Pegasus Scandal: Top Israeli Defence Committee to Convene 'Closed' Session on Use of Offensive Cyberarms
Jerusalem, August 4: Israel’s top defence committee will convene a special session on the use of "offensive cyberarms" in the wake of international backlash over the alleged misuse of NSO Group's Pegasus software and further revelations that other Israeli firms may have also supplied similar spyware solutions to other countries, according to a media report.
The Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee will convene a closed session to discuss not just NSO and the string of revelations about its spyware’s potential targets exposed as part of the Project Pegasus, but also other Israeli offensive firms that have made headlines in recent months, the daily Haaretz reported on Tuesday.
The Pegasus Project is a consortium of media outlets that reported the NSO's Pegasus spyware was linked to hacks and potential surveillance.
Firms like Candiru and Quadream have also sold their spyware solutions to non-democratic regimes, the report said.
"The session of the influential Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee is apparently not listed on their official agenda and it will be sealed off from the public and its minutes kept off the record because the session will be held by a sub-committee dedicated to “intelligence issues and other special issues,” the daily reported.
The meeting is reportedly set for August 9, though the committee chair, lawmaker Ram Ben Barak, has denied it.
“Check your sources,” his office told Haaretz when asked for a response about the planned discussion.
The subcommittee dedicated to intelligence is a small forum comprising only four lawmakers - Ben Barak, who in the past was the deputy head of the Mossad, Eli Avidar, who served in the agents' department within Israel’s military intelligence, Eitan Ginzburg and Zvi Hauser.
It is still unclear as to who will represent the defence establishment and what security bodies will be present, the report said.
The alleged use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a number of countries, including India, triggered concerns over issues relating to privacy.
With new information on the scandal pouring in, it was reported on Monday that the phone of a prominent British human rights lawyer and close associate of Princess Latifa of Dubai was infected by NSO's Pegasus software.
On Monday, an Amnesty International forensic analysis also revealed that an additional British phone belonging to a Muslim activist was also actually targeted, along with the phones of three others - journalists from Hungary and Turkey and a legal official in India.
Le Monde reported that a French intelligence service confirmed that three phones belonging to journalists in the country were also targeted and showed signs of either the Pegasus software or attempts to have it installed, further straining tensions with France.
Paris has protested strongly, with President Emmanuel Macron himself reportedly calling Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett after news came out that his phone was targeted by Pegasus spyware.
Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, visited Paris last week on Wednesday and assured his French counterpart, Florence Parly, that Jerusalem is taking the issue "seriously".
Jerusalem has established a committee to review the allegations of misuse of the NSO group's surveillance software and hinted at a possible "review of the whole matter of giving licences" after the matter came to light.
A report in France earlier this week said that the French government has asked Israel to ban the use of the Pegasus spyware in France, Haaretz said.
A source close to NSO reportedly told the Washington Post that as of six months ago NSO blocked the spyware being deployed on UK phone numbers.
At the beginning of last week, the firm said the leaked list was part of an “international conspiracy".
“The report by Forbidden Stories is full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources. It seems like the ‘unidentified sources’ have supplied information that has no factual basis and is far from reality,” the company said in the statement.
“The numbers in the list are not related to NSO Group, and they never were – stating that they are, is fabricated information. It is not a list of targets or potential targets of NSO's customers, and your repeated reliance on this list and association of the people on this list as potential surveillance targets is false and misleading," the statement added.
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