Israeli cybertech company NSO Group has denied wrongdoing as it called its criticism of the sale of the Pegasus spyware program to non-democratic countries “hypocritical”, comparing the surveillance technology to military weapons systems by others. , amid mounting allegations that the software was misused globally, including in Israel.
Shalev Hulio, an undisputed chief executive of NSO Group, strongly defended the company’s operations in an interview to Israeli Channel 12 on Saturday, although he also acknowledged that some “mistakes” may have occurred over the years.
When Hulio was asked if he could do so in the midst of so much criticism around the world, he told the Chanel interviewer, “I sleep well at night.”
Hulio’s interview on Friday came a day after a New York Times report claimed that India had bought Pegasus spyware in 2017 as part of a USD 2 billion defense deal with Israel, leading to conflict with the opposition. A major controversy had arisen, alleging that the government was indulging in illegal espionage. Which was the equivalent of “treason”.
“There isn’t a country that we’ve sold, not one that the US doesn’t sell, or that Israel doesn’t. So it’s a bit hypocritical to say that it’s okay to sell F-35s and tanks and drones, but to collect intelligence. It is not right to sell the equipment,” said Hulio, defending the company’s position.
He also pointed out that out of around 90 customers who went to him for the technology, he sold only around 40 as per the prescribed norms.
In response to the company’s blacklisting by the US Commerce Department in November, the company’s senior-most executive called it an “outrage” that he expects to be taken down soon.
“Our technology has greatly helped the interests of the United States and national security over the years,” he claimed. “I think a company like NSO is on [a US blacklist] There is an outcry, I am sure we will be taken off that list. I have no doubt.”
The NSO Group and its controversial Pegasus technology, which has drawn the attention of governments and people around the world with allegations of abuse in India, have been blacklisted by the US Commerce Department for acting “contrary to US foreign policy and national security interests”. went. “In November last year.
Israel has distanced itself from the controversy arising from the blacklisting of the NSO Group following allegations of illegal use of its Pegasus spyware to target government officials, activists and journalists globally, saying it is a private company and that its policies are not Has nothing to do with. Israeli government.
Controversy erupted in India last year over Pegasus’s alleged use for targeted surveillance. An international investigative association claimed that several Indian ministers, politicians, activists, businessmen and journalists were potentially targeted by the software.
The Indian government, however, denied any allegations of surveillance on its part on specific people.
Last October, the Indian Supreme Court set up a three-member independent expert panel to investigate Pegasus’s alleged use for targeted surveillance in India, noting that the state had a “free pass” every time national security was threatened. and that mere invocation of it cannot make the judiciary a “silent spectator” and it cannot frighten it.
In his interview, Hulio also denied that Pegasus was used to hack the phone of French President Emmanuel Macron. He denied any connection between the company’s products and the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Gulf Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Blaming everything that happens on the NSO has become a national pastime. A vast majority of the reports are simply untrue, riddled with prejudice, and it certainly angers at times. [me] And sometimes disappoints. But in the end, we know the truth,” the CEO insisted.
Asked whether the NSO group has made mistakes since its inception, he said it is “impossible not to make mistakes that you learn from” in a period of 12 years, without sharing any details.
However, he also justified the existence of technology that can help prevent terror and other serious crimes.
On recent reports that Israeli police used Pegasus to spy on civilians, including anti-Benjamin Netanyahu protesters and Israelis not suspected of any crimes, he responded that he would like to think they were untrue.
“I, as a citizen, if what is written is true, it concerns me personally. But as a citizen, let me tell you that I trust the Attorney General, the Minister of Public Safety and the Chief of Police.” Who says over and over again that these things never happened,” Hulio replied.
With controversies over the company’s refusal to die, in January Israeli attorney Genera Avichai Mendelbit announced the setting up of a team to investigate the alleged misuse of spy Pegasus technology by Israeli police against its own citizens suspected of a crime. was not.
Israel set up a committee in July last year to review allegations of misuse of the NSO Group’s surveillance software and indicated a possible “review of the entire licensing issue”.
Hulio welcomed the move, saying that “they would be very happy if there was an investigation so that we could clear our name.”
He also claimed there was an attempt to “smear the entire Israeli cyber industry”.
The NSO executive had also emphasized that his company could not disclose the details of its contracts due to “privacy issues”, but, “it will provide full transparency to any government seeking more information”.
Hulio then said, “Let any state unit accompany any official of any state, and I will be ready to open everything up to them, so that they can enter, dig from top to bottom.”
Israel’s Defense Ministry also threatened in a statement that it would “take appropriate action if it learned that the NSO Group violated the terms of its export license.”
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