Israel’s Spyware Exports

Israel, known as the Start up nation, is well known for its high tech industry which is situated mainly in the prosperous suburb of Herzliya Pituach, just  north of Tel Aviv, one of the major hubs of Israel’s high tech industry.  

In the past few years Israel has become the global capital for surveillance tools and communications interception. 

Israeli systems that help thwart terrorism and fight crime, and are bought by African countries, as well as to prevent poaching in Botswana, and all sales are authorized by the Defence Ministry.   

An investigation carried out by Haaretz newspaper, the leading English language newspaper in Israel, based on 100 sources in 15 countries, reveal that Israeli industry has not hesitated to sell offensive capabilities to countries whose record in human rights is lacking.

Private Israeli companies, the investigation revealed, have sold espionage and intelligence gathering software to countries such as Angola, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Bahrain, Bangladesh and several others too numerous to mention. The investigation also revealed that the companies continued to sell espionage products even when it was revealed that the equipment was used for malicious purposes.   

A relatively unknown company, called the NSO group, are developers of a seemingly innocent software program called Pegasus which allows unlimited monitoring of cell phones, to record nearby conversations, access contact lists and photographs, photograph those in the vicinity of the phone, discover the phone’s location and other surveillance tools.

Israeli law does not prohibit the sale of surveillance and interception to foreign governments and the exports are approved by the Defence Exports Control Agency where the items are used to thwart terrorism and crime. However, senior officials in some of the firms have gone on record to say that once the systems are sold there is no way to prevent their abuse. 

Even supervisors in the Defence Ministry have no way of knowing who is being spied on with Israeli products.  Sometimes the Israelis who train the buyers in the use of the systems only discover later on what they are being used for. 

Attempts to track Israeli exports of espionage devices are also hampered by the fact that in many cases the systems are not actually exported from Israel directly. Several companies have moved their centre of activity abroad for a variety of reasons, economic , cheap labour, lower taxation, laxer regulation, and to camouflage the Israeli origins to penetrate markets in hostile countries.