French Intelligence Confirms Findings of NSO Investigation

Amitai Ziv
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LED lights and toy figures are seen in front of displayed binary code and words "Cyber attack"
LED lights and toy figures are seen in front of displayed binary code and words "Cyber attack"Credit: DADO RUVIC
Amitai Ziv

One of France's intelligence organizations, which is responsible for investigating the Pegasus spyware created by Israeli cyber-espionage firm NSO, said that the surveillance software has been found on the telephone of a senior journalist for France 24, the Le Monde newspaper reported Thursday.

The news comes in the wake of the publication of a massive international investigation called Project Pegasus, led by an organization called Forbidden Stories together with Amnesty International and a consortium of newspapers and journalists across the world. The investigation, based on leaked data, revealed a long list of high-profile individuals that were selected as potential targets for the firm’s Pegasus spyware by its clients.

This is the first external and official confirmation of the project's findings. The French investigation was led by ANSSI, France’s National Agency for the Security of Information Systems, in cooperation with the police’s cyber unit and its internal intelligence services. NSO has not yet responded to questions regarding the latest developments.

Israeli cyber firm NSO Group at one of its branches in the Arava DesertCredit: AMIR COHEN

At the same time, the U.S. National Public Radio also reported that an NSO employee informed them that the company has suspended the accounts of several international government clients to investigate possible misuse.

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The basis for this is that NSO is currently conducting an inquiry into each target and account that appears in the investigative report, checking whether their use of the surveillance software went counter to the terms of their contract. NSO's cyber tools are supposed to be used solely to prevent terrorism and serious crime, and not for diplomatic purposes or to track dissidents.

The Project Pegasus report revealed a long list of alleged violations of terms of service for the surveillance tool. The list of potential targets includes journalists and human rights activists, as well as heads of state. The investigation has raised international criticism of Israel and has drawn it into a diplomatic crisis. In light of the news of the news that French President Emmanuel Macron was on the list of targets, Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew to France on Wednesday to discuss it. 

Israeli cyber firm NSO Group Herzliya branch Credit: Daniella Cheslow

On Thursday, a Defense Ministry delegation paid a surprise visit to the NSO offices in Herzliya in order to examine the company's affairs. Or, as a ministry spokesperson said, “Representatives of a number of bodies arrived today at NSO to examine the reports and claims concerning it.” It seems that the National Security Council is also involved in the examination, along with various intelligence organizations.

In addition, according to reports by the Washington Post and the Axios website, the Biden administration is also concerned about the investigative report's findings, and spoke with senior Israeli figures on the matter.

The diplomatic crisis has pushed Israel to reevaluate its defense technology export policies, resulting in the establishment of an inter-ministerial group of representatives from the defense, justice and foreign ministries, along with the IDF and intelligence organizations. The team is headed by the director general of the Defense Ministry, Amir Eshel, and the director general of the Foreign Ministry, Alon Ushpiz.

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