The New York Times describes Pegasus as “a zero-click hacking tool that can remotely extract everything from a target’s cellphone [and] turn a cell phone into a tracking and recording device.” But they also report that the tool’s “notorious” maker, NSO Group, has been visited “numerous times” in recent months by executives from US military contractor L3Harris – which makes the Stingray cell phone tracking tool – who would wanted to negotiate with a purchase companies.
Their first problem? In November, the US government blacklisted the NSO group, saying Pegasus was used to hack the phones of political leaders, human rights activists and journalists.
But five people familiar with the negotiations said the L3Harris team brought with it a surprising message that made the deal possible. U.S. intelligence officials, they said, quietly supported its plans to acquire NSO, whose technology has for years been of great interest to many intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world, including the FBI and CIA.
Negotiations continued in secret until last month, when information about a possible sale of NSO leaked, throwing all parties into a frenzy. White House officials said they were outraged to learn of the talks and that any attempt by U.S. defense firms to buy the blacklisted company would be met with stiff resistance… Questions remained in Washington, other allied capitals and Jerusalem about whether some parts of the US government — with or without the White House’s knowledge — seized the opportunity to try to shift control of the powerful NSO spy software to US authority, despite the administration’s very public stance against the Israeli firm…
[NSO Group] viewed a deal with a US defense contractor as a potential lifeline after being blacklisted by the Commerce Department, which crippled its business. US firms are prohibited from doing business with blacklisted companies under threat of sanctions. As a result, NSO can’t buy American technology to support its operations — whether it’s Dell servers or Amazon cloud storage — and the Israeli firm hopes that selling the company to the United States could lead to the sanctions being lifted. …
L3 Harris officials told the Israelis that U.S. intelligence agencies supported the acquisition as long as certain conditions were met, according to five people familiar with the discussions. One of the conditions, these people said, was that the NSO’s arsenal of “zero days” — vulnerabilities in computer source code that allow Pegasus to hack cellphones — could be sold to all of the United States’ partners in the so-called Five Eyes Intelligence Sharing Relationship. Other partners are Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“Several people familiar with the talks said there had been attempts to resuscitate the talks . . .”