France’s cybersecurity agency has confirmed that the Pegasus spyware was present on the phone of two journalists from the country’s online investigative journal Mediapart, the publication reported on Thursday. This is the first corroboration of the alleged surveillance row by a government agency globally.
“The study carried out by [the cybersecutiry agency] reached the same conclusions as those of Amnesty International’s Security Lab on the reality of the Pegasus infection, on its modalities, dates and duration,” NDTV reported, citing Mediapart.
Mediapart is one of the 17 organisations with which the reports of the alleged surveillance using Pegasus spyware was shared.
The Pegasus spyware is developed and 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 meant to be targeted at criminals.
The alleged misuse of the spyware came to light earlier in July when Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International accessed a database featuring more than 50,000 phone numbers “concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens”.
Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International shared the list with Indian news website The Wire and 16 other media organisations across the world, who did extensive reporting on the matter. Their investigation is called the Pegasus Project.
The corroboration came after prosecutor Remy Heitz opened a hearing on July 20 on the allegations that the Morrocan intelligence services spied on French journalists, reported Al Jazeera.
The investigation by the French agency examined 10 different charges, including whether there was a breach of personal privacy and fraudulent access to personal electronic devices.
French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems, also called ANNSI in France, conducted technical analyses of the phones of the two journalists – Mediapart’s co-founder and publishing editor Edwy Plenel and reporter Lenaig Bredoux.
The use of the spyware was confirmed during the hearings on the matter in which the two journalists explained how the Morrocan government was behind the surveillance, according to Mediapart.
Just a day before the investigation started, the investigative journal had initiated legal action in view of the spying claims. Morocco, however, has stated in an official statement that the allegations are “unfounded and false,” reported AFP.
Earlier on July 22, the Moroccan government had filed a defamation suit against Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories in relation to the alleged surveillance. The list of targets accessed by the two organisations had shown that Macron was chosen as a potential target for surveillance by Morocco in 2019. King Mohammed VI of Morocco was reportedly chosen as a target by the security forces of his own country in the same year.
Morocco, however, had refused these allegations too. “The Moroccan state...wants all possible light cast on these false allegations from these two organisations, who make claims without any concrete or demonstrative evidence whatsoever,” Olivier Baratelli, the lawyer representing the government in the suit said in a statement.