U.S. Sen Mark Warner, the Ranking Member of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, has deep connections to a founder of the spyware company NSO Group according to corporate and government documents, open-source information, and sources who spoke to Forensic News, raising questions of a potential conflict of interest.
As the Ranking Member on the committee, Warner is responsible for overseeing the intelligence apparatuses of the U.S. government and investigating potential national security risks posed by malign actors.
The link between Warner and Omri Lavie, an ex-Israeli intelligence officer and one of the three founders of NSO Group (NSO stands for Niv, Shalev, and Omri, the first names of the three founders) lies in Warner’s longtime confidant, current business partner, and the former manager of his family’s investment office, Nicholas Perrins.
NSO Group is a technology company that was founded in Herzliya, Israel in 2010 by Niv Carmi, Shalev Hulio, and Omri Lavie. Little is known about Carmi, who left the group not long after its founding, but multiple news reports have confirmed that both Hulio and Lavie served in the elite Unit 8200 of Israel’s military intelligence arm that collects information otherwise known as “signals intelligence” (SIGINT).
The company is most well-known for its flagship product, Pegasus. The software is able to infiltrate mobile phones and collect information including text messages, emails, and passwords, track the user’s location, and in some cases, access the device’s microphone and camera. Pegasus is sold to governments around the world upon the license approval from the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
Though NSO Group advertises the spyware as a way for governments and law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence on terrorists and prevent crime, it has very often been utilized by oppressive regimes to spy on political dissidents, journalists, and other innocent citizens.
According to The Citizen Lab, a watchdog group at the University of Toronto that studies surveillance and spyware, people in at least 45 countries have been targeted by Pegasus. One of the governments that purchased the product was Saudi Arabia, which The Citizen Lab concluded – with high confidence – used the software to spy on at least one associate of the late US journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents. Other journalists in Mexico, Morocco, Bahrain, the UAE, and elsewhere have been infected with the spyware.
“NSO is a next-generation cyber threat because they operate in peacetime and their product is used to target members of the press and civil society in countries where the is a civil conflict or no conflict at all,” intelligence and security expert Igor Ostrovskiy told Forensic News. “NSO tech has been used in targeting activists, journalists and in multiple cases lead to the murder of journalists, but this does not stop them from exporting their high-end intelligence kit to places like Mexico.”
Ostrovskiy previously worked for the Israeli private intelligence company Black Cube before leaving the company after turning into somewhat of a double-agent and blowing the whistle on Black Cube operations to journalists and law enforcement. He now runs Ostro Intelligence in New York which provides services in the investigative, intelligence, and consulting arena.
In 2019, messaging app WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook sued NSO Group, alleging that “at least 100 human-rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society” were infected with Pegasus via its platforms. The case is ongoing.
The FBI has been investigating NSO Group for years, and according to a Reuters report multiple people had been questioned by authorities.
NSO Group did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Mark Warner and Nicholas Perrins
The relationship between Warner and Perrins is vast, spanning nearly three decades. After graduating from Boston University in 1991, Perrins immediately went to work for Warner for more than 15 years where he worked exclusively for the then-venture capitalist. After Warner left his business career behind and became the governor of Virginia, Perrins continued his work for the Warner family office and multiple other ventures connected to the senator.
A book written on the rise of the Internet era in 2002 by former Washington Post journalist Shannon Henry, described the relationship between the two as follows,
To this day, Perrins remains involved in Warner’s political and private life. Corporate documents acquired from the state of Virginia show that Perrins is listed as a director alongside Warner in Warner’s family philanthropic venture. Additionally, Perrins holds positions in Friends of Mark Warner and Forward Together, two fundraising vehicles for Warner’s political campaign and the campaigns of other prominent Democratic elected officials.
Today, Perrins is the Managing Director of Dyson Capital Advisors, a financial advisory firm with over $2 billion under management for approximately 47 high-net-worth individuals. Apart from Perrins, at least two other employees of the 20 listed on the firm’s website have previously worked for Warner in varying capacities. One Client Services Manager worked as a staffer in Warner’s office and an aide to his political campaign. Another person with the same title at Dyson Capital helped manage Warner’s family office.
