Defying ban, DEA purchased NSO spyware from Israel to hunt targets in Mexico


Biden administration blacklisted NSO Group, a notorious spyware maker from Israel thus shutting if off from American businesses and investment opportunities. Despite this ban, one federal agency in the United States simply ignored it and bought a geolocation tool known as ‘Landmark’.

In a recent report published in the New York Times the newspaper has exposed the purchased of NSO Group equipment by a federal agency violating government’s ban.

Meanwhile, on condition of anonymity, a highly-placed source in Israel told BLiTZ that the buying federal agency was the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

DEA is a United States federal law enforcement agency under the US Department of Justice tasked with combating drug trafficking and distribution within the US. It is the lead agency for domestic enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, sharing concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and US Customs and Border Protection although the DEA has sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing US drug investigations both domestically and abroad.

It was established in 1973 as part of the US government’s War on Drugs. The DEA has an intelligence unit that is also a member of the US Intelligence Community. While the unit is part of the DEA chain-of-command, it also reports to the Director of National Intelligence.

The DEA has been criticized for focusing on operations that allow it to seize money rather than those involving drugs that cause more harm.

According to the New York Times, give days after the White House banned

unauthorized business transactions with NSO Group, an unknown federal agency used a front company to procure one of firm’s most creepy products—a geolocation tool known as “Landmark”.

Anybody paying close attention to the surveillance industry over the past several years knows that NSO is a major source of drama. The seller of frighteningly powerful surveillance tools, the firm has—for years—been linked to shady clients, which have frequently used its products to spy on journalists, political activists, and other vulnerable groups.

US government’s decision to blacklist NSO Group in 2021 marked the beginning of a broader push by the Biden administration to rein in the excesses of the commercial spyware industry. The blacklist placed NSO on the US Commerce Department’s “Entities List”—an official tally of foreign firms that have been deemed as working contrary to US interests. Getting put on that list means US companies can’t do business with you unless they first acquire a special license from the government. The move was clearly designed to crush NSO financially—cutting it off from vital funding and support supplied by American firms. Since that time, the White House has only continued to go after the spyware industry writ large—passing a slew of regulatory reforms, including another executive order last week, all of which have sought to curb the harmful behavior of the industry’s worst offenders.

The White House’s very public efforts at reform make the revelation that an unknown federal agency procured NSO’s tool all the more bizarre.

According our own source, reason behind buying of ‘Landmark’ tool from NSO Group was to track targeted members of drug cartels in Mexico. Landmark is a tool that allows NSO clients to quietly track the physical locations of specific mobile users without their knowledge.

Previous media report has shown that the tool takes advantage of SS7, a telecom protocol that is known to have longstanding security deficiencies. The 2021 agreement involving the tool apparently allowed the US government to “test, evaluate, and even deploy the spyware against targets of its choice in Mexico”, and two sources interviewed by the New York Times also said that the surveillance product was used to make “thousands” of queries related to targets in Mexico. Frighteningly, the parameters of the contract also allowed for the targeting of mobile users within the United States.

the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) purchased ‘Landmark’ tools from NSO Group through a front company named ‘Cleopatra Holdings’, which entered into an agreement with Gideon Cyber Systems—a holding company owned by the private equity firm, Novalpina Capital. Novalpina is the owner of NSO Group, having purchased the spyware vendor back in 2019, in an effort to rehabilitate its image amidst ongoing scandals.

The contract was signed by a person named Bill Malone, who claimed to be the CEO of Cleopatra Holdings. In reality, Cleopatra Holdings is Riva Networks, a secretive government contractor based in New Jersey that has a long history of procuring services for federal agencies.

It has also been revealed that “Bill Malone” of Cleopatra Holdings actually is Robin Gamble, CEO of Riva Networks.

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