To The Guardian, which this week (to its credit) is leading with a series of articles on the use and abuse of the Pegasus cyber surveillance software developed by Israeli company NSO. I shall be very interested to see how the Guardian concludes the series. Will it find:
a) NSO is an above board cyber security business which cannot be held responsible for any abuse of its product by the governments it sells it to
b) NSO is a ‘rogue’ company that knows its product is abused and was quite happy to reap profits from regimes many would find dubious
c) NSO is a company, authorised by the Israeli state to sell its product to all-comers as part of the Israeli government’s long term strategy to dominate the cyber security industry, possibly with the intention of gathering intelligence on anybody and everybody who could be a threat (or useful in other ways).
I’m plumping for c). The NSO business is just one of many that emerged from the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) Unit 8200, which boasts of its globally leading cyber intelligence capabilities. It’s one of the reasons why Israel is effectively the ‘plus one’ in the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing network of the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This hasn’t prevented, by the way, Israel spying on its allies. Anyway, the following quote from a story in the New York Times yesterday gives us a clue why c) may be the chosen option:
“Israel secretly authorized a group of cyber-surveillance firms to work for the government of Saudi Arabia despite international condemnation of the kingdom’s abuse of surveillance software to crush dissent, even after the Saudi killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, government officials and others familiar with the contracts said.”
One should remember that ‘graduates’ of the IDF’s Unit 8200 will remain reserve members of the IDF for many years—the IDF is mainly staffed by reservists. The mere fact that they go off to set up businesses in the private sector does not end their career with the military. It is perhaps purely conjecture to imagine that it is a continuation of it, just with higher rewards.