JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli investigation found “no indication” that police illegally hacked the mobile phones of dozens of public figures, the Justice Ministry announced Monday, contradicting the key claims of a series of explosive investigative reports in a leading Israeli newspaper.
Israel’s attorney general ordered the investigation last month in the wake of the unsourced reports by the Calcalist business daily, which said police spied on politicians, protesters and even members of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle, including one of his sons.
The paper said police used Pegasus, a controversial spyware program developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, without obtaining a court warrant.
In its announcement, the Justice Ministry said the investigation led by the country’s deputy attorney general found no evidence to support the claims.
“There is no indication that police deployed Pegasus software without a court order against people on the list published in the media,” it said, adding that NSO and government security experts assisted in the probe.
The investigation found that police received authorization to spy on the phones of three of the people on the list, but only one was successfully infiltrated. It said investigators looked into the use of a second type of spyware used by police and also found no signs of wrongdoing.
The Calcalist reports prompted a public uproar. The current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said the allegations were “very serious,” and Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption, demanded a “strong and independent investigation” while trying to cast doubt on the charges against him. The country’s public security minister, who oversees the police force, has also formed a high-level government commission of inquiry.
Police officials, both former and current, have denied any wrongdoing. Those denials, along with the lack of evidence uncovered so far, have begun to draw scrutiny on Calcalist’s reports.
Its reporter, Tomer Ganon, has stood by his work. Over the weekend, he said he would continue to protect his sources. “I risked my good name not because of naivety, but because I checked the facts,” he wrote on Twitter.
Pegasus is a powerful tool that allows its operator to infiltrate a target’s phone and sweep up its contents, including messages, contacts and location history.