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Pegasus ‘snoopgate’ explainer: Loopholes, conjectures, outright lies with links to the US establishment, Canada govt, George Soros and more

The Pegasus story may be a damp squib, but it has the marking of a story that is carefully crafted to affect "regime change".

“The curtain has been raised on a surveillance ring of global scale”, read an Outlook report. “Leaked Data Shows Surveillance Net in Elgar Parishad Case May Have Crossed a Line”, read a TheWire headline. Another TheWire headline read, “Snoop List Has 40 Indian Journalists, Forensic Tests Confirm Presence of Pegasus Spyware on Some”. While Indian media screeched, The Guardian, that originally published the story of Pegasus software allegedly being used against people, had a massive picture of Prime Minister Mod on the front page. – the underlying allegation being simple – PM Modi spied on people who don’t agree with him.

The Guardian image

‘Forbidden Stories’, a consortium of media houses across the world says on their website, “An unprecedented leak of more than 50,000 phone numbers selected for surveillance by the customers of the Israeli company NSO Group shows how this technology has been systematically abused for years. The Forbidden Stories consortium and Amnesty International had access to records of phone numbers selected by NSO clients in more than 50 countries since 2016”.

Essentially, Forbidden Stories (FS) has 16 media partners. FS and Amnesty acquired this purported “leaked numbers” list and handed it over to their media partners. Their media partners, 16 of them, analysed the data and came to their own conclusion. Then, a tiny percentage of those phones were evidently analysed by Amnesty and after their “forensic tests”, they concluded that the Israeli spyware, Pegasus, was being used by governments across the world, including India, to spy on dissidents and several others in a “gross abuse of power”.

You are now about to embark on a journey, reading our dissection of the entire saga that is now being dubbed as the Pegasus scandal. But before that, it must be mentioned that this “new information”, at least as far as India is concerned, aims to specifically target PM Modi and the ruling government.

There is a catch, however.

There is simply no evidence to suggest that the Indian government spied on anyone. While the story starts with the consortium alleging that 50,000 numbers have been compromised, by the end of it, we are left with only a few numbers that may or may not have been spied on.

Essentially, this entire story sounds like a lost student trying to make up answers during a Viva because he was too drunk to prepare for it. The entire story which has been reported by Guardian first and in India, by TheWire, clutches on to straws to show just how tyrannical the Modi government is. What it ends up doing, however, is brutalising our senses with word-salads that are rife with conjectures and insinuations, sans proof.

What does The Guardian claim about the Pegasus software use in India

The first report on the matter that was published by The Guardian was headlined, “Revealed: leak uncovers global abuse of cyber-surveillance weapon”. Following the headline, the first line one reads is – “Spyware sold to authoritarian regimes used to target activists, politicians and journalists, data suggests”.

Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones.

At this point, The Guardian has already established a few things. First, that the Modi government is an “authoritarian regime”, and second, that PM Modi did indeed, beyond all reasonable doubt, spied on dissidents.

Just to make sure that the effect of this sentence is not lost, the all-seeing, menacing eye of Modi is plastered in the featured image.

The Guardian illustration

The Guardian story claims that the spyware is meant to be used only on criminals and terrorists, according to NSO, but governments across the world are using it to spy on activists, lawyers, government officials and journalists.

It then tells us that a list of 50,000 leaked numbers were accessed by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty and handed over to their 16 media partners for reportage.

But here is the catch. The report itself says that the presence of a phone number in the data does not reveal whether a device was infected with the spyware or not. So what does indicate that it was? Well, nothing really. It is their BELIEF that the data is INDICATIVE of the POTENTIAL TARGETS of NSO’s clients. Just the variables in this one sentence is rather staggering. Not just that, there is nothing in their story that indicates to a certainty that an Indian activist, if targeted at all, was targeted by the Indian government. They are only relying on their readers’ naivety to make that tenuous links themselves.

