Former head of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Alok Verma’s phone numbers have figured on the list of potential targets of Israeli spyware Pegasus, online news portal The Wire reported on Thursday, 22 July.
As have, according to The Wire, phone numbers linked to Anil Ambani and one other official of the Reliance ADA Group.
Ex-CBI Officials on the List
As per The Wire, the three telephone numbers registered in the former CBI chief's name were made note of by an unidentified Indian agency, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi acted to oust Verma from his post on 23 October 2018.
A total of eight phone numbers from Verma’s family were reportedly placed on the list. These are purported to include the personal telephone numbers of his wife, daughter, and son-in-law.
Meanwhile, two senior CBI officials – Rakesh Asthana and AK Sharma – were also reportedly placed in the potential target list.
According to The Wire, the phone numbers of Asthana, Sharma, Verma, and his family members figured in the leaked database for a short period, having been removed by the second week of February 2019, by which time Verma had retired from government service.
However, Verma was unwilling to participate in the report, and therefore The Wire was unable to conduct a forensic analysis on his phones, which as per the news portal, is the only way of conclusively establishing whether they were targeted or infected with Pegasus.
When Did Anil Ambani Figure on the List?
Meanwhile, Anil Ambani's phone numbers were added to the list in 2018, The Wire reported. This was the same year the Modi government’s Rafale deal kicked off a controversy, with the Opposition and the media raising the issue.
The Wire, however, could not confirm if Ambani is currently using the number listed.
Reliance ADA Group's corporate communications chief Tony Jesudasan, as well as Jesudasan’s wife, were also added to the list in 2018.
However, owing to a lack of response from the company, the Pegasus Project’s digital forensics process was carried out in their case either.
Dassault Aviation's Representative, Other Key Defence Figures in the List
The Wire reported that apart from Ambani and Jesudasan, the phone numbers of the following prominent figures from the defence and aviation industry also found mention on the list of potential targets of the spyware:
Venkata Rao Posina, Dassault Aviation’s representative in India
Saab India head Inderjit Sia
Boeing India President Pratyush Kumar
Harmanjit Negi, head of the French energy firm EDF, who was a member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s official delegation during his visit to India
The Pegasus Reports
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.
It has also been reported that the Pegasus list includes 14 world leaders, out of which at least seven are still in power.
What is the NSO Saying?
NSO, on Wednesday, once again claimed that the list is 'not a list of targets or potential targets of Pegasus. The numbers in the list are not related to NSO group. Any claim that a name in the list is necessarily related to a Pegasus target or Pegasus potential target is erroneous and false'.
Further, according to NDTV, the company said 'enough is enough' and that it would no longer 'play along with the vicious and slanderous campaign'.
And What About Amnesty International?
Meanwhile, Amnesty International, on Thursday, stated it "categorically stands" by the findings of Pegasus Project. According to PTI, the group also asserted that the data is "irrefutably linked" to potential targets of NSO Group's Pegasus spyware.
Amnesty's statement came amid reports claiming that the group has denied saying that the recently leaked phone numbers were specifically a list of numbers targeted by Pegasus spyware.
(With inputs from The Wire.)