Israeli defence ministry officials on Wednesday inspected the offices of cyber-surveillance company NSO Group after a consortium of news outlets reported that the Pegasus spyware made by the company was used to target journalists, political leaders, human rights activists and government officials in several countries, The Guardian reported.
While initial reports said that authorities raided the premises of the NSO Group, the company that had just been “visited”.
The firm said it was informed in advance that authorities responsible for overseeing commercial exports of cyber-surveillance technologies would be doing an inspection. “The company is working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities,” NSO said.
In a tweet, the defence ministry confirmed that their visit was to assess allegations about Pegasus that were published in articles this month by 17 media organisations.
From a leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers obtained by the Paris-based journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International, journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance. This became the basis of a global investigation called the Pegasus Project.
Wednesday’s inspection of NSO Group was carried out at the same time when Israel Defence Minister Benny Gantz arrived in Paris and discussed the Pegasus Project revelations with his French counterpart Florence Parly, according to The Guardian. French President Emmanuel Macron’s number was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco.
Last week, the Moroccan government had filed a defamation suit against human rights body Amnesty International and French media non-profit Forbidden Stories in relation to the alleged surveillance using the Pegasus spyware. This appears to be the first lawsuit filed in the matter by the government of a country against which there are allegations of spying.
During their meeting, Gantz told Parly that Israel was investigating the surveillance allegations “with the utmost seriousness”. “Israel grants cyber licences only to nation-states and only to be used for the needs of dealing with terrorism and crime,” a statement from the Israeli defence ministry added.
Israel has set up a senior inter-ministerial team to look into the matter. But, NSO has in multiple statement maintained that reports about misuse of Pegasus spyware were “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”.