U.S. lawmakers demanded the intelligence community and the State Department control the spread of surveillance technology in other countries, according to letter signed by a bipartisan group of congressmen released Monday.
The letter, led by Democrat Tom Malinowski and sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Friday, referenced two separate occasions where U.S. or foreign companies sold technology to countries that used them to spy on journalists, dissidents and Americans.
One such incident was with Pegasus, an Israeli surveillance software sold to Saudi Arabia and reportedly used to spy on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The U.S. resident and columnist for The Washington Post, was killed by Saudi nationals after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
After initially saying he had left the consulate alive, the Saudi administration later admitted he was killed there, blaming the killing on rogue Saudi operatives.
The letter also highlighted the case of the American company, Cyberpoint, which reportedly provided intelligence officers to a United Arab Emirates (UAE) hacking unit and targeted militants, human rights activists, and journalists in the Middle East, including U.S. citizens.
Lawmakers emphasized concern “about these and other reported instances in which foreign governments with troubling human rights records,” or entities that operate on the interests of those governments, exploiting the intelligence training of individuals trained in U.S. national service.
The letter recommends Washington should “enhance its ability” to stop former U.S. intelligence officials from using their expertise to become mercenaries for foreign governments.
The State Department is in charge of approving any potential cyber offensive product sales to foreign governments under certain circumstances.
“Capabilities that the United States and our allies developed to catch terrorists should not be sold on the open market to help dictatorships catch dissidents, or spy on ordinary Americans,” Malinowski said in a statement. “We need new rules to control the spread of these emerging surveillance technologies.”
The letter was signed by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel, as well as Adam Schiff, Mike Gallagher, Jason Crow, Will Hurd, Colin Allred, Abigail Spanberger, Andre Carson and Eric Swalwell.