Cyber technology spyware that Israel sold to Saudi Arabia was used to help plan the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi, the Washington Post, where he was a columnist reported, even as US President Donald Trump refused to sanction what he said was too important an ally.
The newspaper cited an American official who wasn’t named as the fallout over the murder continued with allegations the Israeli cyber-surveillance firm NSO Group and its affiliate, Q Cyber Technologies, negotiated a multi-million dollar deal providing Saudi Arabia with technology also allowing hacking of citizens cell phones and the ability to hear conversations near the devices.
Israel was said to have given its okay even though the countries don’t have diplomatic relations to gain a “secret Sunni Arab ally against Iran,” the report said, and as a chance to use cyber technology to gain more information about Saudi Arabia.
But the sale also allowed Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who US intelligence said ordered the killing that he denied doing, with sophisticated spyware tools that could be used to go after other domestic enemies with impunity, now that the US and other countries backed off.
US whistleblower Edward Snowden previously accused the NSO Group of being linked to the killing of Khashoggi after complaints its Pegasus software was being used by countries with abysmal human rights records to watch citizens.
It was created to permit remote control of a cell phone by infesting it via a Trojan horse email link, allowing audio surveillance; real-time observation of the screen; downloading of all its data; and control of the battery.
The Luxembourg-based Q Cyber Technologies is said to have dealt directly with the Saudis on behalf of the Israeli software which was said to be able to allow the Saudis to target half a dozen Middle Eastern countries as well as European’s biggest states, sources told the paper.
The software was revealed in August when Apple updated its iPhone software after a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates was targeted. NSO said the technology is only supposed to be used to prevent crime and terrorism and it investigates violations of the policy.
Photo credit: April Brady/Project on Middle East Democracy via flickr