India bought Pegasus spyware from Israel in 2017, reveals report

Advertisement

Through a series of new deals, Pegasus was helping to knit together a rising generation of right-wing leaders worldwide…reports Asian Lite News

A year-long New York Times investigation, including dozens of interviews with government officials, leaders of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, cyberweapons experts, business executives and privacy activists in a dozen countries, reports Asian Lite News

India bought Pegasus spyware from Israel as part of a defence deal worth $2 billion in 2017, The New York Times has reported.

Through a series of new deals, Pegasus was helping to knit together a rising generation of right-wing leaders worldwide, the report said.

“In July 2017, Narendra Modi, who won office on a platform of Hindu nationalism, became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called ‘commitment to the Palestinian cause’, and relations with Israel were frosty. The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings”, the report said.

NYT reported, “Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion – with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces. Months later, Netanyahu made a rare state visit to India. And in June 2019, India voted in support of Israel at the UN’s Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organization, a first for the nation.”

A year-long New York Times investigation, including dozens of interviews with government officials, leaders of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, cyberweapons experts, business executives and privacy activists in a dozen countries, shows how Israel’s ability to approve or deny access to NSO’s cyberweapons has become entangled with its diplomacy.

“The combination of Israel’s search for influence and NSO’s drive for profits has also led to the powerful spying tool’s ending up in the hands of a new generation of nationalist leaders worldwide. Though the Israeli government’s oversight was meant to prevent the powerful spyware from being used in repressive ways, Pegasus has been sold to Poland, Hungary and India, despite those countries’ questionable records on human rights”, NYT reported.

Issue to spook upcoming Budget session

The stage has been set for a stormy Budget Session with the opposition gearing up against the government on the Pegasus snooping issue. The Congress is reaching out to the opposition to devise a joint strategy to corner the government.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi set the ball rolling after he said, “Modi Govt bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason. Modi Govt has committed treason.”

Not only the Congress but other political parties are planning to corner the government on the snooping row in the country.

Former Congress Chief Minister in Maharashtra Prithvi Raj Chavan said, “Government must answer which spy agency procured it and who authorised it.”

As per reports, the spyware Pegasus not only breaches the WhatsApp as also the phone but is able to turn over the cellphones camera and microphone to capture all activities in the vicinity of the phone, besides hacking all the security features of the phone, including listening to, and sending passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, and live voice calls. It also can plant fake material into the cellphone to falsely incriminate people.

Leader of the opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said, “We will seek the view of other political parties and then the further strategy will be decided.”

The Congress has said that the Prime Minister is directly involved in it and alleged that the Modi government purchased Pegasus Spyware in 2017 and other military technology as the “centrepieces” of a package, including “weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion” from Israel during PM Modi’s visit. It is not a coincidence that the Budget of National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) reporting to the NSA went up from Rs 33 crore to Rs 333 crore in 2017-18.

The Congress has alleged that the Modi government deployed Pegasus spyware for snooping and spying upon Rahul Gandhi, former PM Deve Gowda, former Chief Ministers — Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy and its own leaders former BJP Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia; BJP Cabinet Minister Prahlad Singh Patel, his wife and staff; Present IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw & his wife; OSD of Union Minister Smriti Irani; Abhishek Banerjee, MP & nephew of Ms Mamta Banerjee; Praveen Togadia, former head of VHP and others. It even said Supreme Court judges, Election Commission of India; former CBI Director Alok Verma and his wife and family; K.K. Sharma, head of BSF, BSF IG Jagdish Maithani, RAW officer Jitender Kumar Ojha and his wife; Indian Army Officers — Col. Mukul Dev and Col Amit Kumar were also targeted by Pegasus.

Buck stops at PM’s door, says Congress

After the new expose in an international publication on Pegasus, the Congress on Saturday alleged that the Modi government is involved in the whole incident and snooped rivals which is an act of treason.

Addressing a press conference, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala jointly said that the snooping is an “act of treason”.

“The Modi Government is the deployer and executor of the illegal and unconstitutional snooping and spying racket through Israeli surveillance spyware Pegasus & the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is himself involved!”

“This is a brazen ‘Hijack of Democracy’ & ‘An Act of Treason’,” they said.

Surjewala said, Modi Government purchased Pegasus Spyware in 2017 and other military technology as the “centrepieces” of a package including “weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion” from Israel during PM Modi’s visit. It is not a coincidence that the Budget of National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) reporting to NSA went up from Rs 33 crore to Rs 333 crore in 2017-18.

He said, Modi Government deployed Pegasus spyware for snooping and spying upon Rahul Gandhi and his staff members; Former PM Deve Gowda, Former Chief Ministers – Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy; Former BJP Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia; BJP Cabinet Minister, Prahlad Singh Patel, his wife and staff; Present IT Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw & his wife; OSD of Union Minister, Smriti Irani; Abhishek Banerjee, MP & nephew of Ms Mamata Banerjee; Praveen Togadia, former head of VHP and others.

The Congress alleged that not only this, Pegasus spyware target list also included Supreme Court judges; Election Commission of India; CBI Director, advocates, activists and even journalists of prominent media organisations.

The party accused the Modi government of misleading the Supreme Court which directly questioned it on the purchase and use of the questionable software.

The party said even advocates, activists and journalists of prominent media organisations were included in the snooping list.

The government dismissed the reports when the snooping row first surfaced. IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw attacked the reports of India’s Pegasus use as “baseless” and “highly sensational”. Both the Home Ministry and Defence Ministry had denied reports of the purchase.

ALSO READ: SC sets aside suspension of 12 BJP MLAs from Maha Assembly