Jeh Johnson must rescind endorsement of NSO Group following revelations concerning the company's violations
In a letter to former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Charles Johnson, DAWN calls on him to retract his public endorsement of NSO Group's Human Rights Policy.
Since his endorsement, NSO Group has been sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Commerce. On July 20, DAWN charged four lobbyists and their firms with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by misrepresenting the relationship between the Israeli spyware company and the Government of Israel, and filed a complaint with the FARA Unit at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The full text of the letter can be read below.
August 3, 2022
Mr. Jeh Charles Johnson
Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, LLP
1285 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019
Dear Mr. Johnson,
I am writing in regard to the letter you presented on September 3, 2019, to the Board of Directors of OSY Technologies s.a.r.l., the Luxembourg-based subsidiary of NSO Group, maker of notorious Pegasus spyware. In that letter, you certified that the Human Rights Policy that was then being proposed was in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We are writing to ask that you issue a public statement withdrawing your certification in light of recent revelations concerning NSO Group's clear violations of the Human Rights Policy you endorsed.
Since the issuance of your letter, the Pegasus Project has been published, NSO Group has been sanctioned by the U.S Department of Commerce and you have terminated your relationship with the company. On July 20, DAWN released an investigation into the four lobbyists currently working for NSO Group and filed a complaint with the Department of Justice that they failed to accurately stipulate the relationship of the Government of Israeli to the company – namely that the Israeli government has political control (as defined by the FARA statute) over the company.
This control was also in effect at the time you issued your 2019 letter. As such, by reviewing and approving the Human Rights Policy, you were effectively providing cover for the Israeli government, even as it had already emerged that the spyware was being widely used by authoritarian and human right abusing regimes to target human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and dissidents. There had not been at that point, nor since, any evidence to back claims by the company that the spyware was used against criminals, traffickers or terrorists. In fact, recent examples show how those targeted with the spyware are labeled terrorists, after the deployment of spyware, in order to justify its use and – in circular logic – thus the labelling itself.
While we acknowledge your 2019 letter only addresses and confirms that the Human Rights Policy conforms in theory to the UN Guiding Principles (the letter is clear that the policy is untested at that time), the reality is that even your findings are questionable by the evidence that was available at the time. First, as our investigation has determined, the company is under the direct political control (in addition to regulatory control) of the Government of Israel.
The first assurance you cite about the policy is misleading because the control of which governments receive (or do not receive) contracts was not determined by the company alone, but rather by the Prime Minister's office (for example, in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Ukraine) and according to political considerations. Your determination is inaccurate and the practice runs counter to the spirit and meaning of the Guiding Principles. In the second instance of the End User Agreement, it has become clear that both because of the political control and the inability of NSO Group to compel clients to self-report abuse, the provision in the Policy is meaningless.
NSO Group's Human Rights Policy is at best a tick box exercise to satisfy nervous investors and to answer critics, and at worst a cynical effort to enlist respected lawyers, former officials and security sector experts such as yourself to lend your name and credibility to a public relations scam. The fact that this letter remains a matter of public record and the only statement from you regarding NSO Group and Pegasus spyware means that your good name and reputation continues to be used by the company for its own benefit.
We are writing today to request that you issue a public statement withdrawing your assessment of NSO Group's Human Rights Policy and acknowledging the Commerce
Department's determination that NSO Group was "engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States." It
cannot be that the company is in compliance with UN Guiding Principles and is a threat to the national security of the United States, as well as providing a tool enabling "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."
Your ongoing silence on this matter leaves the letter as your only public statement in regard to NSO Group, and we are asking that you take this opportunity to clarify the
I remain available for any questions about our investigation, the complaint to the DOJ or any other issues related to the human rights abuses of NSO Group and Pegasus spyware.
Director of Advocacy, Israel/Palestine