The FBI reportedly considered using Pegasus spyware in its criminal investigations

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 management on the software, according to internal bureau documents and court filings seen by The temperature. These documents also reveal that the bureau had developed guidelines for federal prosecutors detailing how the FBI’s use of Pegasus should be disclosed during court cases.

Based on the documents, it is unclear whether the FBI had considered using the spyware against US citizens. Earlier this year, The temperature found that the agency tested Phantom, a version of Pegasus that can target phones with .

In July 2021, the FBI finally decided not to use Pegasus in criminal investigations. It is the same month as released an investigation claiming the software was used to compromise the phones of two women close to the murdered Saudi journalist . A few months later, the United States placed the creator of Pegasus NSO Group on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, a designation that bars American companies from doing business with the company. Despite the decision not to use Pegasus, the FBI has indicated that it remains open to the use of spyware in the future.

“Just because the FBI ultimately decided not to deploy the tool in support of criminal investigations doesn’t mean it wouldn’t test, evaluate, and potentially deploy other similar tools to access encrypted communications used by criminals,” says a filed by the FBI last month.

The documents appear to present a different picture of the agency’s interest in Pegasus than the one that FBI Director Chris Wray shared with Congress during a closed-door hearing last December. “If you mean whether we used it in any of our investigations to capture or target someone, the answer is – as I’m assured – no,” he said. . “The reason I’m covering, and I want to be transparent, is that we acquired some of their research and development tools. In other words, to be able to understand how the bad guys could use it, for example.

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Mark M. Gagnon