Dyson Capital Advisors and Perrins did not reply to questions posed by email.
Connections to Omri Lavie
Corporate records reviewed by Forensic News reveal that Warner and Omri Lavie share an office space in Alexandria, Va. Lavie, the ex-Israeli intelligence officer who remains on the board of NSO Group, lists 201 N. Union St. Suite 300 as his address for an investment vehicle that owns his 12,000 sq foot mansion in Demarest, New Jersey that he purchased in 2017 for just over $4 million. Likewise, Warner, on the documents for his family charitable organization lists 201 N. Union Street Suite 300.
Dyson Capital Advisors, the company whose Managing Director is Warner’s longtime aide, is also located at this address.
Further connecting Warner’s sphere of influence to Lavie lies on the LinkedIn account for Perrins, the Warner associate who lists one of his “skills” as Alternative Investments. That skill is endorsed by Lavie.
The full nature of the relationship between Perrins and Lavie is unclear, although there is undoubtedly a suggestion based on the shared addresses and the endorsement on LinkedIn that Perrins has aided Lavie in at least one of his investments. Perrins and Lavie did not respond to an email asking about their dealings.
A spokesperson for Senator Warner said, “Senator Warner does not know, has not met, and has zero relationship with Omri Lavie.” Warner’s office did not respond to questions about his relationship with Perrins and more broadly if he was concerned about NSO Group’s purported hacking of US journalists.
In 2018, Lavie’s investment company that shares an office with Warner and Dyson Capital, hired high-profile lobbyist Jeff Miller of Miller Strategies to lobby the U.S. Congress, “on issues related to immigration and naturalization.” Throughout 2018 and 2019 the lobbying contract remained active and Miller Strategies earned $170,000 for their work before the year-long contract ended in Oct. 2019.
Lobbying experts that spoke to Forensic News found it unusual that a purported real estate holding company would hire a government lobbyist such as Miller.
Miller was the vice finance chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee and has seen his business explode under the Trump administration, according to a review by the Center for Responsive Politics. Public disclosures did not show the details of the lobbying contract with Lavie, including which members in Congress may have been contacted. Similar to Lavie, Miller did not reply to a request for comment on the contract.
Lavie’s contract with Miller is not his only foray into U.S. government relations. The American arm of NSO Group, Westbridge Technologies, received certification on an H-1B visa application to hire a “Government Relation Specialist.” Westbridge Technologies reportedly marketed hacking software similar to Pegasus to U.S. law enforcement officials.
NSO Group has repeatedly denied that it has ever operated in the United States, telling BBC in May, “we stand by our previous statements that NSO Group products cannot be used to conduct cyber-surveillance within the United States, and no customer has ever been granted technology that enables targeting phones with U.S. numbers.“
Further complicating the blanket denial of any NSO Group products in U.S. are business documents acquired from NSO Group’s parent company, OSY Technologies, in Luxembourg. Those documents, seen below, show a nearly $500,000 profit for Westbridge Technologies in 2018.
The proximity of Warner to Omri Lavie, an ex-intelligence officer of a foreign nation and the founder of a spyware firm whose software has hacked journalists and dissidents, could present a conflict of interest given Warner’s position on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
While others on the committee have issued public statements on NSO Group, including Sen. Ron Wyden, who has repeatedly called for aggressive investigations into the company, Warner has remained largely silent. His only public comments about issues related to NSO Group appeared in a Washington Post article in which he stated, “every new surveillance tool has a potential for abuse.”
“It is not a surprise at all that NSO would want to be connected to members of the U.S. legislature,” Ostrovskiy told me. “It is a surprise that a foreign intelligence organization is connected to a ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is easy to understand that NSO would love to have the freedom to tap into the U.S. market and to have similar impunity here as they have in Mexico or other places where they have carte blanche to operate.”
This story was edited by Anna Popp.