The Wikipedia article on the Pegasus spyware, which had been developed in Israel, details a number of governments - such as Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia as well as a Mexican drug cartel that have used this technology.

It doesn't appear to list Israel's usage of this technology or by any western power.

It's known that even friendly powers spy on each other. For example there was a controversial episode when the US was found to be spying upon members of the European Union, including specifically Germany a few years ago.

Q. Has the Pegasus spyware been used by any Western power or by Israel?

  • 1
    Please consult a dictionary for the definition of "covert". There is no way to know whether, or how often, it has been used. Even "leaks" might be intentional disinformation. Downvoted as fundamentally unanswerable.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 25 at 17:45
  • @jamesqf: It's not fundamentally unanswerable. We know for example that the US covert services bugged the phone of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel between 2002-13 which kicked off a diplomatic firestorm. We also know that the FBI and NYPD deliberately entrapped two of the security detail of Malcolm X, fatally reducing his security coverage, just before his assasination. We also know a great deal about the US covert programmes in South America. Do you remember Colonel North and Contragate? Leaks are plentiful and they can build a detailed picture over time ... Sep 25 at 17:55
  • 2
    1) How much of what you claim is known as fact, and how much is simply assertations by people pushing different political viewpoints? 2) Even if we knew one example, or several, for certain, that would not say anything about the full extent of use. It would only mean that the covertness had failed in a particular instance.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 25 at 19:12
  • Are you asking how often/much it is used or if the have used it at all. The title and body seem to be asking different questions
    – Joe W
    Sep 26 at 15:23
  • @Joe W: Extent, narrowly interpreted means how often; more broadly interpreted, it means where, who by, to what degree and how often. My question body implicitly recognised that the word 'extent', used in the title question, refers to tge more broader interpretation. It's not 'asking different' questions - as you have put it. You're looking for a paradox where there is none. Sep 30 at 7:11

The question given at the end of the body references both Israel and "Western powers." Using that broader category, the answer appears to be to a significant extent. According to an interview that Asia News International did with the NSO Group, as reprinted in the Times of India, the company that produces Pegasus, the majority of their customers fall into this latter category.

ANI: In the list that has been published of countries affected by Pegasus, India is the only democracy mentioned. It has come as a shock to many of us...

NSO Group: The majority of our clients are Western democracies.

With respect to Israel, things are a little harder to determine, but it at least seems likely. One thing to note is that according to a Forbes article the founders of the firm are thought to have belonged to the Israeli security apparatus:

Co-founder Shalev Hulio had not responded to messages. Both are believed to be alumni of Israel’s famous Unit 8200 signals intelligence arm, as are many of the country’s security entrepreneurs.

As such, the situation may well be less that Pegasus is used by the Israeli intelligence services, and more that techniques and exploits that the Israeli intelligence services are willing to relinquish control over are employed by some security firms, including NSO Group.

Still, that said, as indicated later in the same article, some evidence has been found that the software was used within Israel, which could potentially indicate that the Israeli government used Pegasus directly:

The researchers later discovered Mexican journalist Rafael Cabrera had been targeted too. And looking at the domains registered by NSO, they determined Pegasus could have been used across Turkey, Israel, Thailand, Qatar, Kenya, Uzbekistan, Mozambique, Morocco, Yemen, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Bahrain, though there was no clear evidence.


The most important thing to remember is that what we know about this mostly results from a leaked list of telephone numbers analysed by Amnesty International (which then found spyware on some phones associated with the list). What this list really is is disputed but it might have been a list of telephone numbers NSO considered targetting on behalf of some of its clients. That would imply that NSO retains full control of the command and control of the spyware and those clients hire them for a kind of “managed service” forcing them to disclose who they are targeting.

If a state was using Pegasus software (or maybe some components of it) directly instead of having NSO do it, its targets would not appear on the list. If NSO's operation are divided by regions, with different technologies available to different tiers of clients (as is customary in the defense sector), their targets might end up on different lists. The person or persons leaking the list might also have limited access or ulterior motives that shaped the list (say wanting to reveal activities by one of the states listed and including the others as a decoy or to bolster credibility).

More generally, defense contracts are highly political. Israel (along a few other small to midsize countries like Turkey or France) needs foreign clients to sustain its defense industry but it cannot be too picky. European countries might be able to buy US technology that is not available to the likes of Morocco or Saudi Arabia. Those countries are sufficiently friendly that the US would occasionnally sell stuff to them or at least let an ally like France or Israel do it but not close enough that it would share all the latest tech with them.

Finally, you mentioned the US spying on Germany but the US presumably relies on its own technology or, in the rare case when it needs something else, it has enough clout to obtain some version of it to use locally rather than outsource operations to a foreign country. You won't find Russia or China in there either, for the same reasons.

  • The USA (NSA IIRC) has a vast arrays of its own such tools, as it was revealed by Snowed years before. Some years later there was even a dump of supposed leaked tools, but I'm not sure it was genuine wired.co.uk/article/nsa-hacking-tools-stolen-hackers Mkay, upon reading that again, apparently it was probably genuine, but the tools were pretty old, which suggests some kind of old backup was accessed somewhere.
    – Fizz
    Sep 25 at 16:42
  • According to Wikileaks, the CIA has its own department for making these wikileaks.org/ciav7p1
    – Fizz
    Sep 25 at 16:59
  • 3
    Beyond the list, they actually found spyware on phones.
    – chx
    Sep 26 at 3:53
  • @chx I added a note on that, thanks. My point in mentioning the list is that for it to exist means that NSO isn't simply selling a DIY kit, at least to the clients identified in the media. Other clients might have access to something else.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 26 at 10:17

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