The agency’s director told Congress it had bought a license to use Israeli remote snooping tool Pegasus
The FBI bought a license for banned Israeli spyware program Pegasus, the agency’s director Christopher Wray admitted in a closed session of Congress in December, according to a New York Times report published Saturday. However, they allegedly stopped short of using it amid a flurry of negative publicity surrounding the tool.
While Wray initially claimed the powerful phone-hacking program had been purchased in 2018 only “to be able to figure out how bad guys could use it,” internal agency documents and court records seen by the Times revealed that some agents planned to use it in criminal investigations and had made detailed plans for how to convince the bureau’s leadership to sign off on that use. They only stopped short of actually deploying it because of the growing storm of bad PR as other governments’ abuse of the tech to spy on their own citizens, journalists and political dissidents came to light.
Court documents also suggest the FBI hasn’t completely ruled out using Pegasus in the future – or deploying a similar hacking tool. Pegasus allows the user to remotely take control of the target’s phone, accessing messages, contacts, and the microphone and camera without their knowledge.
The US Department of Commerce blacklisted Pegasus’ developer, NSO Group, last year, forbidding US companies from doing business with it. While NSO protested its tech could not be used to hack American phone numbers, it makes a similar tool called Phantom that is designed to do just that. The FBI tested Phantom as well as Pegasus before shutting down all efforts to deploy the products in July 2021, according to the Times, indicating that it may have considered hacking the phones of Americans as well as foreigners.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) took issue with Wray’s selective confession, calling it “totally unacceptable for the FBI director to provide misleading testimony about the bureau’s acquisition of powerful hacking tools and then wait months to give the full story to Congress and the American people” in a statement to the Times. The bureau “owes Americans a clear explanation as to whether the future operational use of NSO tools is still on the table,” he said. FBI leadership eventually acknowledged in a letter to Wyden that it had purchased a license “to explore potential legal use of the NSO product” as well as the previously-acknowledged “potential security concerns.”
Congress is reportedly drafting a bill to ban government agencies from using foreign commercial spyware tools like Pegasus and Phantom.
Original Source: rt.com
US Officials ‘obsessed’ With Wagner Group – Media
The CIA and State Department have reportedly tried to pressure African governments into kicking out the Russian contractors
The Biden administration has attempted to pressure African nations into expelling the Wagner private military company, with the firm’s presence in Sudan and Libya “at the top of every meeting” between American and Egyptian officials, the Associated Press reported.
CIA Director William Burns focused on the group during recent trips to Egypt and Libya, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Wagner with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi during a jaunt to Cairo last month, the news agency reported on Saturday.
“Wagner obsesses [the American officials],” said an Egyptian senior government official. “It is at the top of every meeting.”
Egypt is a key conduit for American policy, with the Biden administration going as far as using Cairo to pass messages to Moscow, rather than communicating through direct channels. According to the report, the Egyptians reached out to their Sudanese and Libyan counterparts to relay Washington’s displeasure with Wagner.
Abbas Kamel, the director of Egypt’s Intelligence Directorate Agency, urged the head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan to address Wagner’s “use of Sudan as a base” for operations in Central Africa, a Sudanese official said. Burns himself visited Libya to speak to the country’s competing governments, discussing Wagner with Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar, the report claimed.
Egypt reportedly asked that Haftar not station Wagner soldiers near its borders, while the US demanded that Wagner fighters be removed from their posts safeguarding Libyan oil facilities.
Founded in 2014, Wagner has mainly operated as a security contractor in Africa and the Middle East. The precise details of its deployments are not made public, although Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has confirmed that his forces fought in Libya. He denied involvement in Sudan when asked by American journalists last year, saying at the time that he was “not aware of any evidence that the Wagner Group exists,” and that he had personally donated humanitarian aid to the conflict-stricken country.
“Who arranged wars and revolutions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Mozambique, Central Africa, and so on?” he told RT last month. “Some of these countries later turned to the Wagner PMC, which put an end to these wars with an iron fist.”
The US declared the Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization” last month, after Wagner forces notched up a series of victories against the Ukrainian military in Donbass.
