Report: Israel pushed spyware companies to work with Saudis despite Khashoggi murder

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Israel continued to allow and even encourage cybersurveillance companies to work covertly with Saudi Arabia, despite recurring reports that Israeli technology was being used to quell dissent and target opposition figures, including links. possible with the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

Citing Israeli government officials and other sources familiar with the matter, the newspaper said the controversial private intelligence firm NSO Group severed relations with Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s 2018 murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

However, the Israeli government encouraged him and two other companies to continue working with the Saudis. A fourth company has also reportedly received a license to work with Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, one of the companies authorized by the Defense Ministry to work with Saudi Arabia was Candiru. On Thursday, Microsoft said it released a software update to block company-developed spy tools that have been used to spy on more than 100 people around the world, including dissidents, activists and journalists.

The other two companies named in the report that have licenses to work with Saudi Arabia are Verint and Quadream. The latter is said to have started working with Riyadh after Khashoggi’s murder.

The report says the Saudis continue to use Israeli-made spyware to monitor opponents of the regime.

The Defense Department told The Times in response it would revoke the license of any company whose goods are used to violate human rights, while declining to discuss the specific licenses it has issued.

The logo of the Israeli company NSO Group is displayed on a building where it had offices in Herzliya until 2016. (AP Photo / Daniella Cheslow)

The Pegasus software infects individuals’ phones by sending them text messages that trick them into clicking on an attached link. If the target clicks the link, the business gains full control over the phone, including its content and history, and the ability to activate its microphone and camera at will.

The company says it provides its software to governments for the sole purpose of fighting terrorism and crime.

NSO Group has denied reports that its technology could have been used by the Saudis to target Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Riyadh critic who wrote for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi was assassinated and his corpse dismembered inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He had gone to get the necessary papers for his next marriage to his Turkish fiancee.

After evidence emerged that the murder was committed by a team of Saudis dispatched from Riyadh and closely linked to the Saudi crown prince, the international community demanded a transparent investigation.

The Biden administration released a declassified intelligence report in February concluding that Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful son of aging King Salman, had authorized the team of Saudi security and intelligence officials who killed Khashoggi. The prince denied having knowledge of the incident.

After an opaque trial in Saudi Arabia, five Saudis were sentenced to death and three to prison terms. The death sentences have since been commuted.

In this photo taken on December 15, 2014, Jamal Khashoggi watches a press conference in Manama, the Bahraini capital. (AFP / Mohammed Al-Shaikh)

In December, tech giants Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Dell joined Facebook in a legal fight against NSO Group, filing a brief in a US court accusing it of possessing “powerful and dangerous” technology.

In December, the cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab reported that dozens of journalists from Al Jazeera, a Qatari state-owned media company, had been the target of advanced spyware in connection with an attack probably linked to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Most troubling to investigators was that iMessages infected targeted cellphones without users taking action. Through push notifications only, the malware instructed phones to upload their content to servers linked to the NSO group, Citizen Lab said, turning journalists’ iPhones into powerful surveillance tools without even needing to prompt users. to click on suspicious links or threatening texts.

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