Two members of Citizen Lab, a watchdog group who claimed Israeli software was used to spy on Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s phone before he was killed, were targeted by “international undercover operatives,” the Associated Press reports. The agents, reportedly posing as “socially conscious investors,” got in touch with members Bahr Abdul Razzak and John Scott-Railton seeking a professional meeting. Once Razzak and Scott-Railton met with these men, however, they began to ask questions about Citizen Lab's work—particularly pertaining to the Israeli software—and Razzak and Scott-Railton's personal sentiments about Israel. A review of the companies of the supposed investors reportedly indicated they were digital facades and not legitimate. AP reporters who observed the meeting with Scott-Railton and the “investor” reported that other men were watching the discussion and the “investor” had a pen on him with a hidden camera. When reporters approached the “investor” after the meal, he refused to answer questions about his fake company.
Who the operatives were, and who they worked for, is reportedly unclear. The company who made the Israeli software, NSO Group, denied having anything to do with the undercover operations. “We condemn these sinister, underhanded activities in the strongest possible terms,” Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert said in a statement. “Such a deceitful attack on an academic group like the Citizen Lab is an attack on academic freedom everywhere.”