WaPo hacking scandal probe failed to mention Israeli firm’s ties to former Biden advisor’s company

The Washington Post published an investigative piece on Sunday noting that an Israeli firm successfully hacked more than three dozen smartphones belonging to journalists and others, but failed to divulge the company’s Democratic connections.

The story, “Private Israeli spyware used to hack cellphones of journalists, activists worldwide,” noted that the firm, NSO Group, broke into the phones of individuals around the world, explaining that the company managed such a feat using “military-grade spyware.”

“Military-grade spyware licensed by an Israeli firm to governments for tracking terrorists and criminals was used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and 16 media partners,” the paper reported.

The probe went on to point out that other phones may also have been targeted, which refutes the NSO Group’s initial claim that it was only targeting suspected terrorists and criminals.

The story caused the firm’s name to trend on Twitter and spurred a number of critical comments from reporters and journalists.

But, astonishingly, there was no mention in the 4,000-word story that the firm has connections to one of Presiden Joe Biden’s advisers — a revelation reported on social media by a New York Times reporter.

Kenneth Vogel explained in a thread that the firm paid a company called SKDK, which was the Democrat-aligned company of Anita Dunn, a Biden advisor, until late in 2019.

“The Israeli firm NSO GROUP was behind the spyware used to hack journalists & human rights activists, a @WashingtonPost investigation reveals. Not included in the story: NSO GROUP paid @SKDK (BIDEN adviser ANITA DUNN’s firm) for advice until late 2019,” Vogel wrote.

“NSO GROUP also paid BEACON GLOBAL STRATEGIES (a firm started by JEREMY BASH, an MSNBC analyst who served as CIA & Pentagon chief of staff under OBAMA) until early 2020, @NSOGroup told me last yr. It said @SKDK & Beacon Global ‘provided communications & business strategy advice,'” Vogel continued.

“NSO Group has retained TOM CLARE to attack the investigation as ‘speculative & baseless.’ @TAClare’s boutique defamation firm @clarelockellp also has represented the Russian oligarch OLEG DERIPASKA, Project Veritas (vs the @NYTimes) & Dominion Voting Systems, among other clients,” he added.

Those political connections also were not mentioned in the lengthy WaPo story.

Shortly after the story broke, NSO Group issued a statement claiming that the investigative report is essentially “baseless” and went on to defend the firm’s reputation in the face of the allegations.

“Simply put, NSO Group is on a life-saving mission, and the company will faithfully execute this mission undeterred, despite any and all continued attempts to discredit it on false grounds,” NSO said.

“Your sources have supplied you with information that has no factual basis, as evidenced by the lack of supporting documentation for many of the claims,” the statement added.

Late last month, a survey commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism of 92,000 people around the world found that just 29 percent of Americans trust U.S. media sources a majority of the time.

That compares with Finland, which ranked the highest at 65 percent, while Slovakia, Hungary, and France each were just slightly above the U.S. at 30 percent.

“This is an extraordinary (though unsurprising) finding,” investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald said following the study’s release. “Most amazing is that the corporate sector of the US media is failing in every respect: financially, culturally, collapsing trust.”

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Jon Dougherty

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