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Israel's National Security Council 'looking into' NSO spyware allegations

A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021. - Reports that Israel-made Pegasus spyware has been used to monitor activists, journalists and politicians around the world highlight the diplomatic risks of nurturing and exporting "oppressive technology", experts warned. Private Israeli firm NSO Group has denied media reports its Pegasus software is linked to the mass surveillance of journalists and rights defenders, and insisted that all sales of its technology are approved by Israel's defence ministry. (Photo by Mario GOLDMAN / AFP) (Photo by MARIO GOLDMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021 [MARIO GOLDMAN/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel has set up a senior inter-ministerial team to "look into" proliferating allegations that spyware sold by a Israeli cyber firm has been abused on a global scale, an Israeli source said on Wednesday, while adding that an export review was unlikely, Reuters reported.

The team is headed by Israel's National Security Council, which answers to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and has broader areas of expertise than the Defence Ministry, which oversees exports of NSO Group's Pegasus software, the source said.

"This event is beyond the Defence Ministry purview," the source said, referring to potential diplomatic blowback after prominent media reports this week of suspected abuses of Pegasus in France, Mexico, India, Morocco and Iraq.

On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said French President Emmanuel Macron had called for a series of investigations to be carried out into the Pegasus spyware case.

READ: French President's phone number amongst list of NSO's Pegasus targets

The phone of Macron was on a list of potential targets for possible surveillance on behalf of Morocco in the Pegasus case, reported French paper Le Monde on Tuesday.

The source, who has first-hand knowledge of the Israeli team and requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, deemed it "doubtful" that new curbs would be placed on Pegasus exports.

Stopping short of describing the team's task as a formal investigation, the source said: "The objective is to find out what happened, to look into this issue and learn lessons."

NSO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bennett's office declined comment. Addressing a cyber conference on Wednesday, the prime minister did not mention the NSO affair.

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