Very few people will have bothered following the machinations of Israeli company NSO which has been in the international news for the last year as an enabler of massive human rights abuses around the world.
The company developed a high-tech cyberware spy programme, called Pegasus, which can consistently and reliably crack encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone. It began selling the programme in 2011, with sales approved by the Israeli government, to government and law enforcement agencies around the world.
NSO charged $650,000, plus a $500,000 setup fee for the ability to invisibly spy on 10 cell phones. The software can capture every keystroke, sound, message and location on the phone and can turn the phone into a secret recording device.
The recent publicity however has revealed that Pegasus has been used around the world to target the likes of dissidents, political activists and independent journalists. A good backgrounder on this from the New York Times last week includes the following:
“Mexico deployed the software not just against gangsters but also against journalists and political dissidents. The United Arab Emirates used the software to hack the phone of a civil rights activist whom the government threw in jail. Saudi Arabia used it against women’s rights activists and, according to a lawsuit filed by a Saudi dissident, to spy on communications with Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, whom Saudi operatives killed and dismembered in Istanbul in 2018.
None of this prevented new customers from approaching NSO, including the United States. The details of the F.B.I.’s purchase and testing of Pegasus have never before been made public. Additionally, the same year that Khashoggi was killed, the Central Intelligence Agency arranged and paid for the government of Djibouti to acquire Pegasus to assist the American ally in combating terrorism, despite longstanding concerns about human rights abuses there, including the persecution of journalists and the torture of government opponents. The D.E.A., the Secret Service and the U.S. military’s Africa Command had all held discussions with NSO”
Israel itself used the software to spy on political activists and opponents of former Prime Minister Netanyahu. Elsewhere Israel approved the selling of the software to hard-right, human rights abusing countries around the world to the point the US could no longer ignore the ramifications and put the company on a blacklist.
But the US, which worked closely with NSO over many years, wants to control and use the software itself. The US blacklisting will last long enough for US investors to purchase NSO and it will be back to business as usual with the US calling the tune.
The story linked to above also contains this paragraph:
“The plan outlines cancelling or restricting most of the company’s former clients, effectively bringing the company’s revenues to zero. Instead of the current 37 clients, the company will reduce its sales to only five clients: the Five Eyes Anglosphere intelligence alliance of New Zealand, the United States, Australia, Great Britain and Canada. The company would initially focus on defensive cyber products as part of its rebranding effort”
(In this context it’s ironic that elsewhere there are discussions to turn the five eyes into seven eyes with the addition of Israel and Japan.)
While we are part of this five-eyes alliance we will NEVER have an independent foreign policy and unfortunately the Labour government is moving us closer to the US and its sabre-rattling around the world.
We have become only too willing to call out human rights abuses by the enemies of the US such as China and Russia, which we should be doing anyway, but we have been complicit through silence with human rights abuses committed by the friends of the US such as Israel, Indonesia and India.
We should have no part of any US alliance. We should play to our strengths as a small country which should involve speaking up with principle and conviction against human rights abuses anywhere.