Friday, July 30, 2021

Israeli spies and dodgy mobile telephones

 Written by: (Contributed) on 31 July 2021

Those who have had a mobile telephone and computerised equipment malfunction might well consider plausible reasons why the devices suddenly cease to operate effectively or develop strange problems. Government agencies and criminals have a long history of intelligence-gathering techniques and harvesting personal data.

The latest disclosure about an Israeli defence organisation hacking an estimated 50,000 mobile telephones has provided a further insight into those regarded as 'persons of interest', and who can ultimately be held responsible for the problem. The procedures used by the shadowy NSO Group organisation have been noted to include the use of Pegasus malware which can be used to activate cameras and microphones on mobile telephones, effectively turning the telecommunications devices into spy equipment without users being aware.

Mobile telephones and computerised equipment have long been targeted by intelligence organisations and criminals as potential sources of valuable personal data. Faceless wonders who lurk inside the corridors of power rarely possess a moral compass or display ethical behaviour; the means, to justify the desired end, takes priority at all times. All secrets, however, tend to eventually enter the public domain, either by chance or carefully chosen 'leaks'. The fact the US intelligence services recently announced they had ceased to rely upon their Crypto AG diplomatic intelligence-gathering equipment supplied to 120 countries when 'the National Security Agency's attention shifted to finding ways to exploit the global reach of Google, Microsoft, Venizon and other US technological powers', was little other than a carefully planned display and 'leak' of swash-buckling bravado. (1)

The Crypto AG spy equipment, which was initially a joint intelligence project with the US and West German governments, was launched in 1970 and eventually liquidated in 2018. (2)

It relied upon diplomatic encryption and decryption equipment being rigged as a trojan horse to enable the US and West German intelligence services to monitor all communications of those regarded as allies and adversaries. (3) The intelligence-gathering was also linked to a larger circle of spooks which included the UK, Israel and the whole Five Eyes network as a result of which 'Code-named Operation Rubicon … rendered half the world's most secret communications transparent to the US, West Germany and a handful of their closest allies'. (4)

It is also important to note the Crypto AG intelligence-gathering operated through a seemingly respectable business front in quiet, nondescript Switzerland, to enable western intelligence services to distance themselves from potential controversy. It was noted, however, 'the CIA appears to have spent years propping up an operation that was more viable as an intelligence platform than a business enterprise'. (5)

The latest revelations about the Israeli NSO Group intelligence-gathering project, likewise, would appear to have followed similar techniques and standard tradecraft. Its founder members in 2010, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, received training and involvement, including active service, with the elite Israeli Defence Force (IDF) Unit 8200 Signals/Intelligence. (6) NSO has also formed part of the large Israeli defence sector which included over 150 active defence companies with a combined revenue of more than $3.5 billion; their exports reached $7 billion in 2012. (7) It is important to note the size of the Israeli defence sector and its workforce makes the industry a dominant player not only inside Israel but also globally, through US-led defence and security agencies.

Israel has been noted as a thoroughly militarised society with a long history of senior political leaders and their associates having personal links with military intelligence. The country is also considered one of the most loyal allies of the US, and regularly used for maverick-type operations on their behalf.

The NSO Group Pegasus project, however, has been under investigation since 2016 following a leak that they had hacked into 50,000 mobile telephones used by political activists, journalists, business executives and politicians. (8) More than 600 political leaders and government officials including heads of state, prime ministers and cabinet ministers are known to have been targeted. (9)

It is also important to note much of the Israeli effort has concentrated upon the Arab world and other areas of their interests, including the southern half of the Americas. Israel has had a long history of involvement in Central and Latin America; the Israeli defence sector has been responsible for selling every country in the region military armaments, except Brazil which has its own arms industries. (10) In country after country, declassified documents have revealed Israeli complicity in state-sanctioned repression, which invariably, has included para-military style operations and extra-judicial killings.

Israeli foreign policy toward the southern half of the Americas invariably followed that of US-led initiatives.

