NSO chairman resigns after allegations of domestic espionage in Israel


The chairman of NSO Group, the Israel-based company whose spyware has been used to monitor journalists and human rights defenders around the world, has resigned after allegations that it was also used to monitor Israeli citizens.

News of the resignation of former NSO chairman Asher Levi was reported by Haaretz on Tuesday, although Levi told the Associated Press that his departure was planned months in advance and unrelated to current news.

NSO has been embroiled in a domestic scandal since last week when the Hebrew-language business newspaper Calcalist reported that police in Israel had been in possession of Pegasus spyware since 2013. Calcalist claimed the spyware had been used to monitor protest leaders and other anti-government activists, though the Israeli police commissioner claimed all surveillance activities were conducted within the bounds of the law. In response to the reports, Israel’s Attorney General announced an investigation into the claims.

The attention being paid to the new accusations in Israel suggests that surveillance of domestic targets may gain more scrutiny from Israeli lawmakers than previous operations conducted by the NSO. Pegasus spyware has been identified on the devices of journalists and activists around the world, and phone numbers of government officials, including heads of state, were found in a list of potential targets. The spyware was also involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post correspondent.

Following the revelations about the worldwide deployment of Pegasus spyware, the Israeli government has reportedly set up a task force to manage the fallout and resolve diplomatic problems. But more recently, international pressure on the company has increased after the US Department of Commerce blacklisted NSO, preventing US companies from providing the company with goods or services.

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