Despite Washington’s apparent “obsession” with the group, “there is no evidence yet that the Biden administration’s pressure has yielded results in either Sudan or Libya,” the AP report noted.
Serbia Names ‘greatest’ Mistake by West
The decision to supply Kiev with battle tanks has only further united Russians, Aleksandar Vucic has said
The West’s recent announcement that it would be supplying Ukraine with main battle tanks marks a major miscalculation, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday. That’s as Moscow has threatened to burn any Western equipment that enters Ukraine and has vowed to retaliate “far beyond the scope of armored vehicles.”
Vucic noted that the decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, especially with the “terrifying” German Leopard 2s, is the West’s “biggest” political mistake because it effectively manages to “unite the Russians like never before.”
Last month, Germany and the US agreed to provide a number of heavy tanks to Kiev. Washington has promised between 30 and 50 of its M1 Abrams tanks, while Berlin pledged 14 Leopard 2A6s from the Bunderswehr’s own stocks. An additional 51 of the same model and 88 of the older Leopard 1 model may also come from Rheinmetall as they get refurbished, Germany said.
Berlin also gave the green light to countries that have expressed a desire to export their own Leopards to Ukraine. Those include Poland, Finland, Spain, Norway and the Netherlands. The UK and Canada have also said they would be sending their heavy equipment to Kiev.
The decision has been heavily criticized by Russia, which has called it an “extremely dangerous” move that threatens to escalate the conflict in Ukraine. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin likened the new threat of “German Leopard tanks with crosses on their hulls” to the Soviet Union’s struggle against Hitler’s forces and warned that Moscow’s response would not be limited to weapons.
Other countries have also voiced their concerns about the West’s move. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the delivery of NATO tanks to Ukraine was a “high-risk endeavor” that would fail to help end the conflict and only “line the pockets of gun barons.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also slammed Germany’s decision, noting that these Western countries are “drifting” towards becoming active participants in the conflict. Orban has insisted that instead of arming Kiev, the West should be pursuing “a ceasefire and peace talks” in Ukraine.
Moscow has repeatedly objected to Western weapon deliveries to Ukraine, arguing that non-stop arms shipments only serve to prolong the conflict and risk direct confrontation with NATO. The Kremlin has also insisted that no amount of military aid will prevent Moscow from reaching its objectives and warned that the tanks would “burn like the rest of Western weapons” supplied to Kiev.
Germany Approves Retired Tanks for Ukraine
Berlin has given German defense industry companies permission to export older Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, the German media reported on Friday, citing government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.
The official confirmed to journalists that a relevant export license was granted, without providing any further details.
“I do not want to say much more at the moment,” Hebestreit told journalists during a government press conference on Friday, according to Der Spiegel weekly. The official also said that further clarifications on the issue would be provided “within the coming days or weeks.”
Rheinmetall, one of Germany’s top arms manufacturers, suggested sending Leopard 1 tanks from its stocks to Ukraine as early as April 2022. At the time, the company stated it could supply up to 50 tanks to Ukraine within just six weeks if granted the government’s approval. The company also added that it was still checking on the condition of the tanks at the moment.
In mid-January, Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger told the tabloid Bild that it would take a long time to prepare the Leopard 1 tanks for potential export to Ukraine even if the company got a relevant license “tomorrow.” The tanks were “completely disassembled and built anew,” he said. According to Papperger, the delivery might take up to a year.
Der Spiegel reported on Friday that there were 29 Leopard 1 tanks largely ready for delivery, which were being stored by another defense manufacturer – the Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG). However, both Der Spiegel and SZ newspapers cited a lack of ammunition for the tanks in connection with the potential delivery.
Both Rheinmetall and FFG said they could potentially supply dozens of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine, but only if Kiev was willing to buy them, SZ reported. Earlier, Rheinmetall said that overhauling the heavy equipment would cost hundreds of millions of euros – a cost it could not cover on its own.
Earlier, Berlin also vowed to send 14 modern Leopard 2 main battle tanks out of the army’s stockpiles to Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the West for supplying weapons to Ukraine, arguing that they only served to prolong the conflict and human suffering.
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