- Israeli spyware was used to help track and eventually kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden claims.
- Snowden alleged while speaking remotely at a security conference that Saudi agents bugged the phone of Khashoggi’s close associate. They tracked Khashoggi’s movements before eventually killing him at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
- Saudi critic and internet personality Omar Abdulaziz reportedly had his smartphone targeted by the Israeli spyware this year.
- He had been working on several projects with Khashoggi – that work included a short human-rights film and an initiative to build an online “army” inside Saudi Arabia – that may have angered Saudi authorities and Khashoggi’s killing.
Israeli spyware was used to track and kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden claims.
Snowden, who leaked classified information from the NSA in 2013, and who is currently living in Russia, made the allegation during a video conference in Tel Aviv.
According to Snowden, Israeli spy firm NSO Group – which sells sophisticated hacking tools to governments, militaries, and intelligence agencies – was used to track and eventually murder Khashoggi at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul last month.
The firm is reportedly behind the hacking tool for iPhones that forced Apple to issue a critical software update in 2016, and its Pegasus spyware, which enables hackers to access messages, photos, microphone, and camera, and has reportedly been used by governments to keep an eye on dissidents abroad.
Speaking remotely on Tuesday, Snowden said the Saudis targeted Khashoggi because they had infected the devices of one of his contacts – another Saudi dissident – living in Canada.
Snowden asked why Khashoggi was targeted. “How did they know what [Khashoggi’s] plans and intentions were, how did they decide that he was someone they needed to act against, who was worth the risk,” he said.
Snowden said the Saudis were able to procure information on Khashoggi by using the Israeli spy tools.
“The reality is that they bugged one of his few friends and contacts using software created by an Israeli company,” Snowden claimed, which may have helped the Saudis keep tabs on Khashoggi and lure him to the consulate.
Saudi agents may have secretly installed spyware on the phones of dissidents
Snowden referred to outspoken Saudi critic and internet personality Omar Abdulaziz, who had his smartphone targeted by the Pegasus software this year, according to a report by Citizen Lab. Abdulaziz resides in Canada and applied for political asylum in 2014 out of fear of retribution.
According to the report, Abdulaziz’s device got infected after he clicked on a link purportedly sent from the courier company DHL, though he was unaware of the hacking until Citizen Lab reached out.
According to the 27-year-old, who hosts a popular satirical news program on YouTube, the government arrested two of his brothers and several of his friends back home in Saudi Arabia two months later.
Abdulaziz and Khashoggi were close associates, according to The Washington Post, and had been working on several projects together – including a short human-rights film, and an initiative to build an online “army” inside Saudi Arabia – that may have angered Saudi authorities and motivated his killing.
“They [Saudi agents] had everything,” he told the Post. “They saw the messages between us. They listened to the calls.”
He says Saudi authorities have attempted to intimidate him into silence, but he has refused. He says he is unable to contact people back home and is still concerned for their safety and security.
Still, he told The Post, he has vowed to continue fighting.
“They hacked my phone and jailed my brothers, kidnapped and maybe killed my friend,” he told The Post last month. “I’m not going to stop.”
NSO Group says it actively works to prevent its spyware from getting into the wrong hands
Speaking in Tel Aviv, Snowden described the NSO group as “the worst of the worst in selling these burglary tools, that are being actively used to violate the human rights of dissidents, opposition figures, activists, to some pretty bad players.”
“This is not a cyber security industry, its a cyber insecurity industry,” he added. He also warned of other digital companies exploiting similar spyware.
In a statement, the NSO Group said it is “the only company of its kind in the world that has an independent ethics committee, including outside experts with a background in law and international relations, to prevent its products from being used for bad purposes,” it said in a statement Wednesday, according to Bloomberg.
“In contrast to what’s published in the media, the company does not sell and does not allow their use in many countries.”