Former CIA Employee Edward Snowden Links Israel Spyware Pegasus To Khashoggi Killing

Edward Snowden speaks remotely during the WIRED25 Festival
Phillip Faraone / Getty Images for WIRED25

Edward Snowden claims that Saudi Arabia used an Israeli spyware to target murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Bloomberg reports.

Speaking to an audience in Tel Aviv by video conference on Tuesday, the fugitive U.S. whistleblower claimed that Saudi Arabia may have received help from Israel-based NSO Group Ltd. to track and kill Saudi critic Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last month.

Snowden, a former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor with expertise in computer security, said that Israeli companies such as the NSO Group are among the leaders in selling spyware programs that allow governments to track their political opponents.

Snowden fled the United States and is now in Russia after exposing what he claims as NSA clandestine programs that collect phone and Internet data.

NSO Group is known for developing the Pegasus software that can be used to remotely infect a particular mobile phone and relay back data from the device.

The software can essentially turn a target’s smartphone into a spying device. Citing Canadian internet security think tank Citizen Lab, Snowden claimed that Pegasus had been installed on the phone of another Saudi dissident who was in contact with Khashoggi.

He said that this may have helped track the journalist and lure him to the consulate without leaving any evidence.

A man holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
  Chris McGrath / Getty Images

“How did they know what his intentions were? How did they decide he was someone they needed to act against that he was worth the risk?” Snowden asked, adding that Khashoggi’s friends and contacts were bugged using the software.

NGO Group claimed that it sells its systems to authorized governments to be used in fighting crime and terrorism, but the software is reportedly being used beyond its ideal purpose.

According to i24News, independent experts have pinpointed Pegasus as being used in a number of countries with poor human rights records. International experts who were investigating the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico four years ago, for instance, were targeted with the software.

“In today’s world, [NSO Group] are the worst of the worst in selling these burglary tools that are being actively currently used to violate the human rights of dissidents, opposition figure and activists, to some pretty bad players,” Snowden said.

In a statement released on Wednesday, NSO Group said that it has an independent ethics committee consists of experts with a background in international relations and law to prevent its products from being used for bad purposes. The company also said that it does not sell nor allow the use of its product in many countries.