By Sushil Kutty
The French are quick on their feet. Within 24 hours of ‘Forbidden Stories’ piercing the cover on Pegasus spyware, with French President Emmanuel Macron’s personal telephone numbers also among the infected, France ordered an investigation. And on July 25, Macron called new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and requested him to get to the bottom of the affair, ASAP. Earlier, Macron had spoken of a “series of investigations”.
Macron is miffed he’s among 14 world leaders whose phones were hacked and infected with Pegasus, which is a military-grade spyware and designated as a “weapon” by the Israeli ministry of defense, similar to AK47 or the Rafale fighter-jet. Nobody will fight with Israel over that description of Pegasus because Israel is a military-industrial construct, and more than ever under previous Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
For India, this spoke volumes because Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Netanyahu were chums. Now, while Benjamin Netanyahu looks like he is gone for good, Narendra Modi is in denial on Pegasus; which is, by the way, Modi’s permanent default status on anything that spells discomfort and danger for his government.
Modi’s acolytes in the national media are asking, “How can anybody prove a negative?” which suits the Modi Government and the NSO Group, makers of Pegasus, just fine. But pressure is building on Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to come clean, and admit that Pegasus was used to hack and infect multiple phones of a section of India’s ‘Who’s Who’, including those of a bunch of journalists and that of several opposition politicians including Rahul Gandhi.
A couple of India’s ruling party bigwigs also found mention in the Pegasus hacked list. And the day after the story hit headlines, Macron’s Office said, “If the facts are true, they are clearly very serious. All light will be shed on these media revelations… Some French victims have already announced they would file complaints, and legal investigations will therefore be launched”.
Modi’s Office didn’t show similar alacrity. In fact, all is quiet on the PMO Front. For Macron’s Office Pegasus might amount to a heart attack – serious! But for Modi’s PMO, it is common cold, happens to all, happens all the time! This even as temperatures rose to a crescendo all around. The Opposition parties, led by the Congress, wanted a post-mortem by a certified authority, but the ruling BJP asked, “Where’s the body to conduct the autopsy on?”
There couldn’t be bigger bamboozlement, waves and waves of deception. A criminal complaint has been lodged in France by the editor of Mediapart, whose name figures in the Pegasus-hacked list. In India nobody is thinking of filing a police complaint or going to court. The Modi Government is silent as a grave, while the BJP is asking those accusing the Modi Government to go to the cops.
“Let Rahul Gandhi submit his phones for forensic inspection,” BJP spokespersons are shouting from TV studios, even as the opposition parties are retaliating with “the Modi Government should order a probe ASAP”. This is the script played out every evening on TV channels and getting repetitive by the day. The only impatient BJP leader is Subramanian Swamy, who said: “If we have nothing to hide, then Modi should write to Israeli PM and seek the truth about the NSO’s Pegasus project including who paid for it.”
The names of over 40 Indian journalists figure in the leaked database. Hacks working with the Hindustan Times, The Hindu, India Today, Indian Express and Network18. And some of these journalists report on sensitive issues pertaining to the country’s external and internal security – on defence, home, election commission and Kashmir! Nobody has to remind Modi that these are sensitive beats with a bearing on India’s security.
The Congress wants an independent probe. There’s a demand for Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s resignation. Amnesty International says 14 world leaders’ phones were targeted for hacking. The NSO Group, however, denied that Pegasus was used to hack or infect. This as the Modi Government wouldn’t divulge if India had “bought” Pegasus. Snooping on political rivals and citizens is hardly gentlemanly, and Modi and Shah do not want to come out ungentlemanly, and like novices when it comes to India’s security.
Which, by the way, brings us to the question, whether NSA Ajit Doval has something to contribute to the Modi Government’s refusal to clear the air on Pegasus? Mr. Doval likes cloak and dagger and is the ‘Spy’s Spy’ – his exploits straight out of the ‘Spy who Came In From The Cold’. Reports say Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s phone was slated to be ‘Pegasused, and now the Pakistanis are in a tizzy.
Since Macron told Bennett that Morocco used Pegasus to snoop on his cell-phones, what’s the guarantee that foreign governments haven’t already got hold of India’s secrets? Isn’t it time Prime Minister Narendra Modi became serious? Shouldn’t Modi, like Macron, call up Bennett and ask him to take the issue seriously? Cannot let the impression gain that authoritarians are getting away with impunity. (IPA Service)