Proposed T-Mobile Sprint Merger Highlight National Security Implications as Saudi Arabia Dominates the Headlines

For Immediate Release: November 26, 2018
Contact: Regan Page at [email protected]


Proposed T-Mobile Sprint Merger Highlight National Security Implications as Saudi Arabia Dominates the Headlines

Reports of Saudi’s elaborate spying draw criticism from foreign policy community and raise concerns about their financial leverage in merger

Washington, D.C. – As the FCC consideration of the proposed T-Mobile-Sprint Merger continues, and as Senators prepare to be briefed on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, threats to our national security become increasingly dangerous as news breaks of Saudi Arabia’s use of new technology that allowed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to use spyware to track Khashoggi’s whereabouts.

With Saudi Arabia’s access to this new technology that allows for easier hacking of cellphones and the possibility of their access to two of the nation’s largest communication infrastructures if the T-Mobile-Sprint merger is approved, it’s time Congress took a hard look at the vulnerabilities the proposed merger would create for our national security. Sprint’s parent company, Softbank, has an uncomfortably close relationship with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman accepting billions in Saudi investments. To date, neither Sprint nor T-Mobile have adequately addressed concerns about the foreign investment and influence in their businesses, an issue under investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Below are tweets from Frank Bajak, Kenneth Roth, and an excerpt from Amos Harel, Chaim Levinson and Yaniv Kubovich’s latest piece on Saudi Arabia’s attacks:

Frank Bajak:

‘The Pegasus system NSO developed was a “one-click system,” meaning the victim had to press on a link sent through phishing. The new system no longer requires this. Only the number of the SIM card is needed to hack into the phone. It’s unknown how Pegasus does this.’

Kenneth Roth:

Israeli firm NSO Group Technologies reportedly sold Saudi Arabia "Pegasus" spyware that is said to be capable of hacking mobile phones using only the number, no need to click on a link.  @Snowden says it was used to track Khashoggi.

Revealed Israeli Cyber Firm Negotiated Advanced Attack Capabilities Sale With Saudis, Haaretz Reveals

The Israeli company NSO Group Technologies offered Saudi Arabia a system that hacks cellphones, a few months before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his purge of regime opponents, according to a complaint to the Israel Police now under investigation.

But NSO, whose development headquarters is in Herzliya, says that it has acted according to the law and its products are used in the fight against crime and terror.

Either way, a Haaretz investigation based on testimony and photos, as well as travel and legal documents, reveals the Saudis’ behind-the-scenes attempts to buy Israeli technology.

In June 2017, a diverse group gathered in a hotel room in Vienna, a city between East and West that for decades has been a center for espionage, defense-procurement contacts and unofficial diplomatic meetings.

Arriving at the hotel were Abdullah al-Malihi, a close associate of Prince Turki al-Faisal – a former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services – and another senior Saudi official, Nasser al-Qahtani, who presented himself as the deputy of the current intelligence chief. Their interlocutors were two Israeli businessmen, representatives of NSO, who presented to the Saudis highly advanced technology.

Technology sources believe that the technology either exploits breaches in the cellphone’s modem, the part that receives messages from the antenna, or security breaches in the apps installed on a phone. As soon as a phone is hacked, the speaker and camera can be used for recording conversations. Even encoded apps such as WhatsApp can be monitored.

NSO’s operations are extremely profitable.

The company, which conceals its client list, has been linked to countries that violate human rights. NSO says its products are used in the fight against crime and terror, but in certain countries the authorities identify anti-regime activists and journalists as terrorists and subject them to surveillance.

In 2012, NSO sold an earlier version of Pegasus to Mexico to help it combat the drug cartel in that country. According to the company, all its contracts include a clause specifically permitting the use of its software only to “investigate and prevent crime or acts of terror.” But The New York Times reported in 2016 that the Mexican authorities also surveilled journalists and lawyers.

Following that report, Mexican victims of the surveillance filed a lawsuit in Israel against NSO last September. This year, The New York Times reported that the software had been sold to the UAE, where it helped the authorities track leaders of neighboring countries as well as a London newspaper editor.