Pegasus: What's Behind The Doors of Israeli Intelligence Rooms?
The world continues to react to the Pegasus spyware scandal as press reports continue revealing how it aimed to target powerful and prominent figures, including politicians, journalists, and activists. Why should we know about the Pegasus Scandal?
"This scandal will be the story of the year," said former CIA employee Edward Snowden in a comment on the Pegasus leaks that international news agencies and media outlets started publishing. Pegasus is Israeli spyware that targeted prominent and influential figures all around the globe, including politicians and journalists.
The Israeli NSO Group-developed spyware leaks stated that there are more than 50,000 records of phone numbers that NSO clients selected for surveillance since 2016.
Through the leaked data and the investigations carried out by Forbidden Stories and its media partners, the NGO and its partners were able to identify potential NSO clients in 11 countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates.
This scandal prompted international and human rights organizations, news agencies, the European Union, and governments from all over the world to condemn the findings of the investigations.
It did not end at denunciations and statements, for countries are beginning to take legal action, such as France, which launched an investigation into spying on journalists.
Who Is Behind Pegasus?
The Israeli NSO Group is considered to be the spyware's developer. The company was founded by a group of people who formerly worked in Unit 8200, one of the most prominent Israeli intelligence units, whose primary job is spying on organizations and individuals around the world.
There are strong ties between the owners of well-known tech companies and Unit 8200, noting that the majority of NSO's managers used to be in that unit.
This is not the first time that worldwide spying allegations target NSO Group, for in 2014, the company was accused of attempting to hack WhatsApp and spy on users.
In the details, WhatsApp's parent company, Facebook, filed a lawsuit in 2019 against NSO, accusing it of exploiting a bug to surveil more than 1400 people worldwide.
In December 2020, tech giants Google and Microsoft moved a motion to be joined as parties in Facebook's ongoing legal battle against NSO. They warned that the company possesses strong and dangerous tools.
Between the Gulf and 'Israel': Pegasus 3
The security cooperation between 'Tel Aviv' and Riyadh through NSO became obvious during the past several years, especially after Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince.
NSO officials and major Saudi intelligence officers first met in Vienna in mid-2017, where the company presented the Saudi side with Pegasus 3. To convince Saudi Arabia of the spyware's advanced capabilities, the Israeli side asked a member of the Saudi delegation, Nasser Al Qahtani - who presented himself as the deputy head of the Saudi intelligence services - to go to a nearby shopping mall, purchase an iPhone, and give them the phone number. Then, the Saudi delegation saw how the Israelis were able to hack the phone, eavesdrop on the meeting, and film the attendees.
After a few more meetings, Riyadh bought a copy of the Spyware for $55 million. The Saudis requested 23 Pegasus copies to hack Saudi dissidents' phones at home and abroad, according to what ‘Haaretz’ confirmed.
In a related context, ‘Haaretz’ had exposed the ‘behind the scenes’ of NSO's spyware sales. The company made hundreds of millions of dollars annually through its deals with the UAE and other Gulf states, which used Pegasus 3 to spy on dissidents.
'Israel' Tests Its Products on Palestinians for Marketing
Israel resorts to spying on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied interior to test its programs for marketing them abroad.
British Al-Nasirah-based journalist Jonathan Cook made a report for Middle East Eye, in which he spoke about the Israeli spyware being used to spy on Palestinians around the clock, how they are being marketed to other countries, and how 'Israel' is using them to spy on activists who oppose the Israeli occupation, and especially BDS.