Nothing Normal About Normalization

October 5, 2021

Bahrain anti-normalization protest
Bahraini demonstrators protest against normalization with the Zionist entity in Bahraini capital, Manama last week.

Ragheb Malli*

Israeli NSO’s Pegasus spyware hits headlines yet again, however this time, used by Bahrain to spy on human rights activists. According to the Canadian Citizen Lab Institute, the victims included 9 human rights activists from 3 different organizations; 2 of which have voluntarily exiled in England. Other than the more blatant issue of normalization with ‘Israel’, the joint endeavor in capturing human rights activists sets a prime example of the brutality and oppression that was not needed in the already repressive state in which human rights activists live in Bahrain.

The three movements targeted were Al-Wefaq, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and Waad, some of which are often labelled as ‘terrorist organizations’. The attacks occurred between June 2020 and February 2021. The Canadian Citizen’s Lab revealed that the Israeli NSO’s Pegasus Spyware has developed a ‘no-click’ hacking system which is revolutionary, since in the typical espionage circumstances, a link is sent to the victim’s phone, under the guise of a genuine link, in this case – a DHL message to the victims’ iPhones. Contrary to iPhone’s claim that their security is solid, the Pegasus spyware were seemingly able to bypass their strongest security feature ‘BlastDoor’.

Israeli NSO claims no responsibility, as expected, demanding the release of evidence the Canadian Citizen Lab claim to hold – as it has done previously at every accusation stop, including the 2019 WhatsApp lawsuit against them that is still presently ongoing.

It must be said that amidst all these so-called new headlines, there really is nothing new about it at all. Bahrain has been investing in spyware and espionage techniques since 2010; and although normalization with Israel only occurred last year, truth dictates that relations between the two preceded, as NSO cyber programs were purchased by Bahrain since 2017.

As normalization with ‘Israel’ spreads in the Middle East, control of the rebelling population has become even more of a priority. Pegasus, ‘the most powerful piece of spyware ever developed,’ as the Guardian described it, is crucial in controlling and repressing any powerful uprisings and rebellion; which is why it expectedly will grow and intensify as time goes by. Nevertheless, although Pegasus is evolving rapidly, it being Israeli is far more cause for concern. A concern that, unfortunately has begun to infiltrate the Middle East officially for all to see and being labelled as normal helping aid. It is not normal. It will never be normal.

*Ragheb Malli is a researcher for the Gulf Institute of Democracy and Human Rights and also a London-based social media activist for human rights.

Al-Manar.com.lb is not responsible for the content of this article. All opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Source: Al-Manar English Website

The ‘Pegasus’ Saga: All iPhone Devises Were Exploited by Israeli Spy Tech Firm, Report Indicates

September 13, 2021

Israeli malware Pegasus has been used to spy on journalists, activists. (Photo: via Wikimedia Commons)

The digital rights group CitizenLab has discovered a vulnerability that allowed Israeli spyware company NSO Group to implant its Pegasus malware onto virtually every iPhone, Mac, and Apple Watch device.

CitizenLab revealed the vulnerability on Monday, a week after discovering it by analyzing the phone of a Saudi activist that had been infected with the malware. The discovery was announced to the public shortly after Apple rolled out an update to patch the vulnerability.

The vulnerability allowed the NSO Group’s clients to send malicious files disguised as .gif files to a target’s phone, which would then exploit “an integer overflow vulnerability in Apple’s image rendering library” and leave the phone open to the installation of NSO Group’s now-infamous ‘Pegasus’ malware.

The exploit is what’s known as a ‘zero-click’ vulnerability, meaning that the target user would not have to click a suspicious link or file to allow the malware onto their device.

While most Apple devices were vulnerable, according to the researchers, not all of those afflicted by the spyware were breached in this way. Instead, NSO Group sold the use of its malware to clients around the world, who used the tool to spy on the phones of rival politicians, journalists, activists, and business leaders.

News of the malware’s existence was first broken earlier this summer by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, a French investigative outlet, and reported by a collection of partner news outlets. Among those accused of using the Israeli malware are the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, India, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A leaked list suggested that as many as 52,000 names were marked as possible targets for surveillance by NSO Group’s customers, and roughly a tenth of these targets were reportedly surveilled. Pegasus granted users access to calls, messages, photos and files, and allowed them to secretly turn on the target phones’ cameras and microphones.

CitizenLab pinned the latest exploit on NSO Group after discovering a so-called ‘digital artifact’ left behind that matched calling cards left by the company’s other exploits, and similarly-named processes in its code.

The NSO Group has not commented on CitizenLab’s latest research, which comes just one day before Apple’s anticipated unveiling of the iPhone 13 ahead of its launch later this month.

(RT.com, PC, Social Media)

هُيام «الضعفاء» بالنموذج الإسرائيليّ

الجمعة 30 تموز 2021

وليد شرارة

Visual search query image
لا تقيم إسرائيل اعتباراً فعلياً للدول الأعضاء في «نادي معجبيها»، مثل فرنسا (أ ف ب )

تأتي زيارة وزير الأمن الصهيوني، بيني غانتس، واجتماعه مع نظيرته الفرنسية فلورانس بارلي، ضمن مساعي حكومة الاحتلال إلى احتواء التداعيات السلبية لفضيحة برنامج «بيغاسوس» الذي أنتجته شركة «إن إس أو» الإسرائيلية، والذي استُخدم من قِبَل المغرب للتجسّس على هاتف الرئيس الفرنسي إيمانويل ماكرون، ورئيس وزرائه السابق إدوارد فيليب، و15 وزيراً ونائباً ومسؤولاً سياسيّاً. البيان الصادر عن وزارة الدفاع الفرنسية بعد الاجتماع، يشي برغبة في تجاوز التداعيات السلبية المذكورة، إذ يشدّد على ضرورة تقديم إسرائيل «التوضيحات التي تطلبها فرنسا، والأساسية بالنسبة إلى الثقة والاحترام المتبادل بين البلدين»، وإطلاع المسؤولين في هذا البلد «على مدى معرفة الحكومة الإسرائيلية بأنشطة زبائن إن إس أو». الارتباط العضوي بين الشركة المشار إليها والأجهزة الأمنية والعسكرية الصهيونية، لم يكن خافياً على العديد من الخبراء والصحافيين الفرنسيين، في السنوات الماضية، أي قبل «الفضيحة» الأخيرة. فهذا لوي إمبير في «لوموند»، يشير في مقالة بعنوان «برنامج بيغاسوس: مجموعة إن إس أو في قلب القوة الناعمة الإسرائيلية»، إلى أن «الشركة المنتِجة للبرنامج والحكومة الإسرائيلية تعملان يداً بيد لبناء تحالفات جديدة، وخدمة مصالحهما على المستوى الدولي». لم تكن الأجهزة الأمنية الفرنسية غافلة عن هذه الحقيقة، وطلب «توضيحات» من قِبَل رسميين فرنسيين يعكس حرصاً على الحفاظ على التعاون المتعاظم في الميادين التكنولوجية والأمنية مع الكيان الصهيوني، باعتباره مصدر إلهام في كيفية خوض «الحروب الجديدة»، الموجّهة أساساً ضدّ السكان والحركات الشعبية، نتيجة لخبراته المتراكمة في هذا المضمار في فلسطين المحتلّة ولبنان. هو «نموذج» يُحتذى بنظر قطاعات وازنة من النُّخب السياسية الفرنسية والغربية، وكذلك بالنسبة إلى زبائنه التقليديين من أنظمة فاسدة ومستبدّة في جنوب العالم، ومنه العالم العربي. لكن، وفي مقابل هذا الحرص على العلاقات مع «الدولة – النموذج»، فإن اللافت هو أن الأخيرة لا تقيم اعتباراً فعلياً للدول الأعضاء في «نادي معجبيها»، باستثناء الولايات المتحدة وروسيا والصين، كونها دولاً قادرة على ردّ الصاع صاعين في حال تجرّأت إسرائيل على استخدام منتجاتها التكنولوجية للتجسّس عليها.


