Amid the controversy over phones allegedly targeted by Pegasus spyware, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Friday asserted that he was not merely a potential target, but his phones were indeed tapped, NDTV reported.
“It is not only this phone, every single phone of mine is tapped...I am not under pretensions that I am not tapped,” Gandhi told reporters outside the Parliament. He also claimed that Intelligence Bureau officials who tap his phones have themselves asked him to be aware of the alleged surveillance.
“My security people [personnel] tell me they have to debrief to their seniors what I say,” Gandhi claimed.
The Pegasus spyware is licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group. The company says that it licenses its software only to “vetted governments” and that Pegasus is intended to target criminals.
But a leaked list, featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens”, was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. It became the basis of a global investigation called the Pegasus Project in which 17 media organisations collaborated. The Wire from India is among the participants in the project.
Apart from Rahul Gandhi, the India list features over 40 journalists, two Union ministers, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa and a former Supreme Court staffer who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment. Industrialist Anil Ambani and former Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma are also among the potential targets.
‘The only word is treason’
Gandhi also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah of using the spyware against the Indian state and the country’s institutions.
“They have used it politically, they have used it in Karnataka, they have used it to scuttle probes, they have used it against the Supreme Court...The only word for this is treason, there is no other word for this.”
The Congress leader was referring to revelations from the list which suggest that phone numbers of the personal secretaries of former Karnataka Chief Ministers HD Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah were chosen as potential targets for surveillance in the period just before the collapse of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in the state in 2019.
Meanwhile, in the case of Anil Ambani, besides him another official of the Reliance ADG Group was also added to the list when India’s Rafale fighter jet deal with France came under scrutiny in 2018. The Opposition has alleged that Ambani has benefited from the overpriced deal.
“The truth has a way of coming out,” Gandhi said on Thursday commenting on the Rafale deal. “There is an inquiry [going on] in France and you will see that the prime minister himself is responsible for corruption in Rafale [deal].”
Pointing out that NSO sells the spyware only to governments, the former Congress president demanded a judicial inquiry into the Pegasus allegations and the resignation of Home Minister Amit Shah.
“If the Indian government has not done it [snooping], then some other country’s government must have done it,” Gandhi said. “Then why isn’t the prime minister saying that the government would hold an inquiry....Why is he saying that we haven’t done anything?”
The Congress leader demanded a Supreme Court-monitored investigation into the snooping allegations.
However, Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Kumar ruled out any such investigation, NDTV reported. “We have clarified everything in the spyware case,” he said. “There is no issue for any probe. Those who are making allegations are political failures and they have no other issue.”
However, the Centre has yet to state categorically that India has not used Pegasus spyware.