Israeli software helped Saudis spy on Khashoggi

Published on: December 3, 2018

Parallel lawsuits filed by dissident Omar Abdulaziz, Amnesty International,and others accuse the spyware company of illegally helping governments of Saudia Arabia, Mexico and the UAE

 
Jamal Khashoggi
A symbolic funeral prayer for the murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in November 2018 Reuters

A Saudi dissident has filed a lawsuit against Israeli software company NSO Group, accusing them of helping the royal court to spy on his smartphone about his communications with murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The lawsuit has put immense pressure on the company and the Israeli government, as Israel issues the company’s sales of spyware to foreign governments. The spyware is known as Pegasus, reports the New York Times.

The suit also drew new attention Israel’s alliance with Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf States. 

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have never recognized the Israeli state but they all are on the same side when it comes to opposing Iran. After the uprising of the Arab Spring, Israel and Arab monarchies are on common ground in defending the established Arab order.

Montreal-based Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz filed the lawsuit in Israel, which follows parallel suits by journalists, activists and others accusing that the NSO Group illegally helped the governments of Mexico and the UAEto spy on their smartphones even there were no criminal records against the individuals, with no posed threat of violence as well.

Israeli lawyer Alaa Mahajn filed the lawsuit with cooperation from Mazen Masri, a lecturer at the City University of London.

The lawyers intend to argue that the resulting exposure of the collaboration between Abdulaziz and Khashoggi “contributed in a significant manner to the decision to murder Khashoggi.”

Abdulazizis a 27 year old Saudi asylum seeker in Canada living in Montreal. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings, he became popular among Saudis for his online videos and social media speech criticizing the rulers of Saudi Arabia and their authoritarianism.

Over the last two months, Abdulaziz has gained international attention because of his friendship with Khashoggi.

In the lawsuit, Abdulaziz claimed that before the murder of Khashoggi, the royal court had access to Khashoggi’s communications about opposition projects with Abdulaziz because of the spyware.

Amnesty International has also accused the company of helping Saudi Arabia spy on a member of the organization’s staff. Amnesty willtake legal action after the Israeli Defence Ministry rejected a request to revoke NSO Group’s license to export its spyware.

“By continuing to approve of NSO Group, the Ministry of Defence is practically admitting to knowingly cooperating with NSO Group, as their software is used to commit human rights abuses,” said Molly Malekar, the programs director of Amnesty International’s Israeli office.

In a statement on Sunday, the NSO Group said its products were “licensed for the sole use of providing governments and law enforcement agencies the ability to lawfully fight terrorism and crime.”

Contracts for use of its software “are only provided after a full vetting and licensing by the Israeli government,” the company said, adding: “We do not tolerate misuse of our products. If there is suspicion of misuse, we investigate it and take the appropriate actions, including suspending or terminating a contract.”

In August, Abdulaziz was notified by a research group named Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, that studies online surveillance, that his phone was hacked. They later concluded that the Saudi government was behind the hacking.

Saudi security forces also carried out a raid with search dogs in Abdulaziz’s family home in Jeddah.His brothers were arrested and put in prison, where they were tortured.

Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune