Shalev Hulio, co-founder and CEO of NSO, says his industry is full of companies trying to avoid scrutiny.
Shalev Hulio wants to explain himself.
Normally, silence and secrecy are inherent in the spy business. For nine full years, Hulio never talked publicly about his billion-dollar hacking company—even when his hacking tools were linked to scandal or he was accused of being complicit in human rights abuses around the world. Lately, though, he’s speaking up.
“People don’t understand how intelligence works,” Hulio tells me over a video call from Tel Aviv. “It’s not easy. It’s not pleasant. Intelligence is a shitty business full of ethical dilemmas.”
The business he leads, NSO Group, is the world’s most notorious spyware company. It’s at the center of a booming international industry in which high-tech firms find software vulnerabilities, develop exploits, and sell malware to governments. The Israeli-headquartered company has been linked to high-profile incidents including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and spying against politicians in Spain.
Ten years after founding the company, he made the rare decision to speak about NSO Group, the intelligence industry, and what transparency could look like for spyware companies. This, he says, is the most important thing the industry can do now: “We’ve been accused, with good reason, of not being transparent enough.”
Culture of silence
Formerly a search-and-rescue commander in Israel’s military and then an entrepreneur focused on technology that remotely accessed smartphones, Hulio has said he founded NSO Group in 2010 at the urging of European intelligence agencies. Back then, NSO marketed itself as a state-of-the-art cyberwarfare firm.
It entered the global spotlight in 2016 when Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates, received what’s been called the most famous text message of all time. Researchers say it was a sophisticated phishing lure sent by a government; it contained a link that, if clicked, would have taken over Mansoor’s phone with spyware. Experts at Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, analyzed the link and pointed to Pegasus, NSO’s flagship product. The revelation led to a great deal of scrutiny of the company, but NSO remained silent. (Mansoor is currently serving a decade-long prison sentence for insulting the monarchy—a dictator’s description of his work to further human rights.)
That response was partly a function of the company’s ownership at the time. In 2014, NSO had been bought for around $100 million by the American private equity firm Francisco Partners, which had a strict no-press policy that Hulio says led to a harmful culture of silence.
“No interviews—we couldn’t talk to journalists except to say no comment, no comment, no comment,” he says. “It created lots of bad things for us, because every time we were accused of abuse, we had no comment.”
This, he says, was a mistake to be avoided in the future by companies like NSO—which last year was sold for $1 billion to the European private equity firm Novalpina and the original founders, including Hulio himself.
“The industry should be more transparent,” Hulio says. “Each company should be much more accountable for who they sell to, who are the customers, what is the end use for each customer.”
In fact, the text sent to Mansoor proved to be a blessing in disguise for investigators. Mansoor, who had already been targeted by surveillance for many years, was suspicious and didn’t click the poisoned link. Instead, he shared it with experts. But these days the hacking industry is increasingly using more advanced techniques that keep their activities as unobtrusive as possible—including so-called “zero-click” techniques that infect targets without their taking any action at all. WhatsApp is suing NSO Group for hacking the app to silently infect phones. Targets in Morocco have reportedly experienced “network injection” hacks that raise no alarm, require no cooperation from the victim, and leave little trace.
“The pitch from hacking companies is that criminals and terrorists are going dark because of encryption and states need an ability to chase them down their dark hole,” says John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab. “Increasingly, at the high end, companies selling these techniques are the ones going dark. It’s not just WhatsApp. We’ve seen sales of vulnerabilities against iMessage, [telephone software] SS7 as a delivery for zero-click vulnerabilities, and a lot of network injection. Because of this, it’s almost impossible for us to get visibility of the scale of the problem. We can only guess at scale. We only know some players. The market is growing, but we lack a lot of information about abuses.”
“Each [spyware] company should be much more accountable for who they sell to, who are the customers, what is the end use for each customer.”
It was never an easy job to understand the full scope of the hacker-for-hire industry. Now the techniques and indicators investigators have long relied on as clues are becoming rarer, quieter, and more difficult to spot. The stealthy new arsenal makes it extraordinarily difficult to hold hacking companies and intelligence agencies accountable when human rights abuses occur.
