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Are shadowy agents targeting Canadians who criticize an Israeli spyware firm? – National

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John Scott-Railton rushed into the Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue in New York City, behind schedule, half-soaked from a rainstorm and out of breath. He hurried through the lobby to the hotel’s five-star restaurant, the Clement, praying that the microphone hidden under his tie was still working, and that his lunch date hadn’t bailed.

He felt like a mess as he moved through the swanky hotel. He worried his whole plan was about to fall apart because of a bit of traffic on the way over.

Scott-Railton was set to meet with Michel Lambert, a wealthy entrepreneur who promised him a lucrative business opportunity — one that paid far better than his spyware-hunting job at Citizen Lab in Toronto.

But he says he knew the man he ultimately sat down with for dinner that afternoon was not a businessman named Michel Lambert. According to Scott-Railton, he was an ex-spy from Israel operating under a false name.

A man who identified himself as Michel Lambert reacts during an interview at a restaurant in New York on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

AP Photo/Joseph Frederick

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Scott-Railton says he agreed to meet the man he says was a covert operative because he wanted to “turn the tables” on a shadowy operation that had targeted his Citizen Lab colleague, Bahar Abdul Razzak, a few months earlier. A supposed entrepreneur had lured Razzak to a meeting in Toronto, then grilled him about his research into NSO Group, an Israeli tech firm with software that can hack any smartphone via text message, according to Scott-Railton.


READ MORE:
Undercover spies caught fishing for anti-Israel remarks following Canadian sting

Citizen Lab has been tracking NSO Group’s phone-cracking software for years, and its research forms the basis of three major lawsuits. The plaintiffs allege that NSO’s software was used to hack their phones and spy on them because they were critical of governments in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Lambert” asked Scott-Railton several questions about NSO over lunch. He also posed leading questions about potential anti-Israel bias or outside funding at Citizen Lab, an independent research facility at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, poses for a photo in New York City on Jan. 17, 2019.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

However, the man had little to say once Scott-Railton invited a hidden Associated Press reporter over to the table.

“I don’t have to speak with you,” said the man, whom the New York Times and Israel’s Channel 12 later identified as former Israeli security official Aharon Almog-Assouline. Almog-Assouline stormed out of the restaurant and refused to answer questions from the AP reporter.

The sting has shed light on an alleged wider plot targeting at least six critics of NSO, an Israeli cybersecurity firm that helps law enforcement access suspects’ smartphones. Three lawsuits accuse NSO of selling its phone-cracking program, Pegasus, to governments that allegedly used it to monitor journalists and activists. The lawsuits call for NSO to stop selling Pegasus to some of its most lucrative government clients, many of whom pay tens of millions of dollars for its services.

Global News has reached out to NSO Group for comment on Citizen Lab’s reports, the lawsuits against it and the alleged attempts by anonymous individuals to contact people linked to those lawsuits. NSO has not responded. However, it has previously refuted the Citizen Lab reports, rejected the claims in the lawsuits and denied any connection to those asking about the lawsuits.

Citizen Lab

Citizen Lab, which operates out of the University of Toronto, does independent research into human rights abuses online, such as government surveillance and censorship.

“Our work exposing these abuses is clearly making some people uncomfortable, and we are being targeted with underhanded, unethical tactics,” Scott-Railton told Global News.

“To us, this is a signal that we are doing something right, and why academic work is so important.”

Scott-Railton and his colleagues at U of T’s Citizen Lab have been monitoring NSO since 2016.

Citizen Lab has published over a dozen reports documenting alleged abuse of NSO’s software, Pegasus, based on digital forensics. They say NSO has been reckless with its choice of clients, by selling to governments with a history of human rights abuses.


READ MORE:
Toronto-based Citizen Lab, which exposed Israeli spy software, targeted by undercover agents

Citizen Lab alleges that NSO’s Pegasus software has been used for political purposes in several countries, including Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Overall, Citizen Lab estimates that 36 operators have used Pegasus on targets in 45 different nations, including the United States and Canada. It says six operators were linked to countries with a “history of abusing spyware to target civil society.”

NSO Group has repeatedly denied all allegations stemming from Citizen Lab’s research, and insists that its technology is only used for law enforcement purposes. The company has disputed Citizen Lab’s list of countries where it operates, and claims that the product “will not operate outside of approved countries.”

Shady operators

A recent AP investigation found that at least six individuals linked to NSO lawsuits, including Citizen Lab’s Razzak and Scott-Railton, have been targeted by undercover operatives seeking information about the cases. These shady figures invited their targets to swanky dinners to discuss lucrative job offers, then questioned them about NSO, according to the AP.

