MBS’ Preferred App to Hack His Enemies: Whatsapp
Facebook has a problem on its hands: its Whatapp messaging service has become the go-to app for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his efforts to smear and sabotage his enemies, who are legion.
The Guardian reported today that Jeff Bezos and MBS had been carrying on a Whatsapp conversation in the weeks since they’d first met each other in California. You’ll recall that Bezos also employed Jamal Khashoggi, one of the Saudi regime’s deepest irritants, as a columnist.
In one of their conversations, MBS sent Bezos a message containing a link to a purported video. Once clicked, the phone became linked to the hacker’s server and it began extracting all of its data. That’s how Bezos’ “dick pics” came to be in the possession of The National Enquirer and its aptly named CEO, David Pecker. The latter threatened to publish them unless Bezos agreed to specified terms. MBS himself sent threatening text messages implying he knew of, and would expose an affair. Though it was never raised explicitly, clearly the Prince wanted Khashoggi fired. Instead of negotiating with the Enquirer, Bezos launched a pre-emptive strike and admitted the hack and affair, and pointed fingers at both the Enquirer and the Saudis.
Many media outlets asserted with a high degree of confidence that the Saudis–who had a $55-million contract with Israel’s NSO Group, the world’s leading malware developer–used its flagship Pegasus product to execute the hack. Though NSO Group has denied the charge, it regularly denies involvement in similar dirty ops activities even after cyber security companies have documented its responsibility. The company said, regarding the current charges:.
NSO unequivocally denied its technology was used to target Mr. Bezos. “We know this because of how our software works and our technology cannot be used on U.S. phone numbers,” the company said,
That couldn’t be more unpersuasive. If there is such a block within Pegasus, it would be easy to circumvent by any reasonably competent programmer. And the Saudis have the means to hire the best.
Less than five months after the Bezos hack, MBS once again used Pegasus to hack the cell phone of a Saudi dissident who was a colleague of Khashoggi’s. Through the infiltration of the dissident’s phone, the Saudi prince was also able to track Khashoggi himself and gain knowledge of his whereabouts and plans, including on the day he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered by an execution squad dispatched by MBS himself.
Was Kushner Hacked by MBS and NSO Group?
In yet another potential security breach, the Intercept reported in 2018 that Jared Kushner was using Whatsapp to communicate with his bosom-buddy, MBS. This is especially alarming because last May, Citizen Lab once again exposed a hack NSO Group exploited in the Whatsapp system in order to compromise the private data of at least fourteen activists targeted by the Saudi intelligence service. Since then, Whatsapp has sued NSO Group in federal court for the damage done to its systems.
It’s only a hop, skip and a jump from this exploit to imagine doing the same to Jared Kushner’s cell phone communications. It appears possible, and perhaps even likely the Saudis would have sought to penetrate Kushner’s circle to know what he was doing and saying with his colleagues and world leaders. The private data of U.S. leaders would be among the most desirable for any nation’s intelligence service to have. In the case of Saudi Arabia, Kushner was preparing a so-called Middle East peace plan in collaboration with the Saudis and Israelis. It goes without saying that MBS would want to know the positions of each of these parties in order to maximize his own position and interests. He would also want to know what the U.S. government knows and thinks about him and his regime.
That Trump and Kushner have abandoned any semblance of cyber-security for their personal-official communications is not news. That the U.S. government permits them to do so is beyond outrageous. Many have speculated that Russia, the Chinese, Israelis and now Saudis would be delighted to exploit the gaping vulnerabilities this creates for our nation’s cybersecurity. Here, we have yet another example of how Jared Kushner, someone with no experience in government or computer network security, has flouted its most basic provisions for his own personal convenience.
Returning to NSO, Amnesty International has sued the company in an Israeli court after its staff in Egypt were hacked via the use of Pegasus. AI has demanded that the Israeli defense ministry cancel NSO’s export license, which is approved by a unit within the ministry. This unit is tasked with reviewing and approving the export of Israeli technology having military or intelligence applications. Ostensibly, the purpose is to prevent the export of technology that might violate ethical or legal provisions. In reality, it is a rubber stamp for Israel’s international arms trade, known for supplying multiple genocidal regimes with the tools to implement their repression and ethnic cleansing.
