Israel, France in 'secret' talks on Pegasus spyware scandal

Israel, France hold 'secret' talks on row over Pegasus spyware scandal
2 min read
23 October, 2021
Israel said it is taking 'seriously' allegations that Pegasus spyware developed by NSO Group was used to target politicians, including five senior French ministers.
French President Emmanuel Macron was listed on a database of potential targets in the Pegasus spyware scandal [Getty]

Israel’s national security adviser held “secret” talks with his French counterpart in Paris to discuss the alleged targeting of French ministers using Pegasus spyware, Israeli officials have reportedly said.

The meeting between Israeli security chief Eyal Hulata and Emmanuel Bonne, advisor to President Emmanuel Macron, took place at the Elysée some days ago, reported news website Axios

The two men discussed Israel’s ongoing investigation into claims the sophisticated hacking technology, developed by Israeli NSO Group, was used to compromise the security of senior officials. They also discussed commitments to ban Pegasus clients from penetrating French mobile numbers. 

NSO Group, which has repeatedly denied reports that its services were used to attack politicians and dissents, refused to comment on reports of the meeting.

“It is not for NSO to comment on the existence of content of diplomatic meetings,” said an NSO spokesperson. 

“However, regarding the allegations of Pegasus Project, we stand by our previous statements: the so-called lists is not a list of Pegasus targets, hence the French government officials mentioned are not and never have been Pegasus targets,” the spokesperson said. 

Perspectives

In July of this year, a consortium of journalists revealed a leaked database of more than 50,000 phone numbers believed to be potential targets of Pegasus spyware, which can hack a device and steal photos, videos, recordings, location records, web searches, and passwords. 

French President Macron was on the list, as well as a number of other French politicians.

Macron changed his mobile phone and number after the Pegasus database was leaked.  

A French investigation found “markers” of the spyware on the phones of five government ministers, French investigative news outlet Mediapart found. The intrusions are thought to have occurred around 2019 to 2020. 

NSO Group maintains that their flagship product is only sold to vetted clients to prevent “crime and terror acts”. 

NSO-Pegasus-spyware.jpg

 

Despite reassurances from Israeli officials including Defence Minister Benny Gantz that Tel Aviv is taking the allegations “seriously”, relations between Tel Aviv and Paris have soured over the spyware scandal. 

The hostility has resulted in a “partial freeze on diplomatic, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and France” as well as the suspension of “high-level bilateral visits,” according to Axios

Macron contacted Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett directly after the Pegasus scandal broke to ensure his government was properly looking into the allegations. 

Gantz has also travelled to Paris to brief French counterparts about Israel's investigation.