Israeli-led spyware industry further exposed, becoming unruly: NYT

An NYT report reveals that the Drug Enforcement Administration is covertly using a hacking tool developed by the Israeli firm Paragon.

Despite US President Joe Biden’s administration taking a public stance last year against the misuse of spyware to target human rights activists, dissidents, and journalists, the global industry for commercial spyware, which allows governments to invade mobile phones and steal data, continues to thrive, The New York Times reported.

The newspaper confirmed that the US government continues to use spyware, revealing that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is covertly using a hacking tool called Graphit, which is developed by the Israeli firm Paragon, citing five people familiar with the agency’s operations, in the first confirmed commercial use of spyware by the US federal government.

In response, the DEA claimed in a statement to the Times that its staff “are using every lawful investigative tool available to pursue the foreign-based cartels and individuals operating around the world responsible for the drug-poisoning deaths of 107,622 Americans last year.”

Similarly, a senior White House official claimed that the US administration “has been clear that it will not use investigative tools that have been used by foreign governments or persons to target the U.S. government and our personnel, or to target civil society, suppress dissent or enable human rights abuses.”

According to the Times report, “Graphite primarily collects data from the cloud, after data is backed up from the phone. This can make it more difficult to discover the hack and theft of information, according to cybersecurity experts.”

Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak is part of Paragon’s board

The newspaper cited an official aware of the Israeli occupation’s security export licensing agreements as saying that Paragon’s sales are regulated by the Israeli government.

“The company was founded just three years ago by Ehud Schneorson, a former commander of Unit 8200, Israel’s equivalent of the National Security Agency,” NYT pointed out.

According to two former Unit 8200 officers and a senior Israeli official, “most of the company’s executives are Israeli intelligence veterans, some of whom worked for NSO.”

The Times also revealed that Ehud Barak, the former Israeli occupation Prime Minister, is part of the company’s board.

A firm run by the former IOF general center of political scandal in Athens

In a related context, the newspaper pointed out that one firm, Intellexa, selling a hacking tool called Predator and run by Tal Dilian, a former Israeli occupation general from Greece, “is at the center of a political scandal in Athens over the spyware’s use against politicians and journalists.”

According to the Times, the Greek government admitted, after questions from the newspaper, “that it gave the company, Intellexa, licenses to sell Predator to at least one country with a history of repression, Madagascar,” adding that the hacking tool was found to have been used in another dozen countries since 2021.

The newspaper’s investigation is based on examining thousands of pages of documents, including sealed court documents in Cyprus, secret parliamentary testimony in Greece, and a secret Israeli occupation military police investigation, as well as interviews with numerous government and judicial officials, law enforcement agents, businessmen and hacking victims in five countries.

The Times said Steven Feldstein, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, has documented the use of spyware by at least 73 countries.

Commenting on the matter, Feldstein was quoted as saying that “the penalties against NSO and its ilk are important.”

“But in reality, other vendors are stepping in. And there’s no sign it’s going away,” he added.

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