حبٌّ من طرفٍ واحد


قيام إسرائيل ببيع برنامج «بيغاسوس» للمغرب لكي يستخدمه الأخير للتجسّس على المسؤولين الفرنسيين، يُعدّ تطوّراً يستحقّ التأمّل فيه، لأنه يكشف تحوّلاً في طبيعة التحالفات التي تنسجها تل أبيب وفي نظرتها الفعلية لِمَن تعتبرهم حلفاء من «الدرجة الثانية». محاولات إسرائيل للتجسّس حتى على أهمّ حلفائها، ليس بالأمر الجديد. جميعنا يذكر قضيّة الأميركي جوناثان بولارد الذي اعتُقل سنة 1985 بتهمة التجسّس على بلاده لحسابها. الجديد هو بيعها برامج تجسّس لدول أخرى تعمل على تطوير علاقاتها معها، كالمغرب مثلاً، دون التأكُّد من عدم استخدامها ضدّ حلفاء آخرين، كفرنسا مثلاً. يعزو فردريك مورو، الخبير الفرنسي في شؤون الدفاع، في مقابلة مع «لوموند»، عدم اكتراث إسرائيل لردّ الفعل الفرنسي أو الأوروبي تجاهها، إلى قناعتها بأنه سيكون في غاية الضعف. ولا شكّ في أن هذا الرأي يتضمّن الكثير من الوجاهة لأن التحوّلات البنيوية، السياسية والاجتماعية، التي شهدها الكيان الصهيوني في العقود الماضية، وطغيان التيارات الفاشية القومية والدينية على المشهد السياسي فيه، كان لها أيضاً أثر كبير على الفهم السائد للوضع الدولي وللتحالفات. العالم من منظور هذه القوى، بات غائباً أكثر من أيّ حقبة سابقة، وموازين القوى الفجّة هي التي تحكم تعامل أطرافه بعضها مع بعض، صراعاً وتقاطعاً وتحالفاً. إسرائيل لا تحترم إلّا الأقوياء، وهم في حالتنا الولايات المتحدة وروسيا والصين، وتتجنّب استفزازهم. أمّا الآخرون، فهي تتعاطى معهم، وكما أظهرت «الفضيحة»، وفقاً لأولوياتها الظرفيّة.

لم تَعُد قوّة إسرائيل «الناعمة» تستند إلى ادّعاءاتها بكونها «واحة ديمقراطية» في محيط من البرابرة

وما فعلته مع فرنسا، لن تتردّد في تكراره في المستقبل مع دول كالمغرب والإمارات والسعودية إذا اقتضت مصالحها المتغيّرة ذلك. لا تحالفات ثابتة، أو على الأقلّ تجنّباً للتأزيم، إلّا مع الأقوياء. هي لم تراعِ الاندفاعة الفرنسية غير المسبوقة حيالها في السنوات الماضية، والتي فصّلها الباحث والصحافي الفرنسي، جان ستيرن، في سلسلة مقالات على موقع «شرق 21» عن اللوبي الإسرائيلي في بلاده. فشركة «إلبيت» الإسرائيلية تساهم في إنتاج نظام «العقرب»، وهو في قلب استراتيجية القوات البرية الفرنسية في العقود القادمة، و»يسمح بتطوير قيادة رقمية واحدة تعتمد على وصلة مشتركة تسمح للجنود المنتشرين في الميدان وكذلك للأدوات العسكرية الجديدة، مثل الطائرات من دون طيار والروبوتات، بأن تكون متّصلة في وقت واحد لتستبق بالتالي ردود فعل العدو». أمّا الشركات الفرنسية العاملة في حقل التكنولوجيا الرقمية، فـ»جميعها تريد الموساد عندها»، بحسب العنوان الحرفي لإحدى مقالاته في السلسلة المشار إليها آنفاً، والتي يتحدّث فيها عن مدى إعجاب الشركات الخاصّة وصناعات الدفاع الفرنسية، بإنجازاته في المجالات التكنولوجية، خاصّة برنامج «بيغاسوس». وهذه المقالة نُشرت في 26 نيسان الماضي، أي قبل «الفضيحة»، ما يضعنا أمام هُيام من طرف واحد يقابله عدم اكتراث، إن لم يكن ازدراء من الطرف الآخر.



جاذبية نموذج السيطرة والتنكيل والقتل


لم تَعُد قوّة إسرائيل «الناعمة»، أي جاذبيتها، تستند إلى ادّعاءاتها بكونها «واحة ديمقراطية» في محيط من البرابرة و/أو الأنظمة المستبدة. فقدت هذه السردية الحدود الدنيا من الصدقيّة على نطاق الكوكب. جاذبيتها اليوم تستند إلى خبراتها ومعارفها في ميدان القوّة الخشنة، والتي اكتسبتها من خلال حربها المستمرّة على الشعب الفلسطيني وشعوب المنطقة وقواها المقاومة. وحتى كاتب صهيوني «معتدل» كيوفال هراري يعترف بذلك في مقالة كتبها بعنوان: «سنستطيع قرصنة البشر قريباً»، يعتبر فيها أن «الضفة المحتلّة هي حقل تجارب بالنسبة إلى الإسرائيليين حول كيفية بناء ديكتاتورية رقميّة. كيف نستطيع التحكُّم بـ2,5 مليون من السكان عبر استخدام الذكاء الاصطناعي والبيغ داتا والطائرات المسيّرة والكاميرات؟ إسرائيل رائدة في مجال الرقابة والسيطرة: تقوم باختبارات ميدانية، ومن ثم تصدّرها نحو بقية العالم». وعلى الغالب، فإن هذه الخبرات وما تتيحه من قدرات أمنية وعسكرية وتكنولوجية، لأطراف تعتبر الشعوب أو قطاعات معتبرة منها، مصدراً رئيساً للتهديد، هي بين أبرز الاعتبارات التي تُفسّر هيامها بالنموذج الإسرائيلي.

Meet Toka, the Most Dangerous Israeli Spyware Firm You’ve Never Heard Of

By Whitney Webb

Source

The mainstream media’s myopic focus on Israel’s Pegasus spyware and the threats it poses means that other companies, like Toka, go uninvestigated,  even when their products present an even greater potential for abuse and illegal surveillance.

