The United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently revealed to be in talks with an Israeli malware and hacking organization known as the NSO Group. The NSO Group has ties to the Israeli military and intelligence agencies. The Israeli malware company’s top selling product, Pegasus, is a backdoor for Apple iPhones and iPads. Pegasus can even infect the newest fully patched and updated iPhones. The NSO Group’s malware has been used to track and spy on rights activists, journalists, attorneys, and other people around the world. President Trump’s ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was an advisor for the NSO Group.
Currently the NSO Group is seeking to break into the American market. Their software is sold in North America through a company called WestBridge Technologies, Inc. Prior to 2015, the NSO Group approached the DEA to sell them malware. The company had conducted a demonstration of their products to the DEA’s Office of Special Intelligence. In an email obtained through a Freedom Of Information Act request, it is implied that the company has worked with other divisions of the DEA. According to the email, Omri Lavie, the CEO of WestBridge, who also happens to be the co-founder and a director of the NSO Group, attended the meeting with the DEA’s Office of Special Intelligence.
The DEA had previously held a contract with the Italian company known as the Hacking Team. The agency signed a contract worth nearly two and a half million dollars in 2012 and afterwards spent nearly a million dollars buying zero day exploits and software from the Italian company. In 2015 the DEA canceled its contract with the Hacking Team. The DEA began looking for ways to bypass encryption, features that the Hacking Team’s malware did not provide the agency.
A Freedom Of Information Act request filed by Motherboard to try to determine if the DEA had purchased software from either the NSO Group or WestBridge Technologies, Inc. but the request did not turn up any information. The DEA declined to give a comment on their relationship with the NSO Group and WestBridge Technologies, Inc. to Motherboard. “I would hope that a US government agency would refrain from doing business with a company with such a checkered track history as a matter of principle, if not yet regulation. Those who oversee the work of the DEA, especially the various House and Senate committees, may want to question the agency in this respect,” Director of Citizen Lab, Ron Diebert, told Motherboard. Citizen Lab is a research group from the University of Toronto.
In 2012 the Mexican government entered into a multi-million dollar contract with the Israeli cyber arms company. Citizen Lab recently discovered that two prominent Mexican attorneys were being spied on by the Mexican government using the Pegasus backdoor. Apple had to issue a patch for the iPhone and iPad when Citizen Lab discovered an exploit the NSO Group was utilizing. This exploit was used to spy on activists in the United Arab Emirates and on Mexican journalists. Other countries have used and abused the NSO Group’s malware to wrongly spy on innocent people. The former President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, had used the NSO Group’s malware to wiretap Americans, such as one of the managers of Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. The Panamanian government had signed a contract with the NSO Group in July of 2012 to obtain the company’s Pegasus backdoor.
Other American law enforcement agencies have sought out malware from Israeli companies to hack Apple iPhones and bypass the sophisticated encryption the device uses. The FBI worked with Israeli company Cellebrite to access a terrorist’s iPhone in 2016. Not only do American law enforcement have access to malware from foreign corporations, they also have access to the mass surveillance that is bulk collected by the NSA. The Department of Justice has the ability to obtain warrants that allow them to hack users computers, however, American law enforcement has been caught illegally hacking suspects computers, in violation of Rule 41.