US company in talks to acquire Pegasus spyware

The US administration has previously blacklisted the Israeli “NSO” (AFP).

The British newspapers “The Guardian”, the American “Washington Post” and “Haaretz” of Israel revealed in a joint report that the American defense contractor company L3Harris is in talks about the “Pegasus” espionage program of the Israeli “NSO” group, in a potential deal that would give a U.S. company control over one of the world’s most sophisticated and controversial hacking tools.

According to the three newspapers, several sources confirmed that discussions centered on the sale of Pegasus software as well as a possible transfer of NSO employees to L3Harris. However, she added that any agreement still faces several 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 continued, would “cause serious concern for security and intelligence for the U.S. government.”

And the tripartite report said that if agreed, the deal would be an astonishing transformation for NSO, less than a year after the Biden administration blacklisted the company, accusing it of acts “contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the States.” United “.

The report said government agents used the Pegasus spyware program to target journalists, human rights activists, government officials in countries affiliated with the United States, and lawyers around the world.

In response to a request for comment on the talks, an L3Harris spokesman said: “We are aware of the capabilities and continue to assess the national security needs of our customers. At this stage, anything further is just guesswork.”

The French newspaper “Intelligence Online” revealed the talks between L3Harris and “NSO” for the first time.

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

The senior White House official also said the U.S. government “opposes attempts by foreign companies to circumvent U.S. export controls or sanctions, including being listed on the U.S. 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, which the US government, the UK, Australia, Including New Zealand and Canada. as well as some North Atlantic allies (NATO).

Obstacles in the way

The insider added that the deal faced 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 using Pegasus as a customer.

However, he added that the agreement requires approval from the US government because NSO is on the Department of Commerce’s blacklist. 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 assumption is that Tel Aviv will have to maintain oversight of Israeli-made technology in Israel, and will have to keep all Pegasus development and personnel there.

NSO is associated with the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which has the final say. In the past, Israel has come under sharp criticism for agreeing to sell Pegasus spyware to countries with poor human rights records, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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 on the three newspapers’ report.

Any acquisition of NSO’s Pegasus spyware would add to L3Harris’ existing range of monitoring tools already sold to the U.S. government and law enforcement agents. The FBI and NATO are clients of the Florida-based company with annual sales of about $ 18 billion.

Previously, for fear of Russia’s anger, Israel refrained from selling Pegasus spyware to Ukraine.

Any potential deal faces fierce opposition from digital rights advocates and human rights groups.

Punishment of a toothless American

The report quotes John Scott Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab and the University of Toronto, who is skeptical that US agencies, and those of US allies, can trust Pegasus for their most sensitive operations, and will likely do so to local authorities. sell. .

“So where will 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. And he concludes, “Any such agreement will show that US sanctions have no teeth, and will encourage more investment in the mercenary burglary space.”

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