Spyware firm NSO asks Israeli government to help remove US sanctions

Spyware firm NSO asks Israeli government to help remove US sanctions
The spyware firm's CEO reportedly sent a 'secret' letter with his request to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet.
2 min read
12 November, 2021
This comes after the group was added to the US 'entity list', making it harder for US researchers to sell them information or technology [Getty]

Israeli spyware firm NSO Group has asked Tel Aviv to help lift US sanctions placed on it last week, Axios revealed on Thursday evening.

The group's CEO, Shalev Hulio, sent a "secret" letter with his request to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, which Axios says it obtained, stating that the sanctions could cause many Israeli job losses within the company.

"[Hulio] wrote that... the US decision... was a result of an orchestrated campaign by anti-Israeli organisations who want to harm Israeli companies... and stressed that formal backing by the Israeli government 'is a basic condition' for... efforts to lift the US sanctions," Axios reported.

NSO was blacklisted earlier this month "for engaging in activity contrary to the [country's] national security", based on evidence that their Pegasus spyware was developed and supplied "to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target" officials, journalists and activists, the US State Department of Commerce said in a statement.

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The NSO Group's addition to the so-called "entity list" means exports to them from US organisations will be restricted, making it harder for American researchers to sell them information or technology.

"We will advocate for this decision to be reversed," a NSO spokesperson told AFP.

A global investigation led by Paris-based journalism group Forbidden Stories revealed in July that Pegasus had been used in hacks of smartphones belonging to Middle Eastern royals, individuals connected to slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi - who was murdered in 2018 by a hit squad - and French President Emmanuel Macron, among others.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry also accused Israel on Thursday of using Pegasus to eavesdrop on three senior officials, after the phones of six Palestinian human rights activists and foreign ministry officials were hacked, as confirmed by non-profit Frontline Defenders in a joint technical report with Amnesty International.

NSO has insisted its software is intended for use only in fighting terrorism and other crimes.