FBI vows to never use ‘Pegasus’ spyware after grilling from Capitol Hill

The FBI vowed never to use Pegasus spyware in any of its operations moving forward, telling Fox News it is ending its use of the tool “permanently.”

The FBI has come under scrutiny in recent months after it purchased a license to use the highly effective spyware program. FBI officials have insisted they did not end up using the program and had intended to only use it for research. Nevertheless, internal documents suggest they had plans to expand its use–including for tracking Americans. The FBI now tells Fox it will drop the program.

“[Pegasus] Will not be used operationally in the future – permanently,” the FBI told Fox News in a statement Tuesday.

FBI Director Christopher Wray faced a grilling from members of Congress on the issue in hearings earlier this year, where he stated that his organization had never used to program.

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WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 12: FBI director nominee Christopher Wray testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 12, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, speaks with members of the press after a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“The Director’s testimony was accurate when given and remains true today – there has been no operational use of the NSO product to support any FBI investigation,” the FBI told Fox.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, accused FBI Director Chris Wray of essentially lying – or at least fudging the truth – in testimony earlier this year. Wray was asked about the FBI’s purchase of the spyware and bureau plans to use it in criminal investigations, including to track Americans. Wray insisted the FBI would only use Pegasus for “research,” but the New York Times soon obtained internal FBI documents indicating this wasn’t accurate – the FBI had hoped to use Pegasus more broadly.

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Pegasus has already proven capable of infiltrating the phones of U.S. officials working overseas, something Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., highlighted in a spyware hearing this summer.

“Late last year, multiple news organizations reported that mobile phones used by U.S. diplomats in Uganda had been compromised by NASA’s Pegasus tool,” Schiff said at the time. “It is my belief that we are very likely looking at the tip of the iceberg and that other U.S. government personnel have had their devices compromised, whether by a nation state using NSA services or tools offered by one of its lesser known but equally potent competitors.”

People hold posters picturing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and lightened candles during a gathering outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, on October 25, 2018. – Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, was killed on October 2, 2018 after a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork before marrying his Turkish fiancee.
(YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images)

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Experts say the spyware has legitimate uses but is also a powerful tool for authoritarian governments. Mexico used Pegasus in its effort to track down El Chapo, but Saudi Arabia also used it to track journalist Jamal Khashoggi prior to orchestrating his murder, according to cyber defense expert John Blessing.