Technology

The FBI says Israel needs Pegasus hacking tool for investigation

Washington – The FBI informed the Israeli government in a 2018 letter that it had purchased Pegasus, a popular hacking tool, to collect data from cell phones to aid ongoing investigations, the clearest evidence so far at the office, using spyware as a tool. Of law enforcement.

Details of the FBI’s intentional use of the Pegasus were contained in a letter from a senior FBI official to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which was reviewed by The New York Times. Pegasus is manufactured by the Israeli company, NSO Group, which needs to be approved by the Israeli government before it can sell hacking tools to foreign governments.

The 2018 issue, written by an official in the FBI Operations Technology Department, states that the agency intends to use Pegasus “for the collection of information from mobile devices to prevent and investigate crimes and terrorism, in accordance with national privacy and security laws. . ”

The Times revealed in January that the FBI had acquired Pegasus in 2018 and, over the next two years, was testing spyware at a secret facility in New Jersey.

Since the publication of the article, FBI officials have acknowledged that they are considering using Pegasus, but have stressed that the agency has purchased the main spy tool to test and evaluate it – in part to assess how the enemy might use it. They say the office has never used spyware in any operation.

During a congressional hearing in March, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said the agency bought “limited licenses” for testing and evaluation “as part of our normal responsibility to assess the technologies that are there,

“So it’s different from using it to investigate anyone,” he said.

The Times revealed that the FBI has also been demonstrated by the NSO of a different hacking tool, Phantom, that can do what Pegasus could not – target and infiltrate US cell phones. After the protests, government lawyers spent years debating whether to buy and use the Phantom. It was not until last summer that the FBI and Justice Department decided not to use the NSO hacking tool in operation.

The FBI has paid the NSO about $ 5 million since the agency first bought Pegasus.

The Times sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act for bureaucratic documents relating to the purchase, testing, and possible use of NSO spyware. During a court hearing last month, a federal judge set an August 31 deadline for the FBI to produce all relevant documents or to be held in defamation. Government attorneys say the agency has so far identified more than 400 documents in response to the request.

The FBI’s letter to the NSO, dated December 4, 2018, states that “the US Government will not sell, hand over or transfer to any other party under any conditions without the prior approval of the Israeli government.”

Cathy L. Milhoan, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said the office “works diligently to keep up with emerging technologies and trading machines.”

“The FBI has purchased a license to explore future legal uses of NSO products and potential security concerns,” she said. “As part of this process, the FBI has met the requirements of the Israeli Export Control Agency. After testing and evaluation, the FBI has opted not to use the product in any investigation.”

A January article in the Times revealed that the CIA in 2018 arranged and paid the Djibouti government to buy Pegasus to assist its government in the fight against terrorism, despite long-standing concerns about human rights abuses there.

Pegasus is a so-called zero-click hacking tool – it can extract everything from the target cell phone, including photos, contacts, messages and video recordings, without the user having to click on a phishing link to give Pegasus remote access. It can also put the phone into a tracking device and record secretly, allowing the phone to spy on its owner.

The NSO has sold Pegasus to dozens of countries, using spyware as part of investigations into terrorist networks, pedophile rings and drug kingpins. But it has also been threatened by powerful and democratic governments, as well as spying on journalists and journalists. Human rights activists and political opponents.

On Tuesday, the head of a Spanish intelligence agency was fired after the reopening. It was recently revealed that both Spanish authorities were active and victims of terrorism. Pegasus tip.

The shooting of the officer, Paz Esteban, comes just days after the Spanish government said the cell phones of senior Spanish officials, including Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles, had been hacked last year by Pegasus. It was also recently revealed that the Spanish government has used Pegasus to hack the cell phones of Catalan politicians.

Israel has used the tool as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations, especially in the secret negotiations that led to the so-called Abraham Agreement, which normalized relations between Israel and some of Saudi Arabia’s historic adversaries.

In November, the Biden administration placed the NSO and other Israeli companies on a “blacklist” of companies banned from doing business with American companies. The Commerce Department says the company’s spyware tools have “enabled foreign governments to carry out transnational crackdowns, which are the actions of powerful governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside their sovereign borders to silence unrest.”

Mark Mazzetti Report from Washington, DC Ronen Bergman From Tel Aviv.

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