Relevant screenshot

They further write, “Forensics analysis of a small number of phones whose numbers appeared on the leaked list also showed more than half had traces of the Pegasus spyware. The Guardian and its media partners will be revealing the identities of people whose number appeared on the list in the coming days. They include hundreds of business executives, religious figures, academics, NGO employees, union officials and government officials, including cabinet ministers, presidents and prime ministers. The list also contains the numbers of close family members of one country’s ruler, suggesting the ruler may have instructed their intelligence agencies to explore the possibility of monitoring their own relatives”. They started with their revelations this Sunday by publishing the names of 180 journalists.

But they just told us in the preceding paragraph that they simply have no proof. What they have is the possibility that traces were found in a minuscule percentage of the phones out of the “small number of phones” that they managed to analyse. Yet, they revealed 180 names on Sunday and plan to reveal other names incrementally.

While saying that Pegasus is used by “authoritarian regimes” to “spy”, they have actually not substantiated their point in the least. Now, is it possible that some governments across the globe use it illegally? Absolutely. It is not hard to believe that some governments may want to illegally, beyond the realm of law, spy on their assets. But does this automatically mean all governments that the Guardian has mentioned are doing that? There is no evidence to support that theory, per their own admission.

Coming to India, the first story in the Guardian makes two revelations.

  1. India has denied using Pegasus at all
  2. Umar Khalid was “spied on”

Guardian, nestled in the middle of the article, clearly states that India has denied using the Pegasus software. The response that was exclusively reported by OpIndia also said the same.

Add to that, the fact that NSO has recently spoken to Indian news agency ANI has said that the list of countries revealed by this story is not accurate. They claim that several countries mentioned in the list are not even the NSO’s clients. They have refused to reveal their client list, obviously, but they have said categorically that some countries are not clients.

Putting these two assertions together, one by GOI and the other by NSO, it would seem as though while Indian journalists and other assorted burdens were on the list (which they say does not mean they were spied upon to begin with), it was not the Indian government that spied on them (If at all).

So what did The Guardian say about the Indians names then?

The Guardian on Umar Khalid

The Guardian report says that Umar Khalid was “selected” for surveillance ahead of sedition charges were brought against him. It further alludes, hints, ever so nonchalantly that the police filed a chargesheet with information from his phone, without explaining how they obtained such information.

The staggering moronity of this section is evident to the discerning eye, but the white man thinks Indians are not very bright. Firstly, they have given no evidence to support that Umar Khalid was “selected” by the Indian government or that he was “selected” or “hacked” at all. Further, they are baffled that the police got information from his phone to add in the chargesheet. It is obvious that the police got access to his phone, laptop etc after he was arrested, but if facts were told, the conjecture would fail.

And that is the extent of what The Guardian says about India’s “involvement” in these “revelations”. No proof. Just conjectures. Worse, badly crafted conjectures.

What TheWire says about the Pegasus story and the journalists who were “spied on”

One of the first reports published by TheWire was headlined, “Pegasus Project: How Phones of Journalists, Ministers, Activists May Have Been Used to Spy On Them”. This article was written by none other than Siddharth Varadarajan – one of the “victims” of the spying attack and a man who has a long reputation of suppressing stories against the Gandhi family and peddling fake news through the portal he funded (Also the portal that has reported this story in India as a part of the consortium).

Keeping in mind the previous chicanery by The Guardian, one must read just how craftily TheWire tries to eulogise itself and other ideologically aligned journalists to claim that India spied on them, a charge unproven. In fact, one must keep in mind that even the fact that India is a part of the NSO’s client list is not proven and explicitly denied by GOI.

The Wire on Pegasus

The Wire claims that there are “clear signs of targeting by Pegasus spyware” in 37 phones of which 10 are Indian. Let us look at this in the perspective of what The Guardian reported. They showed no evidence and made no claims of spying being a reality beyond reasonable doubt. They also said that the database was of 50,000 phones. Now, out of those 50,000 phones, 37 may have shown traces of the software. Statistically alone, no sweeping statement can be made based on this data. But journalism seldom concerns itself with pesky little things like facts.

Further, while the Guardian story clearly says that the Indian govt denied using Pegasus, TheWire brings in India to claim that NSO said no “private entity in India or abroad is responsible for the infections which The Wire and its partners have confirmed”.

