NSO Group Director Served With Trump Officials At US Government Agency

May 21, 2020 1:16 pm By

According to documents exclusively obtained by Forensic News,  a US government agency board member working on a state-of-the-art communications network with Trump administration officials simultaneously served as a US Director for NSO Group, the infamous Israeli spyware company whose surveillance tools have been used by governments across the world to spy on dissidents and journalists.

Delaware business documents from 2017 and 2018 show that David Zolet, now the CEO of CentralSquare Technologies, a software company in Florida, worked with top Trump administration officials on an encrypted nationwide network for first responders, while actively serving as one of just two directors for Westbridge Technologies, Inc, the US branch of NSO Group.

westbridge-2017-and-2018
 


NSO Group’s tools include Pegasus, the most advanced mobile spyware in the world, as well as Phantom, a virtually identical tool built for the United States market. The company’s spyware has been used in the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Canada, Greece, and other countries to monitor the communications of journalists including Ahmed Mansoor, satirists like Ghanem Almasarir, and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, who was personally targeted with Pegasus by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after journalist Jamal Khashoggi criticized Bin Salman’s regime while employed as a Washington Post columnist.

Pegasus was also used to target Jamal Khashoggi’s close associate Omar Abdulaziz days before Khashoggi was assassinated by Saudi agents.

NSO Group denies it was behind the many of the attacks, including the Bezos intrusion.

Abdulaziz and Khashoggi were working on a large-scale online operation to combat Saudi trolls pushing pro-regime propaganda that Khashoggi was funding shortly before being murdered. The project, dubbed “the bee movement” was endorsed publicly by Khashoggi on Twitter less than two weeks before his slaying.

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FirstNet Security

In February of 2012, Congress created FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority). an independent authority under the supervision of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, within the Department Of Commerce, to “ensure the building, deployment and operation of the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.” per Firstnet.

As reported by The Intercept in 2018:

“FirstNet will help agencies like US Customs and Border Protection communicate with local police, deliver more information to officers’ hands, accelerate the nascent law enforcement app industry, and provide public safety agencies with new privileges and powers over AT&T’s commercial broadband network.”


FirstNet appointed David Zolet to the board in 2018, one of two years in which Zolet appears on the Westbridge paperwork, along with former company president Terrence Divittorio, and co-director Arthur L. Money, formerly an Assistant Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush.

Money’s involvement with Westbridge was also previously unknown. 

FirstNet board members are, “a team of highly-skilled, highly motivated individuals with a cross-section of expertise who are committed to making the nationwide public safety broadband network a success.”, according to the official website. Members serve three-year terms, though the Attorney General, the Secretary Of Homeland Security, and the Director Of The Office Of Management and Budget, serve as permanent members.

All board members are extensively vetted prior to appointment:


Federal Register Recruitment Notice


David Zolet is a prominent cybersecurity professional currently serving as CEO of CentralSquare Technologies, a software company in Florida. Prior to that, he held positions at Northrup-Grumman and TRW. At Northrup-Grumman, Zolet was Vice President Of Homeland Security, and at TRW, he served as Director of Intelligence and Defense Information Systems Operations within the Intelligence Systems Division.

During Zolet’s involvement with FirstNet and Westbridge, he was President and CEO of Logistics Management Institute (LMI), a consulting firm that caters to the US defense and national security industries. LMI, under Zolet’s tenure, was awarded contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars and their revenue grew to $329M in 2019. The LMI website listed active contracts for the US Army, Navy, and Department of Defense, while their CEO was simultaneously working for the spyware firm Westbridge.

There is no mention anywhere on Zolet’s LinkedIn page or on his FirstNet biography that he served as director for two years at the American division of NSO Group, and there was no available explanation why one of the directors of a foreign cyber-intelligence firm whose primary product is the most effective spyware tool in the world, would simultaneously be serving at a US government agency building a nationwide encrypted communication network, without disclosing that potential counterintelligence issue to the American public.

Forensic News filed a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for Mr. Zolet’s public disclosure forms, and a spokesperson confirmed the request was being processed.


Image showing the FirstNet Board of Directors including David Zolet who was concurrently working for NSO Group

FirstNet Board in 2018


Serving alongside Zolet on the FirstNet board in 2018 were senior Trump administration officials, including then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the Director of Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney.

Also working with Zolet was Ron Hewitt, the Department of Homeland Security’s designee to the board. Hewitt, according to his DHS profile, “plays a critical role for ensuring continuous, interoperable communications that support the Federal Government’s mission essential functions, and all the Nation’s emergency responders to keep America safe, secure and resilient.”

Zolet still serves on the FirstNet board as of 2020, though his name did not appear on WestBridge documents in Delaware in 2019.

NSO Group has previously stated that their contracts are “only provided after a full vetting and licensing by the Israeli government”.

Messages seeking comment from Zolet, Divittorio, and NSO Group about Zolet’s work for Westbridge went unanswered.

NSO Group is currently being sued by WhatsApp for allegedly using the platform to infect user’s mobile phones and the FBI has an active investigation into the company’s presence in the United States. “A key issue is how involved [NSO Group] has been in specific hacks,” Reuters reported in January.

Zolet marks the second known connection between the Trump administration and NSO Group. Former Trump campaign surrogate and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn reported on his financial disclosure form that he worked for an NSO subsidiary OSY Technologies. Flynn served as an advisory board member for the Luxembourg-based OSY Technologies from May 2016 to January 2017 and reported receiving over $40,000 in salary.

In this position, Flynn worked alongside former Israeli intelligence officers Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio.

Motherboard recently reported that Westbridge pitched its services to the San Diego Police Department and a subsequent report by the Times of San Diego established a connection between Westbridge and the LAPD, indicating penetration of the US market at a more local level.


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