With voting now underway for the Oscar documentary shortlists, Academy Doc Branch members are choosing from a variety of contenders, including one from Laura Poitras, director of the Oscar-winning Citizenfour.
Poitras’s earlier film focused on Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed the existence of the National Security Agency’s secret and widespread surveillance programs. Her latest, the short documentary Terror Contagion, exposes the activities of a private Israeli company called NSO, maker of a spyware program that has been deployed by numerous governments to crack down on journalists, human rights advocates and others.
“It’s classified as a cyber weapon. This is how extremely violent and invasive this technology is,” Poitras tells Deadline. “NSO Group, this Israeli company, sells to other countries, often countries that have a very bad history or track record of human rights.”
Like Saudi Arabia. The regime allegedly used the Pegasus software to infect the phone of a Saudi dissident, Omar Abdulaziz, and through that hack was able to monitor one of his friends, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post. Khashoggi was subsequently assassinated in 2018; according to an assessment by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved the murderous operation.
“This assassination was empowered with Israeli software,” Shourideh Malavi, a researcher with Forensic Architecture (FA), says in the film. FA describes itself as a “research agency, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, investigating human rights violations including violence committed by states, police forces, militaries, and corporations.” FA’s investigation of NSO Group and Pegasus forms the basis of Terror Contagion.
Abdulaziz was living in exile in Canada when he was hacked through Pegasus malware, evidence that governments can now track perceived opponents no matter their location.
“Pegasus is being used by governments… to track people even once they have left their…