LONDON – This past Sunday, an investigation into the global abuse of spyware developed by veterans of Israeli intelligence Unit 8200 gained widespread attention, as it was revealed that the software – sold to democratic and authoritarian governments alike – had been used to illegally spy on an estimated 50,000 individuals. Among those who had their communications and devices spied on by the software, known as Pegasus, were journalists, human rights activists, business executives, academics and prominent political leaders. Among those targeted political leaders, per reports, were the current leaders of France, Pakistan, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and Iraq.

The abuse of Pegasus software in this very way has been known for several years, though these latest revelations appear to have gained such traction in the mainstream owing to the high number of civilians who have reportedly been surveilled through its use. The continuation of the now-years-long scandal surrounding the abuse of Pegasus has also brought considerable controversy and notoriety to the Israeli company that developed it, the NSO Group.

While the NSO Group has become infamous, other Israeli companies with even deeper ties to Israel’s intelligence apparatus have been selling software that not only provides the exact same services to governments and intelligence agencies but purports to go even farther.

Originally founded by former Israeli Prime Minister and Jeffrey Epstein associate Ehud Barak, one of these companies’ wares are being used by countries around the world, including in developing countries with the direct facilitation of global financial institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank. In addition, the software is only made available to governments that are “trusted” by Israel’s government, which “works closely” with the company.

Despite the fact that this firm has been around since 2018 and was covered in detail by this author for MintPress News in January 2020, no mainstream outlet – including those that have extensively covered the NSO Group – has bothered to examine the implications of this story.

Worse than Pegasus

Toka was launched in 2018 with the explicit purpose of selling a “tailored ecosystem of cyber capabilities and software products for governmental, law enforcement, and security agencies.” According to a profile of the company published in Forbes shortly after it launched, Toka advertised itself as “a one-stop hacking shop for governments that require extra capability to fight terrorists and other threats to national security in the digital domain.”

Toka launched with plans to “provide spy tools for whatever device its clients require,” including not only smartphones but a “special focus on the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).” Per the company, this includes devices like Amazon Echo, Google Nest-connected home products, as well as connected fridges, thermostats and alarms. Exploits in these products discovered by Toka, the company said at the time, would not be disclosed to vendors, meaning those flaws would continue to remain vulnerable to any hacker, whether a client of Toka or not.

Today, Toka’s software suite claims to offer its customers in law enforcement, government and intelligence the ability to obtain “targeted intelligence” and to conduct “forensic investigations” as well as “covert operations.” In addition, Toka offers governments its “Cyber Designers” service, which provides “agencies with the full-spectrum strategies, customized projects and technologies needed to keep critical infrastructure, the digital landscape and government institutions secure and durable.”

Given that NSO’s Pegasus targets only smartphones, Toka’s hacking suite – which, like Pegasus, is also classified as a “lawful intercept” product – is capable of targeting any device connected to the internet, including but not limited to smartphones. In addition, its target clientele are the same as those of Pegasus, providing an easy opportunity for governments to gain access to even more surveillance capabilities than Pegasus offers, but without risking notoriety in the media, since Toka has long avoided the limelight.

Toka IoT
A slide from an April 20, 2021 presentation given by Toka’s VP of Global Sales, Michael Anderson

In addition, while Toka professes that its products are only used by “trusted” governments and agencies to combat “terrorism” and maintain order and public safety, the sales pitch for the NSO Group’s Pegasus is remarkably similar, and that sales pitch has not stopped its software from being used to target dissidents, politicians and journalists. It also allows many of the same groups who are Toka clients, like intelligence agencies, to use these tools for the purpose of obtaining blackmail. The use of blackmail by Israeli security agencies against civilian Palestinians to attempt to weaken Palestinian society and for political persecution is well-documented.

Toka has been described by market analysts as an “offensive security” company, though the company’s leadership rejects this characterization. Company co-founder and current CEO Yaron Rosen asserted that, as opposed to purely offensive, the company’s operations are “something in the middle,” which he classifies as bridging cyber defense and offensive cyber activities — e.g., hacking.

The company’s activities are concerning in light of the fact that Toka has been directly partnered with Israel’s Ministry of Defense and other Israeli intelligence and security agencies since its founding. The company “works closely” with these government agencies, according to an Israeli Ministry of Defense website. This collaboration, per Toka, is meant to “enhance” their products. Toka’s direct IDF links are in contrast to the NSO Group, a company that does not maintain overt ties with the Israeli security state.

Toka’s direct collaboration with Israel’s government is also made clear through its claim that it sells its products and offers its services only to “trusted” governments, law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies. Toka’s Rosen has stated that Russia, China, and “other enemy countries” would never be customers of the company. In other words, only countries aligned with Israeli policy goals, particularly in occupied Palestine, are permitted to be customers and gain access to its trove of powerful hacking tools. This is consistent with Israeli government efforts to leverage Israel’s hi-tech sector as a means of countering the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement globally.

Yaron Rosen
A profile photo of former Chief of Cyber Staff for the IDF and Toka co-founder, Yaron Rosen. Credit | Spy Legends

Further evidence that Toka is part of this Israeli government effort to seed foreign governments with technology products deeply tied to Israel’s military and intelligence services is the fact that one of the main investors in Toka is Dell Technologies Capital, which is an extension of the well-known tech company Dell. Dell was founded by Michael Dell, a well-known pro-Israel partisan who has donated millions of dollars to the Friends of the IDF and is one of the top supporters of the so-called “anti-BDS” bills that prevent publicly employed individuals or public institutions in several U.S. states from supporting non-violent boycotts of Israel, even on humanitarian grounds. As MintPress previously noted, the fact that a major producer of consumer electronic goods is heavily investing in a company that markets the hacking of that very technology should be a red flag.

The government’s initial admitted use of the hi-tech sector to counter the BDS movement coincided with the launch of a new Israeli military and intelligence agency policy in 2012, whereby “cyber-related and intelligence projects that were previously carried out in-house in the Israeli military and Israel’s main intelligence arms are transferred to companies that, in some cases, were built for this exact purpose.”

One of the reasons this was reportedly launched was to retain members of Unit 8200 engaged in military work who were moving to jobs in the country’s high-paying tech sector. Through this new policy that has worked to essentially merge much of the private tech sector with Israel’s national security state, some Unit 8200 and other intelligence veterans continue their work for the state but benefit from a private sector salary. The end result is that an unknown – and likely very high – number of Israeli tech companies are led by veterans of the Israeli military and Israeli intelligence agencies and serve, for all intents and purposes, as front companies. A closer examination of Toka strongly suggests that it is one such front company.

Toka — born out of Israel’s national security state

The company was co-founded by Ehud Barak, Alon Kantor, Kfir Waldman and retired IDF Brigadier General Yaron Rosen. Rosen, the firm’s founding CEO and now co-CEO, is the former Chief of the IDF’s cyber staff, where he was “the lead architect of all [IDF] cyber activities,” including those executed by Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200. Alon Kantor is the former Vice President of Business Development for Check Point Software, a software and hardware company founded by Unit 8200 veterans. Kfir Waldman is the former CEO of Go Arc and a former Director of Engineering at technology giant Cisco. Cisco is a leader in the field of Internet of Things devices and IoT cybersecurity, while Go Arc focuses on applications for mobile devices. As previously mentioned, Toka hacks not only mobile devices but also has a “special focus” on hacking IoT devices.

