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Israel’s Cognyte won tender to sell intercept spyware to Myanmar before coup



Israel's Cognyte won tender to sell intercept spyware to Myanmar before coup

Israel’s Cognyte Software Ltd (CGNT.O) won a tender to sell intercept spyware to a Myanmar state-backed telecommunications firm a month before the Asian nation’s February 2021 military coup, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

The deal was made even though Israel has claimed it stopped defence technology transfers to Myanmar following a 2017 ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court, according to a legal complaint recently filed with Israel’s attorney general and disclosed on Sunday.

While the ruling was subjected to a rare gag order at the request of the state and the media cannot cite the verdict, Israel’s government has publicly stated on numerous occasions that defence exports to Myanmar are banned.

The complaint, led by high-profile Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack who spearheaded the campaign for the Supreme Court ruling, calls for a criminal investigation into the deal. It accuses Cognyte and unnamed defence and foreign ministry officials who supervise such deals of “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Myanmar.”


The complaint was filed on behalf of more than 60 Israelis, including a former speaker of the house as well as prominent activists, academics and writers.

The documents about the deal, provided to Reuters and Mack by activist group Justice for Myanmar, are a January 2021 letter with attachments from Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) to local regulators that list Cognyte as the winning vendor for intercept technology and note the purchase order was issued “by 30th Dec 2020”.

Intercept spyware can give authorities the power to listen in on calls, view text messages and web traffic including emails, and track the locations of users without the assistance of telecom and internet firms.

Representatives for Cognyte, Myanmar’s military government and MPT did not respond to multiple Reuters requests for comment. Japan’s KDDI Corp (9433.T) and Sumitomo Corp (8053.T), which have stakes in MPT, declined to comment, saying they were not privy to details on communication interception.

Israel’s attorney general did not respond to requests for comment about the complaint. The foreign affairs ministry did not respond to requests for comment about the deal, while the defence ministry declined to comment.


Two people with knowledge of Myanmar’s intercept plans separately told Reuters the Cognyte system was tested by MPT. They declined to be identified for fear of retribution by Myanmar’s junta.

MPT uses intercept spyware, a source with direct knowledge of the matter and three people briefed on the issue told Reuters although they did not identify the vendor. Reuters was unable to determine whether the sale of Cognyte intercept technology to MPT was finalised.

Even before the coup, public concern had mounted in Israel about the country’s defence exports to Myanmar after a brutal 2017 crackdown by the military on the country’s Rohingya population while Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was in power. The crackdown prompted the petition led by Mack that asked the Supreme Court to ban arms exports to Myanmar.

Since the coup, the junta has killed thousands of people including many political opponents, according to the United Nations.



Many governments around the world allow for what are commonly called ‘lawful intercepts’ to be used by law enforcement agencies to catch criminals but the technology is not ordinarily employed without any kind of legal process, cybersecurity experts have said.

According to industry executives and activists previously interviewed by Reuters, Myanmar’s junta is using invasive telecoms spyware without legal safeguards to protect human rights.

Mack said Cognyte’s participation in the tender contradicts statements made by Israeli officials after the Supreme court ruled that no security exports had been made to Myanmar.

While intercept spyware is typically described as “dual-use” technology for civilian and defence purposes, Israeli law states that “dual-use” technology is classified as defence equipment.

Israeli law also requires companies exporting defence-related products to seek licenses for export and marketing when doing deals. The legal complaint said any officials who granted Cognyte licenses for Myanmar deals should be investigated. Reuters was unable to determine whether Cognyte obtained such licenses.


Around the time of the 2020 deal, the political situation in Myanmar was tense with the military disputing the results of an election won by Suu Kyi.

Norway’s Telenor (TEL.OL), previously one of the biggest telecoms firms in Myanmar before withdrawing from the country last year, also said in a Dec. 3, 2020 briefing and statement that it was concerned about Myanmar authorities’ plans for a lawful intercept due to insufficient legal safeguards.

Nasdaq-listed Cognyte was spun off in February 2021 from Verint Systems Inc (VRNT.O), a pioneering giant in Israel’s cybersecurity industry.
Cognyte, which had $474 million in annual revenue for its last financial year, was also banned from Facebook in 2021. Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc (META.O) said in a report Cognyte “enables managing fake accounts across social media platforms”.

