As recently as early last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was considering using NSO Group’s infamous Pegasus spyware in criminal investigations, . Between late 2020 and early 2021, agency officials were in the “advanced” stages of developing plans to brief FBI leadership on the software, according to internal bureau documents and court records seen by The Times. Those documents also reveal the bureau had developed guidelines for federal prosecutors detailing how the FBI’s use of Pegasus would need to be disclosed during court cases.
Based on the documents, it’s unclear if the FBI had considered using the spyware against American citizens. This was earlier in the year. The Times It was found that Phantom, a version Pegasus capable of targeting phones with a targeted approach, had been tested by the agency. .
In July 2021, the FBI had decided not to use Pegasus for criminal investigations. That’s the same month that Published an investigation that claimed that the software was used to compromise two women who were close to a murdered Saudi journalist. . A few months later, the US placed Pegasus creator NSO Group on the Commerce Department’s entity list, a designation that prevents US companies from conducting business with the firm. The FBI indicated that it is open to using spyware in future, despite the fact that Pegasus was not used.
“Just because the FBI ultimately decided not to deploy the tool in support of criminal investigations does not mean it would not test, evaluate and potentially deploy other similar tools for gaining access to encrypted communications used by criminals,” states a Last month, the FBI filed this information.
The documents appear to present a different picture of the agency’s interest in Pegasus than the one FBI Director Chris Wray shared with Congress during a closed-doors hearing this past December. “If you mean have we used it in any of our investigations to collect or target somebody, the answer is – as I’m assured – no,” he . “The reason why I hedge, and I want to be transparent, that we have acquired some of their tools for research and development. In other words, to be able to figure out how bad guys could use it, for example.”
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