Toka IoT
A slide from an April 20, 2021 presentation given by Toka’s VP of Global Sales, Michael Anderson

In addition to having served as prime minister of Israel, Toka co-founder Ehud Barak previously served as head of Israeli military intelligence directorate Aman, as well as several other prominent posts in the IDF, before eventually leading the Israeli military as minister of defense. While minister of defense, he led Operation Cast Lead against the blockaded Gaza Strip in 2009, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 Palestinians and saw Israel illegally use chemical weapons against civilians.

Toka is the first start-up created by Barak. However, Barak had previously chaired and invested in Carbyne911, a controversial Israeli emergency services start-up that has expanded around the world and has become particularly entrenched in the United States. Carbyne’s success has been despite the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, given that the intelligence-linked pedophile and sex trafficker had invested heavily in the company at Barak’s behest. Barak’s close relationship with Epstein, including overnight visits to Epstein’s now-notorious island and apartment complexes that housed trafficked women and underage girls, has been extensively documented.

Barak stepped away from Toka in April of last year, likely as the result of the controversy over his Epstein links, which also saw Barak withdraw from his chairmanship of Carbyne in the wake of Epstein’s death. Considerable evidence has pointed to Epstein having been an intelligence asset of Israeli military intelligence who accrued blackmail on powerful individuals for the benefit of Israel’s national security state and other intelligence agencies, as well as for personal gain.

Another notable Toka executive is Nir Peleg, the company’s Vice President for Strategic Projects. Peleg is the former head of the Research and Development Division at Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, where he led national cybersecurity projects as well as government initiatives and collaborations with international partners and Israeli cybersecurity innovative companies. Prior to this, Peleg claims to have served for more than 20 years in leading positions at the IDF’s “elite technology unit,” though he does specify exactly which unit this was. His LinkedIn profile lists him as having been head of the IDF’s entire Technology Department from 2008 to 2011.

While at Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, Peleg worked closely with Tal Goldstein, now the head of strategy for the World Economic Forum’s Partnership against Cybercrime (WEF-PAC), whose members include government agencies of the U.S., Israel and the U.K., along with some of the world’s most powerful companies in technology and finance. The goal of this effort is to establish a global entity that is capable of controlling the flow of information, data, and money on the internet. Notably, Toka CEO Yaron Rosen recently called for essentially this exact organization to be established when he stated that the international community needed to urgently create the “cyber” equivalent of the World Health Organization to combat the so-called “cyber pandemic.”

Claims that a “cyber pandemic” is imminent have been frequent from individuals tied to the WEF-PAC, including CEO of Checkpoint Software Gil Shwed. Checkpoint is a member of WEF-PAC and two of its former vice presidents, Michael Anderson and Alon Kantor, are now Vice President for Global Sales and co-CEO of Toka, respectively.

Tal Goldstein
The Wolrd Economic Forum does little to hide its partnership with former Israeli intelligence officials

Toka’s Chief Technology Officer, and the chief architect of its hacking suite, is Moty Zaltsman, who is the only chief executive of the company not listed on the firm’s website. Per his LinkedIn, Zaltsman was the Chief Technology Officer for then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Last January, when Toka was covered by MintPress News, his profile stated that he had developed “offensive technologies” for Israel’s head of state, but Zaltsman has since removed this claim. The last Toka executive of note is Michael Volfman, the company’s Vice President of Research and Development. Volfman was previously a cyber research and development leader at an unspecified “leading technology unit” of the IDF.

Also worth mentioning are Toka’s main investors, particularly Entrèe Capital, which is managed by Aviad Eyal and Ran Achituv. Achituv, who manages Entrée’s investment in Toka and sits on Toka’s board of directors, was the founder of the IDF’s satellite-based signals intelligence unit and also a former senior vice president at both Amdocs and Comverse Infosys. Both Amdocs and Comverse courted scandal in the late 1990s and early 2000s for their role in a massive Israeli government-backed espionage operation that targeted U.S. federal agencies during that period.

Despite this scandal and others in the company’s past, Comverse subsidiary Verint was subsequently contracted by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to bug the telecommunications network of Verizon shortly after their previous espionage scandal was covered by mainstream media. The contract was part of Operation Stellar Winds and was approved by then-NSA Director Keith Alexander, who has since been an outspoken advocate of closer Israeli-American government cooperation in cybersecurity.

In addition to Entrèe Capital, Andreessen Horowitz is another of Toka’s main investors. The venture capital firm co-founded by Silicon Valley titan Marc Andreessen is currently advised by former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers, a close friend of the infamous pedophile Jeffery Epstein. Early investors in Toka that are no longer listed on the firm’s website include Launch Capital, which is deeply tied to the Pritzker family — one of the wealthiest families in the U.S., with close ties to the Clintons and Obamas as well as the U.S.’ pro-Israel lobby — and Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist who spent nearly three decades at VenRock, the Rockefeller family venture capital fund.

In light of the aforementioned policy of Israel’s government to use private tech companies as fronts, the combination of Toka’s direct Israeli government ties, the nature of its products and services, and the numerous, significant connections of its leaders and investors to both Israeli military intelligence and past Israeli espionage scandals strongly suggests that Toka is one such front.

If this is the case, there is reason to believe that, when Toka clients hack and gain access to a device, elements of the Israeli state could also gain access. This concern is born out of the fact that Israeli intelligence has engaged in this exact type of behavior before as part of the PROMIS software scandal, whereby Israeli “superspy” Robert Maxwell sold bugged software to the U.S. government, including highly sensitive locations involved in classified nuclear weapons research. When that software, known as PROMIS, was installed on U.S. government computers, Israeli intelligence gained access to those same systems and devices.

The U.S. government was not the only target of this operation, however, as the bugged PROMIS software was placed on the networks of several intelligence agencies around the world as well as powerful corporations and several large banks. Israeli intelligence gained access to all of their systems until the compromised nature of the software was made public. However, Israel’s government was not held accountable by the U.S. government or the international community for its far-reaching espionage program, a program directly facilitated by technology-focused front companies. The similarities between the products marketed and clients targeted by Maxwell during the PROMIS scandal and currently by Toka are considerable.

World Bank, IDB aid Toka in targeting Palestine’s allies

While the ties between Toka and Israel’s national security state are clear as day, what is also significant and unsettling about this company is how its entry into developing and developed countries alike is being facilitated by global financial institutions, specifically the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Notably, these are the only deals with governments that Toka advertises on its website, as the others are not made public.

Several projects funded by one or another of these two institutions have seen Toka become the “cyber designer” of national cybersecurity strategies for Nigeria and Chile since last year. Significantly, both countries’ populations show strong support for Palestine and the BDS movement. In addition, Toka garnered a World Bank-funded contract with the government of Moldova, an ally of Israel, last September.

