A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021.
A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021.
AFP Photo

New Delhi: Israel’s government is setting up a task force to control the collateral damage accruing from the Pegasus project revelations about the use of spying tools sold to governments by the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group.

A team will include representatives from the defence ministry, ministry of justice, foreign ministry, military intelligence and the Mossad, the national intelligence agency.

The Pegasus project, a consortium of several media houses, including the Guardian, Washington Post, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Le Monde, has revealed that government clients around the world had used hacking software developed and sold by NSO to target human rights activists, journalists and lawyers.

The selection of Indian phone numbers largely commenced around the time of PM Narendra Modi’s trip to Israel in 2017, the first visit to the country by an Indian Prime Minister, which culminated in billions of dollars in deals between Delhi and Israeli defence industries, The Guardian reports.

Modi and the then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were pictured during the trip, walking barefoot together on a beach. Days before, Indian targets had started being selected, The Guardian said.

Analysis of the more than 1,000 mostly Indian phone numbers selected for potential targeting also included poll strategist Prashant Kishor, which would suggest that intelligence agencies within the government were behind the target selection, the report added.

Other numbers identified in the records included those of known priorities of the country's security agencies, including Kashmiri separatist leaders, Pakistani diplomats, Chinese journalists, Sikh activists and businesspeople known to be the subject of police investigations.

The client also identified two numbers registered to or once known to have been used by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the report said.

The motive for the scrutiny is unclear, though the Modi government has expressed suspicion of foreign funding for charities, research institutes and NGOs and has sought to tighten restrictions for bringing in money from overseas, The Guardian said.

NSO has always maintained it "does not operate the systems that it sells to vetted government customers, and does not have access to the data of its customers' targets". NSO said it would "continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action".

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