According to the news website The Wire, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, BJP ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel, and political strategist Prashant Kishor were among the potential targets of surveillance through Pegasus, Israeli spyware. Digital news platform The Wire is part of the collaboration along with 16 media partners led by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and including The Washington Post in the United States, The Guardian in the United Kingdom, and Le Monde in France.
As stated in the international media consortium’s report, more than 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including two serving ministers, 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, and one sitting judge besides scores of business persons and activists in India were possibly targeted for hacking through the Israeli spyware sold only to government agencies. Phones of at least five of Gandhi’s close friends and other Congress leaders were also identified as potential targets using the spyware. Gandhi was twice selected as a potential surveillance target, the report said.
“Such was the apparent interest in Gandhi that the numbers of five of his social friends and acquaintances were also placed on the list of potential targets. None of the five plays any role in politics or public affairs,” The Wire report said.
The Wire reported that amid the West Bengal assembly elections held recently, Prashant Kishor’s phone was hacked using Pegasus. The mobile number of Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, was also a potential target for surveillance by a government client of NSO Group, the report said. Banerjee’s secretary also figures on the list. On April 28, only a day before the final phase of voting in West Bengal’s eight-phase assembly election, Amnesty’s forensic research discovered indications of infection on Kishor’s phone.
Govt. denies claims
IT minister Vaishnaw, however, said in the Lok Sabha on Monday, the first day of the monsoon session, that a “highly sensational story was published on Sunday night”. He said many over-the-top allegations had been made around this story.
“Hon’ble Speaker Sir, the press reports have appeared a day before the Monsoon session of Parliament. This cannot be a coincidence,” he said in the House. Vaishnaw pointed out that in the past, “similar claims” were made regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp and that those “reports had no factual basis”.