Pedro Sánchez is the first acting head of Spanish government to acknowledge having been spied on by the Israeli Pegasus software, with which Morocco also infiltrated one of the mobile phones of French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Spanish Government has reported this Sunday that the mobile phones of the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez and the Defense Minister, Margarita Robles, were subjected to "illegal and external" wiretapping by the Pegasus program, according to two technical reports from the Cryptologic Center National. It is the first time that espionage with this software of an acting head of government has been confirmed.
Already last summer, an investigation uncovered that Morocco had infected one of the mobile phones of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, with Pegasus, who however did not confirm the information.
The Pegasus software from the Israeli manufacturer NSO is able to read all data from mobile phones attacked with it. In addition, Pegasus can switch on the camera and microphone of the respective device unnoticed. According to the non-governmental organization Amnesty International, up to 50,000 cell phones worldwide could have been spied on with the help of the software.
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Considered the most penetrating cyber espionage software in the world, Pegasus is capable of penetrating a mobile phone, sucking up all its information, activating its camera or even recovering deleted messages in the past without the user being aware of the infiltration.
The work of the Israeli company NSO, a long dozen authoritarian regimes have used Pegasus software to spy on more than 50,000 politicians, journalists, activists and lawyers. Some of them have even lost their lives and many have been harassed in recent years.
Morocco infiltrated one of the personal cell phones of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, through the Pegasus program of the Israeli company NSO.
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The phone targeted by the infiltration is one of the personal mobile phones of the French head of state. He uses it for private communications but sometimes also for professional calls. Although it is his personal mobile, it is periodically checked by French espionage services and all his messages are encrypted. According to the Parisian evening paper, Macron used that phone from 2017 until recent times and in fact it is one of the two iPhones that appear in his official photo of him.
MEXICO: CECILIO PINEDA BIRTO
Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto died at the age of 38, shot at a car wash facility in Ciudad Altamirano, on March 2, 2017. Days before, he had participated in a program, broadcast on Facebook Live, in which he linked the local police and politicians with the local organized crime boss in Tierra Caliente, southern Mexico.
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Although he could have been GEO located by other means, the NSO technology surely served to find out where he was, even if he was not visible from the street. At least 26 Mexican journalists were "infiltrated" by the Pegasus program between 2016 and 2017, including investigative journalists, newspaper editors and foreign media correspondents such as Azam Ahmed, chief of staff for 'The New York Times'.
At least 50 people in the circle of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (including his wife, his children, his advisers and his personal doctor) are among the more than 15,000 people selected as potential espionage targets in Mexico.
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated on October 2, 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Audio recordings have shown that he was tortured and that his body was dismembered with a chainsaw. "We had nothing to do with that horrible murder," NSO Executive Director Shalev Hulio declared in 2019.
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The "Pegasus Project" investigation has, however, found evidence that Khashoggi's last wife, the Egyptian Hanan El Atr, could have been spied on before and after her death, as well as her circle of friends. The program was even used to monitor the investigation carried out by the Turkish authorities and even "tap" the chief prosecutor's communications.
Khashoggi had fled Saudi Arabia in 2017; his last wife was under house arrest in the United Arab Emirates. A CIA report has implicated Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in the journalist's murder. Bin Salman denies ordering his death.
In India, the Pegasus surveillance program has been used to spy on Raul Gandhi, former chairman of the Indian National Congress Party (INC) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's main political rival. As revealed by 'The Guardian', Indira Gandhi's grandson was selected twice as a "potential target" for surveillance, among dozens of activists, journalists and government critics.
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Two numbers linked to Raul Gandhi appeared on the list of "infiltrators" by the Pegasus program in the months before and after the 2019 elections. Five other friends, relatives and acquaintances of the then leader of the CNI were also apparently monitored. Gandhi himself even took the precaution of frequently changing mobile phones for fear of being spied on.
Espionage in India has also spread to critical media such as 'The Wire': its co-founder Siddarth Varadarajan has condemned "the incredible intrusion" upon learning that his communications -and those of his partner Paranjoy Guha Thakurta- were "hacked" with the help from the Israeli program.
HUNGARY: SZABOLCS PANYI
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used the Pegasus program in his private war against the media. Since 2010, when he came to power, Hungary has fallen from number 23 to number 92 in the world ranking of press freedom.
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Harassment, pressure or espionage of journalists has been the daily bread in recent years. Direkt36 publication and investigative journalist Szabolcs Panyi have been two of Pegasus' targets. Panyi's cell phone was "infiltrated" for at least seven months, and specifically on eleven occasions during his investigation into the relocation of a Russian bank to Budapest, despite objections that it could be a Trojan horse from Russian intelligence. Moscow. "Viktor Orban's government has a paranoid obsession that journalists are part of a conspiracy against his government," admits Panyi.
UNITED KINGDOM: ROULA KHALAF
At the top of the list of 180 spied journalists is the current director of the 'Financial Times', Roula Khalaf, born in Beirut and with a long career as a special envoy to the Middle East and North Africa. Khalaf was allegedly spied on by the Saudi Arabian government, using the Pegasus program, when she was deputy director of the FT in 2018.
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In response to the information, the financial newspaper has stressed that "freedom of the press is a fundamental right" and that any interference by the State is "unacceptable."
MOROCCO: OMAR RADI
The freelance journalist and human rights activist Omar Radi, who has brought to light information about corruption in the Moroccan government, was also spied on using the Pegasus program between 2018 and 2019. The Moroccan government denies his alleged involvement in the plot, despite the fact that the infiltrated telephone numbers could have been more than 10,000. Radi was once accused of being a British spy. Human Rights Watch has championed his case and has accused the Moroccan authorities of "abusing the justice system to silence critical voices."
AZERBAIJAN: KHADIJA ISMAYILOVA
The investigative journalist Kahdija Ismayilova, known for her reports denouncing the corruption of the autocratic regime of Ilham Aliyev (which has been in charge of the country since 2003), was "hacked" with the Pegasus program in 2019, as was her network dissidents, lawyers and even relatives.
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"I feel guilty for all my sources and for having thought that my messages were encrypted," the journalist told 'The Guardian'. "My family has also been victimized, I did not know that my phone was infected. There are people who may be in danger from all this, it is unfortunate that these tools are available to evil people like the Aliyev regime."
RWANDA: CARINE KANIMBA
Carinae Kanimba, daughter of imprisoned activist Paul Rusesabagina (who inspired the movie "Hotel Rwanda"), has been subjected to an intense surveillance operation with the help of the Pegasus program. Kanimba, a Belgian and American national, has been at the forefront of the campaign to free her father and has harshly criticized the regime of President Paul Kagame.