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NSO chief rejects ‘hypocritical’ criticism of spyware firm: ‘I sleep soundly at night’

NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio speaks with Channel 12 News in an interview aired on January 29, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio speaks with Channel 12 News in an interview aired on January 29, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

The CEO of NSO Group pushes back on criticism of his embattled cyber tech firm amid mounting allegations its Pegasus spyware program was misused in Israel and across the globe.

“I absolutely sleep soundly at night,” Shalev Hulio tells Channel 12 News in an interview aired this evening.

Hulio calls criticism of NSO Group’s sale of Pegasus to non-democratic countries “hypocritical,” comparing the surveillance technology to military weapons systems.

“There is not one country we’ve sold to, not one… that the US does not sell to, or that Israel doesn’t sell to. So it’s a bit hypocritical to say it’s okay to sell F-35s and tanks and drones, but it’s not okay to sell a tool that collects intelligence,” he says.

He sounds off on the recent US decision to blacklist NSO Group and another Israeli firm for allegedly engaging in malicious cyber activities.

“Our technology has over the years helped the interests and national security of the United States quite a bit,” he says. “I think the fact that a company like NSO is on [a US blacklist] is an outrage… I’m sure we’ll be taken off that list. I have no doubt.”

Hulio denies Pegasus was used to hack the phone of French President Emmanuel Macron.

“No one hacked the French president or French parliamentarians, it has been proven and checked. This issue of Macron and members of Parliament is incorrect,” he says.

He also denies any link between NSO Group’s products and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

“Our tools and our technology had nothing to do in any way with the murder, with Khashoggi, or with the people around him. I know this has been claimed, and I tell you, it’s a bald-faced lie,” he says.

He adds: “It’s become something of a national pastime to blame anything that happens on NSO. A large part of the reports are simply untrue, are prejudiced, and it certainly sometimes angers [me] and sometimes frustrates. But in the end… we know the truth.”

Asked if NSO Group has made mistakes since its establishment, he says, “Over a period of 12 years it’s impossible not to make mistakes, which you learn from.”

Hulio is also asked about a recent report that the Israel Police used Pegasus to spy on civilians, including anti-Netanyahu protesters and Israelis not suspected of any crimes.

“I, as a citizen, if the things that were written are true, it worries me personally. But as a citizen, I tell you I choose to believe the attorney general, the public security minister and the police chief who say time and again these things never happened,” he says.

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