The FBI has committed to not using Pegasus spyware in its operations, a source told Fox News, after FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers back in March the bureau did not intend to use it against U.S. persons or “for any purpose” in the future.
The FBI has come under scrutiny in recent months after it purchased a license to use the highly effective spyware program. FBI officials have insisted they did not end up using the program and had intended to only use it for research. Nevertheless, internal documents suggest they had plans to expand its use–including for tracking Americans. The FBI now tells Fox News it will drop the program.
Director Wray faced a grilling from members of Congress on the issue in hearings earlier this year, when he stated that his organization had never used to program.
“The Director’s testimony was accurate when given and remains true today – there has been no operational use of the NSO product to support any FBI investigation,” the FBI told Fox.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, accused Wray of essentially lying – or at least fudging the truth – in testimony earlier this year. Wray was asked about the FBI’s purchase of the spyware and bureau plans to use it in criminal investigations, including tracking Americans. Wray insisted the FBI would only use Pegasus for “research,” but the New York Times soon obtained internal FBI documents indicating this was not accurate – the FBI had hoped to use Pegasus more broadly.
Pegasus has already proven capable of infiltrating the phones of U.S. officials working overseas, something Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., highlighted in a spyware hearing this summer.
“Late last year, multiple news organizations reported that mobile phones used by U.S. diplomats in Uganda had been compromised by NASA’s Pegasus tool,” Schiff said at the time. “It is my belief that we are very likely looking at the tip of the iceberg and that other U.S. government personnel have had their devices compromised, whether by a nation state using NSA services or tools offered by one of its lesser known but equally potent competitors.”
Experts say the spyware has legitimate uses but is also a powerful tool for authoritarian governments. Mexico used Pegasus in its effort to track down El Chapo, and Saudi Arabia also used it to track journalist Jamal Khashoggi prior to orchestrating his murder, according to cyber defense expert Jason Blessing.