The World Bank selected Toka in February of last year to “enhance Nigeria’s cyber development,” which includes developing “national frameworks, technical capabilities and enhancement of skills.” Through the World Bank contract, Toka has now become intimately involved with both the public and private sectors of Nigeria that it relates to the country’s “cyber ecosystem.” The World Bank’s decision to choose Toka is likely the result of a partnership forged in 2019 by the state of Israel with the global financial institution “to boost cybersecurity in the developing world,” with a focus on Africa and Asia.

Nigeria Toka
Toka executives pose with Nigerian officials in 2020. Photo | Israel Defense

“Designing and building sustainable and robust national cyber strategy and cyber resilience is a critical enabler to fulfilling the objectives of Nigeria’s national cybersecurity policy and strategic framework,” Toka CEO Yaron Rosen said in a press release regarding the contract.

Given Toka’s aforementioned use of its technology for only “trusted” governments, it is notable that Nigeria has been a strong ally of Palestine for most of the past decade, save for one abstention at a crucial UN vote in 2014. In addition to the government, numerous student groups, human rights organizations, and Islamic organizations in the country are outspoken in their support for Palestine. With Toka’s efforts to offer its products only to countries who align themselves with “friendly” countries, their now intimate involvement with Nigeria’s cyber development could soon have consequences for a government that has tended to support the Palestinian cause. This is even more likely given Toka CEO Rosen’s statements at an April 2021 event hosted by Israel’s Ministry of Economy, where he emphasized the role of cyber in developing countries specifically in terms of their national defense and economic strategy.

Three months after the deal was struck with Nigeria through the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) selected Toka to advise the government of Chile on “next steps for the country’s national cybersecurity readiness and operational capacity building.” As part of the project, “Toka will assess the current cybersecurity gaps and challenges in Chile and support the IDB project implementation by recommending specific cybersecurity readiness improvements,” per a press release. Toka claims it will help “establish Chile as a cybersecurity leader in South America.” Regarding the deal, Toka’s Rosen stated that he was “thankful” that the IDB had “provided us with this opportunity to work with the Government of Chile.”

Israel signed consequential agreements for cooperation with the IDB in 2015, before further deepening those ties in 2019 by partnering with the IDB to invest $250 million from Israeli institutions in Latin America specifically.

Toka executives are pictured with Chilean officials during a 2020 meeting in Santiago

Like Nigeria, Chile has a strong connection with Palestine and is often a target of Israeli government influence efforts. Though the current far-right government of Sebastián Piñera has grown close to Israel, Chile is home to the largest Palestinian exile community in the world outside of the Middle East. As a result, Chile has one of the strongest BDS movements in the Americas, with cities declaring a non-violent boycott of Israel until the Piñera administration stepped in to claim that such boycotts can only be implemented at the federal level. Palestinian Chileans have strong influence on Chilean politics, with a recent, popular presidential candidate, Daniel Jadue, being the son of Palestinian immigrants to Chile. Earlier this year, in June, Chile’s congress drafted a bill to boycott goods, services and products from illegal Israeli settlements.

While Toka frames both of these projects as aimed at helping the cyber readiness and economies of the countries it now services, Israeli media has painted a different picture. For instance, Haaretz wrote that Israel’s partnerships with development banks, specifically those made in 2019 that resulted in these Toka contracts, were planned by an inter-ministerial committee set up by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to realize the potential of international development to strengthen the Israeli economy, improve Israel’s political standing and strengthen its international role.” One source, quoted by Haaretz as being close to this undertaking, stated that “development banks are a way to help advance Israel’s interests and agenda in the developing world, including Latin America. But it’s not philanthropy.”

Given these statements, and Toka’s own modus operandi as a company and its background, it seems highly likely that the reason both Nigeria and Chile were chosen as the first of Toka’s development banks contracts was aimed at advancing the Israeli government’s agenda in those specific countries, one that seeks to counter and mitigate the vocal support for Palestine among those countries’ inhabitants.

The spyware problem goes far beyond NSO Group

The NSO Group and its Pegasus software is clearly a major scandal that deserves scrutiny. However, the treatment of the incident by the media has largely absolved the Israeli government of any role in that affair, despite the fact that the NSO Group’s sales of Pegasus to foreign governments has been approved and defended by Israel’s government. This, of course, means that Israel’s government has obvious responsibility in the whole scandal as well.

In addition, the myopic focus on the NSO Group when it comes to mainstream media reporting on Israeli private spyware and the threats it poses means that other companies, like Toka, go uninvestigated, even if their products present an even greater potential for abuse and illegal surveillance than those currently marketed and sold by the NSO Group.

Given the longstanding history of Israeli intelligence’s use of technology firms for international surveillance and espionage, as well as its admitted policy of using tech companies as fronts to combat BDS and ensure Israel’s “cyber dominance,” the investigation into Israeli spyware cannot stop just with NSO Group. However, not stopping there risks directly challenging the Israeli state, particularly in Toka’s case, and this is something that mainstream media outlets tend to avoid. This is due to a mix of factors, but the fact that NSO’s Pegasus has been used to spy on journalists so extensively certainly doesn’t help the matter.

Yet, Israel’s weaponization of its tech industry, and the global use of its spyware offerings by governments and security agencies around the world, must be addressed, especially because it has been explicitly weaponized to prevent non-violent boycotts of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, including those solely based on humanitarian grounds or out of respect for international laws that Israel routinely breaks. Allowing a government to engage in this activity on a global scale to stifle criticism of flagrantly illegal policies and war crimes cannot continue and this should be the case for any government, not just Israel.

If the outlets eagerly reporting on the latest Pegasus revelations are truly concerned with the abuse of spyware by governments and intelligence agencies around the world, they should also give attention to Toka, as it is actively arming these same institutions with weapons far worse than any NSO Group product.

Pegasus is Just the Tip of the Israeli Cyber Spying Iceberg, with Whitney Webb

July 23rd, 2021

By Mnar Adley

Source

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Investigative journalist Whitney Webb joins MIntCast to discuss Pegasus, Toka, and the global Israeli cyberspying network.

Edward Snowden has called it “the story of the year.” An Israeli spying company has been caught selling software to authoritarian regimes that have used it to surveil more than 50,000 people worldwide.

That company is NSO, founded in 2010 by former members of Unit 8200, the Israeli military’s notorious intelligence squad. Their product is called Pegasus, and it was sold to military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies in 40 countries, among them some of the world’s worst human rights abusing governments.

On this “MintCast,” investigative journalist Whitney Webb joins Mnar Adley today to discuss Pegasus, Toka, and the global Israeli cyberspying network. Whitney Webb is a writer and researcher for the outlets Unlimited Hangout and The Last American Vagabond. She principally covers intelligence, technology, surveillance, and civil liberties. Between 2017 and 2020, she was also a senior investigative reporter for MintPress. Her latest article, “Meet Toka, the Most Dangerous Israeli Spyware Firm You’ve Never Heard Of,” was published by MintPress earlier this week.

Pegasus is able to attack the cellphones of targeted individuals without them realizing it, monitoring and recording their calls, texts and accessing other information stored on their devices. Dozens of human rights activists, nearly 200 journalists, several Arab royals, and more than 600 politicians are known to have had their communications spied on and compromised. Among those include French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan and president of Iraq, Barham Salih.

