Defense Ministry to Investigate Claims Against NSO

Israel’s Ministry of Defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, as seen from the Azrieli towers.

The Defense Ministry responded on Monday night to the global storm of criticism over allegations that the Israeli firm NSO Group sold surveillance technology to governments that used it to track political dissidents and journalists, some of whom were killed.

The ministry, which issues licenses for sale of technology abroad, said that it will investigate the claims and if they prove true will “take appropriate action.”

In a statement, the ministry said that Israel permits companies to export cyber security products to “government figures only for legal purposes and to prevent and investigate crimes and to combat terrorism. And this is dependent upon commitments regarding the end use/user from the purchasing country, which must abide by these conditions.”

“If it is found that there was use [of NSO Group’s products] in violation of the conditions of the license or in violation of the statements from the purchasing countries, we will take appropriate action,” the ministry said.

“It is important to note that the State of Israel does not have access to the information collected by the NSO Group’s customers,” it added.

However, the ministry would not say if it will pursue the specific allegations made in a collaborative investigative effort by major news organizations including the Washington Post, Le Monde, Die Zeit, the Guardian, Haaretz, PBS Frontline

The reporting focused on Pegasus, a spyware tool sold by NSO that it says is being used by dozens of governmental clients. The software installs itself on a phone without requiring users to click a link, and gives the hacker complete access to the entire contents of the phone, as well as the ability to use its cameras and microphone undetected.

NSO denies the accusations, maintaining that its business is conducted in compliance with the law.

NSO “firmly denies false claims made in your report which many of them are uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability of your sources, as well as the basis of your story,” the organization told the journalists involved in the project in an email.

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