THE latest revelations by the Pegasus Project show businessman Anil Ambani, his Corporate Communications chief Tony Jesudasan and his wife were on the list of snooping targets. Also added in the list between 2018 and 2019 were international aircraft manufacturing company Dassault Aviation’s representative in India Venkata Rao Posina, Swedish aerospace company Saab’s former India head Inderjit Sial and American aerospace company Boeing’s India boss Pratyush Kumar.
Jesudasan is regarded as a trouble-shooter for Ambani’s empire in matters of regulatory policy and the media.
Sial is presently the India and Asia-Pacific head of the U.S. defence company Textron. Sial quit Saab shortly after a Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract was awarded to Rafale in 2013.
Sial said in a statement that one of the reasons some government agency might have been interested in putting him under surveillance was because he had been in the running for the top job at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited during the period his number figures in the leaked database.
All these persons were linked to the Rafale deal signed between India and France in 2016. Dassault Aviation’s Rafale jet emerged as the first choice of the Indian government over Saab’s Gripen, Boeing’s F/A-18, Lockheed Martin’s F-16, Europe’s Eurofighter Typhoon, and Mikoyan’s MiG-35.
In 2018, two years after signing the deal, the Narendra Modi-led Union government’s decision came under public scrutiny. A legal challenge was placed in the Supreme Court over Ambani’s Reliance Defence Limited getting a contract as an offset partner of Dassault Aviation. The Hindu’s expose on the deal was also taken up to the court. Former French President Francois Hollande’s remarks that a particular company was favoured further added fuel to the fire.
However, it is not confirmed if Ambani is still using the same number that was added to the list. There was no response from him over the questions asked on this revelation.
A Supreme Court judgment by a bench headed by the then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed a batch of petitions that called for further investigation in December 2018. The court observed that there was no substantial evidence of corruption in this issue.
The controversy made headlines again recently when France ordered a judicial probe on this issue.
The contact number of Harmanjit Nagi, head of the French firm energy EDF, is also in the leaked database. He was a member of Emmanuel Macron’s official delegation during the French president’s visit to India during this period.
However, it has not been completely established that the snooping was done over the Rafale issue.
Kashmiri separatists and journalists, Tibetan officials on the snoop list
More than 25 people from the Kashmir Valley were selected as potential targets of the Pegasus spyware between 2017 and 2019. Some Delhi-based Kashmiri Journalists and activists are also featured in the list.
Out of these, forensic analysis was done by international human rights organization Amnesty International on the phones of Kashmiri separatist leader Bilal Lone, brother of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference Chairman Sajjad Lone, and S.A.R. Geelani, former Delhi University lecturer who died in 2018. Both their phones confirmed Pegasus infection.
The surveillance was done before the Indian Parliament revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which gave the special status to the erstwhile state on August 5, 2019. The abrogation was followed by the jailing of many politicians, dissidents and activists, and heavy deployment of paramilitary personnel in the valley to maintain peace. The government had also suspended internet connection for seven months, a move criticised by many international and domestic human rights bodies.
Bilal Lone had formed his political outfit, the People’s Independent Movement to oppose the centre’s “dictatorial” move.
He said that he has since moved away from politics and is instead focusing on the popular bakery which he owns near his heavily fortified residence in Srinagar. As the forensic analysis shows, attempts to target his phone were made when he was active in Kashmir’s politics.
Others on the leaked database include at least two members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s family. Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party President Altaf Bukhari’s brother Tariq Bukhari also makes an appearance on the list and was potentially snooped on between 2017 and 2019.
The attack was done when Mufti was still Chief Minister of the erstwhile state in a coalition with the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). In fact, Mufti’s family members were chosen for potential surveillance just months before the government collapsed as the BJP pulled out of the coalition in June 2018.
At least four members of Kashmir’s influential separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s family, including his son-in-law and journalist Iftikhar Gilani and his son Syed Naseem Geelani, were spied upon between 2017 and 2019.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani has been in controversy many times for advocating Kashmir’s separation from India. He was awarded Nishan-e-Pakistan, Pakistan’s highest civilian award last year.
The present head of the All India Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella group of many separatists groups in the valley, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was a potential target of surveillance between 2017 and 2019. Farooq is also Kashmir’s chief cleric. The records reveal that Farooq’s driver too had possibly been a target of surveillance.
The Hurriyat Conference opposed the August 2019 decision relating to Jammu and Kashmir. They had called for widespread protest in the state at that time. Both Geelani and Farooq have been under house arrest since the scrapping of the special status.
The Pegasus Project data reveals the names of five Kashmiri journalists, including Muzamil Jaleel of the Indian Express, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi formerly with Hindustan Times, Iftikhar Geelani formerly with DNA and Sumir Kaul of Press Trust of India. The name of the fifth journalist has not been released till now.
Names of many more journalists, activist and political opponents are expected to come up.
Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s closest circle of advisers, as well as staff members of other Buddhist clerics were also in the target list. The spiritual leadership of the Tibetan community has been living in exile in India since 1959.
Those targeted include the staff of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, who is the third highest ranking monk in Tibetan Buddhism, Urgyen Trinley Dorji, the Dalai Lama’s long-term envoy and the current director, India and East Asia, of the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Delhi Tempa Tsering, and the head of the trust that will oversee the selection of the next Dalai Lama, Samdhong Rinpoche.
Dorji is known to have had a difficult relationship with Indian intelligence.
These names were added into the list between late 2017 and early 2019. During this period, the Dalai Lama had met former U.S. President Barack Obama during the latter’s trip to India in December 2017, and Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan for an informal summit, in the backdrop of the Doklam border standoff, in April 2018.
Israel to examine whether exporting rules for Spyware should be tighten
Amid revelations that the Israeli spyware was used to snoop on journalists, human rights activists, and political opponents across the world, an Israeli commission is expected to review the exporting criteria of the Pegasus. Many people in Israel itself have expressed concerns over the export regulations.
Ram Ben-Barak, the head of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee and a former deputy head of the spy agency Mossad, disclosed on Army Radio that Israel’s “defence establishment has appointed a review commission made up of a number of groups”.
He said, “We certainly have to look anew at this whole subject of licenses granted by DECA (Defence Exports Control Agency). When they finish their review, we’ll demand to see the results and assess whether we need to make corrections.”
DECA is an Israeli Defence Ministry agency that, among other things, oversees the export of this software.
NSO Group sells its products only to the foreign government. In its Transparency Report, it stated that 51 percent of the exports are made to foreign intelligence agencies, 38 percent to law enforcement agencies and the remaining 11 percent to militaries.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel had earlier cautioned Israel about regulating the sale of spyware. She said, “I believe it is important that software developed for certain situations does not fall into the wrong hands. There have to be restrictive conditions and such software should not be sold to countries where judicial oversight over such attacks cannot be guaranteed.”
It has been revealed under the Pegasus Project that the spyware was exported to many authoritarian countries such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Azerbaijan and U.A.E., among others. The heads of 14 nations and their family members, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, were targeted for surveillance.