During the Trump administration, the FBI paid $5 million to an Israeli software company for a license to use its “zero-click” surveillance software called Pegasus. Zero-click refers to software that can download the contents of a target’s computer or mobile device without the need for tricking the target into clicking on it. The FBI operated the software from a warehouse in New Jersey.
Before revealing any of this to the two congressional intelligence committees to which the FBI reports, it experimented with the software. The experiments apparently consisted of testing Pegasus by spying – illegally and unconstitutionally since no judicially issued search warrant had authorized the use of Pegasus – on unwitting Americans by downloading data from their devices.
When congressional investigators got wind of these experiments, the Senate Intelligence Committee summoned FBI Director Christopher Wray to testify in secret about the acquisition and use of Pegasus, and he did so in December 2021. He told the mostly pliant senators that the FBI only purchased Pegasus “to be able to figure out how bad guys could use it.” Is that even believable?
In follow-up testimony in March 2022, Wray elaborated that Pegasus was used “as part of our routine responsibilities to evaluate technologies that are out there, not just from a perspective of could they be used someday legally, but also, more important, what are the security concerns raised by those products.” More FBI gibberish.
Last week, dozens of internal FBI memos and court records told a different story – a story that has caused Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to question the veracity of Wray’s testimony. Wyden’s healthy skepticism caused the FBI reluctantly to reveal that it had ordered its own version of Pegasus, called Phantom, which the Israelis tailor-made for hacking American mobile devices.
Here is the backstory.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution was written to preserve the natural right to privacy and to cause law enforcement to focus on crimes, not surveillance. The instrument of these purposes is the requirement of a judicially issued search warrant before the government can engage in any surveillance.