NSO Group CEO Says BDS Likely Behind Damning Investigation


Image: JOEL SAGET / AFP via Getty Images

Shalev Hulio, CEO and co-founder of NSO, the Israeli surveillance firm at the center of a explosive investigation this week, which discovered that its tools have been used to spy on journalists, politicians and human rights activists around the world, now suggests that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which is trying to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestine is sort of behind the story.

Either him or Qatar.

Hulio mentioned the plot in an interview with Israel Hayom, the free right-wing daily funded by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who died earlier this year.

“Looks like someone decided to step on our heads,” Hulio said. “There is an attack against [Israel’s cyber industry] usually. After all, there are so many cyber-intelligence companies in the world, but everyone is focused solely on Israelis. Make a consortium of journalists from around the world like this and bring in Amnesty [a key partner in the investigation]- looks like there’s a deliberate hand here. “

When asked with what hand exactly, Hulio explained:

“I believe that at the end of the day it’s either Qatar or BDS or both,” he said. “At the end of the day, they’re still the same entities. I don’t want to sound cynical now, but there are those who don’t want to [Israel] import ice cream or export technology.

Hulio refers to Ben and Jerry’s recent decision not to sell his ice cream in the Israeli-occupied territories after years of BDS campaigns. Hulio also said he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the investigation into his company was dropped around the same time that another Israeli surveillance firm, Cellebrite, disputed by a digital rights group while attempting to go public, and the publication of an investigation into Candiru, another Israeli surveillance company.

“It’s just illogical that all of this is happening at the same time,” he said.

BDS is a large, global Palestinian-led movement that fights for Palestinian human rights and is inspired by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. He is also vilified in right-wing circles in Israel and the United States, which have passed anti-BDS laws.

“The Israeli group NSO is now exposed to the world as being deeply involved in very serious crimes and serious human rights violations around the world, so it is desperate to turn away by fabricating pathetic conspiracy theories,” the President said. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti at Motherboard. and military technologies are field-tested on indigenous Palestinians under Israeli occupation and apartheid, and then exported to the world as tools of repression and war crimes. for the sake of the Palestinians but also for the sake of peace and justice in the world. “

Amnesty and Hulio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hulio went over the usual NSO talking points in the rest of the interview: He claimed that NSO has a rigorous process to select the countries to which it sells its products, that the company limits the number of targets a customer can track and in which territories, that it has strong agreements that make it clear who customers can and cannot track, and that it will cut a customer off if they break those agreements. He said NSO has cut five customers in recent years.

When asked for answers on how NSO can say that its technology isn’t being exploited by governments if NSO can’t see who those governments are spying on, Hulio swerved.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Mercedes sells a car, then it is driven by a drunk driver who kills someone. Does anyone blame Mercedes?… If people have any complaints, they should go to the governments who have been spying on journalists and claim they violate human rights. “

Hulio is correct that Israel is a cyber superpower with a thriving private cybersecurity industry, and over the years Motherboard has repeatedly covered Israeli companies like NSO, Cellebrite, Candiru and others, and how their technologies are used around the world.

While Hulio has said that “everyone focuses only on Israelis,” over the past 10 years researchers from nonprofits such as Amnesty or Citizen Lab, as well as cybersecurity companies such as Lookout and Kaspersky Lab, have published reports on NSO’s competitors: Hacking Team from Italy, FinFisher from Germany, Indian-German Wolf Intelligence and many more. These reports received wide media attention.

Blaming a foreign government is a proven strategy for executives of companies that sell spyware to law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world. In 2015, when an anarchist hacker broke into Hacking Team’s servers and leaked all of his secrets online, the CEO of the company blamed it on a hacker working for an unspecified government, before changing notice and blame former employees. Italian prosecutors have found no evidence that the former employees were involved in any way, no evidence that the hackers were working for a government spy agency, and the hacker is still alive. leak.

NSO’s responses to articles published by a consortium of 17 media outlets working in partnership with Amnesty International and the French association Forbidden Stories have varied over the past few days.

On Wednesday, the NSO news agency told reporters in an email that “Enough is enough! And the company would no longer answer questions about the Project Pegasus revelations. And yet, Forbes posted an interview with Hulio Thursday, and Israel Hayom also published his interview on Thursday.

Update: This story has been updated with comments from BDS.

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