Perhaps surprisingly, Hulio agrees emphatically that the hacking industry is going dark. When I ask him if the industry is taking enough steps toward transparency and accountability, he shakes his head and points a finger at his competitors:
“Actually, I think it’s the other way around. The industry is going away from regulation. I see companies trying to hide activity and hide what they’re doing. It’s damaging the industry.”
By contrast, Hulio claims, NSO is trying to reverse course under its new ownership. Although it is facing the high-profile WhatsApp lawsuit and dozens of allegations of abuse of Pegasus, Hulio insists the company is evolving. The fact that he’s talking to journalists at all is one obvious change, he says, and so are the new self-governance policies and a public commitment to adhere to the United Nations Human Rights Guidelines. How much the talk translates to reality is still an open question: three days after the company announced a new human rights policy in 2019, researchers from Amnesty International say, Pegasus was used to hack Moroccan journalist Omar Radi.
But Hulio suggests that his rivals are dodging transparency and accountability by moving their businesses or finding havens to operate from.
“They’re opening companies in countries where you don’t have regulation mechanisms, in Latin America, Europe, the Asia Pacific region—where regulation is very weak, so you can export to countries that you cannot export to from Israel or other places in Europe,” he explains. “I see companies trying to hide activity by changing the name of the company over and over again. Or through mechanisms like building research and development in one site, sales cycle to a different company, deployment through a third company, so you cannot trace who is doing what.”
That may be true, but NSO Group itself goes by a string of other names, including Q Cyber Technologies in Israel and OSY Technologies in Luxembourg. It has a North American wing called Westbridge. Its employees are spread out internationally. Israeli media have reported on company’s links to shell companies and byzantine deals. Over the years, it has operated a confusing network of other companies around the world, and this corporate maze has made it nearly impossible to understand its dealings and actions—a crucial task when hacking tools can be abused by authoritarian governments with devastating consequences.
“Just like there are countries that act as tax shelters, there are countries that act as export regulation shelters. Those countries need global mechanisms of regulation.”
So what would accountability look like? When NSO Group first appeared, the Wassenaar Arrangement, a crucial arms export control agreement between 42 countries, had no cyber dimension. Israel had no cyber export law. Now Israel’s Ministry of Defense is governed by the country’s Defense Export Control Law—NSO Group has reportedly never been denied an export license—but on a global scale, the hacking industry remains largely hidden, opaque, and unaccountable despite its growing power and capabilities.
“There are loopholes,” Hulio says. “Not all countries are part of the Wassenaar agreement. I truly think it’s very hard to do something international. Obviously international is a great idea, but just like there are countries that act as tax shelters, there are countries that act as export regulation shelters. Those countries need global mechanisms of regulation.”
Who is in the crosshairs?
Dozens of abuses by users of NSO’s technology have been alleged since the Mansoor incident first pointed a spotlight at the company. When such allegations are made, NSO begins an investigation. If accounts conflict, NSO can demand logs that reveal targets. More often than not, Hulio says, the customer will say that the allegations against it are true, the targeting is real—but that their actions were legal under local law and the contract they signed. That leaves it up to NSO and the customer to hash out whether the targeting is indeed legitimate.
Much of the criticism directed at NSO Group comes when researchers say Pegasus is used against lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, and politicians. But Hulio says the context can justify such actions—that these people can be legitimate surveillance targets as long as the law is followed. He points to events surrounding the capture in 2014 of the Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Although it has never confirmed it publicly, NSO Group has privately touted its role in the operation for years.
“Chapo ran away from prison,” Hulio says. “People like Chapo or [ISIS leader Omar Bakr] al-Baghdadi don’t carry smartphones. When Chapo escaped, they thought he probably eventually will call his lawyer, so let’s try to intercept the lawyer. The lawyer is not a bad person—and I’m not saying we were involved. The lawyer by himself is not a suspect of criminal activity, but El Chapo, who is a criminal, is going to call his lawyer, and the only way to catch him is to intercept his lawyer.”
