ARCHIVE – Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of the killed Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Photo: Emrah Gurel / AP / dpa
IT experts found traces of attacks with the company’s Pegasus software on 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, their families and business people. The numbers are part of a data set of more than 50,000 telephone numbers that the journalists evaluated together with the organizations Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. According to the reports, the numbers were apparently selected by NSO customers as potential spying targets. NSO vehemently denied the allegations on Sunday.
The “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, NDR, WDR and “Zeit” are also involved in the journalist consortium. According to their presentation, the research of the “Pegasus Project” suggests that hundreds of journalists, human rights activists, opposition activists and politicians were selected to monitor them with the spy software. The numbers of more than 180 journalists from different countries are on the list. Numbers of German journalists are not among them. How the list came to Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which they then shared with the media, remained open in the reports – the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” referred to the source protection.
NSO had previously been accused of using Pegasus software to help totalitarian governments spy on journalists and dissidents. Facebook sued NSO in the US in 2019. The allegation in the lawsuit is that NSO tried to gain access to hundreds of smartphones via a security hole in WhatsApp that was closed later. Among the target persons were journalists, lawyers, dissidents, human rights activists, diplomats and government officials.
NSO had also been accused of having played a role in the assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. According to the Washington Post, two of the smartphones on which Amnesty International IT experts found traces of Pegasus attacks belonged to women close to Khashoggi.
The Israeli company spoke on Sunday of “false allegations and misleading claims” with a view to the Forbidden Stories report. Their sources provided them with information that had no factual basis. “The allegations are so outrageous and far from reality that NSO is considering a libel suit.” NSO affirmed that its technology was “in no way related to the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi”. His technology is “sold exclusively to law enforcement agencies and secret services of audited governments with the sole aim of saving lives by preventing crimes and acts of terrorism.”