The American defense contractor L3 Harris attempts to buy the Pegasus spying and hacking technology from a banned Israeli company was backed by US government officials.
That’s according to a new bombshell report from the New York Times.
L3 Harris abandoned negotiations with NSO Group after their talks were widely reported in June.
Since November 2021, the Biden Administration has blacklisted NSO Group on the Commerce Department’s Entity List barring US companies from doing business with the Israeli firm.
The Times report cites five people familiar with the negotiations in reporting that multiple US intelligence agencies were supportive of L3 Harris’ deal with NSO Group.
Founder and CEO of NSO Group Shalev Hulioco, on the left, has been described as a ‘indiscreet’ and a James Bond obsessive. On the right, L3Harris Technologies CEO Christopher Kubasik
Since November 2021, the Biden Administration has blacklisted NSO Group on the Commerce Department’s Entity List barring US companies from doing business with the Israeli firm
That support was conditional on NSO Group allowing for their ‘zero days’ technology, a piece of tech that allows Pegasus to hack into cell phones, to be sold to the so-called other members of Five Eyes, an intelligence community featuring the US, along with Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking to the Washington Post, an anonymous US government official said that after the reports of the talks were made public, an L3 Harris representative told the Biden administration that the talks were off.
When the attempted L3 Harris deal was reported, the White House said in a statement that the company’s deal could ‘pose a serious counterintelligence and security risk to U.S. personnel and systems.’
The Biden Administration accused Pegasus of being ‘misused around the world to enable human rights abuses, including to target journalists, human rights activists, or others perceived as dissidents and critics.’
L3Harris is a Melbourne, Florida, based defense contractor who counts the Department of Defense as their biggest client
According to the Times reporting, that statement caught L3Harris off guard.
That’s despite the company knowing that there would be ‘definitive pushback’ from within the intelligence community, according to The Guardian.
A statement on the todays reports from the US government published in the Washington Post reads: ‘We are unaware of any indications of support or involvement from anyone in a decision-making, policymaking or senior role.’
It continued: ‘The U.S. Government was not involved in and did not support or attempt to facilitate any reported potential transaction involving a foreign commercial surveillance software company on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List. In fact, the intelligence community expressed concerns after learning about the possibility of the sale, which informed the administration’s concerns.’
Lockdown Mode will be released this autumn with iOS 16, the tech giant’s new software update
Earlier in July, Apple announced a new ‘Lockdown Mode’ for iPhones, iPads and Macs to protect against Pegasus-style cyber attacks.
Lockdown Mode is an optional protection for users who face ‘grave, targeted threats to their digital security’, like journalists and activists, Apple said.
When a device is in Lockdown Mode, apps, websites and features are restricted for security reasons, and others are completely disabled.
For example, most message attachment types in the Messages app other than images are blocked and other features, like link previews, are disabled.
Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are blocked if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.
The new mode also blocks access to an iPhone when it is connected to a computer or accessory.
Lockdown Mode will be released this autumn with iOS 16, the tech giant’s new software update, announced last month.
The website of Israeli company NSO Group which features Pegasus spyware, pictured in Helsinki, Finland on January 28
US government agencies were contacted by the NSO Group, an Israeli cyberweapons firm, multiple times between 2019 and last summer over a possible deal involving Pegasus, according to the New York Times Magazine.
The firm, which has been accused of aiding human rights abuses in nations across the globe, demonstrated a new system, called ‘Phantom,’ during a presentation to officials in Washington, that could hack into any phone nationwide.
While the country’s top law enforcement agency ultimately did not purchase or procure the spyware software, an FBI spokesperson told the Times that investment in such technologies not only helps to ‘combat crime’ but also, apparently, can ‘protect both the American people and our civil liberties.’
Several reasons have been offered as to why the FBI decided against procuring the device-hacking tool, chief among them a series of lawsuits and controversies that persisted against the software distribution firm at the time of negotiations.