According to reports, Israel’s government is setting up a task force to manage the repercussions from the Pegasus leak which exposes how the Israeli Company NSO has helped authoritarian governments snoop on hundreds of prominent personalities around the world.
The task force is said to include representatives from the defense ministry, ministry of justice, foreign ministry, military intelligence and the Mossad, the national intelligence agency. It aims to conduct an investigation into whether “policy changes” are required regarding sensitive cyber exports, as per several Israeli media reports.
Increasing Pressure on Israel
The news of the task force comes to the fore as there is increasing diplomatic pressure on Israel, with concerns that the country has enabled repressive measures and suppressing of civic activism by governments of various countries. Another concern is whether the Israeli intelligence agencies will be able to access information that clients of the NSO have been able to gather using the Pegasus spyware. Israeli Intelligence agencies and the Govt strongly denies this however.
Israeli officials also seem to fear how the Pegasus project leaks will affect other Israeli companies and the future of Israel’s cyberweapons industry. In multiple statements, NSO has denied that the list was purely for surveillance purposes.
“It is not a list of targets or potential targets of NSO’s customers, and your repeated reliance on this list and association of the people on this list as potential surveillance targets is false and misleading,” NSO said. The surveillance firm, however was very vague in its defense and stated that the information may be used by clients for “other purposes.”
NSO Links to Israeli Government
News of the task force comes out hollow when considering that the wider Pegasus project investigation found NSO has close links to the Israeli state. In, 2017 the firm was given explicit permission by the Israeli government to try to sell hacking technology to Saudi Arabia in a deal supposedly worth $55m.
As per the Washington Post, Pegasus was engineered by Israeli ex-cyberspies with government-honed skills around a decade ago. As per previous statements given out by the NSO, the Israeli Government must approve any license to a government that wants to buy it.
“As a matter of policy, the State of Israel approves the export of cyber products exclusively to governmental entities, for lawful use, and only for the purpose of preventing and investigating crime and counter-terrorism, under end-use/end user certificates provided by the acquiring government. In cases where exported items are used in violation of export licenses or end-use certificates, appropriate measures are taken.” – As stated by a representative of the Israeli Defense Establishment to the Washington Post
Around 10 countries including India have been reported to have used NSO’s surveillance technology as per the news outlets associated with the Pegasus Project. All of these countries enjoy trade relations with Israel or diplomatic ties that have only improved in recent years.