Tech giant: Macron not targeted, reports are slanderous

Denying mass spying claims, NSO says it’s victim of ‘an orchestrated campaign’

Israeli firm in spyware scandal says it won’t be responding further to ‘false allegations’ its surveillance was used on world leaders and hundreds of journalists

This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021. (Joel Saget/AFP)
This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021. (Joel Saget/AFP)

Pushing back against claims it has targeted more than a dozen heads of state and hundreds of journalists, Israeli spyware firm NSO Group on Wednesday denied being engaged in mass surveillance, calling the allegations against it “insinuations and slander.”

“False allegations have been published against us that ignore the facts,” the company said in a statement announcing that it would not be responding to further requests to comment on the claims. “We will not play the game of insinuations and slander.”

The company said that “an orchestrated campaign is being carried out against us.”

The statement came after a list was leaked of some 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been chosen by clients of Israel’s NSO Group for possible surveillance, according to an international reporting effort.

The list contained numbers for 14 heads of state including French President Emmanuel Macron and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

We can “specifically come out and say for sure that the president of France, Macron, was not a target,” Chaim Gelfand, chief compliance officer at NSO Group, told the i24 News television network on Wednesday.

But he also alluded to “some cases brought up that we are not so comfortable with,” noting that in such circumstances the firm “usually approaches the customer and has a whole long discussion… to try to understand what were his legitimate reasons, if any, to use the system.”

NSO’s flagship program Pegasus can hack into mobile phones without users knowing, enabling clients to read every message, track a user’s location and tap into the phone’s camera and microphone.

The logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building where they had offices in Herzliya, on August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

“The list is not a list of Pegasus’s current or potential targets,” the company said Wednesday, adding that “any claim that any name on the list is necessarily related to Pegasus is wrong and false.”

According to the company, “we will investigate any credible evidence of misuse of our technology, and disable the software if necessary.”

The company does not identify its customers. However, rights group Amnesty International and the Paris-based organization Forbidden Stories that obtained the list said NSO’s government clients include Bahrain, India, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda and Saudi Arabia.

Reporting by media outlets including The Guardian, Le Monde and The Washington Post found that nearly 200 journalists from organizations including AFP were on the list.

NSO is a giant of Israeli tech with 850 employees.

Its CEO Shalev Hulio, 39, denied in an interview with Israel’s 103FM radio on Tuesday that his company had done anything wrong.

He said NSO had “no connection” to the list of thousands of phone numbers.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel approves export of technology only to governments “exclusively for the purposes of preventing and investigating crime and terrorism.”

He said Israel is “studying” recent publications on the subject.

The Defense Ministry has vowed that “appropriate action” would be taken if it found NSO Group violated its export license terms.

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