Two people targeted by undercover operatives were secretly recorded and the footage later broadcast on Israeli television, the AP reports.

“There’s somebody who’s really interested in sabotaging the case,” Mazen Masri, who is one of the alleged targets, told the Associated Press. Masri teaches at City University in London, and is advising the plaintiff’s attorney in one of the NSO lawsuits. He suggested the man was “looking for dirt and relevant information about people involved.”

WATCH BELOW: Up to 500-million Marriott customers’ data accessed in cyberattack






Citizen Lab condemned the alleged operations against Razzak and Scott-Railton in a statement last month, after Scott-Railton met with the suspected spy.

“This failed operation against two Citizen Lab researchers is a new low,” Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert wrote on Jan. 25. “We have always welcomed debate and dialogue about our work, but we condemn these sinister, underhanded activities in the strongest possible terms.”

Deibert added that he has “no evidence” that NSO Group itself is responsible for the incidents.

How NSO’s phone-hacking Pegasus spyware works

Pegasus is an extremely powerful spyware program that installs itself on a phone after the target is tricked into clicking a text-message link. It’s designed to let police covertly examine everything on a target’s phone, according to an in-depth technical analysis of the program by Lookout, a California-based cybersecurity company. The analysis was conducted in partnership with Citizen Lab.

Pegasus effectively turns the target’s phone into an open book. The spyware operator can access anything connected to the phone, and can even switch on its microphones and cameras to turn it into a remote surveillance device. The only way to avoid infection is to avoid clicking on text-message links.

This diagram shows all the systems an operator can access by infecting someone’s phone with Pegasus spyware.

Citizen Lab

“The Pegasus software is highly configurable,” the Lookout report says. “Depending on the country of use and feature sets purchased by the user of the spyware, the surveillance capabilities include remotely accessing text messages, iMessages, calls, emails, logs, and more from apps including Gmail, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Facetime, Calendar, Line, Mail.Ru, WeChat, Surespot, Tango, Telegram, and others.”

Citizen Lab and Lookout worked with Apple in 2016 to help it fix an iOS vulnerability that Pegasus appeared to exploit. Citizen Lab says it discovered Pegasus exploiting the vulnerability on a phone belonging to Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates. NSO continued to sell the product to the UAE government long after Apple said it fixed the patch, the New York Times reports.


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NSO Group says the tool has helped foil terror plots in Europe, allegedly contributed to the capture of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and led to the arrest of many dangerous criminals and child sex traffickers.

NSO Group has not publicly revealed the names of its current clients. However, its software is not unique. Several companies, including Italy’s Hacking Team and Germany’s FinFisher, have developed technology to help law enforcement crack suspects’ phones.

Many countries, including Canada, have legal provisions that allow for “lawful interception” of certain communications in serious criminal cases. Canadian police need a warrant or a judge’s authorization to use such extreme measures, according to the Department of Justice.

WATCH BELOW: What to do if your email gets hacked






However, Citizen Lab says the Pegasus software has been deployed against unwarranted political targets, such as journalists and activists.

Amnesty International has also accused NSO Group of releasing its technology to an entity that targeted one of Amnesty’s staffers. The human rights group has called for Israel to revoke NSO Group’s export licence, which would effectively kill all of its contracts with foreign governments.

What is NSO Group?

NSO Group is an Israeli cybersecurity firm that specializes in hacking smartphones. Its headquarters are in Luxembourg and its offices are in Herzelia, near Tel Aviv in Israel. The company has between 500 and 1,000 employees, according to its LinkedIn page.

The group claims on its website that its technology is used “exclusively by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and terror.”

NSO Group’s co-founders, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie, re-acquired a majority ownership stake in the company on Thursday, in a deal that reportedly valued the company at US$1 billion. Francisco Partners, a U.S.-based private equity firm that previously owned 70 per cent of the company, announced the sale in a news release.

NSO Group sells licences to its software through an export licence approved by the Israeli government. It has dozens of licensed customers and earned $250 million in revenue last year, Francisco Partners said.

Hulio and Lavie founded NSO Group in 2010 and have been with the company ever since, serving as its CEO and director, respectively.

WATCH BELOW: Canadian cybersecurity officials outline plans to protect 2019 election






NSO Group has denied all allegations that suggest its software has been used improperly. It insists its product is meant to be used exclusively to prevent crime and terrorism.