Of course, we don’t know what question TheWire asked. They could have asked if NSO suspects private agencies of using their spyware and NSO probably denied considering they cater only to government and their intelligence arms. However, that statement was then used by The Wire to insinuate that:

  1. Indian journalists were targeted
  2. No private player in India or outside of India did it
  3. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Indian government did it

None of this can be proved.

Here is how TheWire further tried to claim that the Indian government was involved.

The Wire’s mischief

TheWire basically insinuates that since India is in the same geographical area where spying may have occurred, it would automatically mean that India was involved. To substantiate this point further, TheWire quotes the 2019 fiasco by Citizen Lab, a report that was summarily debunked. Not just debunked, their claims of “evidence being planted” to frame the Urban Naxals was further debunked by the fact that one of the Urban Naxals actually quoted one of these emails as evidence to defend himself in court. What is presented as evidence to prove the innocence of the accused by the accused, cannot be fake.

What is also pertinent to note is that Citizens Lab is a project by the Canadian government. Citizen Lab is a research lab based in Munk School, which, is based in the University of Toronto. Since Citizens Lab is based in the University of Toronto, it can under no circumstances distance itself from the government of Canada itself and it is no secret how the government of Canada has been fomenting trouble in India and backing Khalistani terrorists that undermine the sovereignty of India. 

Apart from the Canadian government, a look at Citizens Lab’s non-government funding also gives a window into the deeply sinister nexus.

Open Society Foundation (George Soros), International Development Research Centre (government of Canada is heavily invested in IRDC and in turn, in Citizens Lab), HIVOS (This organization is intricately linked to George Soros’ Open Society Foundation and receives funds from various international governments) and many more organisations were seen involved in Citizens Lab.

So TheWire cites a debunked report by an organisation funded by international governments and George Soros, known for regime change, to prove that India spied on journalists, a claim they have no proof for.

What is interesting to note is that the SAME Citizens Lab has been used to “verify” whether the minuscule number of phones that were analysed were indeed hacked or not, after a forensic analysis done by Amnesty International.

Now notice how TheWire writes to insinuate things they absolutely cannot prove. They say that the database INDICATES its LIKELY selection for target of surveillance. BUT they cannot prove that a phone was hacked without forensic tests (Forensic tests were done on a fraction of the database). They further allude to a judge being hacked. HOWEVER, they say that TheWire HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO CONFIRM whether the number was hacked, incidentally, a number that the judge GAVE UP BEFORE IT WAS ADDED TO THE DATABASE.

This, from the beautiful mind of TheWire Editor Siddharth Varadarajan.

The next article by TheWire, which was written by two random people who are not really worth being mentioned specifically, takes the chicanery a step further.

The article was headlined, “Snoop List Has 40 Indian Journalists, Forensic Tests Confirm Presence of Pegasus Spyware on Some”. The summation of the article right at the beginning says, “Those on leaked list of potential targets include journalists at Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Wire, Indian Express, News18, India Today, Pioneer, besides freelancers, columnists and regional media”.

Again, notice the word POTENTIAL. They were not necessarily hacked. They were not necessarily spied on. They were POTENTIAL targets. Because there is absolutely no evidence.

Moving on.

The article says that there were names of 40 journalists in total in the leaked data. It further says, “Independent digital forensic analysis conducted on 10 Indian phones whose numbers were present in the data showed signs of either an attempted or successful Pegasus hack”.

As we will see further, there is no solid evidence to claim this. But even if we assume this to be true, the percentage of testing to make this tall claim is rather interesting. 10 out of 40 phones is 25%. 10 out of 50,000 phones is 0.02%. Excellent odds.

Further, the article says, “The company refuses to make its list of customers public but the presence of Pegasus infections in India, and the range of persons that may have been selected for targeting, strongly indicate that the agency operating the spyware on Indian numbers is an official Indian one”.

Here, TheWire admits that they don’t actually have any evidence to suggest that the Indian government was a client of the NSO (Indian govt denies it was). However, what they want you to believe is that the KIND OF PEOPLE targeted indicates that it was indeed the government that was ‘spying’. How? We are not sure. Self importance, perhaps. Deflection from who might have actually been spying, maybe. But we are not sure. Neither are they. But conjecture serves their purpose.

