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Calcalist says its sources were in police's own hacking unit

Newspaper in NSO storm: Deputy AG who probed claims of police spying failed at task

Continuing to defend its reporting of allegedly illicit phone hacking, Calcalist notes inherent conflict of interest in having those accused of wrongdoing investigate themselves

Illustrative. An Israeli woman uses her phone in front of a building in Herzliya that housed the NSO Group intelligence firm, on August 28, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP/File)
Illustrative. An Israeli woman uses her phone in front of a building in Herzliya that housed the NSO Group intelligence firm, on August 28, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP/File)

Israel’s Calcalist newspaper has called for an independent investigation into allegations that police used phone hacking technology to illicitly spy on people not suspected of any crime, asserting Monday that an official probe has so far failed in its duty and that any internal investigation will be dogged by conflicts of interest.

Investigations by police and an interim report by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari found Calcalist’s reporting earlier this year on the alleged spying to have been largely incorrect, with none of the 26 people supposedly hacked having actually been targeted by police.

In February, Calcalist reported, without providing evidence, that dozens of high-profile figures — including former ministry directors, prominent business figures, and family members and associates of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — were spied on by police using the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware without any judicial oversight.

Marari was appointed to head a Justice Ministry committee that looked into the claims.

The paper said Monday that its sources transferred information to Marari about the alleged police hacking but it was ignored by the committee. The paper has tightly guarded the identities of its sources but, for the first time, revealed that they were from within the police intelligence unit that carried out the alleged spying. It stressed that the same resources continue to insist that their information is accurate.

Included in the information handed over to the probe committee, the sources provided a list of 19 people in the police they say were involved or knew of spying. They also described exactly where the folders with information about the alleged unauthorized spying are kept in the offices of the police intelligence unit.

According to Calcalist, none of that information was used in compiling the interim report.

Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari (Courtesy)

The financial daily also noted the conflict of interest in having those accused of wrongdoing investigate themselves, saying that the conclusions of Marari’s probe were based on claims by those in the police spying unit. It said many of those involved still work in the police and contended that Marari’s investigation “skipped” other key aspects of the allegations, such as the possible use of other spyware.

“It is to be hoped that the full report will delve into the depth of the substantive questions that the interim report ignored. However, in the light of the interim report, we believe that it is appropriate to refer the examination, or inquiry if necessary, to an independent, authoritative and independent committee.”

The call was taken up by Haaretz reporter Chaim Levinson, who tweeted a screen capture of the Calcalist story and wrote “Marari is in the system. It is about time there was a real and transparent external probe.”

But Calcalist also offered a mea culpa of sorts. “There is also the possibility that there were mistakes in our list. So long as conditions are not ripe for testifying with immunity, we can’t publicly display our proof that the list is correct,” it said cryptically.

Though the paper stressed it was not suggesting there was any “conspiracy” or efforts to circumvent the law, it did say the interim report “seemingly indicates a desire to create a protective narrative that will prevent the [further] development of the findings.”

The day after Marari released her initial findings, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said the claims of illegal spying by police had been found to be “incorrect,” and that there was therefore no need for a government inquiry into the matter.

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