Leaders in the Biden administration worked with them.. Why did Washington decide to blacklist an Israeli company that spied on 14 heads of state?

WashingtonThe inclusion by the US Department of Commerce of the Israeli company NSO, which developed the Pegasus spy program, on the list of banned companies as posing a threat to national security, came as a big surprise to many observers.

The US Commerce Department said the company sold spyware to authoritarian foreign governments that they used to target government officials, journalists, dissidents and others.

For its part, the Israeli NSO Group expressed its dissatisfaction with the US decision, and said that its programs support US national security interests and policies by preventing terrorism and crime, as it put it.

Some observers considered this designation as part of President Joe Biden’s efforts to “stop the spread of digital tools used in repression.”

For its part, the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which grants export licenses to NSO, declined to comment, and the Israeli company’s blacklisting by the US Department of Commerce means restrictions on the sale of products from its US counterparts.

The US authorities’ decision included another Israeli company called “Kandero”, in addition to the two Russian companies “Positive Technologies” and the “Computer Security Initiative Consulting” in Singapore, and Washington said that these companies traded electronic tools used in unauthorized access to computer networks.

Just an hour ago

According to the American Axios website, the Biden administration informed the Israeli government only an hour before announcing its decision, and this is the first time that the US government has targeted Israeli Internet companies, which obtain export licenses from the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

This designation will limit the activities of these companies in the United States, although the US State Department has made it clear that the Biden administration will not take any action against Israel, Russia or Singapore, based on the actions of the companies described as “individual.”

According to observers, the matter is apparently a “surprising step” by the US government. The United States and Israel are close allies, especially since there is cooperation between the Internet experts of each of them, for example, to curb the Iranian nuclear program.

But the military-grade Pegasus spyware developed and sold by the Israeli group NSO Group has emerged as a formidable cyber weapon, used by some of its most authoritarian clients in the Middle East to target a wide range of people, not just criminals and terrorists.

Members of the Biden administration worked for NSO.

For years, the NSO Group has recruited powerful advisers to save its reputation in the corridors of American politics in Washington.

Among those who have regularly advised the company over the years is Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel, who recently joined the State Department as a member of the US negotiating team with Iran over its nuclear program.

An investigation conducted by the “Washington Post” newspaper, in cooperation with 16 news outlets around the world, showed that programs from the Israeli company spied on hundreds of journalists, activists, executives and government officials around the world.

The company’s product called Pegasus can hack encrypted phones without any trace, and one of the documented findings has already provided evidence of the hacking of spyware used to hack the phones of two people close to the late journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

After NSO began dealing with a number of authoritarian governments around the world, and its reputation became discredited after its technology to hack the phones of political opponents was exposed, the Israeli company sought the help of West Exec Advisors, a consulting firm founded by current Secretary of State Tony Blinken, staffed by prominent national security experts from the previous Obama administration, many of whom joined the administration of President Joe Biden.

What is Secretary of State Blinken’s relationship?

Some commentators argue that West Exec’s relationship with NSO has ensured that NSO has a great ability to respond to accusations of misuse of its spyware, and the influence of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s group and his top aides who worked at West Exec has contributed to not expanding the scope of US sanctions against it to punish it for what it contributed to supporting tyrannical regimes with its malicious activities against its opponents.

Dan Shapiro, a consultant with West Exec, founded by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, worked at NSO’s headquarters in Israel.

Shapiro began independently advising NSO in mid-2017, months before the founding of West Exec, advising NSO on how to prevent misuse of its technology and advising the company to stop selling hacking tools to countries in the Middle East. Middle, according to the New York Times.

The cooperation of US officials was not limited to Ambassador Shapiro, as many prominent figures in Washington were willing to do profitable business for the NSO Group, and it did not necessarily harm their careers.

Beacon Global, a strategic consulting firm founded by Hillary Clinton adviser Andrew Shapiro, former CIA and Pentagon official Jeremy Bash, and former House aide Michael Allen, quietly advised NSO through mid-2019.

Spying on 14 heads of state

The experts advising NSO did not help improve its ethics record, but rather those officials gave the company a shroud of credibility at a time when the company’s malware penetrated the phones of more than 180 journalists and 14 world leaders.

In an interview with Al Jazeera Net, the Executive Director of the “Organization for Democracy in the Arab World Now”, Sarah Lee Watson, indicated that “the Biden administration’s move to include both the “NSO Group” and “Cadero” on the blacklist is a reprimand not only to two Israeli companies not for spyware but for the Israeli government as well, as the Israeli government is complicit in their malicious operations.”

Some see this risk as very important because of the risks it poses to Israeli companies that are motivated by profit only, while some see it as ineffective due to the depth and strength of Israel’s relations with the United States.

In her interview with Al Jazeera Net, Watson confirmed that it is “a rare and important step for the United States to impose sanctions on the companies of allied governments, especially Israel, and an important indication that the Biden administration is tired of the misconduct of the Israeli government. While this kind of opacity does not prevent American entities from exporting Anything to these Israeli companies would make them undesirable for foreign investment and trade, on a much larger scale, as entities that have clearly emerged as bad actors by the US government.”

Watson called on Biden to act “to protect Americans who continue to be targeted for spying by Israeli companies operating with a green light from the Israeli government. The Israelis have been shockingly rude, pursuing not only defenseless activists around the world, but even government officials in the United States.”

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