THE latest revelations from the Pegasus Project show that the spyware was used to track murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi through his relatives. The spyware was successfully installed into the phones of Khashoggi’s fiance Hatice Cengiz and wife and his wife Hanan Elatr respectively. His son Abdullah was also targeted by the software.
Pegasus was installed in his wife’s phone through malicious links that were disguised as being sent by her sister. These links were sent twice, first in November 2017 and then in April 2018. Canada-based research laboratory Citizen Lab had reported a day before Khashoggi’s murder in October 2018 that his close friend, Saudi Arabian dissident activist Omar Abdulaziz, had been targeted by this spyware.
On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain some documents related to his planned marriage with Cengiz. While in the embassy, he was allegedly killed by an overdose of a drug and then his body was dismembered for ease of disposal.
Once a close aide of the Saudi Royal family, he served as an adviser to the Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal, before multiple run-ins with the Saudi government led him to permanently relocate to the U.S. in 2017.
America’s Central Intelligence Agency has confirmed that Khashoggi was murdered at the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
The spyware installation outlined above took place months before his alleged murder by Saudi Arabia’s Royal family.
“As NSO has previously stated, our technology was not associated in any way with the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This includes listening, monitoring, tracking, or collecting information. We previously investigated this claim, immediately after the heinous murder, which again, is being made without validation,” the NSO said in a statement, distancing itself from the reports.
The alleged list of snooping targets accessed by international human rights organization Amnesty International and collaborative journalism network Forbidden Stories doesn’t name the clients who ordered the snooping of different phone numbers in the list. However, the Saudi government’s role in Khashoggi’s murder makes it a strong suspect for conducting surveillance on his circle.
Arrest of Dubai Princess Sheikha Latifa
Emirati Princess Sheikha Latifa Mohammed al-Maktoum’s number was added to the surveillance list before she fled from the U.A.E. in 2018. Many of her close associates also feature in the list.
Latifa had fled from the U.A.E. to reach the U.S. through India. But she was taken into custody by Indian Special Forces in an unidentified location in the Indian Ocean. The operation was reportedly carried out on the order of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is believed that the Emirates had informed the Indian government about her whereabouts. She was later handed over to the U.A.E. authorities.
The arrest came even though she, along with her fitness trainer Tinna Jauhiainen, who fled with her, took the precaution of leaving her phone in a Dubai cafe. They travelled with new phones and SIM cards but made the mistake of chatting with their friends who were also under surveillance by Emirati authorities.
After being arrested by Indian commandos, she reportedly said, “Don’t take me back, shoot here.” She had cited the physical abuse by her family as the reason to flee.
This was Latifa’s second attempt to escape from the Kingdom after 2002. She tried to escape to Oman earlier, only to be brought back and imprisoned for three years. She claimed mental and physical torture by the authorities during these three years.
The princess is not the only one from Dubai to appear on the list. Princess Haya bint Hussein, Latifa’s former step-mother, who had fled to the UK with her children in 2019, also features in the list.
Latifa’s father and Haya’s former husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, is the Vice-President and Prime Minister of U.A.E., and the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.
More than 50 aides of Mexico’s president snooped
Before his victory in the 2018 Mexican election, the incumbent President of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, along with his aides, was snooped upon by the then federal government. Enrique Pena Nieto was the president of the North American nation at that time.
According to the latest leaked data, more than 15,000 Mexican numbers were targeted for surveillance in 2016 and 2017, the most crucial years before the election. The list includes a number of human rights activists, lawyers, and anti-drug activists, among others. This is the largest cluster from a single country in the leaked list of 50,000 numbers.
The list also names the President’s two sons, three brothers, three chauffeurs, and legal advisers, among others. Many Cabinet ministers in the government were also named in the list.
Approximately 400 of these numbers in the list have been verified by the Pegasus Project. How many have been successfully targeted is still unverifiable.
The Mexican government is believed to be one of the first national governments to purchase this software after the infamous ‘war on drugs’ began in December 2006. The federal government had then ordered surveillance of 500 people associated with drug trafficking. Mexico has been facing drug-related issues for many years, and has supposedly lost anywhere between 1,25,000 to 1,50,000 people to drug crime-related homicides between 2006 to 2018.
As a first buyer, Mexico has been a laboratory for the NSO Group for further developments of the software.
Former President Enrique Pena Nieto had admitted in 2017 that his government was using this spyware, but said that it was only availed against organized crime and rejected “any sort of intervention in the private lives of activists or any other citizens.”
Former Mexican minister, Angel Osorio Chon, whose ministry supervised the domestic intelligence agency, Centre For Investigation and National Security, too, denied that they had access to this spyware, in a letter to the Pegasus Project.
Even after Accord, key NSCN-IM leaders still on snooping list
Even after signing a “historic” peace agreement with the Union Government in 2015, many leaders of the Naga nationalist separatist group National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s NSCN-IM faction led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingeland Muivah still featured on this list. The list includes names of Atem Vashum, Apam Muivah, Anthony Shimray, and Phunthing Shimrang among others. But the most unexpected name in the list is Kitovi Zhimomi, a key Naga leader considered close to the Modi government.
Atem Vashum is considered the successor of Thuingeland Muivah, who is the present leader of NSCN, and was added to the list in mid-2017. Thuingeland Muivah’s nephew Apam Muivah was then added to the list soon after. Two phone numbers of Anthony Ningkhang Shimray, the Commander-in-Chief of the Naga Army of NSCN-IM, also appear in the leaked records along with Phunthing Shimrang, the former Commander in Chief of the NSCN-IM’s Naga Army.
The latest report confirms that the leaders were put on surveillance in less than two years after the peace accord. Even six years since being signed, the Naga accord has yet to become a reality due to the insistence of Naga groups for a separate flag and constitution.
The Naga Accord was signed on August 4, 2015, which paved the way for a political solution for the insurgency-hit state. Nagaland has witnessed insurgency for the last six decades.
PM Modi had termed the document of the accord as “a shining example of what we can achieve when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence.”
Amnesty stands with Pegasus reports findings
Amnesty International has rejected the claims made by certain organisations that the group has distanced itself from the Pegasus findings.
Amnesty International put out a statement condemning this. It said, “Amnesty International categorically stands by the findings of the Pegasus Project, and that the data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The false rumours being pushed on social media are intended to distract from the widespread unlawful targeting of journalists, activists and others that the Pegasus Project has revealed.”
Amnesty International said that its statement in Hebrew has been incorrectly translated into English. Amnesty International Israel’s spokesperson Gil Naveh clarified, “Amnesty, and the journalists involved in the investigation, made it clear from the outset in very clear language that this was a list of numbers marked or targeted as numbers of interest for NSO’s customers, who are various regimes in the world.”
Till now, Amnesty has analysed 67 phones from among the list in its technical lab, out of which 37 were found to be either successfully attacked or attempted to be hacked by the spyware.