Reports suggest how Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group has been carrying out a wide campaign in the US to get off its government’s blacklist. NSO Group is the same group behind the development of the infamous Pegasus spyware. It is mainly a hacking tool that could be utilised to suck in the contents of phone. Essentially, this is done remotely without the victim having to face a phishing trap by tapping on a suspicious link. Moreover, it can be used to remotely record and track by using the phone.
In November last year, the Biden Administration placed NSO to a Commerce Department list of restricted firms. This was following a series of investigations revealing that foreign governments had used Pegasus against human rights activists and journalists. For instance, a forensic analysis from July 2021 showed how two people close to Jamal Khashogi were targeted by Pegasus previously, and after October 2018 when his assassination took place. The exiled Saudi Arabian journalist was an American resident, and was murdered by Saudi authorities in Turkey.
The NSO Group had said that its technology “was not associated in any way with the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
In 2021, the Israeli group had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars as payments to US law firms, lobbyists and public relation companies. Essentially, this was in the hope of reversing of the decision taken in November by the Biden administration. This was disclosed by people familiar and record filed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. The law firms had approached US House and Senate members, along with several media organisations, and think tanks in the country.
NSO is attempting to raise the matter at the time of a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and US president Joe Biden, who would visit Israel this week. Additionally, NSO lobbyists unsuccessfully attempted to organise a meeting between company representations and Jake Sullivan, a US National Security Adviser. However, the meeting never ended up taking place.
Being on the Entity List is a significant sanction, though way lesser than being placed on the Specially Designated Nationals list. At the time of the Biden administration’s decision, NSO stated that it would work towards its reversal. First, it hired the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in July 2021 for advice on tender and compliance requirements. The group still retains its service at of 2022, which started at $75,000 per month.
Further, Pillsbury hired Chartwell, the strategic advisory group at $50,000-$75,000 a month, which met House Intelligence Committee representatives. Last year, its members for more serious sanctions of NSO group under the Magnitsky Act. The company, in January this year, the firm hired the Paul Hasting law firm, which had a call with Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore.