News ID: 314897
Published: 1239 GMT July 18, 2021

Israeli companies aided Saudi spying despite Khashoggi killing

Israeli companies aided Saudi spying despite Khashoggi killing
DANIELLA CHESLOW/AP

Israel secretly authorized a group of cyber-surveillance firms to work for the government of Saudi Arabia despite international condemnation of the kingdom’s abuse of surveillance software to crush dissent, even after the Saudi killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, officials and others familiar with the contracts said.

After the murder of Khashoggi in 2018, one of the firms, NSO Group, canceled its contracts with Saudi Arabia amid accusations that its hacking tools were being misused to abet heinous crimes, The New York Times reported.

But the Israeli regime encouraged NSO and two other companies to continue working with Saudi Arabia, and issued a new license for a fourth to do similar work, overriding any concerns about human rights abuses, according to one senior Israeli official and three people affiliated with the companies.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has continued to use the spyware to monitor dissidents and political opponents.

NSO is by far the best known of the Israeli firms, largely because of revelations in the last few years that its Pegasus program was used by numerous governments to spy on, and eventually imprison, human rights activists.

NSO sold Pegasus to Saudi Arabia in 2017. The kingdom used the spyware as part of a ruthless campaign to crush dissent inside the kingdom and to hunt down Saudi dissidents abroad.

It is not publicly known whether Saudi Arabia used Pegasus or other Israeli-made spyware in the plot to kill Khashoggi. NSO has denied that its software was used.

Khashoggi was murdered on October 2, 2018, after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve papers that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancée.

Recording and other evidence gathered by Turkish authorities revealed how a team of Saudi agents subdued, killed, and then dismembered the journalist inside the diplomatic mission.

Israel also licensed for Saudi work a company called Candiru, which Microsoft accused last week of helping its government clients spy on more than 100 journalists, politicians, dissidents and human rights advocates around the world.

Microsoft, which conducted its investigation in tandem with Citizen Lab, a research institute at the University of Toronto, said Candiru had used malware to exploit vulnerability in Microsoft products, enabling its government clients to spy on perceived enemies.

Candiru has had at least one contract with Saudi Arabia since 2018.

Israel has also granted licenses to at least two other firms, Verint, which was licensed before the Khashoggi killing, and Quadream, which signed a contract with Saudi Arabia after the killing.

A fifth company, Cellebrite, which manufactures physical hacking systems for mobile phones, has also sold its services to the Saudi government, but without ministry approval, according to the newspaper Haaretz.

These business ties came as Israel was quietly building relationships directly with the Saudi government.

Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israels prime minister, met several times with Saudi Arabias day-to-day ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and military and intelligence leaders of the two countries meet frequently.

While Saudi Arabia was not officially party to the Abraham Accords – the diplomatic initiatives during the end of the Trump administration normalizing relations between Israel and several Arab countries – Saudi leaders worked behind the scenes to help broker the deals.

 

 

 

   
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