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NSO Group hires high-powered lobbyists to help navigate US market

The NSO Group, purveyor of the notorious Pegasus spyware, has retained lobbyists with National Security Agency and Commerce Department experience to represent the company’s interests in Washington, according to a legal filing with Congress.

One of NSO’s new lobbyists is Stewart Baker, a former general counsel at the National Security Agency and former senior Department of Homeland Security official. The other, Jeff Weiss, served as deputy director for policy and strategic planning at the Commerce Department until 2017.

Baker and Weiss have been hired to help NSO manage national security and export control issues. Both work for the Washington-based law firm Steptoe & Johnson, which has more than $400 million in annual revenues.

The Commerce Department blacklisted NSO Group in 2021 by placing the company, which was founded by two former Israeli military officials, on its so-called Entity List. Companies on the list must follow strict licensing requirements and other rules meant to beef up oversight of their operations. In the case of NSO, the blacklisting effectively barred it from procuring materials needed for its software from U.S. sellers.

Baker and Weiss did not respond to calls seeking comment. A Steptoe and Johnson spokesperson said he could not comment beyond what was in the congressional filing.

In March, President Joe Biden issued an executive order limiting the use of commercial spyware by federal agencies.

The Pegasus software is associated with human rights abuses worldwide, with recent scandals involving its covert use against dissidents, politicians and journalists Poland, Spain, Greece and elsewhere.

Most recently, Pegasus was found on the phone of a prominent Russian journalist and critic of the Kremlin, Galina Timchenko, who owns the independent Russian media outlet Meduza.

NSO is currently headquartered in the Tel Aviv area and is owned by a Luxembourg-based company, Dufresne Holding, which is controlled by Omri Lavie, one of NSO’s co-founders. NSO has had a long and tangled corporate evolution as controversy surrounding its product has intensified.

The new filing with Congress comes after the company spent $1.1 million on lobbying in the U.S. in 2022, according to nonprofit OpenSecrets.org.

In June the White House National Security Council warned that it would closely review any American company attempting to take over foreign commercial surveillance software to determine whether a “counterintelligence threat” to the U.S. government exists.

The statement was issued after a Guardian reporter revealed that a producer of several Adam Sandler movies was considering making a bid for NSO.

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Suzanne Smalley

Suzanne Smalley

is a reporter covering privacy, disinformation and cybersecurity policy for The Record. She was previously a cybersecurity reporter at CyberScoop and Reuters. Earlier in her career Suzanne covered the Boston Police Department for the Boston Globe and two presidential campaign cycles for Newsweek. She lives in Washington with her husband and three children.