Monday, May 29

The head of NSO, the Israeli firm that develops Pegasus spyware, resigns

The president of NSO, Asher Levy, has resigned this Tuesday from his position at the head of that Israeli company, manufacturer of the controversial Pegasus software, a week after it was revealed that the program was used by the Israel Police to spy without a court order. citizens critical of the government. The program has also been found in members of civil society such as activists, journalists and politicians around the world, leading some of the biggest cyber espionage scandals to date.

Dozens of journalists and activists from El Salvador were spied on with the Israeli program Pegasus

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The Hebrew daily Calcalist uncovered last week that Israeli police had used Pegasus to track the phones of Israeli civilians without a warrant, including mayors, former officials and activists who led protests against then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and even a high-ranking politician, although the identities of those affected were not revealed.

Officially, Pegasus is only sold to democratic governments for use in criminal and counter-terrorism investigations. However, his trace has been found on the phones of international leaders such as French President Emanuel Macron, environmental activists or journalists, allegedly launched by the intelligence agencies of those countries. One of the latest cases discovered has been its use against 22 journalists from the Salvadoran media outlet El Faro. In Spain, Pegasus was used against Catalan pro-independence politicians, as revealed by

The company maintains that its products are intended to go after terrorists and criminals, although it cannot control how its customers use them. However, evidence has also been found of its use by states known for their repeated violations of human rights, such as Saudi Arabia.

As a result, the US imposed sanctions against its manufacturer, the Israeli company NSO Group, vetoing its access to US technology; while Israel tightened controls on its cyber exports. Apple and WhatsApp have also denounced NSO for exploiting security holes in their platforms so that Pegasus could hack into their users’ devices.

Levy has denied that his resignation has anything to do with these scandals. “Contrary to what has been published in some media, I would like to clarify that there is no connection between the termination of my position and the recent publications linked to NSO,” he said in a statement sent by the company.

“Any attempt to present this movement as a current resignation as a result of any publication related to NSO is completely false,” underlines the former director of NSO, who argues that his resignation derives from the change in ownership of the company, which in August 2021 went from belonging to the Novelpina Foundation to the BRG Fund.

According to Levy, who has chaired NSO since April 2020, he notified the new owners that he thought it appropriate for them to name a new chairman, but he remained in office “until a replacement was appointed on behalf of the new Fund at the end of 2021.” .

Israeli police do not deny using Pegasus

The news from the Calcalist newspaper shook Israel and immediately both the State Controller of Israel, as well as the attorney general, or the Security Commission of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) have announced the opening of investigations into the case.

In response to the journalistic investigation, the police chief, Kabi Shabtai, does not deny the use of Pegasus, although he points out that some of the information in the report is “incorrect” and insists that “everything was carried out with due legal guarantees and supervisions”, as he declared this Tuesday.

Shabtai did deny that Pegasus was used to spy on protesters from the “Black Flag” movement, which led massive and recurring protests against Netanyahu between 2020-21 when he was still head of government to demand his resignation after being accused of corruption.

“I am full of appreciation for NSO, the life-saving technology it develops, the company’s management and employees, and the unprecedented ethical policies the company has adopted,” Levy said upon leaving the company.