Indian officials asked American technology company Apple to help soften the political impact of the security alerts it had issued in October about “state-sponsored” cyber attacks against Opposition MPs and journalists, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

On October 31, Apple had warned several Indian Opposition leaders and journalists that it believed that their iPhones may have been targeted by “state-sponsored attackers”.

According to The Washington Post report, after the technology company issued the warnings, Indian officials summoned an Apple security expert from outside India to New Delhi and asked the person to come up with alternative explanations for the alerts.

“They were really angry,” a person familiar with the matter, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Washington Post.

The Indian government’s attempts to “discredit and strong-arm” Apple disturbed executives at the company’s headquarters in the United States, the report said.

Apple’s alerts

Among those who received the alerts from Apple were Congress members Shashi Tharoor, TS Singhdeo, Revanth Reddy, Pawan Khera and Supriya Shrinate.

Politicians from other parties who received the notifications were Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, Trinamool Congress suspended MP Mahua Moitra, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Aam Aadmi Party MP Raghav Chadha.

The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan, journalists Revathi, Observer Research Foundation president Samir Saran and the Deccan Chronicle resident editor Sriram Karri had also received warnings from Apple. Journalists Anand Mangnale and Ravi Nair, who reported on the alleged stock manipulation by the Adani Group for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, also said that they received the notifications.

Mangnale’s phone had also allegedly been targeted by the Pegasus spyware, which is licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group.

The NSO group told The Washington Post that while it cannot comment on its customers it maintains that all of them are “vetted law enforcement and intelligence agencies” who use the spyware to fight terror and major crime.”

The messages had warned the recipients that “if your device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, they may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone”.

However, in a subsequent clarification, the company said that it does not attribute the threat notifications to any specific state-sponsored attacker, The Hindu reported. An Apple spokesperson said the company is not specifically saying that the Indian government was responsible for these attacks, but added that it does not rule out the possibility.

The Opposition accused the BJP government of spying on them, citing the security alerts. However, the government said that the information provided by Apple was vague.

“Apple states these notifications may be based on information which is ‘incomplete or imperfect’,” Union Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had said. “It also states that some Apple threat notifications may be false alarms or some attacks are not detected.”

After the Opposition MPs demanded clarification from the Centre on Apple security alerts it had launched an investigation into the matter last month.

The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team, or CERT-In is investigating the matter, Electronics and Information Technology Secretary S Krishnan said. CERT-In is a nodal agency under the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information tasked with responding to computer security incidents.