American defense firm in talks to buy controversial Israeli spyware NSO: report

·2 min read

An American defense firm is in talks with the blacklisted NSO Group to potentially buy the Israeli company’s spyware and hacking technology, Pegasus, which has been used to surveil politicians, activists and journalists across the world.

L3Harris, a global defense contractor based in Florida that manufactures technologies in the air, land, sea, space and cyber realms, is in early negotiations with NSO Group to purchase Pegasus, according to the news outlet Intelligence Online, which first broke the news.

Multiple details still need to be fleshed out, and any deal could be hindered by the U.S. and Israeli governments.

The Hill has reached out to L3Harris and NSO Group for comment.

In November, the U.S. Department of Commerce added NSO Group to its entity list, effectively blacklisting the Israeli firm. The company has been accused of selling Pegasus to government and law enforcement authorities that have used it to spy on human rights activists, journalists and politicians.

Pegasus is highly advanced and can be installed on a surveillance target remotely, giving users of the spyware wide and sweeping access to text messages, emails, photos, contacts and more.

The use of the spyware on iPhones prompted Apple to sue NSO Group in late November, seeking to ban the company from using Pegasus on its hardware. Facebook parent Meta is also pursuing a claim against the controversial company for using Pegasus on WhatsApp in a case that has now reached the Supreme Court.

Both the lawsuits and the U.S. blacklisting of NSO Group, which continues to defend its Pegasus technology, is likely to be a major obstacle in the negotiations between the Israeli firm and L3Harris.

A White House official told The Washington Post that “any U.S. company, particularly a cleared U.S. defense contractor, should be aware that a transaction with a foreign entity on the Entity List will not automatically remove a designated entity from the Entity List.”

The Biden administration is also looking to ban the use of foreign surveillance technologies that pose a security risk or have been used improperly abroad, the official told the outlet.

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