US intel backed potential purchase of NSO Group by American firm - NYT

Despite the Biden administration's outrage over the potential deal, some US intel officials "quietly supported" the L3Harris deal, NYT reports.

 A man walks past the logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel July 22, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A man walks past the logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel July 22, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

US intelligence officials "quietly supported" the potential sale of troubled Israeli company NSO Group to US defense contractors L3Harris, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The negotiations for the deal, which was leaked by US and Israeli media in June, broke apart following the reports, NYT said.

The main item on the agenda during the negotiations was the sale of NSO's core code to L3Harris, according to the Guardian. Intelligence officials were supportive of the deal due to the intense interest shared by intelligence and security agencies worldwide in NSO's software.

US President Joe Biden's administration was reportedly furious by the report of the American defense contractor's interest in NSO Group, which was blacklisted by the US Commerce Department back in November of last year. 

A senior White House official said that "such a transaction, if it were to take place, raises serious counterintelligence and security concerns for the US government."

"Such a transaction, if it were to take place, raises serious counterintelligence and security concerns for the US government."

Senior White House official

According to the Guardian, neither the Israeli nor American government approved the reported agreement between NSO and L3Harris. Now, the NYT report some US officials did support the deal, although only from the shadows.

The logo of L3Harris is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, US, July 1, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)The logo of L3Harris is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, US, July 1, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)

Israel has asked the US administration several times in recent months to remove the cyber company from its blacklist, Walla reported in June citing two senior Israeli officials and a senior American official.

The officials said the Biden administration was considering the Israeli request. However, another senior government official denied the allegations, saying that when Israel raised the request, it was made clear that the White House would not intervene.

The sale of Israel's NSO and Pegasus

NSO has been reeling since July 2021, since a worldwide media campaign against it alleging a range of abuses by its customers against heads of state, journalists and human rights activists.

The group has been discussing a sale of its assets since then-chairman of NSO Asher Levy's resignation from the spy firm in January. Reports of talks between NSO Group and several US-based firms began a day after Levy resigned. One of the groups mentioned to be in talks was venture capital firm Integrity Partners.

"The company generates great interest with a few US-based funds, and the company is in talks with them all," an NSO spokesperson said back in January. "Any other speculation is false."

The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) acquired the company's Pegasus spyware for $9 million back in 2019. However, the FBI claimed the spyware was never used in any FBI investigation and instead bought as a one-year test project.

The report comes the very week Biden is scheduled to visit Israel as part of his upcoming trip to the Middle East.