Israeli Envoy's Admission on Pegasus Spyware Contradicts Indian Govt's Claims, Stokes Controversy

The Pegasus Project - Sputnik International, 1920, 29.10.2021
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The Indian Supreme Court on Tuesday (27 October) also set-up an “expert panel” to investigate whether the Pegasus spyware had been used by the Indian government to snoop on citizens. The top Indian court said that the federal government couldn’t always get a “free pass” by citing the “spectre of national security”.
A day after Israel's new Ambassador to India Naor Gilon claimed that only a government company could buy Pegasus software, former Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram on Friday sought clarification from the Narendra Modi government.
Pegasus is Israeli military-grade spyware which is reportedly used to snoop on Indian politicians and journalists, among others.
“So, in India’s case, the buyer was certainly the government of India,” alleged Chidambaram, who is also a senior lawmaker from the main opposition Congress party.
Chidambaram, a Congress party MP, wasn't alone; Subramanian Swamy, a parliamentarian from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya anata Party (BJP) also took note of the Israeli ambassador’s statement.
Swamy claimed that the sale of the NSO Group-developed spyware could only have been exported if the Indian Ambassador to Tel Aviv had sanctioned the transaction.
Former Indian diplomat K.C. Singh, on the other hand, urged the Israeli authorities to cooperate in the recently instituted court-monitored probe into the spyware scandal.
According to a joint investigation conducted by Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International, Pegasus has targeted more than 50,000 phone numbers in more than 50 countries since 2016.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been accused by the opposition of having employed the Pegasus spyware to snoop on nearly 300 Indian phone numbers.
Almost 40 of them reportedly belong to senior journalists, political opponents, government officials, and two federal ministers.
India's opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi speaks at a rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Gauhati, India, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.07.2021
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At his press conference on Thursday, Gilon stated that every export of the NSO or such companies “needs an export license” from the Israeli government.

“We grant this export licence only for exporting to governments," Gilon said during his maiden press conference on Thursday after assuming charge as Israel’s top diplomat to India.

Gilon wouldn’t reveal if Tel Aviv had been approached by New Delhi for cooperation in investigating the matter. “What's happening here in India is an internal thing for India and I would rather not go into your internal matters," said the Israeli diplomat.
Even NSO Group claims on its website that it merely helps “government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime to save thousands of lives around the globe”.
The Israeli diplomat’s admission on Pegasus called into question statements made by the Indian government since the allegations over the use of the spyware first erupted in July this year.
At least three Indian ministries—defence, home and electronics and IT —had rejected the allegations levelled against New Delhi and even denied having conducted any transaction with the Israeli group.
“(India’s) Ministry of Defence has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies,” Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt said in a written reply in Parliament in August.
In July, federal Minister for Electronics and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw rejected claims that “unauthorised surveillance” had taken place in the country under Modi’s watch.
“When we look at this issue through the prism of logic, it clearly emerges that there is no substance behind this sensationalism,” the minister said in a statement to India’s lower house on 19 July.
Further, the Indian Home Ministry has also denied any knowledge about the use of Pegasus spyware, in a Right to Information (RTI) reply.
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