France, Israel Hold “Secret” Talks to Defuse Spyware Dispute

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France, Israel Hold “Secret” Talks to Defuse Spyware Dispute


A senior adviser to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has met with his Israeli counterpart to discuss the alleged targeting of French ministers by a client of NSO Group, the Israeli spyware maker.

A dispute over the alleged surveillance has been described as a major diplomatic headache for the government of Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister.

The “secret” meetings at the Elysee Palace were first reported by the Axios news site, and then confirmed by the Guardian’s partners in the Pegasus Project, a media consortium that investigated NSO.

The meeting between Emmanuel Bonne, Macron’s senior diplomatic adviser, and Eyal Hulata, Israel’s national security adviser, is said to have aimed to end the “crisis” that has engulfed relations between the two countries since the summer.

In July, it was reported that the phone numbers of some members of the French cabinet, as well as Macron himself, were on a leaked database of mobile phone numbers that included some selected as possible targets for surveillance by government customers of NSO.

The Israeli company is tightly regulated by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which controls the export of licenses to government clients of NSO.

Traces of NSO spyware, called Pegasus, have been found on the cellphones of at least five sitting French ministers, investigative site Mediapart recently reported, citing several anonymous sources and a confidential intelligence file. The discovery was made weeks after the Guardian and other media released details of the leaked list.

There is no solid evidence that the phones of the five cabinet members were successfully hacked, but Mediapart’s allegations indicate that the devices were targeted by the powerful spyware, which can intercept phone conversations, text messages. , emails and photographs. It can also turn a mobile phone into a listening device by remotely controlling a phone’s recorder.

NSO said its spyware is intended for use in investigating serious crimes, not targeting members of civil society. He said he had no connection with the leaked database which was investigated by Project Pegasus and that the tens of thousands of numbers on the list are not targets for customers. NSO governments. He also strongly denied that Macron was ever the target of Pegasus spyware.

Commenting on the Israeli-French talks, an NSO spokesperson said: “It is not for NSO to comment on the existence or content of diplomatic meetings. However, with respect to the allegations of Project Pegasus, we stand by our previous statements: the so-called list is not a list of Pegasus targets, therefore the French government officials mentioned are not and never have been Pegasus targets. “

Axios reported that the “crisis” between the two countries has resulted in a “partial freeze” of diplomatic, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and France and the suspension of high-level bilateral visits. Hulata reportedly informed Bonne of the progress of an Israeli investigation into Pegasus and offered a commitment to prohibit its customers from entering French mobile numbers. Numbers based in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand would also be banned for NSO customers.

Diplomatic tensions underscore the seriousness of the allegations exposed in Project Pegasus. Forbidden Stories, a nonprofit journalistic organization based in Paris, and Amnesty International led the journalistic collaboration.

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