(ORDO NEWS) — As a result of the international spyware scandal Pegasus, Israel has unexpectedly pushed other states in the ranking of the “worst countries in the world.” According to the Al-Quds Al-Arabi, UK, Pegasus is just the tip of the iceberg. Israel has been successfully spying on spies for a long time, and spying develops into persecution, repression and premeditated killings.
The Israeli government has decided to create a special team to hush up the scandal around the Pegasus program. The incident received a great international response after it became known that an Israeli company provided dozens of countries with programs for cyberattacks and digital espionage, and they were used against journalists, oppositionists and human rights defenders. As a result, many people became victims of persecution, crimes, ended up in prison, or even lost their lives.
Israeli officials said (declining to give their name) that the problem has taken a serious turn. The country may find itself in the middle of a crisis and be accused of contributing to the suppression of political rights and freedoms in countries where repression is practiced, as it provides governments with the latest espionage tools developed by the national high-tech industry.
Causes of the scandal
The Pegasus scandal erupted after 17 international media outlets, including The Washington Post and The Guardian, simultaneously reported on a major investigation by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories on July 18. According to him, the governments of dozens of countries used Israeli technology to hack the phones of journalists, oppositionists and human rights activists.
About 50,000 telephones were tapped, and among them are the numbers of journalists writing about what is happening in Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Morocco, as well as human rights defenders from Hungary, India and other states. Some of them were in constant and close contact with the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The investigation contains a large amount of information on human rights violations in many regions of the world through a program developed by the NSO Group, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The company has developed many other technologies about which we know practically nothing. In addition, there are other, competing Israeli companies that manufacture similar products and supply them to those who commit similar crimes. There are also technologies that are exclusively owned by Israeli security and intelligence services, and they provide their services to close friends of Israel, especially Arabs.
The current scandal may seem much more serious than the information leak that preceded it, but it is child’s play against the backdrop of a possible reaction in the event that all information about Israel’s activities to provide repressive regimes with electronic and non-electronic means of espionage is made public, not to mention the scale of international involvement in its crimes. … At first, these are cybercrimes, later escalating into real harassment, abuse and imprisonment, often reaching the point of premeditated murder.
The weapons that the country develops, acquires and uses are being tested on the Palestinians, and sometimes on other Arab peoples as well. Pegasus technology is a weapon even by Israeli standards. The license to sell it is a permit for the “arms trade” issued by the Israel Defense Ministry’s Export Control Authority.
According to information published in recent years, the Israeli security forces have used this program to spy on the inhabitants of Palestine and Arab states, and it is very easy to install it on the phone. The Israeli military leadership is proud of its accomplishments, and such technology was used in the Wall Guardian offensive in Gaza.
One of the main tasks of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi during his visit to the United States was to report to the US military command on the use of advanced intelligence technology to deliver precise military strikes. Israeli weapons have been tested in the fighting, and therefore potential buyers receive detailed reports on their effectiveness in the Palestinian, Arab and Iranian contexts.
At the same time, it is surprising that local media glorify electronic methods of persecuting Palestinians, but at the same time make reservations about their use to persecute opponents in authoritarian states. All this is accompanied by statements that Israel is a democratic state and did not persecute anyone, but rather defended itself during the aggression in Gaza.
Responsibility of NSO Group
The main defendant in the Pegasus case is the Israeli company NSO Group, which develops and sells offensive cyber technologies, including spyware for mobile phones. The company promotes this program as having no analogues in the world today and justifies it as follows.
Firstly, it is based on contactless technology, that is, phones are hacked without the need to ring back, send or receive a message. To install wiretapping, it is enough to know the phone number. Secondly, it is very difficult to detect the spyware installed on the phone, but even if you do this, it will self-destruct. Thirdly, it can record conversations near the phone, take pictures, track messages, audio and other files.
The NSO Group was founded in 2010 by three military personnel who served in the Israeli army’s cyber espionage unit and managed to attract huge investments for the development of the project. As follows from the text of the agreement that the company enters into with the buyers of the Pegasus program (this became known thanks to a lawyer who filed a lawsuit against the company’s activities in Mexico), NSO Group does not so much sell its products as guarantees continuous surveillance to solve certain problems, including collection of information.
The software is being updated to remain effective despite the development of new protections for phones and other communications.
According to representatives of the NSO Group, the company opposes human rights violations and does not control the illegal use of spyware, which was originally intended to fight terrorists and all other criminals, including murderers, drug dealers and perpetrators of the rape of women and children. Moreover, it is argued that initially the technology was not intended for use in the security sector, although in fact it began to be used against Palestinians, and later – opposition forces in different countries.
Obviously, the company bears full responsibility, as it produces a dangerous product, does nothing to prevent its illegal use and continues to work with it, although it knows exactly how it is used.
Finally, she provides advice on the technology. Unofficially, the founders of the company state that they sell their technologies to two groups of countries: those who respect human rights and have no problems in this area, as well as those who violate these rights. According to the company, these cyber technologies serve the interests of Israel and the entire “free world” in the field of security, as they fight terrorism.
Responsibility of the Government of Israel
The Israeli government’s responsibility is not limited to granting the company a license and approving all of its transactions. Even without knowing all the details of using Pegasus technology, she encourages its use and plays the role of intermediary and patron of the NSO Group, working with dozens of countries around the world.
When the company feared international responsibility and pressure following reports of its involvement in the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Netanyahu government made it clear: “We weathered the storm and will continue to work with Saudi Arabia.”
Netanyahu also called on two other Israeli companies to continue working with the kingdom, and the Israeli government granted four new local companies a license to contract with the Saudis, especially after the assassination of Khashoggi. As follows from an article published by the Haaretz newspaper a few days ago, the beginning of telephone espionage in India, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and Rwanda was laid after Netanyahu met with the leaders of these states. In other words, the spyware deals were part of an agreement with these countries.
The Israeli government has full authority to revoke security contracts with any country in the world. However, in reality, he uses his capabilities and reputation as a major player in the field of offensive and defensive cyber systems to obtain political, diplomatic and security benefits. For example, deals to sell e-espionage systems with Hungary played an important role in its actions in favor of Israel within the European Union and in preventing decisions in favor of the Palestinians.
Hungary was the only country to vote in Brussels against the call for a ceasefire during the recent aggression in Gaza. Israel also receives free intelligence by spying on spies while deploying Pegasus technology in other countries.
Israel is committing cybercrime and it is time to bring it to justice. The latest publication is a great opportunity for Arabs and Palestinians, and we hope that local leaders who have compromised themselves will make the right use of it.
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