David Tamasi is a Founding Partner and Managing Director of Chartwell Strategy Group, a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, and a FARA-registered agent for NSO Group. The Commerce Department added NSO Group to its Entity List on November 4, 2021 for "engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States." NSO Group's Pegasus spyware has been used to target government officials, journalists, human rights defenders, and democracy activists throughout the world, including several American officials, journalists, and activists.
In his and his firm's work for NSO Group, Tamasi and Chartwell have breached their human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by contributing to, and benefiting from, human rights abuses through their activities for NSO Group. They have sought to promote the interests of NSO Group by contacting members of Congress, think tank experts, journalists, and opinion page editors with emails and op-ed submissions to communicate on NSO Group's behalf, despite evidence that showed ongoing abuses by the company leading to its sanction by the Commerce Department. There is no evidence to suggest that Tamasi and Chartwell disclosed accurate and complete information about NSO Group's record, including its sales of spyware to abusive governments known to misuse surveillance technology. In addition, Tamasi and Chartwell filed inaccurate information in their FARA disclosures to the Department of Justice, misrepresenting the fact that the Israeli government controls the work of NSO Group, as defined by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Two months after the Commerce Department blacklisted NSO Group, Chartwell began lobbying on behalf of the spyware company. On January 12, 2022, Chartwell, represented by Tamasi, registered with FARA to represent NSO Group via Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. Tamasi signed a contract with Brian Finch, a partner at Pillsbury, who has been a FARA-registered lobbyist for NSO Group since June 30, 2021. For the six-month contract, with possibility for extension, Tamasi charged a fee of $50,000 per month for the first three months, after which time a higher fee of up to $75,000 per month could be charged. According to the contract, Chartwell provides "strategic communications counsel," while Pillsbury provides direction and instruction to Chartwell. All fees are paid by NSO Group, which is identified in the contract as "the Client."
According to a Supplemental Statement filed with FARA on April 1, 2022, Tamasi launched a two-week email campaign on behalf of NSO Group targeting journalists, opinion page editors, and think tank experts with emails and op-ed submissions on the same day that Chartwell registered to lobby for NSO Group. On January 28, 2022, Tamasi started contacting staffers of members of Congress, including from the offices of Representative Mike Turner (R-OH), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Representative Darin LaHood (R-IL), who also sits on this committee. Tamasi also contacted the offices of Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Intelligence, and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, as well as professional staff of the House Intelligence Committee.
In November 2021, the U.S. Commerce Department added NSO Group to its Entity List, which subjected the company to specific license requirements for the export, reexport, or transfer of specified items under Export Administration Regulations. For NSO Group, these licensing requirements fall under the restrictions on end-user to end-user-based items. In its press release explaining its decision, the Commerce Department stated that NSO Group "developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers." The Commerce Department also noted that Pegasus spyware "enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent." It concluded that "[s]uch practices threaten the rules-based international order."
In addition to NSO Group, Chartwell has represented other technology companies that have sold their products to authoritarian states for surveillance and monitoring activities linked to repression and human rights abuse. In June 2019, Chartwell contracted with Pillsbury to lobby on behalf of iFlytek, a Chinese artificial intelligence company best known for its voice translation software. Chartwell renewed this contract in December 2019.
In October 2019—two months before Chartwell renewed its contract—the Commerce Department blacklisted iFlytek, along with several other companies implicated in the Chinese government's campaign of "repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance" of ethnic minorities throughout China. The Commerce Department added iFlytek to its Entity List on October 9, 2019, and in a statement after the filing, it said "[the] entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China's campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups."
Chartwell earned between $30,000 and $50,000 each month during the first six months it lobbied for iFlytek, and then $50,000 to $100,000 for at least the following six months. In April 2020, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) terminated a research contract with iFlytek, out of its concerns that the company was "supplying technology for surveilling Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang." Previously, in October 2017, a Human Rights Watch report detailed how iFlytek was developing "a pilot surveillance system that can automatically identify targeted voices in phone conversations" and selling this technology to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
Like with iFlytek, Tamasi and Chartwell ignored widespread negative reporting and adverse Congressional activity over NSO Group when deciding to lobby on behalf of the company.
On November 23, 2021, Apple filed a lawsuit against NSO Group, claiming that the company violated numerous federal and state laws and seeking to ban the company from appearing on any Apple device. Apple also sent threat notifications to journalists, activists, and other individuals targeted by Pegasus. Apple's lawsuit followed a similar 2019 lawsuit filed by WhatsApp, alleging that NSO Group violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and California's Comprehensive Data Access and Fraud Act.
On December 15, 2021, U.S. lawmakers led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling on them to impose Global Magnitsky sanctions on NSO Group and three other cyber companies. Following the publication of the letter, Senator Wyden said, "These surveillance mercenaries sold their services to authoritarian regimes with long records of human rights abuses, giving vast spying powers to tyrants." Senator Wyden, who represents Oregon, also called on the Oregon state pension fund to drop its investment in NSO Group.
NSO Group has received widespread criticism for the use of its Pegasus spyware in human rights abuses and transnational repression. In July 2021, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the technology, stating, "Revelations regarding the apparent widespread use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a variety of countries are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people's human rights."
These targets include Saudi dissident, journalist, and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) co-founder Jamal Khashoggi, as NSO Group's Pegasus spyware likely was used to facilitate his murder. Saudi operatives, acting under the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, killed Khashoggi on October 2, 2018 after luring him to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. While NSO Group has repeatedly denied that its software was used by Saudi officials involved in Khashoggi's murder, Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident and close associate of Khashoggi, discovered Pegasus spyware installed on his phone before Khashoggi's murder. Saudi officials used the Pegasus software embedded on Abdulaziz's phone to spy on and monitor Khashoggi's movements in the months before his murder. Saudi officials also used the spyware to monitor Khashoggi's friends and associates, as well as other Saudi dissidents and human rights activists, after his murder.
According to his Chartwell profile, Tamasi is a leading Republican fundraiser having served on numerous presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial national finance committees over the past two decades, including the last four presidential campaign cycles. He was finance director of the Trump Victory Fund and he has been featured in Politico as a "Power Player." The Hill annually lists Tomasi as a "Top Lobbyist," and he is a Member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department.
DAWN calls on David Tamasi and his firm, Chartwell Strategy Group, to drop its contract with NSO Group immediately, to conduct a thorough review of all its clients, and to cease representation of clients such as NSO Group whose policies do not comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Under the Guiding Principles, businesses have a responsibility "to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities" as well as "to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts." Lobbying on behalf of governments, agencies, officials, or companies responsible for serious human rights abuses, while misrepresenting or omitting information about their abuses of international human rights law or international humanitarian law, or obtaining, sustaining, or expanding military, political, or economic support for them, effectively contributes to, and benefits from, such abuses. Tamasi and Chartwell are contributing to, and benefiting from, NSO Group's abuses, supporting its business of selling Pegasus spyware to abusive regimes.
Moreover, by failing to accurately represent their client to FARA and in their lobbying activities, Tamasi and Chartwell are violating the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying, which recommend that all lobbyists conduct their professional activities with "integrity and honesty."
For additional information, see DAWN's detailed recommendations to Congress, lobbyists, and U.S. State Bar Associations on our Lobbyist Hall of Shame.