It’s the kind of case that’s easy to make. Murderous drug lord, extreme police action, front-page mugshots. But most allegations of misuse don’t resemble the El Chapo case. Gulf nations have repeatedly been accused of using Pegasus to target political opposition, resulting later in trumped-up charges for offending royal families or the like.
Hulio says that often NSO is accused of work that other spyware companies are responsible for.
“We ask very tough questions when we sell a system, but I’m not sure everyone is doing that,” he says. “I have no problem sitting in front of the minister of defense of a country, or the head of police, or of the secret service, and asking: What is the use? What’s the target? What is the mission? What are the investigations? What is the process you use? How do you analyze the data? Who needs to approve each target? What is the law in your specific country—how does it work? Questions a lot of companies really don’t care about. They have a deal—they want to sell. They will sell it because it’s good money for them.”
We’ve gone full circle, arriving back in a thick tangle of secrecy. Money is flowing, abuses keep happening, and the hacking tools are proliferating: no one disputes that.
But who is accountable when brutal authoritarians get their hands on cutting-edge spyware to use against opponents? An already shadowy world is getting darker, and answers are becoming harder to come by.
What Happened: Dr. Anthony Fauci recently explained that the US “could see individual institutions mandating a vaccine.” As of now, it seems quite clear that this vaccine will not be mandatory, but what seems to be the case is that health authorities may make it mandatory to travel, and individual institutions that employ people, for example, may make it mandatory as well. Who really knows at this point. We do seem to be trending in that direction though, perhaps we won’t be if a majority of people simply don’t accept it?
Why do we always comply with that which does not resonate? Why do we give away our consciousness and allow our perception to be moulded by a small group of powerful people?
One thing is for certain, wherever a vaccine mandate pops up there will be a tremendous amount of controversy. Fauci told CNN last month that vaccine education efforts in the US is “not going to be easy” and went on to say that “there is a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country – an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking.” He went on to say that “we have a lot of work to do” with regards to educating people “on the truth about vaccines.”
This type of “education” seems to be the censoring of any information, no matter how credible, that paints vaccines in a questionable light. It also seems to be complemented by a massive campaign of ridicule, as Fauci did above. How can a number of scientists and doctors who support informed consent and question vaccine safety “uneducated?”
Perhaps skepticism about vaccines is growing because people are becoming educated? Is this why we now have a digital authoritarian Orwellian fact-checker patrolling the internet? Should people not be able to examine information and evidence from other experts and decide for themselves what is instead of having a “fact-checker” it for them?
Why This Matters
When Bill Gates said that the world won’t go back to completely normal until we get a vaccine, his Instagram feed was littered with comments from people who oppose vaccines. This is the result of vaccine hesitancy, something that continues to grow among people, physicians and scientists. This point was recently emphasized at the World Health Organization’s summit on vaccine safety. You can read more about it here.
Multiple studies suggest that this hesitancy is a result of not only faulty products that have caused injury, but also a lack of trust in pharmaceutical companies. Furthermore, multiple studies call into question vaccine safety, and the need for more appropriate safety testing. Take aluminum, for example, it’s been added to vaccines for more than 100 years simply because it’s been presumed safe. Studies have not been conducted to actually prove that it’s safe. There are still many unanswered questions with regards to where these metals end up in our body after they are injected. Studies are already showing that injected aluminum doesn’t exit the body like the aluminum we take in from food, for example, and that the substance may end up in distant organs and eventually lodged within the brain. (source)(source)(source)(source)
According to a MedAlerts search of the FDA Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database, as of 2/5/19, the cumulative raw count of adverse events from measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines alone was: 93,929 adverse events, 1,810 disabilities, 6,902 hospitalizations, and 463 deaths. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act has paid out approximately $4 billion to compensate families of vaccine-injured children. As astronomical as the monetary awards are, they’re even more alarming considering HHS claims that only an estimated 1% of vaccine injuries are even reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS).
This act has already paid 4 billion dollars to families of vaccine injured children has now been paid to families of vaccine injured makes it quite clear that vaccines are not a one size fits all product, and injuries could be happening at a far greater rate than what we have been told, as emphasized above.
