As the row over the Pegasus Project reports continues in India, a new report by The Wire on Wednesday, 4 August, said that two officers from the Supreme Court’s registry, two lawyers with high-profile clients, and a junior lawyer employed by a former attorney general were potential targets for surveillance using Israeli spyware Pegasus.
An old number belonging to a now-retired Supreme Court Judge has also featured in the list, the report said.
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.
Analyses carried out on some of the phones belonging to those who have featured in the leaked database so far have shown evidence of the spyware.
Who Were the Potential Targets?
The latest report by The Wire claims that the phone numbers of two officers of the apex court's registry were entered into the database in the spring of 2019.
The report also says that a Rajasthan mobile number, which belonged to retired Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra, also became part of the database the same year.
Apart from these three, numbers of two lawyers representing high-profile clients have also been found to have been added to the now-leaked database. According to The Wire, a number belonging to Vijay Agarwal, who is fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi’s lawyer, became a potential target for surveillance in early 2018. A number belonging to his wife was also found in the database.
Delhi-based lawyer, Aljo P Joseph was also reportedly added to the list in 2019. Joseph represents Christian Michel, the British ‘middleman’ connected to the Agusta Westland helicopter deal case.
The Wire also reported that a number belonging to M Thangathurai, a junior lawyer who was employed by former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi was also found in the leaked database.
THE TWO REGISTRY OFFICIALS
The telephone numbers of NK Gandhi and TI Rajput, two officers from the top court’s registry were added to the list in 2019.
When their numbers were added, both of them worked in the ‘writ’ section of the Supreme Court’s registry.
FORMER SC JUDGE
Justice Mishra’s old number was added to the Pegasus database in 2019.
However, Justice Mishra has informed The Wire: “The number 9194XXXXXXX is not with me since 2013-2014. I don’t use this number.”
The Wire however quoted a confidential source with access to BSNL records as informing that the said number was registered in the name of Justice Mishra from September 18 2010 to September 19 2018.
Justice Mishra retired from the Supreme Court in September 2020 and is now chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.
CHRISTIAN MICHEL'S LEGAL REPRESENTATIVE
As per The Wire, Amnesty’s tech team has said that preliminary indications show a Pegasus-related iMessage lookup as part of the process of targeting Joseph’s phone. His number was reportedly added to the list in 2019.
Speaking to The Wire, Joseph said: “This government is known for peeping/snooping into the privacy of citizens…The use of such technology shows that democratic principles are being compromised and that India’s democracy is not safe in their hands.”
Since the scandal broke in 2012, the AgustaWestland chopper ‘scam’ has caught the imagination of the Indian public. The case became sensational due to the alleged involvement of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, which the BJP accused of corruption for facilitating the procurement of the choppers in 2010.
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 leaked list of names was provided to The Wire and 15 other international news organisations by France-based media non-profit, Forbidden Stories, and Amnesty International, as part of a collaborative investigation called the 'Pegasus Project'.
Pegasus, a product of Israeli cyberweapons company NSO Group, was earlier in the news in late 2019 when it was found that spies used the spyware to hack into phones of roughly 1,400 users around the world, including 121 Indians.
The Indian government, on its part, has denied any role in the snooping operations, slamming the reports. The issue has caused a huge political row in the country, with Parliament witnessing daily disruptions as the Opposition demands a probe and a discussion on the issue.
(With inputs from The Wire)