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French intelligence agency confirms Pegasus spyware was found on phones of three journalists

This is the first time an official authority has corroborated the findings of an international investigation by the Pegasus project.

Pegasus, FranceFrench President Emmanuel Macron was among the three heads of state who were reportedly targeted for potential surveillance, with two other sitting presidents being Iraq’s Barham Salih and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.

In what is the first instance of an official authority corroborating the findings of the Pegasus Project, French intelligence investigators have confirmed that the spyware— developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group— was detected in the phones of three journalists, including a senior member of staff at the country’s international television station France 24.

France’s national agency for information systems security (Anssi) has identified digital traces of the Pegasus spyware on the phones of the France 24 journalist, Lénaïg Bredoux, an investigative journalist at the French investigative website Mediapart, and the site’s director Edwy Plenel, The Guardian reported.

After news broke that the Pegasus spyware may have targeted two journalists of Mediapart, which had first reported that the Rafale aircraft deal was being probed in France, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram had attacked the BJP government and wondered whether the Centre would “give up its ostrich-like attitude and agree to the Opposition’s demand for a full discussion in Parliament on the misuse of Pegasus spyware in India”.

Bredoux told The Guardian that the finding was a confirmation of long-held suspicions that they had been targeted. “It puts an end to the idea that this is all lies and fake news. It’s the proof we need,” Bredoux said, adding, “It takes a bit of time to realise it, but it’s extremely unpleasant to think that one is being spied on, that photos of your husband and children, your friends – who are all collateral victims – are being looked at; that there is no space in which you can escape. It’s very disturbing.”

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Le Monde reported that police experts believe that the phone of the France 24 journalist was targeted for surveillance thrice — in May 2019, September 2020, and January 2021.

French President Emmanuel Macron was among the three heads of state who were reportedly targeted for potential surveillance, with two other sitting presidents being Iraq’s Barham Salih and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.

The numbers of former France prime minister and the majority of Macron’s 20-strong cabinet were also a part of the leaked database.

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After the story broke, Macron had ordered multiple inquiries to probe into the allegations.

Macron had earlier spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett over reports that Morocco’s security forces may have used the Pegasus spyware to snoop on his cellphones. Macron telephoned Bennett on July 22, and asked him to ensure that “the issue was being taken seriously”, Israel’s Channel 12 has reported.

First published on: 02-08-2021 at 23:05 IST
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