These concerns aren’t even the tip of the ice-berg, and it’s a shame that, in today’s day in age, concerns raised about vaccines in a credible, scientific way are often ridiculed rather than countered in a peaceful manner. This is usually the result of mainstream media also ridiculing the idea of questioning vaccine safety.
Why are the points made by vaccine safety advocates never addressed? Why are they simply met with ridicule?
One of the biggest problems we have to day with regards to science is the politicization of it. And one of the biggest problems we have with regards to health is the amount of fraud that plagues the industry. Our federal health regulatory agencies have been completely corrupted, and there are countless amounts of examples that prove this, like the Spider Papers, among many others.
Some people have accused Fauci of this, with his connections to bill gates, the Pharmaceutical company Moderna who seems to be winning the race for the vaccine, and his position as the Director. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
It’s great news that the new coronavirus vaccine will not be mandatory, but again, the idea that it could be mandatory or perhaps necessary to travel and enter into certain public places is concerning to many. To single out these individuals under the premise that unvaccinated individuals are a danger to vaccinated individuals is completely unscientific.
Is this the world we want to live in? One in which we are forced into specific measures if we want to be part of society? It’s been happening with children for a long time with regards to public schooling, are we making our way to mandatory vaccines for adults?
Are these measures for the greater good of everybody? Why does so much evidence exist showing that vaccines don’t really protect the “whole”?
At the end of the day, more people are loosing trust in federal health regulatory agencies, it’s never to late to take your power back and start thinking for yourself and doing your own research.
This is one of many ways in which the world changes, with information, awareness and transparency.
The picture you see above is of Nina Kulagina, a citizen of the former Soviet Union who has apparently demonstrated psychokinetic influence on physical objects. She caused quite a stir at the time, and in 1968 Western researchers attending a conference were shown a video of her in action.
Are there human beings in the world who have gifted abilities that go beyond any sort of explanation? Cases of mind influencing matter have been reported throughout human history across almost all cultures, in various texts from the Vedic scriptures and the Yoga Sutras all the way to the Bible and more. The Oracle of Delphi, Jesus, Moses, Milarepa, Mohammed and many more names come to mind. These abilities include telepathy, psychokinesis, and other phenomena that lie within the realm of parapsychology.
“Among the most marvelous, most frightening and certainly most unbelievable possibilities suggested by psychic folklore is that human beings may be able to exert an observable influence upon the physical world — simply through the power of conscious intention; or unconscious intention, or; by some accounts, through the assistance of spiritual intelligences; or as a result of a mysterious principle known as synchronicity. Some scholars – such as Stephen Braude, professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland — take such reports very seriously, claiming that no honest person can examine the case study reports and easily dismiss them.” – Jeffrey Mishlove, from his book, The PK Man: A True Story of Mind Over Matter
Donald Lopez Jr., a professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies and the University of Michigan, provides a great example in describing the Buddha:
With this enlightenment, he was believed to possess all manner of supernormal powers, including full knowledge of each of his own past lives and those of other beings, the ability to know others’ thoughts, the ability to create doubles of himself, the ability to rise into the air and simultaneously shoot fire and water from his body…Although he passed into nirvana at the age of eighty-one, he could have lived “for an aeon or until the end of the aeon” if only he had been asked to do so. (source)
Experiments In Psychokinesis
Fast forward to today, and there is plenty of research that’s been conducted by scientists all over the world, and within the highest levels of government, that have illustrated the fascinating phenomena of mind influencing matter within human beings having these abilities, as well as some interesting observations at the quantum level as well.
One example comes from a document I found within the electronic reading room at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Agencies like the CIA have long conducted research into the paranormal and they have also kept tabs on the research and developments within this realm from other countries. However, despite the fact that there is an abundance of declassified literature available within this realm that is quite mind-altering in itself, it’s safe to assume that the most astonishing discoveries remain highly classified, at least in my opinion.
