Former police chief weighs in on spyware scandal

Roni Alsheich says bombshell reports about Israel’s police improperly using Pegasus to spy on citizens are exaggerated.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Former police commissioner Roni Alsheich said on Wednesday that bombshell reports about Israel’s police using the Pegasus cell phone spyware to illegally monitor citizens are “disconnected from reality,” and a list of 26 alleged victims of the hacking was not accurate.

Alsheich, who served as the Jewish State’s highest ranking police official under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has become the subject of major media scrutiny, after reports from Calcalist and Israeli TV indicated that the illegal spying took place during his tenure.

In a video statement released to the media, Alsheich said that he had remained silent about this issue since the reports were released, due to fears that his comments could affect Netanyahu’s ongoing trial.

Hebrew-language media has reported that witnesses in Netanyahu’s trial were among those targeted by the illegal hacking, a revelation which could potentially jeopardize the prosecution’s case against him.

But because Calcalist released a list of names of individuals who had reportedly been spied on, including Netanyahu’s son, supermarket magnate Rami Levi and Ethiopian-Israeli protest leaders, Alsheich said he felt compelled to speak out and set the record straight.

“As there were finally names [of alleged victims], I was able to say, as one who knows the technological systems in question, that now it is possible to confirm or reject [the allegations] and get a clear view of the facts,” he said.

“The list included names of innocent people police have never suspected of any criminal wrongdoing and were never looked into by police, not with NSO’s data gathering software and not with any data gathering software.”

However, Alsheich did clarify that the police had, in fact, used Pegasus to extract content from the phones of some of the people on the list, but he clarified that “the investigative tools were used legally, with a court order.”

The Israeli police used the spyware in a responsible manner, he said, adding that in order to monitor a public figure, he would have needed permission from then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit and then a warrant from a judge.

“The picture [the reports] painted has no connection to reality,” he said.