The next lie in TheWire article is a direct contradiction of what the Government actually said and what The Guardian at least managed to understand properly.

The Guardian categorically says that the Modi government has denied the use of Pegasus. TheWire, however, attempts to pull this bizarre logic in its article that somehow attempt to cast aspersions on the Indian govt. But that is not where they stopped. They further claimed that this list of names is PROBABLY not exhaustive and the actual, official list LIKELY has several other names. Again, the proof that they used to make this claim is completely absent. To put it mildly, it is a figment of their imagination.

TheWire article further adds that the timing of these journalists being added to the list indicate a “special interest in the group” and then goes further to say that other people could have been added PERHAPS for the stories they were working on at the time. Proof? Again, none of all. Speculation, self-serving speculation and conjecture (yet again).

List of journalists and what TheWire data shows and what it hides

TheWire, after its vast word chicanery, finally came to the point to list out which journalists were supposedly an object of spying and what the analysis found.

Here is a list of the journalists that TheWire mentioned.

1.	Shishir Gupta
2.	Prashant Jha
3.	Rahul Singh
4.	Ritika Chopra
5.	Muzamil Jaleel
6.	Sandeep Unnithan
7.	Manoj Gupta
8.	Vijaita Singh
9.	Siddharth Varadarajan
10.	Devirupa Mitra
11.	Prem Shankar Jha
12.	Rohini Singh
13.	Swati Chaturvedi
14.	Sushant Singh
15.	J. Gopikrishnan
16.	Saikat Datta
17.	Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
18.	Smita Sharma- Tribune
19.	S.N.M. Abdi
20.	Iftikhar Gilani
21.	Manoranjana Gupta- Frontier TV
22.	Sanjay Shyam 
23.	Jaspal Singh Heran- Rozana Pehredar
24.	Roopesh Kumar Singh

The Wire then says the following:

Amnesty found evidence that the phones of Sushant Singh, Thakurta, Abdi, Varadarajan and Venu were compromised with Pegasus spyware. For Smita Sharma, the analysis found evidence of a hacking attempt through a vulnerability in Apple’s iMessage system, but nothing to indicate that her phone was successfully infected. Vijaita Singh’s Android phone also showed evidence of an attempted hack, but no evidence of a successful compromise was detected.

Mind you, all of these people are playing victim. Swati Chaturvedi, Sushant Singh, Vijaita and all of these journalists are playing the martyr to the cause. However, TheWire report itself says that in most cases, they could not even proved if the phones were hacked.

Further, they say this:

TheWire categorically says that they have NO IDEA what the “attacker” did with “Pegasus”, however, it goes on to glorify some journalists, especially those associated with TheWire itself, by making certain conclusions.

In these five names, unlike the others, they mention what vector was used for the “attack” but not the evidence whether the phone itself was compromised or not, and if it was, then by whom and to what end.

Forbidden Stories, links to US establishment and regime change propaganda in middle east

According to its website, “Forbidden Stories ensures that journalists under threat can secure their information.” “We provide them with the ability to drop their sensitive information into one of our secure communication channels. If something happens to them, we will ensure the survival of their stories, beyond borders, beyond governments, beyond censorship,” it adds.

FS was launched by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Freedom Voices Network. In the past, the RSF has funded media organisations that produce regime change propaganda against Syria and its president Bashar al-Assad. RSF itself receives funding from the US Government. Thus, the inclinations of at least one of the founders of FS becomes abundantly clear.

A casual glance at the funders of FS is even more revealing. While it takes cares to mention that donors do not influence their coverage, it is only in an extremely idealistic world that this rings true. Since we do not live in one, there’s no reason for us to take their words at face value.

One of the donors of FS is Limelight Foundation (LF). The LF funds numerous organisations. One of the prominent among them is Bellingcat, a media initiative that produces propaganda that seeks to legitimize the West’s illegal war against Syria.

Bellingcat has extensive ties to NATO, as reported by The Grayzone, and has cooperated with United Kingdom’s efforts to “weaken Russia”. In addition, it also receives grants from the National Endowment for Democracy, which in turn is a US Government funded project.

