Biden's top Middle East adviser raises concerns directly during White House meeting with “Israeli” defense official
The US has raised concerns with Israel about an “Israeli” firm's spyware that has been used by governments to spy on rights activists, journalists and politicians, according to a recently released report.
The Biden administration raised concerns directly with “Israeli” officials after Tel Aviv granted NSO Group licenses to export its Pegasus spyware to foreign governments, Axios reported on Wednesday.
The NSO Group has been linked to a list of tens of thousands of smartphone numbers, including those of activists, journalists, business executives and politicians around the world.
The spyware is capable of switching on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvesting its data. It first emerged in media reports in 2016 when researchers accused it of helping to spy on a dissident in the United Arab Emirates.
Other high-profile targets have included French President Emmanuel Macron and Pakistan's premier Imran Khan.
They are two of roughly 600 politicians caught up in the Pegasus controversy as “Israel” faces a diplomatic crisis.
Brett McGurk, US President Joe Biden's top Middle East aide, met last Thursday at the White House with a senior “Israeli” defense official to discuss the ongoing controversy, Axios reported, citing anonymous Israeli officials.
Zohar Palti reportedly sought to assure McGurk that Tel Aviv is taking the matter very seriously and is reviewing whether there were violations of its export licenses and if changes are needed to [Israel's] export regulations.
The meeting came amid mounting pressure in Congress for the Biden administration to sanction the NSO group.
"Private companies should not be selling sophisticated cyber-intrusion tools on the open market, and the United States should work with its allies to regulate this trade. Companies that sell such incredibly sensitive tools to dictatorships are the A.Q. Khans of the cyber world," congress members Tom Malinowski, Katie Porter, Joaquin Castro and Anna Eshoo said in a joint statement.
They were referring to the Pakistani engineer who fathered Pakistan's nuclear weapons program in what was a major blow to international non-proliferation efforts.
"The NSO Group’s denials are not credible, and show an arrogant disregard for concerns that elected officials, human rights activists, journalists, and cyber-security experts have repeatedly raised. The authoritarian governments purchasing spyware from private companies make no distinction between terrorism and peaceful dissent," they added./agencies