Internal Documents Show How Close the F.B.I. Came to Deploying Spyware

During a congressional hearing in March, Mr. Wray said the bureau had bought a “limited license” for testing and evaluation “as part of our routine responsibilities to evaluate technologies that are out there, not just from a perspective of could they be used someday legally, but also, more important, what are the security concerns raised by those products.”

“So, very different from using it to investigate anyone,” he said.

A June letter from the F.B.I. to Mr. Wyden made similar points, saying the bureau purchased a license “to explore potential future legal use of the NSO product and potential security concerns the product poses.”

The letter continued, “After testing and evaluation, the F.B.I. chose not to use the product operationally in any investigation.”

During his time as F.B.I. director, Mr. Wray has worked to build good relations with lawmakers from both parties, especially after the tumultuous years of his predecessor, James B. Comey. He has earned praise from some on Capitol Hill for his public testimony during the Trump administration years — on issues including Russia and domestic extremism — that infuriated President Donald J. Trump.

The internal F.B.I. documents and legal briefs submitted on behalf of the bureau give the most complete picture to date of the bureau’s interest in deploying Pegasus. While heavily redacted, the internal documents show that, from late 2020 until the summer of 2021, the F.B.I. had demonstrated a growing interest in potentially using Pegasus to hack the phones of F.B.I. targets in criminal investigations.

In September and October 2020, after the bureau had tested the product, F.B.I. officials put together PowerPoint presentations that included “detailed discussions of the potential risks or advantages of using the NSO tool” and “proposals for specific steps the F.B.I. or D.O.J. should take before making a decision about whether to use it.”

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

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