FBI: We paid $9 million for Pegasus, but only to test it

The FBI said it “procured a limited license for product testing and evaluation only,” never actually using the cellphone spyware.

By World Israel News Staff

The Federal Bureau of Investigation paid $9 million for embattled Israeli security company the NSO Group’s Pegasus cell phone spyware software, but says that the deal was solely for research purposes.

Pegasus was never used by the FBI – the American security agency “procured a limited license for product testing and evaluation only,” a spokesman told UK daily The Guardian on Wednesday.

The report comes on the heels of a media firestorm surrounding the NSO Group, as critics allege that the company — and the Israeli government — looked the other way while various countries used the cellphone monitoring system to persecute political dissidents and activists.

According to NSO, Pegasus should only be used to track down terrorists and prevent attacks that would result in loss of life – not to spy on citizens whose views or advocacy a government considers unsavory.

The FBI told The Guardian that Pegasus was never used by the agency and that it had been acquired in order to “stay abreast of emerging technologies and tradecraft.”

NSO and the FBI reportedly clashed over logistical and security issues related to the product, which may have been a factor in why it was not used.

The American security agency refused to allow NSO engineers to install the program directly on their computers and was uncomfortable with the group’s policy of using sensors to monitor the product’s physical location.

“The FBI was also concerned about possible ‘leakage’ of any data to another foreign intelligence service,” a source told The Guardian.

The Guardian report comes on the heels of a New York Times report claiming that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally reached out to then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to renew the Gulf kingdom’s licensing agreement for Pegasus.

The report alleged that the NSO Group had declined to renew Saudi Arabia’s license over concerns that Pegasus was being used improperly – namely, that the government had used it in order to monitor and track down journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in Turkey in 2018.

Netanyahu reportedly agreed to renew the license in exchange for Saudi Arabia granting the right for planes traveling to and from Israel to pass through its air space.