“Any use of our technology that is counter to that purpose is a violation of our policies, legal contracts, and the values that we stand for as a company,” NSO Group said in a written statement to Amnesty International last August. The statement was issued after Amnesty claimed one of its members was spied on using NSO software.

NSO Group has signed several lucrative contracts with foreign governments, including multi-million-dollar deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to reports in the New York Times and Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper.

Khashoggi friend allegedly hacked

One of the three lawsuits against NSO was filed in Israel on behalf of Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, a permanent resident of Canada living near Montreal. Abdulaziz alleges that Pegasus software was used to monitor his conversations with Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, shortly before Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

WATCH BELOW: Omar Abdulaziz says he was targeted by Saudi Arabia






Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned whistleblower, has also suggested that Abdulaziz’s hacked phone may have contributed to the death of Khashoggi, citing an analysis by Citizen Lab.

“The reality is that they bugged one of his few friends and contacts using software created by an Israeli company,” Snowden told an audience in Tel Aviv via video link last November.

Citizen Lab published a report about Abdulaziz’s hacked phone on Oct. 1, one day before Khashoggi was killed. The Citizen Lab researchers concluded with “high confidence” that the breach was caused by NSO’s Pegasus spyware.


READ MORE:
Saudi Arabia used controversial spyware to monitor Canada-based political refugee: report

NSO Group disputed some details in Abdulaziz’s lawsuit in a written statement to the Times of Israel in December. The company said the lawsuit “appears to be based on a collection of press clippings that have been generated for the sole purpose of creating news headlines and do not reflect the reality of NSO’s work.”

NSO Group CEO Shulev Hulio says the company looked into the allegations and concluded that its software was not involved in Khashoggi’s murder.


READ MORE:
Jamal Khashoggi’s friend sues Israeli surveillance company, saying it helped track journalist

“Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology, including listening, monitoring, location tracking and intelligence collection,” he told Yedioth Ahronoth, a Hebrew-language daily, in an interview last month. The interview was translated by Yedioth Ahronoth’s English-language sister site, Ynetnews.

He added that the company immediately sanctions any customer that is found to be using its software for anything other than saving lives and thwarting crime or terrorism.

WATCH BELOW: What we know about Khashoggi’s murder






NSO has also denied any connection to the individuals who contacted Abdulaziz’s lawyers or Scott-Railton and Razzak at Citizen Lab.

Scott-Railton says the whole situation is shining some much-needed light on the highly secretive and extremely lucrative business of military-grade spyware.

“The problem is, this industry operates in the shadows, and not everything that happens there is just about catching bad guys,” he said.

“Sending private spies to go after academics is a tactic you might use if you have something to hide.”

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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These US entities partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Virology — time for a criminal investigation?

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(Natural News) The Wuhan Institute of Virology from which the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) is believed to have “escaped” has a number of questionable partnerships that are worth looking into in light of the pandemic.

Most of them are universities, including the University of Alabama, the University of North Texas, and Harvard University. There is also the EcoHealth Alliance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Wildlife Federation.

While the relationships between these entities and the Wuhan Institute of Virology may be completely innocent, there is no way to really say for sure without a proper investigation. And this is exactly what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling for, as is the nation of Australia.

Pompeo and the folks down under, along with millions of Americans, would really like to know the true origins of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19). An increasing number of people simply are not buying the narrative that the novel virus originated in bat soup at a Chinese wet market, and this even includes mainstream media outlets like Fox News.

The only way to really determine what was going on at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and who else might have been involved. is to open the place up for an international investigation. But communist China is against this, of course, accusing Australia of “petty tricks” and collusion with the United States.

“Overnight, I saw comments from the Chinese Foreign Ministry talking about a course of activity with respect to Australia who had the temerity to ask for investigation,” Pompeo is quoted as saying in response to China’s aggression against a proposed investigation.

“Who in the world wouldn’t want an investigation of how this happened to the world?” he added.

As the U.S. aims to get back on track economically speaking, Pompeo believes that now is the time to hold communist China, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and whoever else may have been involved accountable for unleashing this pandemic on the world.

“Not only American wealth, but the global economy’s devastation as a result of this virus,” Pompeo further stated. “There will be a time for this. We will get that timing right.”

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New U.S. analysis finds that lab in Wuhan, China was “most likely” origin of coronavirus release

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(Natural News) While American Leftists and most of the Democrat Party continue to serve as apologists for the Chinese Communist regime over its role in creating and then perpetuating the coronavirus pandemic, a new U.S. government analysis concludes that COVID-19 “most likely” escaped from a lab near Wuhan city.

