New York Times: US defense company wanted to buy Pegasus spyware maker

The American defense company L3 Harris wanted to buy Pegasus maker NSO, writes The New York Times on the basis of insiders. The White House was unaware of the negotiations. In addition, the Israeli company is blacklisted by the US government.

The paper reports that executives from L3 Harris, which itself has experience developing spyware, have visited Israel more than once in recent months to negotiate with NSO. According to insiders familiar with the talks, it was possible for the companies to close a deal. In addition, the American intelligence services are said to have quietly agreed to the negotiations.

During discussions about the possible sale of NSO to L3 Harris, representatives of the US company said they had received permission from the US government to negotiate with NSO. L3 Harris said US intelligence agencies supported the takeover as long as certain conditions were met, The New York Times sources say. One of the conditions was that NSO’s overview of zero days can be sold to all partners in the Five Eyes partnership. These are the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Talks continued in secret until last month, when information about the possible sale of NSO was leaked. White House officials were reportedly outraged by the negotiations. They are also said to have said that the White House opposes attempts by US defense companies to buy a company that is on the blacklist. L3 Harris has since stopped the negotiation, writes The New York Times.

L3 Harris and NSO spokesmen declined to answer questions from the paper about the negotiations between the companies. The US intelligence services would not say whether they agreed to the talks. A Commerce Department spokesperson declined to provide details of any talks with L3 Harris over the purchase of NSO.
The Israeli Defense Ministry also declined to comment.

The Pegasus software has been criticized several times in spy cases where journalists, politicians and other public figures have been spied on using the spyware. However, American intelligence agencies are said to have shown interest in Pegasus before. For example, The Guardian wrote earlier this year that the FBI would have bought the controversial software to scrutinize it.