‘The Secret Uganda Deal That Has Brought N.S.O. to the Brink of Collapse’

Mehul Srivastava, reporting for The Financial Times:

In February 2019, an Israeli woman sat across from the son of Uganda’s president and made an audacious pitch — would he want to secretly hack any phone in the world? [...]

A few months after the initial approach, NSO’s chief executive, Shalev Hulio, landed in Uganda to seal the deal, according to two people familiar with NSO’s East Africa business. Hulio, who flew the world with the permission of the Israeli government to sell Pegasus, liked to demonstrate in real time how it could hack a brand-new, boxed iPhone. [...]

After spending a decade in the favor of the Israeli government, NSO now finds itself as an irritant in relations between Israel and the US, using up vital foreign “policy bandwidth we need to talk about Iran,” said a foreign ministry official who asked for anonymity.

That is a reversal for NSO, which former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used as a diplomatic calling card with several countries, including the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, which did not have official relations with Israel.

Using this system as a “diplomatic calling card” — with that list of countries — is outrageous. Downright dystopian.

Terrific reporting from the Financial Times here, including more circumstantial evidence that it was Apple who tipped off the State Department about these hacked phones in Uganda. Remarkably detailed for an operation that, quite obviously, was intended to be clandestine.

Tuesday, 21 December 2021