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US defence group in talks to buy Israel’s blacklisted Pegasus spyware

June 17, 2022 at 2:22 pm

This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel’s NSO Group which features ‘Pegasus’ spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021 [JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images]

The US defence contractor L3Harris Technologies is in talks with Israel’s notorious NSO Group surveillance technology to purchase the firm’s spyware tools despite it being placed on a US blacklist.

The Biden administration is warning that this potential acquisition is deeply concerning and would raise serious counterintelligence and security concerns for the US government, according to the Washington Post.

Last November, the US Department of Commerce added Israel’s NSO and Candiru cyber intelligence companies to the blacklist of companies that it describes as engaging in activities that undermine US national security and the foreign interests of America.

Florida-based L3Harris is traded on the NYSE with a market cap of $43.7 billion. The company has $400 million cash in its coffers so if the deal were to go ahead it would be required to seek financing. The company’s share price fell 2.7 per cent after news of the negotiations were published, reported Globes.

US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who chairs the finance committee and is a critic of government-sanctioned spying, said in a statement to the Guardian: “If the US plans on using foreign-made surveillance technology, it might as well bcc the country that produces it on every intercept. It’s a serious national security risk, similar to the concerns associated with using foreign communications technology. The White House is right to raise concerns about this deal.”

According to the Financial Times, an Israeli official, who declined to address the progress of any talks because they were “a private commercial matter”, said the Ministry of Defence, “will have a clear interest in ensuring that this crucial technology remains in safe hands that the state of Israel can trust”.

“Such a transaction, if it were to take place, raises serious counter-intelligence and security concerns,” the official added.

Israel has been under global pressure to stop the export of spyware since last July, after a group of international rights and media organisations revealed that the Pegasus programme produced by NSO was used to hack the phones of journalists, prime ministers, officials and human rights activists in many countries.

NSO has also faced lawsuits and criticism from major technology companies who accuse it of putting their customers at risk of hacking; Apple was among the most prominent companies launched a lawsuit.

READ: Israeli pressure on Biden to remove Pegasus spyware from blacklist