NSO Group and an Alert Former French Diplomat: Observation Is Often Helpful

August 2, 2021

I read “French Ex-Diplomat Saw Potential for Misuse While Working at NSO.” The allegedly accurate write up reports that Gerard Araud [once a French ambassador] took a position at NSO Group. The write up adds:

His one-year mission from September 2019, along with two other external consultants from the United States, was to look at how the company could improve its human rights record after a host of negative news stories. Earlier that year, the group’s technology had been linked publicly to spying or attempted spying on the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian security forces, which it denied. The group was acquired in 2019 by a London-based private equity group, Novalpina, which hired Araud to recommend ways to make the company’s safeguard procedures “more rigorous and a bit more systematic,” he said.

The write up explains how a prospect becomes an NSO Group customer:

Its [the Pegasus software and access credentials] export is regulated “like an arms sale,” said Araud, meaning NSO must seek approval from the Israeli government to sell it, and state clients then sign a lengthy commercial contract stipulating how the product will be used. They are meant to deploy Pegasus only to tackle organised crime or terrorism — the company markets itself this way — but Araud said “you could see all the potential for misuse, even though the company wasn’t always responsible.”

The argute veteran of the French ambassadorial team maybe, possibly, could have discerned the potential for misuse of the Pegasys system.

The write up includes this information, allegedly direct from the former diplomat, who obviously provides information diplomatically:

In a firm that practices “a form of extreme secrecy,” he says he nonetheless became convinced that NSO Group worked with Israel’s Mossad secret services, and possibly with the CIA. He said there were three Americans who sat on the group’s advisory board with links to the US intelligence agency, and the company has said that its technology cannot be used to target US-based numbers.  “There’s a question about the presence of Mossad and the CIA. I thought it was both of them, but I have no proof,” he said. “But I suspect they’re both behind it with what you call a ‘backdoor’.” A “backdoor” is a technical term meaning the security services would be able to monitor the deployment of Pegasus and possibly the intelligence gathered as a result.

Interesting. Several years ago, the BBC published “When Is a Diplomat Really Just a Spy?” In that 2018 write up, the Beeb stated:

So where do you draw the line between official diplomacy and the murky world of espionage? “Every embassy in the world has spies,” says Prof Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham. And because every country does it, he says there’s “an unwritten understanding” that governments are prepared to “turn a blind eye” to what goes on within embassies.

Would French diplomats have some exposure to ancillary duties at a French embassy? Potentially.

Stephen E Arnold, August 3, 2021

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