Close associates of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi were also attacked and compromised just before his murder by Saudi operatives in 2018, strongly indicating that the information gleaned through Pegasus was crucial in this endeavor. NSO vehemently denied that their product was used in his assassination. Yet it also put out a statement insisting that it had no access to what its clients did with the software — two seemingly contradictory assertions.

The Pegasus story has made major waves in India, too, where it was revealed Prime Minister Narendra Modi had used it to spy on his political opponents in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The Indian Congress Party has accused the prime minister of committing treason. Also disclosed was that the government hacked the phone of a woman who accused the Chief Justice of India of raping her, a revelation undermining the entire justice system and the concept of a fair trial.

Yet a new MintPress News investigation asserts that Pegasus is merely the tip of the Israeli cyber spying iceberg and that another piece of software, Toka, is far more dangerous and outrageous. Toka markets itself as “a one-stop hacking shop for governments that require extra capability to fight terrorists and other threats to national security in the digital domain.” The company’s software is designed to infiltrate any device connected to the internet, not just smartphones.

Toka is a product of the Israeli national security state, having been co-founded by former prime minister, Ehud Barak, and was also designed by members of Unit 8200, leading Webb to suggest that it is a front for the Israeli government.

MBS Requests Spying on Ghassan Ben Jeddou, Several Figures

19 Jul 2021

By Al Mayadeen

Source: Le Monde

With Israeli spyware Pegasus exposed, Le Monde reveals that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman requested spying on several politicians and journalists in Lebanon: Who are they?

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The French daily Le Monde revealed Monday that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asked to spy on several Lebanese journalists and politicians, including President Michel Aoun, through Israeli NSO’s spyware Pegasus.

Le Monde added in an investigation published today that several Lebanese political and media figures were victims of a spying attack on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s behalf between 2018-2019.

Figures included former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, president of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil, General Director of the Lebanese General Directorate of General Security Abbas Ibrahim.

The newspaper highlighted that bin Salman also asked Pegasus to spy “on Hezbollah MPs Hassan Fadlallah, and  Ali Fayyad, in addition to the head of Hezbollah’s liaison and coordination unit Wafiq Safa.”

The Saudi Crown Prince also requested to spy on Banque du Liban Governor Riad Salameh and former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil.

Le Monde also indicated that “Saudi Arabia and the UAE requested spying on two journalists: Ghassan Ben Jeddou and Ibrahim Al Amine.”

According to the newspaper, Pegasus is able to steal content from phones, including WhatsApp and Signal messages.

The Israeli NSO group is the developer of this spyware.

Today, several governments, organizations, media outlets, and unions condemned worldwide spyware attacks carried out through Israeli Pegasus spyware, which targeted activists, journalists, and politicians.

In January 2020, The Washington Post reported, in an extensive investigation, that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were spying on journalists and activists in London and Qatar, through the Israeli Pegasus spyware.

لماذا يتجسّس ابن سلمان و”إسرائيل” على غسّان بن جدو؟

21 تموز 2021

المصدر: الميادين نت

قاسم عز الدين

عصابة ذئاب الليل في الشركات الخاصة للاستخبارات الغربية تدخل إلى غرف النوم التي تستهويها، لكن هوس ابن سلمان وابن زايد و”إسرائيل” الذي مسّ شبكة صيد واسعة خصّ الإعلام والصحافيين الأحرار.

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لا ريب في أن اللائحة المسرّبة حالياً هي مجرّد عيّنة أولية عن مئات الأسماء في لبنان.

بقدرة قادر، تكشف مؤسسة “فوربيدن ستوريز” المغمورة في فرنسا، على لسان مديرتها لوران ريشار (الاسم الفرنسي يوحي باسم مذكّر)، عن تجسّس إسرائيلي على هواتف موالية ومعادية، من بينها هواتف 180 إعلامياً في أكثر من 50 دولة، لمصلحة ابن سلمان وابن زايد وغيرهما.

التسريبات التي عرضت بعضها صحيفة “لوموند” الفرنسية ونقلها الإعلام في لبنان، تذكر أسماء سياسيين ومسؤولين عديدين. ومن بين الإعلاميين، تخصّ غسان بن جدو وإبراهيم الأمين.

إعلام المقاومة الإنسانية الأممية

لا ريب في أن اللائحة المسرّبة حالياً هي مجرّد عيّنة أولية عن مئات الأسماء في لبنان، وربما أكثر. وقد تشمل كل الصحافيين وكل إعلاميي المقاومة ورافضي الغطرسة الأميركية والغربية والاحتلال الإسرائيلي والعدوان السعودي – الإماراتي على اليمن وفلسطين.

ثلاثي محور الحرب، الإسرائيلي – السعودي – الإماراتي، يجنّد في معركة التجسّس الأمنية (إضافة إلى عملاء الاستخبارات والأجهزة الأمنية) أكثر من ألف عميل في شركة “إن إس أو” منذ العام 2016، بينهم حوالى 200 صحافي.

ربما تستوقف بعضهم في تقاريرهم الاستخبارية، جريدة “الأخبار” بخطابها الداعم للمقاومة في بيئة اليسار العربي، وقناة “الميادين” التي شبّت عن التقوقع المحلي والإقليمي إلى مهنية إعلامية تمتد باتجاه مقاومة عالم الجنوب الأرحب. مهندس هذا المسار وربّان السفينة بشعار “مع الإنسان في كل مكان”، يُقلق الأجهزة الأمنية الإسرائيلية في المقام الأوّل، والتي تُطلق أيديها الاستخبارات الأميركية والغربية في أميركا اللاتينية وأفريقيا السمراء، فتسرح وتمرح بسردية الخرافات الأسطورية بين الناس الطيّبين.

ولعلّ أكثر ما يحبط التضليل والتلاعب بالعقول، المقاربة التي تعمل عليها “الميادين” بمهنية إعلامية ملتزمة في الخبر والتغطية والحوار وقراءة الأحداث والبرامج… لتقديم رواية تاريخية وثقافية إنسانية عقلانية.

شريكا “إسرائيل” في تحالف الحرب، ابن سلمان وابن زايد، المصابان بعصاب الرهاب المرضي، تقلقهما “الميادين” بتوجّهها فوق الاصطفافات البينية والاحتراب الداخلي، من أجل تحصين الجامع الوطني والقومي المشترك الذي ينمو على تبديده ابن سلمان وابن زايد في نفخ أوار حرب داحس والغبراء العرقية والمذهبية.

ثبات “الميادين” بعزيمة وأناة الصبر الاستراتيجي لإرساء مدرسة الحقيقة في الإعلام المهني الملتزم، يقضّ مضاجع العصاب النرجسي في الرياض وأبو ظبي، والذي توهّم لوهلة، تحت مظلّة ترامب ونتنياهو، أنه صار شاهين.

توسّع “الميادين” فاقم مأزقهم وكشف عن أياديهم الملطّخة بدماء الأطفال والأبرياء في اليمن وفلسطين، بمخاطبة قلوب العالم وعقولهم بلغة الضمير الإنساني ولسان اللغة العربية والإسبانية والإنكليزية الذي يخترق قبَب التوحّش الفولاذية.

