Lobbyists downplayed NSO, "Israel" connection: HR organizations
Democracy for the Arab World Now calls on the United States to investigate four lobbyists associated with the NSO Group for breaching the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
A well-known human rights organization has requested that the US Department of Justice investigate four lobbyists associated with the Israeli technology business NSO Group.
Authoritarian countries have utilized the NSO Group's famed Pegasus spyware to monitor dissidents and activists.
The Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) NGO claims that four lobbyists (Brian Finch, David Tamasi, Steve Rabinowitz, and Timothy Dickinson) violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by misrepresenting the Israeli government's involvement with NSO Group.
The lobbyists allegedly misled politicians and journalists about the company, downplaying or eliminating NSO's links to human rights violations, according to DAWN.
NSO-Israeli government relationship
The relationship between the Israeli government and NSO is well-documented. Despite a previous vow to refrain from providing technology to governments that "commit human rights violations," it offered NSO the export license required to engage with foreign governments.
In 2020, then-Israeli Security Minister and current Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett officially praised NSO for collaborating with the Israeli military to track COVID exposure among the country's populace.
“Despite the well-documented human rights abuses committed with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, these four lobbyists and their firms have chosen to contribute to the company’s abuses by misleading public officials about its deservedly maligned reputation,” reads a statement put out by DAWN Director of "Israel"-Palestine Advocacy Adam Shapiro.
“Our investigation shows that the four lobbyists and NSO Group are misleading Congress, the Biden administration, and the American public by failing to register the Israeli government’s control of the company in their FARA registration forms.”
At least 20 governments utilized the technology, which allows users to harvest data from iPhone and Android devices, to target more than 180 journalists and activists. In several cases, the hacking came before the killings.
For example, the family of Jamal Khashoggi appears to have been surveilled before and after his killing, while the virus targeted Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda just weeks before his 2017 murder.
“The Pegasus Project lays bare how NSO’s spyware is a weapon of choice for repressive governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists, and crush dissent, placing countless lives in peril,” said Secretary General of Amnesty International Agnes Callamard after the investigations were made public.
This was not the first time NSO technology has garnered international attention. Facebook sued the corporation in 2019 after roughly 1,400 WhatsApp users were hacked using Pegasus. Among those who were hacked were journalists and activists.
The NSO Group has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the Forbidden Stories investigations were riddled with "wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories."
This did not, however, prevent the US government from blacklisting the corporation in November 2021. The Commerce Department of the Biden administration stated that the move was part of an effort to "stem the proliferation of digital tools used for repression."
According to DAWN, three of the lobbyists (Tamasi, Rabinowitz, and Dickinson) filed to register with NSO after Biden placed it on the blacklist, while one (Finch) had joined before the announcement.
“From the available evidence, including credible and detailed media reporting, court filings, and information the company and its lobbyists promote about NSO Group, it is clear that NSO Group is controlled and/or directed by the Israeli government and possibly also its foreign government clients,” reads DAWN’s complaint to the Justice Department.
“The fact that four separate lobbying firms that registered as FARA agents on behalf of NSO Group each misrepresented the true nature of the company suggests that this was not accidental or an oversight, but rather a coordinated or directed effort to mislead the FARA Unit, the Department of Justice, and the American people.”
If the complaints are investigated and verified, the lobbyists could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 fines.