U.S. Intel Officials Backed NSO Purchase, NYT Reports, but Talks Called Off

L3Harris' negotiations with the blacklisted Israeli firm for its Pegasus spyware were quietly backed by intelligence officials, according to The New York Times, but the American defense firm terminated the talks after media reports turned them public

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Haaretz
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NSO Group logo is shown on a smartphone which is placed on a keyboard in this illustration.
NSO Group logo is shown on a smartphone which is placed on a keyboard in this illustration.Credit: DADO RUVIC/ REUTERS
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Haaretz

American intelligence officials had backed U.S. defense firm L3Harris's bid to purchase the blacklisted Israeli spyware company NSO, The New York Times reported on Sunday, but an official said negotiations were terminated.

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L3Harris informed the U.S. government it was no longer pursuing the acquisition of NSO shortly after media reports about the administration's disapproval of the talks surfaced last month, a U.S. official told the Times.

According to sources familiar with the talks, the L3Harris team's efforts had the quiet backing from American intelligence officials before the negotiations were exposed.

Last month, the White House released a statement outlining the administration's concerns about L3Harris' acquisition of NSO's spyware, saying it would "pose a serious counterintelligence and security risk to U.S. personnel and systems."

The statement also noted that the spyware, known as Pegasus, had "also been misused around the world to enable human rights abuses, including to target journalists, human rights activists, or others perceived as dissidents and critics."

The controversial Pegasus spyware, developed by NSO, is notorious for being able to hack into mobile devices and give client operators, such as governments or national intelligence agencies, complete access to the targets' devices. It is a "zero-click" hacking that doesn't require the user to click on a phishing link to grant it remote access.

After it was discovered the American officials' phones in Africa had been hacked using Pegasus in November, it was determined that one of NSO's client was probably responsible. As a result, the U.S. Department of Commerce blacklisted NSO.

The action followed the publication of a number of investigations by the Project Pegasus investigative journalist consortium, led by the Paris-based NGO Forbidden Stories, alleging abuse of the Pegasus spyware by governments around the world.

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