عصابة ذئاب الليل تشوبها تباينات افتراس الضحايا

كيف استطاعت مؤسسة لوران ريشار الصغيرة في عالم الاستقصاء الإداري الكشف عن لائحة مستهدفين بالبرنامج الإسرائيلي “بيغاسوس” منذ العام 2016؟ ولماذا تحرّك على الأثر النائب العام الفرنسي ومنظمة “هيومن رايس ووتش” وتحالف 17 مؤسسة إعلامية من المرجح أن تتضاعف أعدادها؟

على الأرجح أنَّ جهات حكومية فرنسية وأميركية في وكالات الاستخبارات تشعر بوصول الموس إلى لحاها، إذ تتخطى شركة “إن إس أو” الإسرائيلية الخطوط العامة المتفق عليها بين الإدارات الغربية والشركات الخاصة التابعة لها.

يبدو أنَّ “إن إس أو” طفحت في اتفاقياتها مع ابن سلمان وابن زايد وغيرهما (المغرب مثلاً) عن الجامع المشترَك في ما يسمى “مكافحة الإرهاب”، والذي ترسم توجهاته الإدارات السياسية، وتوكل خطوطه العريضة إلى وكالات الاستخبارات والشركات الخاصة، ومن بينها “إن إس أو” الإسرائيلية.

كل وكالات الاستخبارات الحكومية الغربية باتت تعتمد منذ عقدين على خصخصة الدولة والأمن (بلاك ووتر) والاستخبارات أيضاً، بحسب النموذج الأميركي. شركات المعلوماتية والاستخبارية الخاصة التي تعمل لمصلحة شركات الاستثمار المتعددة الجنسية، تعمل كذلك مع وكالات الاستخبارات الحكومية بدعم من الإدارات الحكومية، وتبزّها أحياناً بالكفاءة والخبرة التقنية.

شركة “ويست بريدج”، الذراع الأميركية لشركة “إن إس أو”، فلحت مع “سي آي إي” في البيت الأبيض والكونغرس بدعم من ترامب وكوشنر، وتشاركت مع شركة الأسهم الأميركية الخاصة “فرانسيسكو بارتزز مانجمنت”. اتهمت سويسرا استخبارات “سي آي إي” واستخبارات ألمانيا “بي إن دي”، بالاستيلاء على شركة “كريبتو إي جي” السويسرية وشركة “أومنيسك” الأخرى. 

لم تظهر الاختلافات الكثيرة على السّطح، على الرغم من الدلائل والفضائح الأسبوعية، فحلّها الأخوي يجري داخل العائلة الواحدة، لكنّ اتهام الشركة الإسرائيلية باحتمال اختراق هاتف ماكرون وحكومته السابقة والحالية، يدق باب الخطر، وكذلك اتهام “ويتي ويب” باختراق “لوكهيد مارتن” وعدد من الأجهزة العسكرية الأمنية الأميركية لمصلحة “إسرائيل”، بالتعاون مع عملاء سابقين أميركيين وإسرائيليين.

من غير المحتمل أن تصل الحكومات الأميركية والغربية إلى معاقبة “إسرائيل” أو محمد بن سلمان ومحمد بن زايد في العائلة الواحدة، وليس بالضرورة أن تكون التسريبات في لبنان والمنطقة العربية موجّهة ضد “إسرائيل” والسعودية وأبو ظبي، فالدول الغربية معنية بالموافقة على عمليات الموساد “لحفظ أمن إسرائيل”.

قد تكون بعض أهداف التسريب تخويف بعض السياسيين وإسكات صوت بعض الإعلاميين. في كلِّ الأحوال، لم يحرّك غسان بن جدو دافع عرَضي طارئ لهندسة مدرسة “الميادين” الإعلامية، ولن يدفعه إنذار أو تلويح بتهديد إلى تغيير قيْد أنملة عما هو عليه، منتمياً إلى مبادئ وقناعات جُبل عليها مع الحليب وشبّ في تجربة الحياة، لكن عصابة ذئاب الليل تهاجم فريستها في العتمة الكالحة. وقد تخيفها شمعة نور أو نبرة صوت لا يرتعش من أشباح الظلام.

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Pegasus Project: Why I was targeted by Israeli spyware

The building housing the Israeli NSO Group is pictured in 2016 in Herzliya (AFP)
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Madawi al-RasheedMadawi al-Rasheed is visiting professor at the Middle East Institute of the London School of Economics. You can follow her on Twitter: @MadawiDr

20 July 2021 09:34 UTC

Madawi al-Rasheed

My work to expose the crimes of the Saudi regime led to a hacking attempt on my phone. Today, I am overwhelmed by feelings of vulnerability and intrusion

The Orwellian prediction finally came true. I knew it was only a matter of time before the Saudi regime tried to hack my phone, using Pegasus software manufactured by the private Israeli security company NSO Group.

This development highlights the consolidation of a new axis of evil: IsraelSaudi Arabia and the UAE have become a chorus of malicious powers aiming to stifle activism and the quest for democracy in the region. Israel provides knowledge; the others provide funds.

I have spent more than half my life writing, researching and teaching. You wouldn’t expect me to be hacked. But such professional activities are a crime in Saudi Arabia

The privatisation of the Israeli security apparatus, and the mushrooming of private companies founded by ex-defence and ex-Mossad agents, is a threat not only to Palestinians in Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank, but also to all Gulf citizens, with Israeli spyware sold to dictatorships across the Arab world.

In return, Israel gains access to the inner intelligence circles and deep states of the Gulf – enabling it to hold them hostage for a long time to come. Israel supports Gulf autocracies, thinking that this guarantees its own security forever. But Israel is wrong.

Normalisation with Israel is not only immoral because of the Palestinian plight; it is also an existential threat to all Gulf nationals seeking political reform in their own countries. The so-called “only democracy in the Middle East” has so entrenched its apartheid system that no propaganda can salvage it, and strong public objections to Arab regimes’ normalisation with Israel will only intensify in the months and years ahead.

Saga of surveillance

The UAE plays a key role in the saga of surveillance by Israeli private companies. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has fallen under the spell of Mohammed bin Zayed, his UAE counterpart. Forget the “tallest buildingbusiest airport and ministries of tolerance and happiness” – which are at the core of UAE propaganda – and remember that bin Zayed is bin Salman’s mentor.

The two are united by their hatred of democracy, political diversity, freedom of speech and human rights. Both are now key to an axis of evil overseen by malicious Israeli technology, whose alleged raison d’etre is to help governments catch criminals and terrorists. Yet, it is being used against peaceful activists.

Pegasus: How it hacks phones and spies for NSO clients

graphic

Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based NGO specialising in defending journalists and human rights activists, obtained more than 50,000 telephone numbers targeted globally by Israeli malware on behalf of NSO clients, mainly governments. They alerted various media outlets, and with the support of Amnesty International, launched the Pegasus Project.Pegasus: Khashoggi contacts among ‘thousands targeted by Israeli spyware

The findings showed that in April 2019, there was an attempt to hack my phone, but it was unsuccessful. While this is a relief, I am overwhelmed by feelings of vulnerability and intrusion.

