Pegasus Project International updates: US lawmakers call for action against NSO-like groups, Morocco to sue Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories

FOUR prominent U.S. lawmakers have jointly issued a statement calling for action against NSO-like companies that sell spyware to authoritarian regimes across the world. Terming such companies as the “A.Q. Khans of the cyber world”, the statement called for stricter regulations as it was used against “peaceful activists and journalists”. The statement was issued on Monday by Democratic Party lawmakers Tom Malinowski, Katie Porter, Joaquin Castro, and Anna G. Eshoo.

Abdul Qadeer Khan (A.Q. Khan) is a Pakistani Nuclear Engineer and metallurgist famously known as the “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb”. He was the founder-director of Khan Research Laboratories, a Pakistani government nuclear lab located in Kahuta near Islamabad, which played a key role in the success of Pakistan’s nuclear program. He made headlines in 2004 after his open confession in the media over US allegations of illegally selling nuclear technologies to North Korea, Iran and Libya.

The lawmakers suggested six points to the U.S. government to punish such companies including the addition of the NSO Group in an ‘Entity List’ administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce to keep the spyware out of the way of authoritarian regimes and consider sanctioning such regimes under the Global Magnitsky Act.

The lawmakers also suggested to the U.S. government to finalise accession to the Wassenaar Arrangement’s limited controls on cyber-intrusion tools which would result in transparent human rights assessments on items with surveillance capabilities and consider Securities and Exchange Commission regulations requiring companies to publicly disclose exports of technologies with surveillance capabilities. The lawmakers cautioned the Federal government that permitting private companies to develop and sell drone or missile technology might result in its use against Americans.

Also Read: Pegasus tracking reporters portends dark future for Indian journalism

Morocco to sue Amnesty International and Forbidden stories over its report

North African country Morocco has decided to sue international human rights organization Amnesty International and French non-profit journalist organization Forbidden for their “exposé” on Morccon intelligence. Both organizations initiated the international media consortium the Pegasus Project, whose reports have suggested that Moroccan intelligence had used the Pegasus spyware to target French public figures, including President Emmanuel Macron and many of his cabinet colleagues.

“The Moroccan state immediately intends to go to the French court because it wants all the light to be shed on the false allegations of these two organizations which put forward elements without the slightest concrete and demonstrated proof,” Morocco said in a statement before filing the case. Morocco has tasked Olivier Baratelli, a prominent French lawyer to represent the country in the Paris Criminal Court. The first hearing on the case is set to take place on October 8.

Le Monde, a French newspaper and a member of the Pegasus Project’s group of 17 media organizations, had earlier reported that the numbers of President Emmanuel Macron and 15 members of the French government may have been among potential targets of surveillance by Moroccan intelligence agencies in 2019. The reports also suggested that Morocco’s intelligence agencies had even spied on its own monarch, King Mohammed VI.

Morocco’s decision comes amid fears that the revelations might damage the kingdom’s diplomatic relations with France. The French government, taking the issue seriously, had earlier held an emergency meeting to prevent such surveillance in the future. President Macron had called Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett earlier demanding a quick probe into the issue.

Also Read: Pegasus Project international updates: French President calls Israeli PM to seek action, Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. allegedly snoop on their allies

300+ dissident politicians, journalists, lawyers under the Hungarian government’s radar

The latest revelations by Direkt36, a Hungary based publication that is part of the Pegasus Project, suggests that over 300 Hungarian politicians, lawyers, journalists, and activists were snooped upon by the Federal government headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The list includes former State Secretary Attila Aszodi in charge of Hungary’s nuclear power plant, a former Minister and professor Attila Chikan, President of Budapest Bar Association Janos Banati, and four journalists including two from Direkt36 among others.

Attila Aszodi, a prominent nuclear energy expert, made it to the list at the end of 2018 when he was still an official in the Hungarian government. He began to have a series of conflicts with his superior, Minister Janos Suli, for opposing measures that would have disrupted the timetable of the Paks 2 nuclear power plant. He had assumed the post in 2014, following the Hungary-Russia agreement on the construction of this nuclear plant.

Aszodi refused to comment on his targeting by the spyware. His phone could not be examined to confirm the targeting by the forensic lab as he no longer uses the phone. Direkt36 reports that a former Intelligence officer told it that the Hungarian government had started using this software since 2018.

Professor Attila Chikan, an economist and former minister in Orbán’s first government is also on the list. In recent years, he has become a critic of Orbán. Another prominent name that is featured in the list is Janos Banati, the former President of the Budapest Bar Association. Presently, he is the president of the National Hungarian Bar Association.

The number of four journalists was included in the list of 300 numbers, including two with Direkt36, Szabolcs Panyi and Andras Szabo. The forensic analyses of their phones have confirmed that their devices have been snooped upon by the agencies. The list also features Central Media Group owner Zoltan Varga, who has been critical to the government for a long time. Many of his close associates and friends were also on the list.

58-year old Orbán, has been Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010 (he was also PM from 1998 to 2002). His tenure has been marked by widespread autocratization, corruption, Euroscepticism, curtailment of press freedoms, erosion of judicial independence, and anti-sexual minority laws.

Also Read: Pegasus Project latest: Spyware used in murder of Saudi journo Jamal Khashoggi, arrest of Dubai princess, snooping on Naga Leaders