Meta said its investigation identified Cognyte customers in a range of countries such as Kenya, Mexico and Indonesia and their targets included journalists and politicians. It did not identify the customers or the targets.

Meta did not respond to a request for further comment.


Last month, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund dropped Cognyte from its portfolio, saying states said to be customers of its surveillance products and services “have been accused of extremely serious human rights violations”. The fund did not name any states.

Cognyte has not responded publicly to the claims made by Meta or Norway’s sovereign wealth fund.


Australian lethal mushroom mystery survivor leaves hospital




Australian lethal mushroom mystery survivor leaves hospital

A survivor of a lethal mushroom poisoning that has gripped Australia has been released from hospital, his family say.

Ian Wilkinson had been left in a critical condition after eating a beef Wellington cooked by Erin Patterson.

Three people, including Mr Wilkinson’s wife, died after the meal, which police believe contained death cap mushrooms, which are lethal if ingested.

Ms Patterson, who is not facing charges, has said it was an accident.


Mr Wilkinson left hospital on Friday after almost two months of treatment, according to his family.

“This milestone marks a moment of immense relief and gratitude for Ian and the entire Wilkinson family,” they said in a statement.

It is not yet clear if Mr Wilkinson, a Baptist church pastor, has already spoken to police in hospital or whether he can now shed new light on the case.

The fatal lunch was held in Ms Patterson’s home in the small town of Leongatha, Victoria on 29 July.

Ms Patterson had invited her former in-laws Gail and Don Patterson, along with Gail’s sister Heather Wilkinson and Heather’s husband Ian. Ms Patterson’s estranged husband could not attend at the last minute.


Hours after the meal, all four guests fell ill with what they initially thought was severe food poisoning.

Within days, Heather, 66, Gail, 70, and Don, 70, had died, while Ian, 68, was hospitalised in a critical condition.

Suspicion fell on Ms Patterson because she appeared to remain in good health despite her four guests falling gravely ill.

“I am now devastated to think that these mushrooms may have contributed to the illness suffered by my loved ones,” the 48-year-old said last month.
“I really want to repeat that I had absolutely no reason to hurt these people, whom I loved.”

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OpenAI’s ChatGPT will ‘see, hear and speak’ in major update




OpenAI's ChatGPT will 'see, hear and speak' in major update

OpenAI’s ChatGPT is getting a major update that will enable the viral chatbot to have voice conversations with users and interact using images, moving it closer to popular artificial intelligence (AI) assistants like Apple’s Siri.

The voice feature “opens doors to many creative and accessibility-focused applications”, OpenAI said in a blog post on Monday.

Similar AI services like Siri, Google (GOOGL.O) voice assistant and’s (AMZN.O) Alexa are integrated with the devices they run on and are often used to set alarms and reminders, and deliver information off the internet.

Since its debut last year, ChatGPT has been adopted by companies for a wide range of tasks from summarizing documents to writing computer code, setting off a race amongst Big Tech companies to launch their own offerings based on generative AI.


ChatGPT’s new voice feature can also narrate bedtime stories, settle debates at the dinner table, and speak out loud text input from users.

The technology behind it is being used by Spotify (SPOT.N) for the platform’s podcasters to translate their content in different languages, OpenAI said.

With images support, users can take pictures of things around them and ask the chatbot to “troubleshoot why your grill won’t start, explore the contents of your fridge to plan a meal, or analyze a complex graph for work-related data”.

Alphabet’s Google Lens is currently the popular choice to gain information on images.

The new ChatGPT features will be released for subscribers of its Plus and Enterprise plans over the next two weeks.


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SEC collects Wall Street’s private messages as WhatsApp probe escalates




SEC collects Wall Street's private messages as WhatsApp probe escalates

The U.S. securities regulator has collected thousands of staff messages from more than a dozen major investment companies, escalating its probe into Wall Street’s use of private messaging apps, said four people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Previously, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had asked the companies to internally review the messages in its investigation of Wall Street’s use of WhatsApp, Signal and other unapproved messaging apps to discuss work.

