Calcalist revealed Monday morning that in addition to individuals involved in the Netanyahu cases, Israel Police used NSO’s Pegasus spyware to track, without a court order, politicians, senior businessmen, CEOs of government ministries, mayors, executives of giant corporations, journalists, organizers of protests of almost every kind, advisers to the prime minister and his family, political activists, the disabled, and Ethiopians (ממנכ”לים של משרדי ממשלה ועד עיתונאים ואנשי עסקים: ההדבקה ההמונית בפגסוס הגיעה לכולם).
The sterile code name for this largely illegal operation was “Technology and Data-Oriented Policing.” But behind this scrubbed headline hid a chilling reality in both its essence and its inconceivable scope.
The staff of the Police Special Cyber-Signet Division has been invading people’s phones for years, secretly and without court orders, using Pegasus (“Saifan” in police jargon) with the understanding that judges would never approve such conduct.
For example, demonstrations and public protests, which in any democratic country are considered a cornerstone of free speech and an important instrument in balancing the power of government – Israeli police perceived these demonstrations and protests, no matter what or by whom, as security threats.
The Pegasus software was also installed on the phones of Ethiopian organizers of demonstrations who protested police brutality against them. Even Ethiopian mothers who protested police brutality against their children at the Azrieli junction in 2019 bothered the police to the point that they infected their phones with Pegasus. The same surveillance software was also planted on the phones of settlers in Judea and Samaria head of the evacuation of outposts.
The analysts working for the police cyber-signing unit who carried out the orders to illegally track down protesters were told they were gathering early intelligence over “fear of harm to the public order.”
Here’s an important point: the intelligence that was collected without a court order could not be used as such, and so Police investigators had to whitewash the data and pretend that it came from legal investigations – like painting the bullseye around the arrow on the wall.
At the top of the Pegasus pyramid stood the Commissioner, former deputy head of the Shin Bet, Roni Alsheikh (appointed by Netanyahu), and under him the head of the Signet Brigade, Lt. Gen. Yoav Hassan, and the head of the technology department, Yosef Kahlon, both of them graduates of the legendary IDF Intelligence Unit 8200.
According to the latest Calcalist report, Pegasus was planted on the phones of Netanya Mayor Miriam Fireberg, Holon Mayor Moti Sasson, Keren Terner Eyal who managed the Transport Ministry, and later the Finance Ministry, Emi Palmor, the former Director-General of the Justice Ministry, Businessman Rami Levy, Businesswoman Stella Handler, News 13 CEO Aviram Elad, and Avner Netanyahu, son of the former prime minister.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who used to be the Justice Minister, was Livid Monday morning on Reshet Bet Radio when she said: “If these things are true, it’s an earthquake. “These are very serious acts of the police that befit dark regimes, certainly not a democratic country. This is much broader than the Netanyahu trial, it’s tracking normative citizens. This must be stopped today. Such a thing must never happen. There’s no coalition and opposition on this issue. It must be checked today. An external commission of inquiry must be set up and it should have powers. I was shocked, I don’t believe this is my country.”
Emi Palmor, who reportedly was infected by the Police Pegasus, told Reshet Bet: “My gut feeling is that I criticized the police too much.”
She added, “I never walked around feeling that I should delete any correspondence, and I know people, including in government, who make sure to wipe their cellphones clean. I received messages that I was annoying the police too much. It’s a very difficult experience to wake up to this news in the morning. My feeling is that it was personal.”
“I have a very hard time believing the police,” Palmor said. “It will be very difficult to restore that trust, I wonder if it’s possible to put this genie back in the bottle. These revelations have a huge chilling effect on people who would have to be critical [of the police in the future].”
The cases against Netanyahu have now apparently been polluted by the Pegasus software to the point that had Israel had the equivalent to the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure and the doctrine of the fruit of the poison tree – those cases would have been thrown out by the court two weeks ago.
Here’s a fun fact: Netanyahu’s attorneys sent for voice identification the recording of a conversation about the illegal use of the spyware. Turns out the two speakers are Deputy Head of the Police Investigations and Intelligence Division, Lt. Gen. Yoav Telem, who conducted the investigation in Case 4000, and Zipi Gez, a former director of the Securities Authority’s Investigation and Intelligence Department. They both reportedly knew about the illegal software.
Telem is the policeman who produced the most confusing and tortured response regarding the illegal use of Pegasus: “We have found automated technological anomalies of materials, about which there is a legal dispute as to whether these are illegal actions.”
Yes, I bet they did.