Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, Bush family scion, and flop presidential candidate, once considered helping to sell NSO Group spyware to U.S. federal law enforcement agencies.
Bush’s private equity firm, Finback Investment Partners, mulled buying a 5 percent stake in a holding company that was being used to sell NSO’s surveillance products inside the U.S., the Financial Times reported. That holding company, Gideon Cyber Systems, is primarily owned by Novalpina Capital, another private equity firm that happens to own the NSO Group.
If the deal had gone through, Bush would have made media appearances to promote NSO and its products—“targeted press engagements” as well as “engagements with strategic…customers,” per the FT—and would have been tasked with communicating with prospective buyers, namely federal agencies like the FBI and the CIA. Discussions between Finback and Novalpina took place in 2020, but the deal ultimately never went anywhere.
NSO is a curious business for Bush have wanted to get involved with. For years, the Israeli spyware vendor has suffered a seemingly interminable series of scandals that have tanked its reputation and threatened it with legal liability. In 2021, after a renewed outcry over abuses spawned by the company’s products, NSO was officially blacklisted by the U.S. government, which put it on a list of foreign firms that cannot receive American investments without explicit government approval.
Despite the ban, supporters of NSO soldiered on in their attempt to create a market for the company’s services. The backers of the Finback deal clearly hoped that Bush’s name and political connections would help them rehabilitate NSO’s torpedoed reputation.
After all, Jeb is pretty powerful business partner to have—especially if you want to sell your products to government agencies. A former Florida governor and failed U.S. presidential candidate, Jeb’s dad was also a CIA director and then a U.S. president; and his brother was also a president, albeit one mostly remembered for having started lots of wars and had a difficult time talking. In other words, Jeb would’ve been a person who could have helped NSO get back on its feet and re-establish its legitimacy.
In addition to Bush, another man is said to have been a prominent figure in the potential deal: Jack Oliver, who is a senior adviser with Palantir, the CIA-backed defense contractor that sells surveillance tools, and which was founded by tech titan and Republican megadonor Peter Thiel. Finback had the opportunity to win an additional 5 percent ownership in Gideon if Bush and Oliver managed to generate as much as $50 million in new sales, FT reports.