In December, 1982, during the final stages of the Dirty War, for example, which resulted in as many as 11,000 people 'disappeared' following torture and murder in clandestine detention centres together with 20,000 arrests and two million fleeing the country, Israel conducted high-level diplomacy and an arms deal with Argentina. Following concerns raised by then Israeli Foreign Minister Itzhak Shamir with the country's president and his associates about an estimated one thousand Jewish-Argentine 'disappeared' people during the reign of class and state terror, he then 'went on to discuss further arms sales'. (11)

While the NSO Group has stated 'we would like to emphasise that NSO sells its technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts', it has carried a hollow ring of past, questionable, behavioural practices. It has continued to
decline any explanation as to why its Pegasus project has been used to monitor and interfere with large numbers of people who clearly do not form part of that particular category and also have direct involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. (12)

What is particularly revealing about the Pegasus project is how it can be activated without the mobile telephone user initiating a download. Once activated, however, it can operate the camera and microphone, and use microwave facilities 'hoovering up all communications and locations', which effectively turn the device into a portable pocket spy without the user even being aware. (13)  There would appear no further need for intelligence agencies to infiltrate political opposition groups or break into and enter their homes and premises - an activated mobile telephone can do the required intelligence-gathering on their behalf.  

As a great deal of US-led intelligence-gathering during the previous Cold War included the infiltration of almost every part of civil society and the placing of citizens and residents on black/grey/or white-lists for identification, further profiling and prioritising further counter-activities, it is not particularly difficult to establish just how the NSO Pegasus program is being used during the present Cold War. (14) Journalists targeted by the program, were employed by sixteen major media outlets, and work in a profession whereby inveterate networking with large numbers of confidential and often sensitive sources of information as personal contacts remain the order of the day. (15)

In conclusion, revelations about the NSO Group and their Pegasus project are best viewed as a continuation of Israel being used by US-led intelligence-gathering agencies to pursue those who are regarded as not being on-side. And if any controversy arises about how targets are initially identified, a US military declassified document from the previous Cold War has sufficed for use with our understanding of the present one. It was specified US co-ordinated counter-intelligence activities, globally, were directed primarily against those 'who oppose the US Defence Department … during peacetime and all levels of conflict'. (16)

Elsewhere, NATO's secret Civil Emergency Committee during the previous Cold War had sub-committees for supplies, transport, communications, and civil war-time agencies to take-over essential government functions, if, and when, required. It was noted to have drawn-up lists of those regarded as anti-NATO and anti-war 'subversives', including planning to smash trade-unions and opposition from within the labour movement. (17)

Recent government discussions about expanding NATO provision to include Australia has to be viewed in the context of the Indo-Pacific becoming the epi-centre of the present Cold War with China. The silence from the present Morrison Coalition federal government in Canberra over this important issue, has been deafening. It too, is best viewed as a continuation of sycophantic behaviour from Canberra toward their cronies in both Israel and the US: We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     The Intelligence coup of the century, The Washington Post, 11 February 2020.
2.     Operations: Thesaurus and Rubicon, The Washington Post, 11 February 2020.
3.     'Crypto A.G. - The CIA', The Telegraph (London), 12 February 2020.
4.     Ibid, and, Allies sold cipher machines that let them spy on all, Australian, 16 January 2020.

5.     Intelligence coup of the century, op.cit., 11 February 2020.
6.      Wikipedia: Israel NSO Group, 20 July 2021.
7.     Wikipedia: Israeli Defence Sector, 20 July 2021.
8.     Privacy concerns as journos, politicians, executives on phone list linked to Israeli spyware, Australian, 20 July 2021.
9.     Ibid.
10.   Israel: State of War, PLO London Office, Information Department Publication, (n.d.), pp. 12-19.
11.   Ibid., and, Israeli Minister in Argentina raises issue of missing Jews, The New York Times, 15 December 1982; and, Time running out for Argentinian Jews, The Manchester Guardian Weekly, 19 March 1978.
12.   Privacy concerns, Australian, op.cit., 20 July 2021.
13.   Ibid., and, Everything we know about NSO Group, Forbes., 25 August 2016.
14.   See: Army's Project X Had Wider Audience, The Washington Post, 6 March 1997.
15.   Privacy concerns, Australian, op.cit., 20 July 2021.
16.   US Army Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program, Declassified: 15 November 1993, Army Regulation 381-20, Section 1.5, Mission and Policy, page 1.  
17.   CIA Infiltration of the Labour Movement, Lynn Walsh, (London, 1982), page 15.


No comments:

Post a Comment