LONDON (Middle East Eye) – The UK government should cut off Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain from a multimillion pound, taxpayer-funded program in the wake of the Pegasus spyware scandal, MPs have told Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Along with supporting Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the Persian Gulf Strategy Fund is set this year to provide a UK cyber ambassador who will help the Persian Gulf allies - accused of hacking British citizens - to defend themselves from cyber security attacks.
The MPs, led by Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs and International Development spokesperson Layla Moran, argue that while the government says the fund provides the UK with trade and national security benefits, the alleged hacking of British citizens by Persian Gulf countries with Pegasus proves otherwise.
They called on Johnson to suspend the program - which they say has already provided up to £53.4mn to six Persian Gulf countries - pending a review into its implications for human rights.
“The cyberattacks referenced above appear to show a blatant disregard by these GCC states for both UK and international law,” they wrote.
“The continued supply of surveillance equipment and services, as well as of advanced military and technical training and equipment to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, may in fact pose a serious threat to our national security.”
Details about the alleged use of Pegasus by NSO Group clients to target British citizens came to light in July, after journalists working with cyber security campaigners obtained a leaked database of 50,000 phone numbers selected by NSO Group clients. The numbers were linked to phones used by politicians, human rights defenders and journalists, and forensic analysis of some of the devices found evidence that Pegasus software had been installed on them.
Meanwhile, Palestine’s ministry of foreign affairs has said that it has found Pegasus spyware on the phones of three senior officials, accusing “the [Zionist] occupation authorities” of being behind the hacking.
The statement came as Itzik Benbenisti, the chief executive of NSO, the Zionist firm behind the spyware, resigned from his role on Thursday after only two weeks in the position.
Sources said Benbenisti quit after the U.S. commerce department announced it was blacklisting the company for harming “national security interests”.
The announcement by the ministry of foreign affairs marks the first time Palestinian officials have accused the occupying regime of using Pegasus to spy on them.
The Palestinian rights group Al-Haq had previously reported that some foreign ministry employees had also been hacked, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) had not officially commented until now.