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. Additiona