Israeli authorities have inspected the offices of surveillance outfit NSO Group in response to the Pegasus project investigation into abuses of the companys spyware by several government clients, The Guardian reported.
Officials from the Defence Ministry visited the company’s offices near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, at the same time when Defence Minister Benny Gantz arrived in Paris for a pre-arranged visit, in which he discussed the Pegasus revelations with his French counterpart.
French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the highest profile figures whose phone numbers appeared on a leaked databse of 50,000 numbers that are believed to have been selected as candidates for possible surveillance by the clients of NSO, the report said.
He spoke to Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week to stress the importance of “properly investigating” the project’s findings.
Early media reports described the moves on NSO’s offices as a raid, but the company said in a statement that the authorities had “visited”, rather than “raided” its premises.
The NSO said it had been informed in advance that Defence Ministry officials responsible for overseeing commercial exports of sensitive cyber-exports would be doing an inspection. “The company is working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities,” it added, as per the report.
The Defence Ministry said in a tweet that the visit conducted by several state bodies was related to disclosures stemming from the Pegasus project — a consortium of 17 media outlets, including The Guardian, which revealed last week that government clients around the world have used the hacking software sold by NSO to target human rights activists, journalists and lawyers.
As the scale of the disclosures has become clearer, diplomatic pressure has mounted on Israel to explain the nature of the relationship between NSO and the state under the tenure of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the report said.
The wider Pegasus project investigation found that the Israeli government gave the NSO explicit permission in 2017 to try to sell the hacking tools to Saudi Arabia in a deal reportedly worth at least $55 million, the report said.
Gantz told French Defence Minister, Florence Parly, on Wednesday that Israel is investigating the matter “with the utmost seriousness”, according to a statement from the Israeli Defence Ministry.
Prior to their Paris meeting, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal had said that Parly was keen to “question her counterpart about the knowledge the Israeli government had of the activities of NSO’s clients” and what measures would be put in place “to prevent a misuse of these tools that are highly intrusive”.