The document is entitled “Research Into Paranormal Ability To Break Through Spatial Barriers.” I’ve cited it in many of my articles before, but never specifically dedicated an article to the document itself. This document reviews experiments by the Aerospace Medicine Engineering Institute in Beijing, which the CIA believed was “probably military operated.” It was reported in the July 1990 issue of the Chinese Journal of Somatic Science (Kongzhi et al., 1990; Jinggen et al., 1990; Banghui, 1990), and was translated into English by the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency).
The document highlights experiments involving the videotaping and high-speed photography of the transfer of test specimens (nuts, bundles of matches, pills, nails, thread, photosensitive paper, chemically treated paper, sponges dipped in FeCl3, etc.) through the walls of sealed paper envelopes, double layered KCNS-type paper bags, sealed glass bottles and tubes with sealed caps, and sealed plastic film canisters without the walls of any of these containers being breached. All of the Chinese experiments reported using gifted children and young adults, who possessed well-known extraordinary PK (psychokinetic) ability that allowed them to teleport the various test specimens. In all the experimental cases that were reported, the test specimens that were teleported were completely unaltered or unchanged from their initial state. Even the insects were approved for public release since they had been unaffected by having been teleported.
Repeatable And Well-Controlled
According to a declassified Air Force study by scientist Eric W. Davis entitled Teleportation Physics Study, which I obtained from the Federation of American Scientists, “the experiments were well-controlled, scientifically recorded, and the experimental results were always repeatable.” Davis also gives similar validation for earlier experiments in China:
A more spectacular series of rigorously controlled (and repeatable!) laboratory experiments occurred in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). In September 1981, an extraordinary paper was published in the PRC in the journal Ziran Zazhi (transl.: Nature Journal), and this paper was entitled, “Some Experiments on the Transfer of Objects Performed by Unusual Abilities of the Human Body” (Shuhuang et al., 1981). The paper reported that gifted children were able to cause the apparent teleportation of small objects (radio micro-transmitters, photosensitive paper, mechanical watches, horseflies, other insects, etc.) from one location to another (that was meters away) without them ever touching the objects beforehand. The experiments were operated under exceptionally well-controlled conditions (both blind and double-blind). The researchers involved included not only observers from various PRC colleges and medical research institutes, but also representatives from the PRC National Defense Science Commission. Because of the involvement of the latter, it was deemed necessary that an unclassified Intelligence Information Report be prepared by the DIA (see Shuhuang et al., 1981), which included a detailed English translation of the article.
At the end of the day, when you start exploring quantum physics, consciousness and mind/matter interactions, as well as parapsychology which encompasses all of those fields into one, it really expands one’s consciousness. There is so much we have yet to discover about ourselves, our relationship with each other, with what we perceive as our physical material universe and the overall nature of reality. The more we progress and grow as a human civilization, the more this type of non-material science will become relevant. The advancement of non-material science and understanding of it represents the next scientific revolution.
Dean Radin PhD, is Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies has laid out six conclusions we can draw from all of the published research in parapsychology.
Psychic research, also known as parapsychology or “PSI” deals with phenomena such as remote viewing, telepathy, clairvoyance, distant healing, and much more.
Over the years, despite the fact that many of these techniques were being studied, taught, and used heavily for intelligence gathering purposes with great success, such phenomenon has been ridiculed and brushed off as not real. But why?
The answer is simple, despite how valid, how repeatable, or how much evidence is presented or published, if something threatens the accepted framework of reality, or is controversial due to its paradigm shifting implications, the mind simply has a hard time accepting it. In many cases, the scientific study of such phenomena has resulted in a large case of cognitive dissonance among some of the academic community, although this is changing, and has been changing year after year simply due to the fact that strong and statistically significant results are being observed, there is still much work to be done.
“There seems to be a deep concern that the whole field will be tarnished by studying a phenomenon that is tainted by its association with superstition, spiritualism and magic. Protecting against this possibility sometimes seems more important than encouraging scientific exploration or protecting academic freedom. But this may be changing.” – Cassandra Vieten, PhD and President/CEO at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (source)
Dr. Carl Jung once stated, “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud.”This is something we should all hold in our minds as we examine this or other claims that are not part of our current perception.
