Report: Israel pushes US to remove scandal-ridden NSO group from blacklist

Israel is reportedly pushing the Biden administration to remove Herzliya-based spyware firm NSO Group from a US government blacklist. The company has been criticized for its alleged use by authoritarian regimes to commit human rights abuses.

The US Department of Commerce added NSO Group to its entity list last November, barring it from acquiring US technology. It came months after explosive investigative reports revealed that Hungary, India, Mexico, Morocco and Saudi Arabia were among the company’s customers, using its software for purposes. questionable.

The United States justified its decision last week, saying that the NSO Group provides “spyware to foreign governments who use these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, business people, activists, academics and embassy employees”.

On Wednesday, the Axios news site reported that while the Israeli government initially rebuffed NSO’s request to lobby the Biden administration on its behalf, it has since been persuaded to help the company. The report cites three unnamed US and Israeli officials.

“We told the United States that they cannot destroy NSO and that several bad customers do not mean that the company’s products and capabilities are no longer needed,” said a senior Israeli official, adding that the The Biden administration should be clearer about what the e-business needs to reform and give it a chance to do so.

NSO has hired two US law firms to help it with its legal battle and submitted a request to the Commerce Department to appeal the listing, according to Axios. A hearing on the matter did not take place, but contact between NSO and the Commerce Department continues.

US President Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House, August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Sarahbeth Maney-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

Two of the officials – an Israeli and an American – told Axios that the US government was reviewing Israel’s request on behalf of the NSO Group, but a third US official denied that was the case.

A US official told Axios that the White House would not interfere in the appeal process.

A few days after the Commerce Department’s decision, the CEO of NSO wrote a letter directly to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, asking for his support in fighting the Biden administration’s decision.

Shalev Hulio has warned that being blacklisted will significantly harm his organization financially and damage its reputation, arguing that it could result in hundreds of workers being fired.

Israeli government intervention “would be a basic condition” for reversing the US decision, Hulio wrote.

The company’s flagship spyware, Pegasus, is considered one of the most powerful cyber-surveillance tools available on the market, giving operators the ability to effectively take full control of a target’s phone, download all device data or activate its camera or microphone without the user knowing.

The Israeli company has faced a torrent of international criticism, but insists its product is only intended to help countries fight crime and terrorism.

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