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Internal Documents Show How Close the FBI Came to Using Spyware

    At a congressional hearing in March, Mr. Wray that the agency had purchased a “limited license” to test and evaluate “as part of our routine responsibilities to evaluate technologies out there, not only from the perspective of whether they can ever be used legally, but also, more importantly, what are the safety issues caused by those products.”

    “So very different from using it to research someone,” he said.

    A June letter from the FBI to Mr. Wyden made similar comments, stating that the agency had purchased a license “to investigate possible future legal use of the NSO product and potential security vulnerabilities that the product poses.”

    The letter continued, “After testing and evaluation, the FBI has chosen not to use the product operationally in any investigation.”

    During his time as FBI director, Mr. Wray worked to build good relationships with lawmakers from both sides, especially after the tumultuous years of his predecessor, James B. Comey. He has received praise from some on Capitol Hill for his public testimony during Trump’s reign — on things like Russia and domestic extremism — which infuriated President Donald J. Trump.

    The internal FBI documents and legal filings filed on behalf of the agency provide the most complete picture to date of the agency’s interest in deploying Pegasus. Though heavily redacted, the internal documents show that from late 2020 through the summer of 2021, the FBI had expressed a growing interest in potentially using Pegasus to hack into FBI targets’ phones in criminal investigations.

    In September and October 2020, after the agency tested the product, FBI officials put together PowerPoint presentations that included “detailed discussions of the potential risks or benefits of using the NSO tool” and “suggestions for specific steps the FBI should take.” or DOJ should take before making a decision about whether or not to use it.”

    On March 29, 2021, two months after President Biden took office, the agency’s Criminal Investigative Division issued a 25-page memorandum documenting the division’s recommendations in support of the use of Pegasus “under certain specific conditions,” which are not clear. were in the redacted documents.