Even though FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a Congressional hearing that the agency had only purchased NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware
for research and development purposes, recently uncovered internal FBI documents and court records revealed that the agency advanced the deployment of the spyware tool for criminal investigations between late 2020 and the first six months of 2021, according to The New York Times
. The FBI was discovered by The Times to have tested Phantom, a Pegasus version with U.S. phone number hacking capabilities. However, reports of Pegasus exploitation by other governments have prompted the FBI to decide against its deployment in July 2021. “Just because the FBI ultimately decided not to deploy the tool in support of criminal investigations does not mean it would not test, evaluate and potentially deploy other similar tools for gaining access to encrypted communications used by criminals,” noted a legal brief submitted on FBI’s behalf. Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., criticized Wray for providing misleading testimony regarding the agency’s acquisition of Pegasus before revealing the full story. “The FBI also owes Americans a clear explanation as to whether the future operational use of NSO tools is still on the table,” said Wyden.