The FBI has said it wants a Pegasus hacking tool to investigate.

The FBI has said it wants a Pegasus hacking tool to investigate.

WASHINGTON – The FBI informed the Israeli government in a 2018 letter that it had purchased the infamous Pegasus hacking tool to collect data from mobile phones to help with the ongoing investigation, the clearest document ever. There is evidence that the Bureau used spyware as a tool. Of law enforcement.

Details of the FBI’s intended use of Pegasus were revealed in a letter from a senior FBI official to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which was reviewed by the New York Times. Pegasus is developed by the Israeli firm, NSO Group, which needs to get approval from the Israeli government before selling the hacking tool to a foreign government.

The 2018 letter, written by an official with the FBI’s Operations Technology Division, states that the Bureau intends to “allow Pegasus to collect data from mobile devices for the prevention and investigation of crimes and terrorism, confidentiality.” And to be used in compliance with national security laws. “

The Times revealed in January that the FBI bought Pegasus in 2018 and, over the next two years, tested spyware on a secret facility in New Jersey.

Since the article was published, FBI officials have acknowledged that they considered deploying Pegasus but insisted that the Bureau had purchased the spy tool primarily for testing and testing. Partly to figure out how opponents can use it. He said the bureau had never used spyware in any operation.

During a congressional hearing in March, FBI Director Christopher A. Ray said the Bureau had purchased a “limited license” for testing and evaluation, and was reviewing these technologies as part of its routine responsibilities. Take the ones that are there, not just from one point of view. Can they be used legally one day, but more importantly, what are the security concerns from these products?

“So, it’s very different from using it for interrogation,” he said.

The Times revealed that the FBI had also received a demonstration of a different hacking tool, the Phantom, from the NSO, which could do what Pegasus could not do – by infiltrating US cell phone numbers. Can After the demonstration, government lawyers spent years debating whether to buy and deploy the Phantom. It wasn’t until last summer that the FBI and the Justice Department decided not to deploy NSO hacking tools into operations.

The FBI has paid the NSO about ً 5 million since the Bureau bought Pegasus for the first time.

The Times has sued the FBI over bureau documents relating to the purchase, testing and possible deployment of NSO spyware tools under the Freedom of Information Act. During a court hearing last month, a federal judge set August 31 as the deadline for the FBI to produce all relevant documents or be arrested for contempt of court. Prosecutors say the bureau has so far identified more than 400 pages of documents that were in response to the request.

The FBI’s letter to the NSO, dated December 4, 2018, states that “the United States Government will not sell, deliver or otherwise transfer to any other party under any condition without the prior approval of the Government of Israel.” “

FBI spokeswoman Kathy L. Mulhon said the bureau “works diligently to keep abreast of emerging technologies and trades.”

“The FBI purchased a license to investigate the possible future legal use of the NSO product and the potential security concerns of the product,” he continued. “As part of this process, the FBI met the requirements of the Israeli Export Control Agency. After testing and evaluation, the FBI chose not to use the product in practice in any investigation.

A January article in The Times revealed that the CIA had acquired Pegasus in 2018 to assist the Djibouti government in its fight against terrorism, despite long-standing concerns about human rights abuses. Arranged to pay.

Pegasus is a so-called zero-click hacking tool – it can remotely remove everything from the target’s mobile phone, including photos, contacts, messages and video recordings, giving the user remote access to Pegasus by clicking on a phishing link. Without It can also turn the phone into a tracking and secret recording device, allowing the phone to spy on its owner.

The NSO has sold Pegasus to dozens of countries that have used spyware as part of investigations into terrorist networks, pedophile rings and drug lords. But it has also been misused by dictatorial and democratic governments to spy on journalists, human rights activists and political opponents.

On Tuesday, the head of Spain’s intelligence agency was fired following recent revelations that Spanish authorities were both stationed and suffering from Pegasus spyware.

The removal of Paz Esteban comes just days after the Spanish government announced that the cell phones of Spanish officials, including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Defense Minister Margareta Rubles, had been hacked by Pegasus last year. It was also recently revealed that the Spanish government had used Pegasus to infiltrate the cell phones of Catalan separatist politicians.

Israel has used the tool as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations, especially in the secret negotiations that led to the so-called Abraham Accords, which strained relations between Israel and its many historic Arab opponents. Brought to normal.

In November, Biden’s administration blacklisted NSO and another Israeli firm for doing business with US companies. The Commerce Department said the companies’ spyware tools have “enabled foreign governments to exert international repression, which is the practice of dictatorial regimes that seek to silence dissent from opponents, journalists outside their sovereign borders.” And target workers. “

Mark Mazzetti Reported from Washington, and Ronenbergman From Tel Aviv

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