Another donor of FS is Luminate, founded by The Omidyar Group in 2018. Luminate’s Strategic Plan for 2018-2022 mentions that “‘Illiberal democracies’ are emerging,” “Civic space is shrinking, and civil society is under attack,” “Rising populism is creating ruptures in historical party politics,” “Insular, nationalist perspectives are resonating with more people,” and “Communities are becoming more polarized among other things.

While the strategic plan and its animosity towards nationalism makes its ideological orientations abundantly clear, it is important to note that the Omidyar Group funds a host of media organisations worldwide, mostly leftist globalist portals such as Scroll.in.

As per The Grayzone, Luminate donated to the Sundance Institute for producing films “used strategically to articulate pressing public issues and movement-building campaigns.” The Grayzone report states, “Among the films cited by Omidyar’s Luminate as a strategic success was The Last Men in Aleppo, an Oscar-nominated propaganda vehicle for the Syrian White Helmets that was produced by the Sundance Institute.”

According to the report, “The White Helmets are a Syrian insurgent-aligned “civil rescue” group founded in Turkey by a British former military intelligence officer. Operating exclusively in rebel-held territory, including in the al Qaeda-controlled Idlib province, the White Helmets have been funded by USAID, the U.K. Foreign Office and the Qatari monarchy.”

Thus, Luminate which funds FS is known to fund propaganda movies to justify the West’s regime change war against Syria. Furthermore, as per The Grayzone, Luminate was run by Ben Scott, an Obama Administration official who has also worked in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Other donors to FS include George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF), whose attitude towards the Indian Government is well documented, and Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, which is cloaked in a shroud of secrecy.

FS also proudly displayed the endorsement by Mediapart’s Head of Investigations Fabrice Afri on its website until recently. Mediapart is the same leftist French organisation that has been peddling propaganda over the Rafale deal. FS has now removed the page “The support us” altogether from its website.

With all of the word jugglery that TheWire and The Guardian indulged in, the following are the questions that either don’t have the answer to, or the answer indicates that they are lying.

1. TheWire categorically mentions that merely the existence of the name in the list does not mean that the phone was compromised. If this is true, then why are names being dumped everyday (they claim they are going to do this). If the existence of the name does not mean they were being surveilled, and most of the phones have not been tested, what is this story meant to prove to begin with?

2. If the Indian government has denied using Pegasus and the NSO has said that many clients on the purported list are not their clients to begin with, how are these conjectures being made against the Modi government? Here it is important to assert that NSO group in a statement issued earlier today said that it is contemplating suing TheWire for defamation.

3. The assertion that Indians journalists were “spied on” by India itself is one that is not backed by proof. Siddharth Varadarajan, for example is a US citizen. Is it not possible that some other country was spying on their own assets? The Hindu, for example, regularly writes in favour of China. Having known how China surveils its assets, is it not possible that China was spying or attempting to spy on The Hindu journalists? In the absence of evidence, these are all speculations and the assertions that the Indian government was involved, despite denial, seems like a motivated narrative and a malicious lie, to say the least.

4. With the consortium making these allegations being tied to the US establishment that affect regime change, is it possible that this is a large scale operation, involving international media and left media in India like The Wire to destabilise the government?

5. It is not of interest that most of the agencies involved in this operation are connected to foreign governments? For example, Forbidden Stories is connected to the US establishment and George Soros, Citizens Lab gets funded by the Canadian government, The Wire gets funds from dubious sources including the US establishment and much more?

6. Where is the proof?

7. Is the Left establishment ever going to get their stories right, leaving some space for honest discourse that makes the country better, instead of shoddy attempts to push it into anarchy?

The Pegasus story may be a damp squib, but it has the marking of a story that is carefully crafted to affect “regime change”. It is not secret that governments and establishments in countries like the United States of America, Canada etc have been actively interfering in the internal affairs of India and this could, possibly be another attempt to do just that – cast aspersions against the Modi government even when the facts don’t add up because all it takes to push a country into anarchy is more often than not, a carefully crafted lie.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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