canada. , as well as some allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Obstacles in the way

The insider added that the deal had many unresolved issues, including whether the technology would be made available in Israel or the United States, and whether Israel would be allowed to continue to use the technology as a customer.

However, he added that the agreement requires approval from the US government because NSO is on the Department of Commerce’s list. Experts said any such agreement would likely require the creation of a new entity to obtain U.S. approval.

Any agreement will face obstacles in Israel. One of the assumptions in the Israeli internet industry is that it will have to oversee Israeli manufactured technology in Israel, and will have to keep all Pegasus development and personnel in Israel.

NSO is associated with the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which has the final say. In the past, Israel has been heavily criticized for agreeing to sell surveillance technology to countries with a weak human rights record, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The courts have previously said they take all allegations of misuse of NSO tools seriously, and are investigating such allegations. The Israeli Ministry of Defense and NSO declined to comment.

Any acquisition of NSO’s hacking technology will be added to L3Harris’ existing range of monitoring tools, which have already been sold to the U.S. government and law enforcement agents. The FBI and NATO are clients of the Florida-based company, which has annual sales of about $ 18 billion.

Previously, Israel refrained from selling Pegasus spyware to Ukraine for fear of angering Russia.

Any possible agreement faces fierce opposition from digital rights advocates and human rights groups.

Toothless control

The report goes on to say that groundbreaking Israeli surveillance technology was once considered a valuable export that strengthens diplomatic relations abroad, but reports that secret spyware was also carried out on civilians at home caused domestic outrage.

Recent allegations center in the Israeli media on the controversial Pegasus malware manufactured by the Israeli company NSO, which could turn a phone into a pocket spy device. already

John Scott Railton, senior researcher at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School, is skeptical that US agencies, and those of close US allies, will trust NSO’s technology for their most sensitive operations and are likely to do so to local authorities. sell.

“So where would the big market be?” Railton asks, expressing his fear that consumers are logically US police departments, posing an “unprecedented” threat to our civil liberties.

In his view, the deal would raise serious questions about the Biden administration’s commitment to holding the “bad actors” accountable.

He concludes: “Any such agreement would show that US sanctions have no teeth, and would encourage more investment in the ‘mercenary robbery’.”

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