The two-year crackdown into potential breaches of record-keeping rules initially targeted broker dealers, netting regulators over $2 billion in fines.

While Reuters and other media have reported that the SEC’s “off-channel” communication probe has expanded to investment advisers, its move to review thousands of their staff messages has not previously been reported. It marks an escalation of the investigation and raises the stakes for the companies and the executives concerned by exposing their conduct to SEC scrutiny.


“It increases risk,” one source said. “The more information you give the SEC, the more you fuel the beast.”

In the latest phase of the probe of more than a dozen investment advisers, the SEC has in recent months asked for messages on personal devices or applications during the first half of 2021 that discuss business, the sources said. It has targeted a selection of employees, in some cases as many as a dozen, including senior executives.

The firms include Carlyle Group (CG.O), Apollo Global Management (APO.N), KKR & Co (KKR.N), TPG (TPG.O), and Blackstone (BX.N), according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter, as well as some hedge funds, including Citadel, said a different person with direct knowledge.

The executives gave their personal phones and other devices to their employers or lawyers to be copied, and messages discussing business have been handed to the SEC, three people said.

That is in contrast to the broker-dealer probes. In those cases, the SEC asked companies to review staff messages and report to the agency how many discussed work. SEC staff reviewed only a sample of messages themselves, according to three sources with knowledge of the previous investigations.


The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because SEC investigations are confidential.

At least 16 firms including Carlyle, Apollo, KKR, TPG, and Blackstone, have disclosed that the SEC is probing their communications. The firms did not provide further details and did not comment for this story. A spokesperson for Citadel declined to comment.

Government investigations are not evidence of wrongdoing and do not necessarily lead to charges.

An SEC spokesperson declined to comment. Chair Gary Gensler has defended the communications scrutiny, saying record-keeping rules are critical in helping the SEC guard against wrongdoing.

“Now that they have all that data – it is very possible that the SEC will find compliance failures in there somewhere that have nothing to do with the off-channel communications record-keeping issues,” said Jaclyn Grodin, a lawyer at Goulston & Storrs who is not involved in the investigation.


Private fund fees and expenses, conflicts of interest and preferential treatment of investors are issues the SEC is increasingly focusing on, she noted.

The problem of keeping tabs on staff communications has dogged Wall Street compliance departments for years. Because companies do not surveil personal messaging channels, using them to discuss business puts SEC-regulated employers in breach of requirements to record all business communications.

The SEC began to home in on Wall Street’s record-keeping problem when JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N) failed to provide documents from at least 2018 pertaining to an unrelated probe, according to a 2021 settlement in which the bank agreed to pay the SEC $125 million to resolve charges over record-keeping lapses.

Suspecting that off-channel chat about deals, trades and other business was rife on Wall Street, the SEC in 2021 opened an inquiry into other broker-dealers’ communications, said two sources. The misconduct proved so pervasive that the agency has been “shooting fish in a barrel,” one said.

The probe is shaping up to be Gensler’s signature Wall Street enforcement initiative, netting multiple big names including Wells Fargo (WFC.N), Bank of America (BAC.N), Goldman Sachs (GS.N) and Morgan Stanley .


It has generated millions in fees for attorneys, with firms hiring dozens of lawyers to represent both the company and executives worried about their exposure, according to several sources.

The SEC began approaching investment advisers in October 2022, Reuters previously reported. As with broker-dealers, the SEC initially sought details on investment advisers’ record-keeping policies. It then identified a group of executives and asked the firms to search their devices and report back on what they found.

But the firms resisted, arguing their record-keeping requirements are narrower than broker-dealers’.

In a January letter led by the Managed Funds Association, the industry said the SEC’s request was “invasive” and raised privacy issues. Bloomberg previously reported the letter.

The SEC later demanded that the investment advisers hand over the messages, the sources said.


The agency is ignoring important differences in investment advisers’ recordkeeping requirements, said Jennifer Han, the MFA’s executive vice president and chief counsel.

“Unilaterally expanding the rules by enforcement actions sidesteps due process and creates a dangerous precedent,” she said in a statement.

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