How strong is the evidence? Dr. Jessica Utts, the Chair of the Department of Statistics at the University of California, Irvine and a professor there since 2008 explains,
What convinced me was just the evidence, the accumulating evidence as I worked in this field and I got to see more and more of the evidence. I visited the laboratories, even beyond where I was working to see what they were doing and I could see that they had really tight controls…and so I got convinced by the good science that I saw being done. And in fact I will say as a statistician I’ve consulted in a lot of different areas of science: the methodology and the controls on these experiments are tighter than any other area of science where I’ve worked. (source)
Here’s another great point she made:
“For many years I have worked with researchers doing very careful work [in parapsychology], including a year that I spent full-time working on a classified project for the United States government, to see if we could use these abilities for intelligence gathering during the Cold War… At the end of that project I wrote a report for Congress, stating what I still think is true. The data in support of precognition and possibly other related phenomena are quite strong statistically, and would be widely accepted if it pertained to something more mundane. Yet, most scientists reject the possible reality of these abilities without ever looking at data! And on the other extreme, there are true believers who base their beliefs solely on anecdotes and personal experience. I have asked debunkers if there is any amount of data that would convince them, and they generally have responded by saying, “probably not.” I ask them what original research they have read, and they mostly admit that they haven’t read any. Now there is a definition of pseudo-science-basing conclusions on belief rather than data!” – Utts, Chair of the Statistics Department, UC Irvine (From Dean Radin’s Book, “Real Magic“)
The Six Conclusions
Dean Radin PhD, is Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Distinguished Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He’s published a number of books, one of them titled “Real Magic” (endorsed by multiple Nobel Laureates). In it, he writes:
Based on thousands of PSI experiments published over the last century by researchers around the world, many properties of psychic phenomena have been discovered. In order of scientific confidence, meaning the degree to which the evidence has been successfully and independently repeated six conclusions may be drawn:
1. We have the capacity to gain information unbound by the everyday limitations of space or time, and without the use of the ordinary senses. In the vernacular, psi is a genuine “sixth sense.” Based on the available scientific evidence, this is a virtual certainty.
2. Psi capacities are widely distributed among the general population. Extreme levels of psi talent are rare, but laboratory tests indicate that most people have some discernible ability, whether they’re aware of it or not.
3. These effects arise from the unconscious. Psi abilities can be observed during conscious awareness, but more reliable effects can be detected below the level of awareness via physiological measurements and other techniques used to study “implicit” and unconscious responses.
4. Psi effects are stronger during non-ordinary states of consciousness, such as during meditation, while dreaming, or while under the influence of psychedelic compounds.
5. We have the capacity to mentally influence the physical world, probably not through the application of the four known physical forces, but perhaps through as yet unidentified principles that either affect the probabilities of events or ‘warp” the fabric of space-time.
6. We can gain information from sources purported to be non-physical entities.
A Real World Example
The document touches upon China’s psychic children, mentioning, in this case, the ones that were able to teleport full objects from one location to another without touching them.
Another one, titled “Research into Paranormal Ability To Break Through Spatial Barriers” touches upon the same thing, and also provides multiple examples of children and people being video tapped and documented, under double blind conditions, being able to do the same thing. This particular document, which was declassified through a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA), outlines specific people with very special abilities and how they’ve been studied by thousands of scientists and governments around the world for a very long time.
There are many examples, these are a select few.
How much do we really know about the nature of reality? If one thing is constant about what we know, it’s that what we know always seems to change, and when it comes to for that change, it usually takes a lot of time. Right now we are experiencing a scientific revolution where non-material science seems to be emerging as the next great leap, away and beyond our mechanical view of the universe. We are starting to realize just how diverse and non physical human consciousness is.
One day, we will acknowledge and really realize just how big of an impact our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and other factors of consciousness have on shaping our physical material world. We are much more than we’ve been made to believe, and reality is much more mysterious and exciting than we’ve been taught.
Watch a recent interview we did with a scientist deeply into non material science here.