Paris-based Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International have gained access to a leaked list of more than 50,000 records of phone numbers that clients of the Israeli company NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus, selected for surveillance.(AP/For Representative Purposes Only)
Paris-based Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International have gained access to a leaked list of more than 50,000 records of phone numbers that clients of the Israeli company NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus, selected for surveillance.(AP/For Representative Purposes Only)

China, Iran diplomats among people in Pegasus list: Report

  • While surveillance of phone numbers of diplomats is not unheard of around the world, the matter continues to be very sensitive.
By Rezaul H Laskar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 20, 2021 05:57 AM IST

A number once used by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and those of dozens of diplomats in India from countries such as China and Iran are among potential targets selected by users of the Pegasus spyware programme, according to media reports on Monday.

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Paris-based Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International have gained access to a leaked list of more than 50,000 records of phone numbers that clients of the Israeli company NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus, selected for surveillance. More than 1,000 phone numbers in India were part of the list, according to 17 media outlets that examined the list. The records included at least one number once used by Prime Minister Khan and that had been selected by a NSO client for surveillance, The Washington Post and Le Monde reported.

“Not surprisingly, Pakistan is the most scrutinised country,” Le Monde said in its report.

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“The numbers of Imran Khan and several of his ambassadors in India appear on the list as potential targets. Dozens of other Delhi-based diplomats and ambassadors are also included, from Iran, Afghanistan, China, Nepal and Saudi Arabia,” the report added.

Hari Menon, the India head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and one more foundation employee and two employees of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in New Delhi were also on the list, The Washington Post reported.

There was no immediate response from Indian officials or the missions of the countries named in the reports. Khan didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

While surveillance of phone numbers of diplomats is not unheard of around the world, the matter continues to be very sensitive. For instance, Pakistan’s security agencies have been known to tap the phones of all Indian diplomats and officials as well as those of visiting Indian journalists.

Given India’s currently strained relations with China and Pakistan, closer scrutiny of the diplomats of both countries would not be surprising, experts said. However, most of the other countries named in the Le Monde report are not perceived as security concerns.

NSO Group has said all its clients are sovereign governments and that all exports are cleared by the Israeli government. It has also said Pegasus has been used by some 60 intelligence and law enforcement agencies in 40 countries and insisted that the spyware, which can access all data on a mobile phone and turn it into an audio or video recorder, is for use only against terrorists and criminals.

The Indian government has neither confirmed nor denied licensing Pegasus and it has denied all the news reports.

However, the global investigative project has alleged Pegasus was used to target politicians, ministers, civil society and rights activists and journalists.

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