A man posing as a French businessman in an apparent ruse designed to discredit the Citizen Lab internet watchdog group is actually a retired Israeli security official and former local politician, according to a report Monday.
The man, going by the name of Michel Lambert, had met John Scott-Railton, a senior Citizen Lab researcher, at an expensive New York restaurant earlier this month, and tried to get the group to backtrack from its claim that Israeli software was used to track Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi before he was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.
The man was identified as Aharon Almog-Assoulin by Hadashot TV’s “Uvda” investigative program and The New York Times.
According to the reports, Almog-Assoulin is a retired security official who recently served on the local council of Tel Aviv subsurb Ramat Hasharon, and may have been contracted by Black Cube, another Israeli cyber-security firm.
Photographs of the man claiming to be Lambert and of Almog-Assoulin appear to show the same man.
עיכוב בפרויקט תחנת רכבת גלילות צפוןעל פי התוכנית, שנמצאת בסמכות הוועדה המחוזית ומצויה בהליך הפקדה מחודשת, העירייה ומשרד…
In a long investigative article published on Saturday, the Associated Press reported on the bizarre meeting in New York between the man who identified himself as Lambert, a director at the Paris-based agricultural technology firm CPW-Consulting, and Scott-Railton.
Uvda said that as Lambert, Almog-Assoulin had tried create doubt about the veracity of Citizen Lab’s assertion that software produced by Israeli surveillance software firm NSO Group had been used to track Khashoggi.
It said Almog-Assoulin had tried to coax Scott-Railton into saying that the motive for naming NSO was anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli.
The meeting between Almog-Assoulin and Scott-Railton was filmed by the AP, who were invited by Citizen Lab, which had suspected a ruse.
The suspicions arose following a previous bizarre meeting in December between two other protagonists, Bahr Abdul Razzak, a Syrian refugee who works as a Citizen Lab researcher and a man calling himself Gary Bowman, who said he was a South African financial technology executive based in Madrid.
Uvda said Almog-Assoulin had previously worked for Black Cube, another Israeli cyber security firm but added that Black Cube had denied any connection to him.
NSO denied it has attempted to track anybody from Citizen Lab and said it had not contracted anyone from Black Cube or any other group for a ruse. It has also denied any connection to Khashoggi.
Approached by the New York Times, Almog-Assoulin said only “I do not have any interest in continuing with this conversation,” and hung up the phone.
Citizen Lab, based out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, has for years played a leading role in exposing state-backed hackers operating in places as far afield as Tibet, Ethiopia and Syria.
Lately the group has drawn attention for its repeated exposés of Herzliya-based NSO Group, whose products have been used by governments to target journalists in Mexico, opposition figures in Panama and human rights activists in the Middle East.
Citizen Lab reported last October that an iPhone belonging to one of Khashoggi’s confidantes had been infected by NSO’s signature spy software only months before his grisly murder on October 2.
The friend, Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, would later claim that the hacking had exposed Khashoggi’s private criticisms of the Saudi royal family to the Arab kingdom’s spies and thus “played a major role” in his death.