Pegasus Project: Numbers of BSF, Army & RAW Officials Feature in Leaked Database
The report is part of a series that has revealed the possibility of snooping against several 'potential' targets.
A new report published by The Wire on Monday, 26 July, shows that two officials belonging to the Border Security Force (BSF), a former senior official from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), as well as at least two officers of the Indian Army were potential targets for surveillance using Israeli spyware Pegasus.
Reports published by news organisations across the world on 18 July revealed that Israel-made spyware Pegasus was believed to have been used to snoop on at least 300 Indian phone numbers, including those of several journalists, politicians, government officials, and rights activists.
According to the fresh report by The Wire, the numbers of KK Sharma, who headed the BSF in 2018, BSF Inspector General of Police Jagdish Maithani, retired senior RAW official Jitendra Kumar Ojha, as well as his wife featured in the leaked database.
Also found on the list are the numbers of two Indian Army officers who took on the government over some matters.
However, the presence of the numbers in the 'Pegasus Project' does not confirm that the device was actually 'infected with Pegasus or subject to an attempted hack,' the report said.
The Wire said that it was unable to forensically test any of the phones associated with the people named in the story, and noted that only an examination of the phones would reveal whether they were actual targets or not.
Who Are the Newly Named Potential Targets?
According to the report, KK Sharma's number was added to the database barely a month after he attended – in uniform – an event organised by a right-wing outfit, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Kolkata.
The event was held on 11 February 2018 and Sharma raised many eyebrows for attending the event in uniform, with Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien saying that the party would take up the matter with the home ministry.
Sharma, an IPS officer from the 1982 batch, retired later in 2018 and while The Wire has not been able to confirm the existence of the spyware on his phone, the fact that three of his phone numbers feature in the leaked list shows that he was a person of interest.
Apart from Sharma, Maithani, a BSF commandant posted in Assam appears to be a person of interest between 2017 and 2019.
According to the report, Maithani is associated with the MHA’s comprehensive integrated border management system (CIBMS) project.
Meanwhile, Ojha, the former RAW officer who features in the list along with his wife, was reportedly asked to take premature ‘retirement’ from service. According to Firstpost, between 2013 and 2015, Ojha was in charge of training spies at RAW’s academy in New Delhi. Aggrieved by this early easing out from service, Ojha moved the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) in February 2018, a plea which was dismissed in February 2019.
The Wire reports that Ojha and his wife appear to have been added to the database around 2018.
According to the report, the two army officials featuring in the database are Colonel Mukul Dev and Colonel Amit Kumar. While Dev took on the government in 2017 over an order to scrap free rations for officers posted in peace areas, Kumar in 2018 approached the Supreme Court on behalf of 356 Army personnel over a seemingly impending dilution of the Armed Forces (Special Forces) Act (AFSPA).
Both these army officers were selected for potential surveillance in 2019.
The Pegasus Snoopgate
The report comes as part of a series that has revealed the possibility of snooping operations against several 'potential' targets, including high-profile journalists, political leaders, and ministers.
Multiple reports, published since 18 July, have revealed the names of Rahul Gandhi, Prashant Kishor, Ashok Lavasa, and Union ministers Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw, among those on the leaked list.
The alleged snooping attempts were reportedly carried out using Pegasus, a product of Israeli cyberweapons company NSO Group.
The Indian government, on its part, has denied any role in the snooping operations, slamming the reports.
(With inputs from The Wire and Firstpost.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.