Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti investigate Pegasus, an Israeli spying tool that was acquired for use by the F.B.I., and which the United States government is now trying to ban.
Pegasus is used globally. For nearly a decade, NSO, an Israeli firm, had been selling this surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising to consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone.
Since NSO introduced Pegasus to the global market in 2011, it has helped the authorities capture drug lords, thwart terrorist plots, fight organized crime, and, in one case, take down a global child-abuse ring, identifying suspects in more than 40 countries.
But the software has been prone to abuses of power: The Mexican government deployed Pegasus against journalists and political dissidents; and it was used to intercept communications with Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, whom Saudi operatives killed and dismembered in Istanbul in 2018.
Despite the emergence of even more sophisticated systems, such as Phantom, which “turn your target’s smartphone into an intelligence gold mine,” Bergman and Mazzetti’s piece explains that the days of Israel’s spyware monopoly are almost over, since the growing desire within the United States government for hacking tools has been noticed by American competitors.
Cyberweapons are here to stay — but their legacy is still to be determined.
Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.