To obtain evidence from the Pegasus Project, I had to submit the contents of my phone – in which my private and professional life was stored – to their technology team.

I sat in front of a computer screen for three hours, watching my virtual life travel to the Amnesty International lab, where a search for malware was conducted. I received evidence of the failed April hacking attempt the same day.

Controlling the narrative

As a British citizen of Saudi origin, I have spent more than half my life writing, researching and teaching. You wouldn’t expect me to be hacked. But such professional activities are a crime in Saudi Arabia, where the regime is determined to control the narrative about the past, present and future.

My crime is that I punctured this narrative, using academic research skills and access to Saudis whose voices remain muted. All my research has focused on giving a voice to the voiceless, which inevitably involves interviewing Saudis inside and outside the country. My debunking of official Saudi lies bothers the regime, which has spared no opportunity to tarnish my reputation, accusing me of being an agent of western governments, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, and previously Libya and Iraq.

Saudi government agents murdered Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018 (AFP)
Saudi government agents murdered Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018 (AFP)

In the 1990s, the regime targeted me with direct threats of violence – but with the advent of the internet, such threats have become virtual, propagated by regime agents. Hacking my phone is only the latest episode.

In 2014, my Twitter account was hacked in search of sensational scandals, and possibly clandestine plots with other Saudi exiles. The hackers must have been disappointed not to find any of this, but they did expose my private conversation with Sheikh Awad al-Qarni, a key Islamist figure who sent me greetings and asked me not to augment my criticism of the Islamist movement’s silence when prominent Saudi human rights leaders were detained.

Regime spies launched a campaign to discredit Qarni for sending a direct message to an unveiled woman, such as myself. Qarni has been in prison for several years.

Lives in danger

I never had anything to hide, as everything I knew was documented and published in books and articles. I had no secrets, but this was not the point. I cherished my privacy and loathed the Saudi intrusion into my life. I also worried about those who communicate with me from within the country, as their lives could be in danger.

Among the charges against Mohammed al-Otaibi, a human right activist, was storing my books and articles on his computer. He is still in prison. It is my responsibility to protect those who confide in me and want their voices to be heard.

While the April 2019 assault on my device was unsuccessful, I am sure there will be other attempts in the future

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 coincided with greater Saudi surveillance of exiles in Britain, Canada and elsewhere. The shock over the gruesome details of chopping up a peaceful journalist was compounded by fears of hacking. This was the first time exiles had heard of NSO helping the Saudis to hack the phone of a young exile based in Canada, Omar al-Zahrani, who had communicated with Khashoggi about establishing a media platform to debunk Saudi propaganda.

The financial cost of securing my phone was colossal, but it was worth it. While the April 2019 assault on my device was unsuccessful, I am sure there will be other attempts in the future.

Back in 2019, I was involved in discussions with other exiles in three countries about forming a political party, which could explain the attempt to infiltrate my phone at that time. The regime wanted more details about who would sponsor such a project – and who the culprits were. The project materialised on 23 September 2020,  the day the kingdom celebrates its national day, as a small group of activists, including myself, announced the establishment of the Saudi National Assembly (NAAS). Yahya Asiri, the general secretary, was hacked, and his name appears in the Pegasus files. 

Standing against oppression

I moved from academia to political activism because the Saudi regime committed heinous crimes, and the lives of exiles, including my own, were in danger. The Saudi regime targeted me when I was an academic, and again after I became an activist. Such attacks will surely continue in the months and years ahead.

In April 2019, I was also writing a book on state-society  relations. The villain was none other than bin Salman, who has detained hundreds of Saudis and precipitated the flight of scores more.

I was baffled by western media depictions of the prince as a modern reformer, while Saudi prisons were bulging with innocent prisoners of conscience, women were campaigning against discrimination, and a young diaspora was coming together around the globe. My book, The Son King, was definitely a faux pas.

How Israeli spy tech reaches deep into our lives

In 2019, a new virtual Saudi opposition-in-exile was beginning to be formed, standing against oppression and dictatorship. NAAS relies on social media to connect and exchange ideas, making it extremely vulnerable, as the murder of Khashoggi and the hacking of activists’ phones has demonstrated. In the wake of the Pegasus Project revelations, NAAS will surely revert to old methods of mobilisation, meetings and activism.

Thanks to Israeli malware, UAE complicity and Saudi intrusions, exiles will have to search for secure methods to share information and to mobilise. As many have taken refuge in the US, Canada, Britain and across Europe, these states have a responsibility to protect them from Saudi surveillance. Otherwise, there is a real risk the Khashoggi saga could be repeated.

Diplomacy must be activated to stop the axis of evil from spreading more fear, apprehension and possibly murder – and if that doesn’t work, sanctions should be pursued, at the very least in Britain, where two of the founders of NAAS reside.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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MBS Used ‘Israeli’ Spyware Pegasus to Spy on Lebanese, Hezbollah Officials – Report

20-07-2021

MBS Used ‘Israeli’ Spyware Pegasus to Spy on Lebanese, Hezbollah Officials - Report

By Staff, Agencies

An ‘Israeli’ software company is revealed to have helped Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman [MBS] take over the smart phones of high-ranking Lebanese authorities, senior figures of Hezbollah resistance movement as well as journalists, and spy on their communications.

According to the report published by the French daily newspaper Le Monde, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler used the NSO Group’s cell phone-hacking software, Pegasus, to conduct cyber-espionage on Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, former prime minister Saad Hariri, former foreign minister and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil, and Chief of the Directorate of General Security Major General Abbas Ibrahim.

The report added the ‘Israeli’ spyware was abused on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 2018 and 2019 to spy on some Lebanese political officials and journalists.

Le Monde said the Saudi crown prince also called for espionage on Lebanese lawmakers representing Hezbollah Hassan Fadlallah and Ali Fayyad, governor of Lebanon’s central bank Riad Salameh and former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil.

The report added that the Riyadh and Abu Dhabi regimes had demanded that two renowned Lebanese journalists, director of Beirut-based al-Mayadeen television news network Ghassan bin Jiddo, and correspondent and political analyst for al-Akhbar Arabic language newspaper Ibrahim al-Amin, be kept under close watch.

Similarly, the United Arab Emirates has apparently deployed digital spyware enabling surveillance of top leaders of Yemen’s popular Ansarullah resistance movement and officials from the administration of former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The Arabic-language al-Khabar al-Yemeni news website reported that Ansarullah’s leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and Chairman of the Yemeni Supreme Revolutionary Committee Mohammed Ali al-Houthi were among senior Yemeni officials targeted by the UAE.

According to the report, Hadi was also on the list of targets.

One of the most prominent targets was Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, the former Yemeni prime minister in Hadi’s government. He was under surveillance since April 2016 until the end of 2018.

Being a highly invasive tool, Pegasus is said to be able to turn on the victim’s cell phone camera and microphone and access data on it, meaning that it can effectively turn the phone into a pocket spy.

The ‘Israeli’ firm NSO has been in the headlines since 2016 when experts said it was helping spy on an activist in the UAE.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, through a study, has found a link between the NSO technology and political surveillance in Mexico, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Victims of the hacking spree included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and top government officials.

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