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Report: Ex-army officer’s spy firm sent phone hacking tools to Sudanese militia

An intelligence firm owned by a former senior Israeli military intelligence officer has transferred high-end phone surveillance equipment to a notorious Sudanese militia, an investigative report found.

The Wednesday report by Lighthouse Reports along with the Haaretz daily and Greece’s Inside Story found that the transfer was made in May, by tracking a private jet linked to the Intellexa company.

Citing three independent sources, the investigation found that a Cessna private jet landed in Khartoum and delivered the phone hacking equipment to the Rapid Support Forces militia.

Journalists identified the plane through a selfie uploaded to social media by a passenger — an engineer from Intellexa, the intelligence firm owned by the former officer, Tal Dilian.

The militia, infamous for its alleged war crimes in the western Darfur region, is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who was said to have spent two days in Israel last year to discuss warming bilateral relations.

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Israel and Sudan agreed to normalize ties in 2020 as part of the US-led Abraham Accords. However, the development of relations has moved slower than with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco, which which Israel also normalized ties under the Accords.

Research into flight records linked the private plane to Dilian and his colleagues, including an important figure in his network, Merom Harpaz. Neither Dilian nor Harpaz responded to the report.

He can hack your WhatsApp, find out where you are in 15 minutes and monitor your iPhone. But Tal Dilian says he's one of the good guys

— Forbes (@Forbes) August 5, 2019

Dilian, who lives in Cyprus, founded Intellexa in 2019, a shadowy alliance of surveillance tech companies, including those that have run afoul of authorities in various countries for alleged abuses.

On its website, Intellexa has described itself as “EU-based and regulated, with six sites and R&D labs throughout Europe,” but lists no address.

Its web page is vague about its offerings. However, in October 2021 it said that in addition to “covert mass collection” it provides systems “to access target devices and networks” via Wi-Fi and wireless networks.

Intellexa said its tools are used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies against terrorists and crimes including financial fraud.

A senior source in Israel’s spyware industry told Lighthouse Reports that Intellexa is very different from spyware company NSO, which was accused of providing spyware software to governments that were ultimately turned against journalists and activists, noting that Intellexa was not even bound by Israeli restrictions.

“NSO worked in accordance with Israeli law and at times even on behalf of the State of Israel. Ethically both this firm and the Israeli policy were questionable as sales were made to oppressive regimes — but it was regulated. Intellexa on the other hand does not follow Israeli law and sells to similar but also worse clients — including those that are a risk to Israel’s own national interest. A company that does not abide by Israeli law and is not subject to any regulator is de facto a pirate organization,” the source said.

Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of the military council, salutes during a rally, in Galawee, northern Sudan, June 15, 2019. (AP Photo, File)

Analysts said there was a fear of how the technology would be used in Sudan.

The software could be used to “exacerbate the brutal repression and killing of Sudan’s remarkably brave protestors and squash hopes for democracy in the region,” said Anette Hoffman, a senior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, according to Lighthouse Reports.

“Such advanced spyware in the hands of the RSF will tilt the balance of power in favor of a ruthless former militia and Russia ally, bringing Sudan one step closer to an open confrontation with the country’s armed forces and increasing the risk of civil war,” she added.

Sudan overthrew its longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and has embarked on a troubled transition to democracy. Conflict in Darfur persists despite peace efforts under the new government to end the two-decade war.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.