Firm claims US spooks blessed purchase of Pegasus spyware maker – NYT

According to reports, talks between L3Harris Defense Contractor and NSO Cyberweapon Maker NSO ended badly

The New York Times reported that a US defense contractor attempted to acquire the famous Israeli firm behind Pegasus spyware. According to them, it claimed the support of the US intelligence agency. After being exposed by the media last month, talks are reported to have ended.

L3Harris’ Sunday report provided new information about its bid to buy the troubled Israeli company NSO. The US Department of Commerce had blacklisted NSO in November 2013. 

Washington imposed sanctions after years of reports that the Israeli company’s flagship product, Pegasus, was used by clients to spy on foreign officials, journalists and human-rights activists, which significantly hurt the NSO business.

According to The Times, L3Harris negotiators claimed that they received the silent support from the US intelligence to purchase NSO. It was meant to aid in the approval by the US of the deal, even though the Israeli company is on the blacklist. While meeting Amir Eshel from the Israeli Defense Ministry, American executives claimed the same thing. He would then have to give his approval on the planned acquisition.

Times sources claim that company officials said the US government would permit the deal under some conditions. They asked the NSO’s collection of ‘zero-day’ exploits and Pegasus source code to be offered to the members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, which incorporates the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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According to the report, there was a split in the Israeli government regarding the proposal. The Ministry of Defense supported it while the intelligence community opposed it. Additionally, the military wanted to retain authority to issue NSO export licenses. The Times reported that NSO services were de facto treated in Israel by Israel. “arm of the state.”This firm was able to take on the clients of nations which the Israeli government desired to strengthen relations with.

The first report on the talks was published by Intelligence Online last month. It also included a partial confirmation by Haaretz and The Washington Post. The Times and Washington Post reported that talks were cancelled by the Times a few days later. “there have been attempts to resuscitate the negotiations”.

US officials told both newspapers they were not aware of any support from within the American government for L3Harris’ bid to purchase NSO.

“After learning about the potential sale, the [intelligence community] did an analysis that raised concerns about the sale’s implications and informed the administration’s position,”The Times quoted a source saying.

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(FILE PHOTO) © Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images
Pegasus is a major spyware target because of its human rights violations

According to the newspaper, questions remain “about whether parts of the US government … had seized an opportunity to try to bring control of NSO’s powerful spyware under US authority”With or without White House knowledge

L3Harris earns billions every year through federal and state contracts. According to The Times, while the Pentagon is the primary source of its contracts, it also provides services for the FBI and the local police force in the US.

Azimuth Security was acquired by American spyware maker Azimuth in 2018. Two years prior Azimuth had helped the FBI unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, ending the agency’s stand-off with Apple over its refusal to provide the government access to the device. The company’s role was not revealed until last year.



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