US lawmakers are demanding information from national intelligence agencies about the extent of Israeli spyware use, according to an article in the New York Times released last week.
The paper reported that California Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) asking for details about the agency’s use of software known as Graphite, made by the Israeli cybertech startup Paragon.
The use of this tool by the AED was first reported by the New York Times in early December 2022.
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“Such use could have potential implications for US national security and thwart efforts to prevent the wide proliferation of powerful surveillance capabilities to the benefit of autocratic regimes, among others, that could misuse it,” Schiff wrote to the DEA.
Meanwhile, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who serves on the US Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI), contacted the FBI to get details of the agency’s tests on Israeli group NSO’s infamous Pegasus software and what we can expect from it. agency. in the future. The FBI admitted to purchasing the software, but said it did so only for testing purposes and to discover the latest features of this type of spyware.
The New York Times reported in November that several agency officials had tried to deploy it for use in some cases, but those plans were scrapped.
“The American people have a right to know the extent of the FBI’s hacking activity and the rules governing the use of this controversial surveillance technique,” Wyden said.
the article of New York Times about the DEA’s use of graffiti was part of an article that the global spyware industry was “out of control”.
Citing five unnamed people with knowledge of the case, the article says the DEA uses software from Paragon, a company backed by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Spy software allows users to collect data saved from an individual’s phone for the a cloud.
The article quotes a DEA official as saying the agency only used it outside the United States as part of its efforts to stop drug cartels. The DEA did not deny the use of the spyware, saying it “uses every legal investigative tool available” in its search for foreign drug traffickers.
The United States has blacklisted Israeli spyware companies NSO and Candiru by the end of 2021. New York Times, the FBI lobbied in late 2020 and the first half of 2021 to use NSO’s infamous Pegasus program, considered one of the most powerful tools, before it was banned. The tool has been sold to law enforcement agencies around the world, although critics charge it has also been used by governments and repressive regimes to hunt down journalists, activists and dissidents, among others.
The New York Times found that Paragon and other companies — some of which employ former NSO employees and other Israeli tech workers — are filling the void left by the NSO blacklist, developing software that can copy the entire contents of a user’s phone and use it. it to spy on the user.
Paragon was founded three years ago by Ehud Schneorson, former commander of IDF Intelligence Unit 8200. According to the article, some of its staff previously worked for the NSO, and former Prime Minister Barak sat on its board. Among its sponsors is the American company Battery Ventures, according to Start-up Nation Central (SNC).
Another company, Intellexa – founded in Greece by former Israeli army officer Tal Dilian, and already embroiled in a series of scandals – was authorized by Athens to sell its Predator spyware to Madagascar, a country known for its human rights violations.
Citing the Greek government, the article says that Intellexa also made a commercial proposal to sell products to Ukraine, which rejected the offer. It adds that the Predator was used in a dozen more countries in 2021. The Predator was detected in Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Germany, among other countries, the report said. New York Timesciting research conducted by Meta, as well as Canadian cybersecurity watchdog group Citizen Lab.
The program has also been used in Greece against journalists and opposition figures, although the Greek government denies any involvement and considers the spyware illegal.
Before settling in Greece, Dilian had settled in Cyprus but had trouble leaving in 2019 as he spoke to the magazine forbes how the software he traded could hack nearby phones while he was driving a van in the city of Larnaca.
Cypriot authorities have issued an arrest warrant via global police agency Interpol after a video of the van went viral. Dilian ended up settling the case through her lawyer, paying a $1 million fine, according to the report.
The White House is preparing an executive order aimed at restricting the use of spyware in the United States, the article said, quoting a White House official who said, on condition of anonymity, that he planned to prevent the use of tools that amount to “counter-espionage and security risks” or were used “inappropriately” by governments outside the United States.
Israel tried unsuccessfully to get a response from Washington about its “red lines” regarding the use of spyware, Defense Ministry Director General Amir Eshel said.
Israel’s Ministry of Defense tightly controls sales of defense technology abroad, but Eshel noted that it has no control over companies established by Israelis abroad, such as Intellexa.
The Financial Times reported earlier this month that, suffering from previous crises and a lack of customers and revenue, the notorious NSO Group welcomes the return of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, as it believes he will ease restrictions on Israeli spyware exports to countries with problematic human rights issues, notably Saudi Arabia.
The newspaper cited multiple sources in its article as saying that the Israeli company that developed the controversial Pegasus software is at risk of bankruptcy after becoming embroiled in human rights scandals around the world, shunned by the United States and increasingly by the Europe too. , and facing increasing Israeli measures that hinder its ability to sell its products to undemocratic countries.
UK media have quoted multiple unnamed sources as saying that when he was prime minister, Netanyahu encouraged the export of intelligence software, using it as a ‘motivator’ in an effort to improve Israel’s clandestine security ties. Israel along with countries such as Saudi Arabia, India, and nations in the Gulf region and East Africa.