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Agency director tells Congress it purchased license to use Israeli remote spy tool Pegasus

The FBI has purchased a license for the banned Israeli spyware Pegasus, agency director Christopher Wray admitted during a closed session of Congress in December, according to a New York Times report on Saturday. However, the agency reportedly stopped using it amid a wave of negative publicity around the tool.

While Wray initially claimed that the powerful phone hacking program was purchased only in 2018 “being able to figure out how bad guys might use itinternal agency documents and court records seen by The Times revealed that some officers planned to use it in criminal investigations and had drawn up detailed plans to convince bureau management to approve such use. They have continued to roll it out due to the growing storm of bad public relations as abuse of the technology by other governments to spy on their own citizens, journalists and political dissidents has come to light.

Court documents also suggest that the FBI has not completely ruled out the use of Pegasus in the future – or the deployment of a similar hacking tool. Pegasus allows the user to take remote control of the target’s phone, access messages, contacts, microphone and camera without their knowledge.

The US Commerce Department blacklisted Pegasus developer NSO Group last year, barring US companies from doing business with it. While NSO has protested that its technology cannot be used to hack US phone numbers, it makes a similar tool called Phantom that is designed to do just that. The FBI tested Phantom as well as Pegasus before halting all efforts to roll out the products in July 2021, according to the Times, indicating it could have considered hacking into the phones of Americans as well as foreigners.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) took issue with Wray’s selective confession, calling it “completely unacceptable for the FBI Director to provide misleading testimony about the bureau’s acquisition of powerful hacking tools, then wait months to tell the full story to Congress and the American peoplein a statement to The Times. Office “owes the Americans a clear explanation as to whether future operational use of NSO tools is still on the table,” he said. FBI management eventually acknowledged in a letter to Wyden that it had purchased a license”to explore the potential legal use of the NSO product” as well as the already recognized “potential security issues.”

Congress is reportedly drafting a bill to ban government agencies from using foreign commercial spyware such as Pegasus and Phantom.


FBI admits flirting with banned spyware – NYT – RT World News

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