The trial has been an embarrassment for both NSO and the ministry, so it moved to close the trial to the public and media. It argued that if the court did not do so, the public might hear the arguments of AI’s lawyers and believe them to be true. Therefore, in order to maintain a level playing field, the trial must be conducted in secret. Not surprisingly, the judge agreed and the trial proceedings are now held behind closed doors. Israeli judges hardly ever second-guess the security apparatus on such national security cases. Which belies the claim that Israel is a nation of laws, due process, and transparent justice.
Finally, Israel media report that the country’s military censor, Brig. Gen. Ariella Ben Avraham, has applied to separate from her IDF service. She is in line for a plum job as the head of corporate communications for…wait for it…NSO Group. The irony is that as chief military censor, she is responsible for preventing the public from knowing of the army’s sins and crimes. Now she will be responsible for preventing the world from knowing about NSO’s sins and crimes. It certainly can’t hurt to have an IDF general running interference for you with the defense ministry and wider security apparatus. Her appointment gives the lie to claims made by NSO that it maintains the highest standards of ethics and respect for human rights. You hire an ex-military censor as your chief PR flack, and then say with a straight face that you have the utmost respect for human rights???
Not to mention that the revolving door has brought more ex-IDF officers into the ranks of NSO. The former chief IDF lawyer, Daniel Reisner, who argued that the more Israeli violated the laws of war the more the world would accommodate to the violations. Also, the former chief of staff of the defense ministry has just been hired as chief of the company’s “global political apparatus.” Presumably, the world’s regulators would be impressed to have an ex IDF officer and defense ministry official lobby them to permit NSO’s gross violations of their nation’s citizens’ human rights.
15 thoughts on “MBS’ Preferred App to Hack His Enemies: Whatsapp – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Excellent comprehensive coverage! Thank you once again.
Earlier I have written about the suspected ties UAE (Erik Prince) – Saudi Arabia monarchy – Israel (Netanyahu) – Trump billionaire supporters to steal presidential election 2016. Add Steve Bannon – Cambridge Analytica – Facebook Zuckerberg – rightwing crazies in the US and UK … what is the result of US Congress oversight and Pentagon intelligence arm :: Putin did it! Nice deflection.
” Through the infiltration of the dissident’s phone, the Saudi prince was also able to track Khashoggi himself and gain knowledge of his whereabouts and plans, including on the day he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered by an execution squad dispatched by MBS himself.. ”
You assume that Khashoggi was being tracked by Pegasus, and that Khashoggi had simply walked into the Consul, ‘off the street’.
It is far more likely however, that Khashoggi had made an appointment with the Saudi Consul in the Consulate building (for the purpose of picking up a legal document pertaining to his divorce).
A pre-set appointment would explain why a nine man hit team had been flown into Turkey and were laying in wait for Khashoggi in the Consulate.
Every Embassy and Consulate I’ve ever had to deal with, required appointments, often made weeks in advance.
I doubt the Saudi Consul in Turkey is exceptional and does not requiring making an appointment.
@ Samantha Fochs: You have no idea how surveillance and assassination operations work. A killer needs to know far more about his victim than that he has a consular appointment at which time the murder is to be done. He needs to know everything about the victim in the days and weeks leading up to the killing. He needs to know to whom he is speaking, who he is meeting, where he is traveling, where he is lodging. What if Khashoggi were simply not to show up at his appointment? What if he came late? How would you know when he was coming so as to be prepared for the killing?
I really could care less whether you accept the word of numerous mainstream media publications (one of whom I linked in this post) which say that Pegasus played a key role in the murder. But their statements stand, and yours don’t.
You conveniently neglected to respond to my comments on your IP address. I want to know what a hasbara mouthpiece is doing posting comments from Lima, Peru. It’s not that I care about you personally. But there have been thousands of commenters just like you who betray oddities in the posting habits, location, etc. Since most of you are engaged in some sort of opaque behavior, I feel the need to demand transparency. If you are not in Peru, I want to know why your IP resolves to Peru.
