Private Israeli military-grade spyware software was used to hack dozens of smartphones that belonged to reporters, human rights activists and the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it was found by the Washington Post and 16 other news organizations. The investigation involved Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International. The media partners on the project include The Washington Post, PBS Frontline, the Guardian in England, Le Monde in France, Haaretz in Israel and others. Journalists who were selected as possible candidates for surveillance by NSO’s clients work for some of the world’s most prestigious media organisations including the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of America.
The software was reportedly licensed by the Israeli spyware firm NSO Group, which denied the findings of the report in several statements, arguing that the reporting includes “uncorroborated theories” based on “misleading interpretation” of leaked data. “Simply put, NSO Group is on a life-saving mission, and the company will faithfully execute this mission undeterred, despite any and all continued attempts to discredit it on false grounds,” NSO said. NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware is licensed to governments around the world and can hack a mobile phone’s data and activate the microphone, according to the report.