Governments, Organizations, Unions Condemn Pegasus Spying
Governments, organizations, media, and unions condemn worldwide spyware attacks carried out through Israeli Pegasus spyware.
Human rights organizations, media outlets, the European Union, and several governments condemned Monday what reports revealed about worldwide spy attacks that targeted activists, journalists, and politicians through the Israeli NSO Group-developed Pegasus spyware.
The spyware gives the hacker access to the user's data, such as their messages, contacts, and images, even allowing the hacker to eavesdrop on their calls.
On Sunday, 17 international news agencies published an investigation showing that this spyware was used against journalists working for international news agencies. The group included the French Le Monde, the British The Guardian, and the American The Washington Post.
The report is based on a list received by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, which includes 50,000 phone numbers belonging to people that NSO Group considered to be of interest since 2016.
The list includes the phone numbers of no less than 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 activists, and 65 businessmen, according to an analysis performed by the group, which identified many numbers in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico.
After the allegations reached Morocco, Rabat strongly rejected Monday the "false allegations" concerning its usage of Pegasus spyware.
Shocking and Dangerous Allegations
The Moroccan government stated that it "rejects these false allegations" and condemns them, stressing that it "never acquired intelligence software to hack communication devices, nor have public authorities carried out such actions."
Additionally, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, "What we could read so far, and this has to be verified, but if it is the case, it is completely unacceptable. Against any kind of rules we have in the European Union."
"Freedom of media, free press is one of the core values of the EU. It is completely unacceptable if this [hacking] were to be the case," she added.
The French government denounced Monday through spokesperson Gabriel Attal what it described as ‘extremely shocking facts’ adding, "if they are true, they are extremely serious."
On another note, similar to Morocco, the Hungarian government also denied that its intelligence used Pegasus. Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijjarto said in a press briefing, "did not and do not have any knowledge of this alleged data collection," adding that there was no cooperation with Israeli intelligence on this level.
The Israeli NSO and its spyware, which has the ability to turn on a device's microphone and camera and collect data from it, have been making headlines since 2016 after it was accused of spying on a UAE activist.
Moreover, NSO Group "firmly denied" the "false allegations" made in the report.
"The report by Forbidden Stories is full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources. It seems like the “unidentified sources” have supplied information that has no factual basis and are far from reality," said the group on their website.
The group accused the allegations of being "so outrageous and far from reality that NSO is considering a defamation lawsuit."
Suppression of Independent Journalism
French news daily Mediapart and weekly Le Canard Enchainé announced on Monday that they will file complaints in Paris after Moroccan intelligence services used the Pegasus spyware to bug their phones.
Mediapart founder Edwy Plenel tweeted that the spying "leads directly to the Moroccan intelligence services, as part of the crackdown on independent journalism and social movements."
The spying, according to the website, occurred at the same as the suppression of independent journalism in Morocco, especially investigative reporter Omar Radi.
Le jour où est révélée par #ProjetPegasus l'usage massif du logiciel espion israélien par le Maroc contre les journalistes Omar Radi est condamné à 6 ans de prison à l'issue d'un procès unique. Il avait été la première cible de cet espionnage #FreeOmarRadihttps://t.co/hLKL4vV3fP— Edwy Plenel (@edwyplenel) July 19, 2021
Amnesty International had condemned, earlier in 2020, hacking this reporter's phone through Pegasus.
The list of journalists also includes Mexican reporter Cecilio Pineda Birto, who was killed a few weeks after his name appeared on the document.
The numbers of reporters from media organizations around the world were also recorded, including journalists from AFP, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, Al-Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El Pais, Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, The Economist, Reuters, Voice of America and The Guardian.
Other names on the list will be revealed in the coming days, including a president and two Prime Ministers.
Project Pegasus reporters met the mobile owners of names on the list and procured 67 phones to analyze in an Amnesty International lab.
Reports published on Sunday revealed that 37 phones were confirmed to have been hacked or undergone hacking attempts, including ten phones in India.
Two Women Close to Khashoggi
The list also includes two numbers belonging to women close to Saudi reporter Jamal Khashoggi who got murdered in his country's consulate in 2018.
As for the 30 other phones, the results were inconclusive, meaning the owner possibly changed phones.
The Washington Post wrote: "Forensic analysis of the 37 phones shows that many display a tight correlation between time stamps associated with a number on the list and the initiation of surveillance attempts, in some cases as brief as a few seconds."
In December 2020, Toronto University's Citizen Labs reported that phones belonging to tens of reporters in Al-Jazeera got hacked using advanced software.
Whatsapp had sued NSO in 2019, accusing it of creating an exploit to hack into the smartphones of hundreds of reporters and civil rights activists from around the world, including countries like India.
The NSO is not the only company suspected of supplying foreign governments with spyware software, having been greenlit by the Israeli Ministry of Defense in a breach of human rights.
Devil's Tongue, developed by Syto Tech Limited, was used to spy on close to 100 politicians, opposition members, journalists, and activists, as experts in Microsoft and Citizen Lab confirmed last Thursday.
A report by New York Times revealed last Saturday that "Israel" "secretly authorized a group of cyber-surveillance firms to work for the government of Saudi Arabia."