The closed “trials” of the fictitious 18-year old Michael Kadar (the JCC bomb-treat caller of 2017) is a glaring example of the lack of independence of the Israeli courts. See two articles at https://www.unz.com/author/franklin-stahl/
Not important but WhatsApp was not Israeli at any point.
You may have confused it with Waze.
@Dani: Thanks for the correction.
@ Samantha Fochs
Yes, Khashoggi did indeed have an appointment, he went to the embassy in the end of the week and was told to come back on Monday or Thursday the next week, in the meantime he had dinner with a Palestinian friend in London who told him to be careful but Khashoggi was confident, because the first time he went he was well-received ….
Hi Richard NSO. “is appalled” (according to the Guardian) that the Un mentioned their malware as being responsible for the Bezos hack. Appalled, my poor heart aches (to paraphrase Elvis) . Poor pure 100% unadulterated Israeli poison have the nerve to use that verb. I can’t think of a court sentence harsh enough for those individuals. I am against the electric chair, these guys give that chair a bad reputation. They use the Israeli /jewish excuse to hide and help dirty our religion and country the reputation it has. This is what Jewish mothers foster and foister on the innocent world. Bravo Bibi
Khashoggi had an appointment with the Saudi Consul. Your opinion notwithstanding, there is no proof that he was tracked there using Pegasus, or surely you would have offered it.
You may know more about assassination tactics than I, so you should have no problem explaining how Gandhi, Dr. King, and the Kennedys, et al, were all assassinated without benefit of Israeli software surveillance technology.
I don’t know why you’ve singled me out for scrutiny, but I find it offensive, but, if you must know, I work with the corps diplomatique in Lima.
Lastly, I do not work for the MFA, which I assume is the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but I have worked with them on the rarest of occasions.
I strongly doubt that the MFA knows who you are, or would spend their limited time and money following your blog.
I think you flatter yourself.
@Fuchs Don’t be so dismissive of basic facts, you act as an Israeli apologist.
Citizen Lab has identified over 100 cases of abusive targeting of human rights defenders and journalists in at least 20 countries across the globe, ranging from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America that took place after Novalpina Capital acquired NSO Group.
Novalpina Capital Partners is registered in Luxembourg and has its executives located on 10 Bruton Street in London. Bastian Leuken – Stefan Kowski – Stephen Peel. All speak German as they may eye Europe.
Samantha Fochs s – it is well known that “soldiers” exiting the 8200 are offered opportunities in many countries, of late Oman hired one who did not even deny it and bragged about the “salary”
no israeli kid who spent his early years been trained for hacking will abandon his tool out of honesty. I live here and honesty is a 4 letter word. there is none, not in regular commerce not in government not even between relations.
the ONLY honesty imposed by the government was to force landlords to declare the previous tenant’s rent when signing a new tenant. ONLY ONE THAT I KNOW OF. the dept of defense budget is a state secret, not even the TOTAL is known, the press went to court to force disclosure that according to IDF if known would “apparently” allow other individuals to figure the actual number of soldiers. (i am rolling on the floor). the ONLY REASON FOR THEIR LIES. IS TO COVER UP HOW MANY EX IDF STAFF ARE GETTING BEZILLIONS IN PENSIONS. at 40 they are retired with FULL NOT TAXABLE PENSION AND NOT AFFECTED BY ANY OTHER INCOME THEY MAY HAVE. at 40. the actual budget is nothing but a fraction of the near trillion shekels.
HONESTY , please they don’t even know how to spell it. to do bad deeds, they are first in line. they bellyache about palestinian construction. Israel regularly refuses 98% of ALL palestinians building permits requests. (why you ask, because the dept of building construction is a cave OWNED BY SHAS – i know i dealt with them)
so p lease do not defend the undefensable
Why would you live in such a deplorable place like Israel? I think we call it חנופה in Hebrew.
@ uzi: Why he lives in Israel is none of your goddamn business. He has as much right to live there as anyone else, whether he’s a hasbaroid like you or a critic like most of the rest of us here.