Revelations by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Israeli sales of NSO Group’s Pegasus smart phone surveillance program closely matched the foreign trips of former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have raised the possibility that Jared Kushner, who participated in Netanyahu’s diplomatic trips to countries using Pegasus, also used Pegasus to eavesdrop on the communications of Republicans who, virtually overnight, became loyalists of Donald Trump.
As more details emerge about the political intelligence uses of Pegasus, the Israeli government and NSO Group are trying to contain the public relations damage caused by Israel’s sale of the surveillance system to some of the world’s most repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, and Morocco. All have close ties to Israel. Further revelations have been made that in addition to spying on the smart phone of French President Emmanuel Macron, the Moroccan intelligence service spied on World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, European Union President Charles Michel, U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement negotiator Robert Malley, and Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani. The UAE used Pegasus to spy on a number of international figures, including former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Previous disclosures about NSO Group’s spyware provided to the UAE mentioned Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani and the late Saudi Prince Mutaib bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as particular high-value surveillance targets for the UAE’s Project Al-FAHAD cyber-espionage program.
NSO Group, mimicking intelligence agencies, assigned code names to their foreign customers. Mexico was Project MERCEDES VENTURA. Thailand was Projects TOYOTA REGENCY and TOYOTA DRAGON, Abu Dhabi, Project ASTON ANDROMEDA, Dubai, Project DUTTON DOLCHE, Saudi Arabia, Project SUBARU, Bahrain, Project BMW, Jordan, Project JAGUAR, Botswana, Project BENTLEY BULLEVARD, Chile, Project CADILLAC POLARIS, and Guatemala, Project GINETTA GALILEO.
Haaretz has reported that Netanyahu used Pegasus as “diplomatic currency” to further Israel’s strategic goals. Kushner was an integral part of Netanyahu’s diplomatic outreach to countries that were Pegasus clients. Kushner claims credit for the penning of the “Abraham Accords,” which saw Israel establish diplomatic relations with the UAE and Bahrain. The Accords were negotiated by Kushner and his friend and adviser Avi Berkowitz. They were signed by Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain at a White House ceremony on August 13, 2020 in the midst of Trump’s re-election campaign and were touted as a Trump diplomatic achievement. There is little doubt that had Kushner requested Pegasus for use by Trump, Netanyahu, a close friend of the Kushner family for decades, would have authorized the acquisition.
Pegasus does not merely allow an eavesdropper to listen in on smart phone conversations but allows the phone’s microphone and camera to be used as espionage devices, even when the phone is turned off. Pegasus has been termed a “digital predator.” It is known that Trump’s administration placed a priority on finding leakers in both the executive and legislative branches. It is known that Trump’s Justice Department secretly subpoenaed customer data from Apple on Democratic Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) in 2018. Data was provided by Apple on over 100 phone numbers and email addresses on the two congressmen, their aides, and family members, including at least one minor.
The pattern of data subpoenaed by Trump from Apple, which included that of the targeted persons’ congressional aides and family members, matches precisely with that obtained by Pegasus on Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and former Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Pegasus was used to spy on AMLO’s sons and brothers and Calderón’s wife.
Trump’s possible use of Pegasus to provide surveillance information on those whose Apple and Microsoft data were subpoenaed by Trump’s Justice Department and on those whose data was not subpoenaed opens the door to Trump using embarrassing information to blackmail Republicans who, on a dime, went from being Trump critics to his most loyal supporters. Blackmail in politics usually involves sex, money, or a combination of the two. For years, former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert made hush money payments to a male victim of his sexual assaults while a high school wrestling coach in Illinois. Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, was convicted of trying to blackmail his brother-in-law, William Schulder, with a secretly-recorded video of Schulder’s motel tryst with a prostitute hired by Kushner. Kushner attempted to use the tape to prevent Schulder from testifying as a government witness at his trial for campaign fraud, tax evasion, and witness tampering.
The Trump White House was known to have used an Israeli firm that works closely with NSO Group, Black Cube, to secretly dig up dirt on three Barack Obama administration officials who were part of the U.S. nuclear talks with Iran, Benjamin Rhodes, Caroline Tess, and Colin Kahl.
Potential Pegasus blackmail by Trump and Kushner of Republicans include those like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who reportedly has a closet-full of gay sexual secrets; Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and wife Elaine Chao, Trump’s Transportation Secretary, who have amassed sizable bank accounts of dubiously-obtained cash; Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who faces a Hastert-like wresting coach gay sex scandal from his time at Ohio State University; and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and his alleged extramarital affairs, including one with former GOP Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC).
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).