American defense firm attempted to buy NSO group – report

Senior U.S. intelligence officials were reportedly in favor of L3Harris’ attempt to purchase embattled Israeli spyware firm.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Representatives of an American defense firm repeatedly visited Israel as part of an attempt to acquire the embattled NSO Group, which was blacklisted by U.S. President Joe Biden over concerns its technology was used by authoritarian regimes to commit human rights violations.

L3Harris, a Florida-based aerospace and defense technology firm, was backed by U.S. intelligence officials in its quest to purchase NSO, according to a New York Times report.

American defense officials, including senior spies, believed that obtaining NSO’s technology could prove majorly beneficial for U.S. intelligence.

In 2019, the FBI purchased NSO’s Pegasus spyware for some $9 million, in what they say was a one-year trial run. The agency has said that the program was never used in an FBI investigation.

Despite the fact that doing business with NSO was officially banned by the American government, L3Harris was reportedly exploring loopholes that would allow them to purchase the entity.

Notably, a major sticking point in the negotiations was whether the U.S. company could share NSO’s source code with other members of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence sharing community, namely Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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The Times reported that Israeli intelligence officials “balked” at that request but were willing to continue negotiating.

News of the talks between the American company and NSO were leaked to the press last month, triggering serious backlash from the Biden administration.

In a June statement, the White House rebuked L3Harris for the potential acquisition, stating that the NSO Group “pose[s] a serious counterintelligence and security risk to U.S. personnel and systems,” and that its Pegasus spyware “also been misused around the world to enable human rights abuses, including to target journalists, human rights activists, or others perceived as dissidents and critics.”

A source told the Times that the leak about the potential purchase and subsequent Biden administration scolding have dealt a death blow to the deal.

“The moment there was … definitive pushback” from the U.S. government, “there was a view that there was no way the company was moving forward with this,” the source said.

“In other words, the person said, ‘If the [U.S.] government is not aligned, there is no way for L3 to be aligned.”