When President Emmanuel Macron was on tour in Polynesia, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrived in Paris, under the greatest discretion, to discuss with the French government the wiretapping of the Pegasus system of the Israeli company NSO to the chief State of France.
Macron’s cell phone was on the list than 50,000 phones listened, thanks to the sale of software sold by the Israeli company NSO to Morocco and other autocratic states.
The Pegasus system allows access to conversations, messages, photos, location and listen to all conversations in the place where the target is.
The French president spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week to emphasize the importance of “properly investigating” the project’s findings.
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with his French counterpart this Wednesday in Paris. Photo: REUTERS
The Israeli defense minister met with his French counterpart, Florence Parly, and with the head of French Foreign Intelligence, Bernard Emié.
The French government demanded “clarification” from Israel. He threatened to cut off “all help and collaboration” from now on, if the answer was not satisfactory.
Israel assured France that it will take the case “seriously.” Paris awaits explanations, when the company maintains that Macron’s was not one of the cell phones heard. Morocco initiated a complaint against those who investigated for defamation.
During a bilateral meeting, Benny Gantz informed Parly that “officials visited the NSO offices on Wednesday,” Israel’s Defense Ministry said, without giving further details.
Minister Benny Gantz assured his French colleague on Wednesday that his country was taking “seriously” the allegations of espionage on the Israeli Pegasus software, suspected of having been used against Emmanuel Macron.
It was Benny Gantz who “raised the issue of NSO (the Israeli cybersecurity company that designed Pegasus) and said that Israel takes the allegations seriously,” Israel’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The headquarters of the NSO company, near Tel Aviv, Israel. She was the one who sold the Pegasus cyber espionage system. Photo: AFP
“He stressed that the State of Israel only grants export licenses for cyber products to states and only to combat terrorism and crime,” the ministry added.
Florence Parly “told him about the clarifications that France is now waiting for, and on which depends the trust and mutual respect between our two countries,” said the French Ministry of the Armed Forces.
The minister had already indicated on Tuesday that she wanted to take the opportunity of this long-planned bilateral meeting to find out “what knowledge the Israeli government had of the activities of NSO clients” and how it intended to “prevent a kidnapping of these. highly intrusive tools ”.
“It was the first meeting between an Israeli defense minister and his French counterpart since 2013,” the military ministry recalled.
The Pegasus software, which makes intrusion into computer systems possible, is at the center of a global espionage scandal, revealed in mid-July by 17 media outlets.
He spied on the cell phones of at least 180 journalists, 85 human rights activists and 14 heads of state, including French President Emmanuel Macron, which the NSO denies.
The Pegasus program “taps” cell phones and takes information from contacts and conversations. Photo: AFP
As revealed by the newspaper Le Monde Y Radio France, Macron’s numbers, as well as those of former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and 14 members of the government, including the head of diplomacy Jean-Yves Le Drian, appeared “on the list of numbers selected by a Moroccan state security service, user of Pegasus, for potential piracy “.
The numbers were checked in the security laboratory that the humanitarian organization Amnesty has in Berlin. But the NGO is not going to reveal who the affected heads of state are for privacy reasons.
The Elysee chose the caution to refer but without hiding your concern.
“If these facts are proven (…), we will take all the consequences. But first we must prove that they are true,” said French government spokesman Gabriel Attal.
The company defends itself
Habitually accused of participate in the game of authoritarian regimes, the company NSO ensures that its Pegasus software is only used to obtain information about criminal or terrorist networks.
The Israeli Parliament has created a commission to investigate allegations of “misuse” of Pegasus by some states to spy on public figures.
The website of the Pegasus cyber espionage system, made in Israel. Photo: AFP
Prepared for cyber warfare
The NSO company is made up of three former spies from an Israeli Army unit prepared for cyber warfare. The largest sales to the Persian Gulf countries were during Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure in Israel. The victims believe that they continue to be heard by the system today.
Israeli authorities have inspected the offices of the watchdog group NSO Group, in response to the Pegasus project’s investigation into the company’s spyware abuses by various government clients.
Officials of the Ministry of Defense visited company offices near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, at the same time that Minister Benny Gantz arrived for a pre-arranged visit to France.
Early media reports described the movements at the NSO offices as a raid. But the company said in a statement that authorities had “visited” rather than raided its facilities.
NSO said it had been informed in advance that Defense Ministry officials, responsible for overseeing sensitive cyber exports, would conduct an inspection. “The company is working with full transparency with the Israeli authorities,” he added.
NSO has said, in multiple statements, that the fact that a phone number appeared in the leaked database was in no way indicative of whether it was selected for surveillance using Pegasus.
“The list is not a Pegasus target list,” the company said. “The numbers on the list are not related to NSO Group in any way,” he said.
The appearance of a number in the leaked list does not mean that it was the subject of a successful hacking attempt. But it is believed that the list provides information on those identified as “persons of interest” by NSO customers.
It includes people whose phones showed traces of NSO’s phone hacking spyware, according to a forensic analysis of their devices.
The analysis was carried out by Amnesty International’s security laboratory, which found traces of Pegasus-related activity on 37 of the 67 phones it analyzed.
NSO has said that Macron was not a “target” of any of its clients. Which means that the company denies that there was an attempt or a successful Pegasus infection on your phone.
As the scale of the revelations has become clearer, diplomatic pressure has increased on Israel to explain the nature of the relationship between NSO and the state under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The broader investigation of the Pegasus project found that the Israeli government gave explicit permission to NSO in 2017 to try to sell the hacking tools to Saudi Arabia, in a deal that is supposedly worth at least $ 55 million.
Gantz told the French defense minister on Wednesday that Israel was investigating the matter “with the utmost seriousness,” according to a statement from the Israeli Defense Ministry.
Before their meeting in Paris, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Parly was eager to “question her counterpart about the Israeli government’s knowledge of the activities of NSO clients” and what action would be taken ” to avoid misuse of these “very intrusive” tools.
However, the Israeli defense establishment has designated a review commission, comprised of various government agencies, to examine whether policy changes are needed regarding exports of cyber surveillance technologies.
Four US legislators demanded that President Joe Biden place the NSO company on the export blacklist or dissolve this type of company.
The visit of Minister Benny Gantz to Paris did not go unnoticed by the residents of the official residence of Israel, on an elegant avenue in the 16th district. During the race, someone forgot a box in the building and they had to call the bomb squad.