Two Polish Opposition Figures Were Spied on With NSO Software Ahead of Elections, Media Says

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Surveillance - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.12.2021
Lawyer Roman Giertych and prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek are joining the list of thousands of high-profile individuals across the globe, including heads of state, officials, and human rights activists targeted by the Pegasus spyware.
Two Polish opposition figures were spied on with the NSO developed software Pegasus, the Associated Press has reported, citing University of Toronto-based internet watchdog Citizen Lab. The organisation could not tell who was behind the snooping, but both individuals – lawyer Roman Giertych and prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek put the blame on the incumbent government led by the Law and Justice Party (PiS).

A government spokesperson, Stanislaw Zaryn, has not confirmed or denied whether the government ordered the hacks or purchased the infamous spyware only stating: "Suggestions that Polish services use operational methods for political struggle are unjustified".

They Scanned My Life

According to Citizen Lab, the phone of lawyer Roman Giertych was hacked 18 times in the last four months of 2019, four months before parliamentary elections in Poland. At the time, Giertych represented former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is the leader of Civic Platform, now the largest opposition party in the country.

The lawyer also represented an Austrian developer, who accused Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of PiS of not paying him under a deal the two reportedly struck. Under the agreement, the businessman was to build twin towers on land owned by the political party, which is illegal under Polish law. The deal eventually was scrapped, but the developer insisted that Kaczynski did not pay him for the work he did.

Yet another client of Roman Giertych at the time of the snooping was former Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who in 2014 became the victim of a wiretapping case, which saw the minister saying unflattering remarks about Poland's military cooperation with the United States. Sikorski has argued that the recordings, which did not contain any evidence of illegality, were part of an attack on the government and suggested that Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his allies could have been behind it.

According to Citizen Lab, most of the hacking attacks on Roman Giertych's phone were conducted in the days ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections.

John-Scott Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, said the "jaw-droppingly aggressive" intensity of the spying campaign on Roman Giertych, which was conducted day-by-day and even hour-by-hour suggested "a desperate desire to monitor his communications".

Roman Giertych said his phone was hacked twice when he was in Rome, Italy, where he handled some matters for Donald Tusk, then-president of the European Council.

"This phone was with me in my bedroom and it was with me when I went to confession. They scanned my life totally", he told AP.

The lawyer also stated that other high-profile figures in Poland could have been the victims of spying too.
Tweet: "My conversations were overheard with, among others: Donald Tusk, Radosław Sikorski, [former leader of the party Civic Platform] Grzegorz Schetyna, [former Minister of Justice] Borys Budka, [US journalist and historian] Anne Applebaum, [billionaire] Leszek Czarnecki, [MP] Stanisław Gawłowski, [former Minister of Labour and incumbent leader of the Polish People’s Party] Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, [MP] Piotr Zgorzelski. They could also be victims".
The Associated Press writes that just hours before it questioned the government spokesman on the spying allegations, a prosecutor filed a motion seeking arrest of Roman Giertych over money laundering. The lawyer has dismissed the case as absurd and trumped-up.

Another purported victim of the snooping campaign in Poland was prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek. Last year, she called for an investigation into the 2020 presidential election, which the government decided to hold by postal voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision has caused outrage in Poland, with three former presidents and six former prime ministers calling for a boycott of the vote. The candidate from the ruling PiS party won the election. The Civic Platform challenged the results, citing alleged voter irregularities. The Supreme Court ruled the election valid.

When Ewa Wrzosek ordered an investigation into whether the presidential elections should be postponed because they might threaten the health of voters and election workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, she was stripped of the case and transferred from the capital Warsaw to the provincial city of Srem with two days' notice.

"I didn't even know where the city was and I had nowhere to live there", she said

According to Citizen Lab, the prosecutor's phone was hacked shortly after she returned to the capital and resumed media appearances in which she criticised the government. Wrzosek learned that she was being spied on from Apple, which sends message to individuals who have been targeted by the Pegasus spyware.

In July, 17 outlets led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories published a joint investigation that revealed the Pegasus software, which is used to combat terrorism and crime, had in effect been used to spy on thousands of people worldwide, including current and former heads of state, opposition politicians, journalists, and human rights activists.

Among the individuals targeted were French President Emmanuel Macron and five ministers in his cabinet, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, King of Morocco Mohammed VI, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Iraqi President Barham Salih, and President of the European Council Charles Michel.
The Israeli company NSO Group, which developed the software, has dismissed the findings of the investigation describing it as full of "wrong assumptions" and "uncorroborated theories".
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