Ex-Israeli police chief dismisses claims of spyware hacking

February 9, 2022 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s former police chief said Wednesday that recent allegations about police using sophisticated spyware to hack the phones of prominent officials and protesters have “no bearing on reality.”

The remarks by Roni Alsheikh, who was head of the national police force during some of the alleged snooping, followed reports this week in a local business newspaper that police illegally used the NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus on the phones of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son and others, prompting a high-level investigation and upending the opposition leader’s corruption trial.

In addition members of Netanyahu’s inner circle, other alleged targets of police surveillance have included former ministry directors, mayors and political activists.

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Alsheikh said in a video released to the media that now that the names of alleged targets have been published, “from this moment, it’s possible to confirm or deny or get a clearer factual picture.”

The comments mark the first time Alsheikh spoke about the reports since the story broke last month.

“As someone who’s closely familiar with the system, I had no doubt that the picture published has no bearing on reality,” said Alsheikh, who retired from the police in 2018.

None of the allegations published by the Calcalist newspaper have cited sources. Still, claims that the police used the powerful Pegasus surveillance software against civilians has roiled the country. Pegasus has been linked to a number of abuses by authoritarian governments around the world.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told reporters that the allegations “if they indeed happened — are serious things” and that he was pushing his investigators to determine whether police misused the technology.

“When we get the answer, we will make a decision,” he said.