The Washington Times reports that the analysis cataloged evidence linking the outbreak to the Wuhan lab and has found that other explanations for the origins of the virus are not as credible.

The paper reported:

The document, compiled from open sources and not a finished product, says there is no smoking gun to blame the virus on either the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan branch of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, both located in the city where the first outbreaks were reported.

However, “there is circumstantial evidence to suggest such may be the case,” the paper says.

“All other possible places of the virus’ origin have been proven to be highly unlikely,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by the Times.

ChiCom officials have claimed that the virus’ origin is unknown. However, Beijing initially stated that coronavirus came from animals at a “wet market” in Wuhan where exotic meats are butchered and sold in disgusting conditions.

Chinese officials claim that COVID-19 went from bats to animals sold in the market last year, then infected humans.

U.S. intelligence officials have increasingly dismissed that explanation, however, as attention has begun to focus on evidence suggesting that Chinese medical researchers were working with coronavirus in the country’s only Level 4 facility, which is in Wuhan.

U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that intelligence agencies are investigating whether the virus escaped from a lab or was the result of a naturally occurring outbreak, but that analysts have ruled out reports that COVID-19 was manmade.

‘The most logical place to investigate the virus origin has been completely sealed off’

“At this point, it’s inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural,” the general said on April 14, “but we don’t know for certain.”

The analysis said that the wet market explanation does not ring true because the first human diagnosis of coronavirus was made in someone who had no connection to the wet market in question. And according to Chinese reports, no bats were sold at that particular market.

At the same time, several questionable actions and a growing paper trail provide clues that the virus actually escaped from a lab, even as China begins to clamp down on those information streams.

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The biggest media lies about the coronavirus: Origins, treatments and vaccines

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(Natural News) If there is one thing that most everyone can agree on concerning the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is the fact that there is no shortage of conflicting information out there about the nature of it. And the mainstream media is certainly doing its part to steer the narrative as part of a larger agenda, using plenty of misinformation along the way.

The following are among the most commonly parroted lies about the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) that aim to distort the facts and deceive you into believing falsehoods about this pandemic:

Media LIE: The virus is not man-made

From the very beginning of this thing, the official narrative was that the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) came from a Chinese wet market where bats and other “exotic” animals are sold as meat. But the world later learned that it actually more than likely “escaped” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The mainstream media and social media platforms went nuts trying to censor this information and even called it  “fake news.” But eventually it became undeniable that bat soup was not responsible for spreading the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) around Wuhan and eventually to the rest of the world – hence why we continue to call it the Wuhan coronavirus rather than just COVID-19.

We have even seen attempts by the media machine at making the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) a racial issue because there are supposedly more “people of color” coming down with it than people with fair skin, which further detracts attention away from the source of this virus.

Media LIE: Hydroxychloroquine is extremely dangerous and doesn’t work

The minute that President Donald Trump announced that hydroxychloroquine may be an effective, and very inexpensive, remedy for the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), the mainstream media immediately began decrying this claim as fake news, even though Anthony Fauci himself praised hydroxychloroquine back in 2013 under Barack Obama as being some type of “miracle cure” for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

There have even been studies conducted that were designed to intentionally smear the drug as both ineffective and dangerous, though one in particular purposely left out zinc, which appears to be a critical co-factor in supporting the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine – in other words, politics as usual.

Media LIE: Only a vaccine can save us from coronavirus

Many politicians and public health officials are parroting the lie that the only way America can come out of lockdown and go back to “normal” is to get vaccinated with some future vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) that does not even yet exist. A vaccine, we are repeatedly told, is the only thing, or perhaps some new “blockbuster” antiviral drug, that can cure the world of this scourge and make everything happy and wonderful once again.

Meanwhile, not a peep is being made about things like intravenous (IV) high-dose vitamin C, which is being successfully used in other countries to stem the tide of infections without the need for new drugs and vaccines.

By omission, nutrition is pointless

Speaking of natural approaches to overcoming the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) that are being systematically ignored by the mainstream media and most in politics, have you heard anyone mention the importance of nutrition in all of this? We did not think so, and this is intentional.

Regular readers of this site over the years should know by now that the single-most important thing you need to do to stay healthy besides exercising regularly is to feed your body the nutrition it needs to naturally ward off illnesses, including those associated with the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19).

Research compiled by the Lewin Group reveals that nutritional remedies such as calcium, vitamin D, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zeaxanthin, and more all play a critical role in fortifying the immune system, which, if properly nourished, should have little problem fending off disease.

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