Mar 25, 2019

Israeli firm won't say if it sold spyware linked to Khashoggi killing

Slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Photo: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images

The CEO of an Israeli company being sued over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death told "60 Minutes" Sunday it wasn't involved in his "terrible murder" — but he wouldn't comment on reports he sold spyware to the Saudis allegedly linked to the killing.

The details: NSO Group's Pegasus technology is designed to hack most smartphones. CBS journalist Lesley Stahl put it to NSO CEO Shalev Hulio it was reported he went to Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh to personally sell the Pegasus phone surveillance software to the Saudis for $55 million. Hulio replied: "I'm not gonna talk about specific customer."

What they’re saying: Stahl pressed Hulio, asking him to clarify that he wouldn't and hadn't sold Pegasus to a country "that is known to violate human rights and imprison journalists and go after activists." "I only say that we are selling Pegasus in order to prevent crime and terror," he replied.

The big picture: NSO has previously been accused of the Pegasus software it licenses being used in targeted attacks against activists and journalists, but the alleged link to the death of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi is the most high-profile case. A Saudi dissident who lives in exile in Canada alleged in the suit in December his communications with Khashoggi were monitored by Saudi Arabia using NSO software.

The other side: NSO called the suit "completely unfounded," saying there was "no evidence that the company’s technology was used," the AP reported at the time.

  • On Sunday, Hulio told Stahl the Pegasus software had saved tens of thousands of people.
  • A Western European intelligence told "60 Minutes" Pegaus was "a game-changer in foiling attacks by European Jihadists, as well as shutting down drug and human trafficking ring."

Go deeper

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Why it matters: It's the latest example of social media being used to exploit and sharpen the very real divisions in American society. It's also the latest example of Twitter more aggressively rooting out false information on its platform.

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The latest: George Floyd protests nationwide

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

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The latest: Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser criticized federal police in a tweet Monday night for using munitions earlier in the day "on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of (DC Police Department) officers more difficult." "Shameful!" she added as she urged residents to go home and stay safe.

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Newspaper front pages via the Newseum

The world is watching the grief and anger, violence and pain in America's streets.

The big picture: The U.S. accounts for nearly one-third of the world's deaths from COVID-19. The killing of a black man, George Floyd, by police has sparked days of protest and nights of chaos in America's major cities.