The Jerusalem Post reported that representatives of Israel’s defence establishment had visited the NSO headquarters on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for NSO confirmed the raids to the Israeli news website The Record on Wednesday. “Representatives from the Israeli ministry of defence visited our offices. We welcome their inspection,” the website quoted the spokesperson as saying. “The company is working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities. We are confident that this inspection will prove the facts are as declared repeatedly by the company against the false allegations made against us in the recent media attacks.”
Though there is little clarity on the nature of the raids, Israeli news outlet Calcalist cited an anonymous source to term the move “more of a formal meeting than an in-depth audit of NSO’s documents and computer systems”.
Sources said the raids were on the NSO Group’s Herzliya offices, near Tel Aviv. The company currently holds a licence from the Israeli government, as is the norm in several countries where companies that sell offensive security software such as hacking tools or surveillance software. It is mandatory for such companies to register themselves with the government and procure a licence to operate.
In 2019, human rights activists had approached an Israeli court demanding that the Israeli government revoke NSO’s export license citing similar misuse of its software for human rights abuses. The court, however, ruled in favour of the company in 2020.
Earlier this month, a global collaborative investigative project claimed to have found evidence that the Pegasus spyware targeted over 300 mobile phone numbers in India. The alleged list comprises new railways & IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and Union MoS Prahlad Singh Patel, besides several opposition leaders, including Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, a constitutional authority, journalists and business people.
The BJP-led government has since rubbished the allegations that the Pegasus spyware was being used to snoop on politicians and journalists, terming the report “sensational” and an attempt “to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”.
Amnesty International, which was part of the investigative consortium, issued an official statement refuting the government’s claims. “Amnesty International categorically stands by the findings of the Pegasus Project, and that the data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The false rumours being pushed on social media are intended to distract from the widespread unlawful targeting of journalists, activists and others that the Pegasus Project has revealed.”