Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
A Saudi Arabian-based dissident based in Montreal, Canada filed a lawsuit this week against the NSO Group, an Israeli cyber-security firm. The complaint alleges that the Saudi government has used company software to spy on talks with journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Omar Adbulaziz filed the case in Tel Aviv. He told NPR that he had exchanged hundreds of text messages with Khashoggi over encrypted messaging apps before being told that their communications had been intercepted.
"Jamal was killed two months later, and the conversation between us certainly played an important role in what happened to Jamal," Abdulaziz said.
One of the ideas that Abdulaziz discussed with Khashoggi was mobilizing youth and dissidents within the country into a "cyber army" that could use Twitter to share information about human rights abuses. "We did not work on something dangerous, we did not do anything illegal, we just planned to have our own peaceful army to spread awareness through social media," Abdulaziz said.
Toronto-based Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak, who is investigating digital espionage, told NPR that he has found evidence of spyware activity in Montreal, which he believes last summer saw the NSO group and Saudi Arabia were related. "I was able to identify this infection in Montreal and moved between two different locations: an Internet Internet Service Provider and an Internet Internet Service Provider." Marczak then tracked down Saudi Arabian dissidents in Montreal, which could be targeted for surveillance, and found Abdulaziz, who spoke out against the Saudi Arabian government following his move to Canada.
Marczak found out that Abdulaziz was sent "a fake parcel tracking notice from DHL with a malicious link to spyware" that could intercept encrypted apps and voice calls, and remotely turn on the phone's microphone and webcam.
The NSO Group made a statement stating that the lawsuit was "completely unfounded" and "there is no evidence that the company's technology was used."
"Our Products Are Only Approved for the Provision of Governments and Law Enforcers The Right to Actfully Counter Terrorism and Crime in the Modern Age We have a very conscientious approach to licensing our products, which will only take place after full review and licensing the Israeli government, "the NSO Group statement said.
The Associated Press reports: "The NSO Group's smartphone hacking technology has become a favorite with authorities seeking to break dissent in the Middle East and Latin America." The Israeli company's software is part of a larger malware program. Family that allows spies Remote control of telephones from anywhere in the world – transforming the devices in the pockets of targeted individuals into powerful surveillance tools. "
" NSO was founded by Israeli entrepreneurs and donated $ 130 million to the US in 2014 – American private equity firm Francisco Partners sold Today, the company employs approximately 600 people and has an estimated value of over $ 1 billion, "said the AP.
Danny Ingleton, Amnesty International Deputy Program Director, told NPR that one of the group's employees was also targeting NSO software. The Amnesty employee received a text containing "a bait message about information about protests outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US". and provided a link to spyware that was created by the NSO Group, according to Amnesty.
Just a few weeks before Khashoggi's death, Marczak Abdulaziz informed that his phone had been intercepted. The two dissidents had exchanged news almost daily and had a close relationship.
"Jamal was not my friend two years ago," Abdulaziz told NPR. "He was in favor of the government and we had our disagreements and we did not have a good time together." When MBS became crown prince and decided to control the country, he decided to abuse his power and Jamal left Saudi Arabia. "[19659008Bothhadleftclosefamilymembersandfriendsathome"JamalmissedhisfamilyhisdaughtershischildrenhissonsandImissedmyparents"saidAbdulaziz"Hewasawisemanhewasmymentor"
Abdulaziz told NPR that he and Khashoggi were targeted by social media trolls last year – trolls he believed were tied to the Saudi Arabian government. "They've threatened Jamal so many times, so many tweets, so many people said to Jamal," We're going to kill you, "Abdulaziz said.
He and Khashoggi were planning to send cumbersome SIM cards to citizens in Saudi Arabia. Abdulaziz said Khashoggi promised to invest $ 30,000 in the project and had already transferred $ 5,000 to Abdulaziz to cover the costs. "[Saudi Arabia’s government] did not like that 'Because the only place they can spread their rumors, they can control and sustain the local narratives, is the social media, especially Twitter,' said Abdulaziz.
Since talking about Khashoggi's death and listening to communication with him Abdulaziz says he has received offers to provide financial support to people inside and outside Saudi Arabia. "MBS has so many enemies. I do not want to call them enemies, but they believe he's the problem, he's the problem for Saudi Arabia, and he should be thrown out of his position, or he'll do it. Not only will destroy Saudi Arabia, he will Destroy region.
When asked if he was worried about Khashoggi's brutal murder, Abdulaziz replied, "I'm motivated. More than ever before. "