WASHINGTON – The FBI warned the Israeli government in a 2018 letter that it had purchased Pegasus, a malicious device used for theft, to collect data from cell phones to facilitate ongoing investigations , the most authentic evidence to date that heavy offices use spyware as a tool. of the police.
The FBI’s description of its intent to use Pegasus came in a letter from the FBI director to Israel’s Ministry of Defense, which was investigated by the New York Times. Pegasus was developed by an Israeli company, NSO Group, which had to get approval from the Israeli government before it could sell the stolen equipment to a foreign government.
The 2018 letter, written by an FBI agent, stated that the agency was planning to use Pegasus “to record data from cell phones to prevention and investigation of crime and terrorism, in line with national privacy and security. ”
Time announced in January that the FBI had acquired Pegasus in 2018 and, two years later, tested the spyware at a secret location in New Jersey.
Since the article was published, FBI agents have confirmed that they have decided to use Pegasus but have said that the agency has purchased most spying devices to detect and measure it – partly. to measure how the enemy will use it. They say the agency did not use spyware in the operation.
During a hearing in March, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said the agency had “authorized a ban” on testing and investigation “as part of our commitment. Daily work to examine the technology available there, not only by thinking. Of them can be used for a legal day, but more importantly, the safety concerns are anything from product to product. “
“So, it’s very different from using it to check on anyone,” he said.
The Times reported that the FBI had also received demonstrations by the NSO of a different hijacker, the Phantom, which could make the Pegasus impossible – targeting and accessing US phones. tes. After the protests, government lawyers spent years debating whether to buy and deliver Phantom. It was not until last summer that the FBI and the Department of Justice decided not to use NSO hacking equipment in operation.
The FBI has paid about $ 5 million to the NSO since the agency first bought Pegasus.
Time sued the FBI under the Code of Information for office information related to the purchase, testing and export of NSO spyware. During a court hearing last month, a federal judge set a deadline of August 31 for the FBI to establish all relevant or convicted cases. Federal prosecutors said the agency so far has identified more than 400 pages of information that has been answered in the petition.
An FBI letter sent to the NSO, dated 4 December 2018, stated that “The United States Government will not sell, send or transmit to anyone under any circumstances without the consent of the government. Israel. “
Cathy L. Milhoan, an FBI expert, said the agency was “committed to adhering to the latest technology and products.”
“The FBI has purchased a license to investigate future potential use of the law on NSO products and concerns about the safety of the products,” he added. “As part of this process, the FBI has met the requirements of the Israeli Export Control Agency. After testing and measurement, the FBI has opted not to use commercial products in the investigation.”
The Times article in January reported that the CIA in 2018 planned and paid the Djibouti government to get Pegasus to assist his government in the fight against terrorism, despite long-standing concerns about terrorism. torturing people there.
Pegasus is known as a zero-click hacking tool – it can remove everything from the target cell phone, including photos, contacts, messages and video system, without any hassle. the user has to click on the phishing link to give Pegasus remote access. It can also turn the phone into a tracking and confidential information, allowing the phone to monitor its owner.
NSO has sold Pegasus to several countries, which have used spyware as part of a search for terrorist networks, pedophile rings and drug kingpins. But it has also been plagued by political and democratic instability as well as censorship of journalists, human rights activists and anti-government activists.
On Tuesday, the head of Spain’s intelligence service was fired after a recent incident in which both Spanish police were dispatched and were victims of Pegasus spyware.
The assassination of the leader, Paz Esteban, comes days after the Spanish government claimed that the cell phones of major Spanish leaders, including Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Minister of Defense Margarita Robles, had been hacked. for the last year by Pegasus. It has also recently been reported that the Spanish government has used Pegasus to access cell phones of Catalan separatists.
Israel has used the tool as a means of dialogue in dialogue, especially in secret conversations that led to the so-called Abraham Accords that normalize relations. quality of Israel and several of its historical Arab enemies.
In November, Biden officials put NSO and other Israeli companies on a “blacklist” of companies banned from doing business with US companies. The Department of Commerce says spyware companies have been “working for foreign governments to carry out cross-border attacks, which are the result of federal government targeting hackers.” lest journalists and protesters outside their area stop protesting. “
Mark Mazzetti taught by Washington, too Ronen Bergman by Tel Aviv.