US Defense Contractor L3Harris Drops Plan To Buy NSO Group Despite Allegedly Having The Defense Department’s Backing
from the yeah,-that's-a-shame dept
A couple of weeks ago, news leaked of a match made in hell: the acquisition of toxic asset/exploit developer NSO Group by defense contractor L3Harris. The “Harris” part of the contractor’s name refers to none other than Harris Corporation, the manufacturer of Stingray cell tower spoofers and an entity that often found itself described as “controversial” or “embattled.”
Good news, everyone! The wedding is off, according to this report from Ellen Nakashima for the Washington Post.
The American defense firm L3Harris has ended talks with blacklisted Israeli spyware company, NSO Group, to buy the firm’s hacking tools following intelligence and security concerns raised by the Biden administration, according to people familiar with the matter.
Shortly after news reports were released last month about administration concerns regarding the talks, L3Harris told the U.S. government it was no longer pursuing the acquisition of NSO’s spyware capabilities, a U.S. official said.
It didn’t take long for the Biden Administration to respond to initial reports of the proposed acquisition. Given that this administration was the one to sanction NSO for its decision to sell malware to abusive governments, it was unsurprising White House officials greeted the news with “oh hell no” statements indicating the federal government would do what it could to prevent this from happening.
Selling malware to human rights abusers is easy. Trying to make this dubious partnership work when one of the principals is forbidden by the Commerce Department from utilizing or purchasing US hardware/software was always going to be a logistical nightmare.
And it was unlikely to work even if, as L3Harris claims, the company had the support of Defense Department officials.
[F]ive people familiar with the negotiations said that the L3Harris team had brought with them a surprising message that made a deal seem possible. American intelligence officials, they said, quietly supported its plans to purchase NSO, whose technology over the years has been of intense interest to many intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world, including the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.
The NSA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) would be the most likely supporters of a deal that would make NSO malware an American product — a move that could possibly limit sales to more problematic governments around the world. Then again, almost every president in recent years has maintained at least cordial relationships with notorious human rights abusers like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and, until very recently, Russia.
NSO still wants off the Commerce Department blacklist, though. And it’s spending a lot of money on lobbyists to get that accomplished. But for now, NSO remains without a prospective partner or clear plan for the future.