You may not have heard of NSO Group, a Jerusalem-based tech company, but you may already be a victim of its Pegasus software.
Across the world, dissidents, activists, and those seeking freedom and liberty from tyranny have been targeted by the Pegasus malware that transforms their cell phone into a pocket spy that turns state’s evidence against them.
Forbidden Stories, a non-profit organization similar to WikiLeaks, obtained thousands of pages of records and shared them with multiple media outlets Monday. Those records indicate that several prominent dissidents around the world were targeted by NSO’s Pegasus software. Many of them were blackmailed, charged with crimes, or otherwise compromised by the evidence their own phones provided.
NSO, for its part, claims it sells the program “only to vetted governments.” Their choice of supposedly “vetted” clients appears to leave much to be desired. NSO has repeatedly said Pegasus, which can access all data on a targeted device as well as turn it into an audio or video recorder, is meant for use only against terrorists and “serious criminals.” That has not been the case thus far.
Nonetheless, it is apparent from the data released by Forbidden Stories that the spying software has been used maliciously by governments to silence opposition. The initial information shows that Pegasus was likely used against human rights lawyers, activists, and dissidents across the globe. Those targets of tyranny were selected for invasive — and in some jurisdictions, illegal — surveillance through their phones.
No Americans appear to have been selected for surveillance, at least not in the documentation provided Monday. That does not mean no U.S. citizen has had their phone turned against them, just that the initial records don’t reveal any.
Over 300 phone numbers appear in the data, including government ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, businessmen, government officials, scientists, civil rights activists and others. Forbidden Stories and 17 media partners conducted forensic tests on a small number of phones associated with the identified phone numbers. Thirty-seven of them revealed definite signs of targeting by the Pegasus software.
A majority of the numbers identified in the list were geographically concentrated in 10 countries: India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Each of these countries have been identified in the past by experts at Citizen Lab — a digital surveillance research organization based out of the University of Toronto that laid the groundwork for WhatsApp’s 2019 lawsuit against the NSO Group — as having been a region of focus for Pegasus operators.
In Azerbaijan, for example — where dictator-for-life Ilham Aliyez has zero-tolerance for dissidents — numerous freedom activists’ numbers appeared in the data. Many of them have experienced the publication of personal phone records or emails mysteriously published, not knowing from where the betrayal came.
Female dissidents are often compromised by the release of intimate sexual information and photos for the purpose of blackmail or to silence them politically. Journalist-activist Fatima Movlamli of Azerbaijan was threatened by Aliyez’ security police with pictures she thought were stolen from her phone when she was forced to unlock it while in custody.
In India, Umar Khalid, a student activist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and the leader of the Democratic Students’ Union, was targeted in late 2018, shortly before sedition charges were filed against him. He was arrested in September 2020 on charges of organizing riots, and police claimed the evidence against him included more than one million pages of information gleaned from his mobile phone, without making it clear how the information was obtained. He is still in jail awaiting trial.
The most prominent women’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia, Loujain al-Hathloul was likely target just weeks before her 2018 abduction in the United Arab Emirates and forced return to Saudi Arabia, where she was imprisoned for three years and allegedly tortured. It is believed Hathloul was targeted by the United Arab Emirates, a known client of NSO and close ally of Saudi Arabia.
In Mexico, data shows widespread targeting of activists, lawyers and civil rights activists, including Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor Poisot, a judge who was the president of the Inter-American court of human rights, and Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest and champion of migrants’ rights.
Solalinde said he believed the Mexican government was “looking for something to damage my reputation and use as blackmail” due to his support for a political rival, and said he had been warned by a former Mexican national intelligence agency agent that he was under surveillance.
What may arouse suspicion is the lack of Americans listed in the initial data release. While the cross-section of phones tested was limited, the fact that out of the known 300 numbers in that data, none are American seems surprising. It is as if there are no dissidents in the United States.
According to our own government, the U.S. has hundreds of dissidents and it is currently holding over 20 of them in federal custody at a rundown, dilapidated jail in Washington, D.C.
We are talking about the so-called “insurrectionists” from the staged Capitol “riot” January 6. They are being held in solitary confinement in isolation cells where, according to their families, the water runs a dirty black when they try to get it out of the drinking fountains. They get only one hour of recreation per day, on those days when the correctional officers remember. Many of them had such a peripheral connection to the demonstrations they have no idea why they are charged or how they were located.
Could Pegasus be the answer?
The FBI has always been overly protective of its surveillance program that intercepts calls and texts with equipment they dubbed “Stingrays.” In 2015, the web-tech site Gizmodo wildly speculated about the program but it was painfully obvious the writer really didn’t know anything about it. What did come through the murk of the article, however, now that we know about Pegasus, is that Stingrays was and probably still is the NSO Group’s spyware, though that is at this point mere speculation.
Both programs load malware over Wi-Fi or a mobile network to track a target’s phone and glean data from it. In the U.S., such a practice without benefit of a warrant is, at the very least, questionable in terms of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure of persons, homes, papers and personal effects.
We know there is credible evidence the FBI had operatives and informants embedded in the alleged “militia groups” involved in the faux insurrection last January. We have no idea how it was determined which groups to infiltrate and which persons to target for surveillance. Being able to identify their objectives would be a monumental task in the extremely short amount of time available between the November 2020 election and the day the election was to be certified on January 6.
Unless, that is, Trump supporters had been identified as potential targets previously and that those most vocal, most active on social media, were predetermined to be “dangerous.” The question is, given a Trump victory was more or less assumed by such people, how could they be “dangerous”?
The answer would be a surveillance tool with the power of Pegasus, or a more powerful Stingray app than was previously known to exist.
Information is emerging that some of these operatives assumed senior leadership roles in the groups, thus being responsible for the actions of the membership, rather than just tracking and informing, as with a legitimate surveillance operation. Through intelligence gathered with phone surveillance, the operatives would be able to win the confidence of the groups so as to assume command authority.
One of the key consensus points among the FBI-DOJ and the regime media is the idea that, while January 6 is primarily the fault of Trump-supporting QAnon-infused “domestic terrorists,” it is secondarily the fault of so-called “intelligence failures.”
The only “failure” we can imagine in such a situation is the failure of the agents to pass along to superiors any intelligence indicating the groups’ potential for violence. That kind of failure would normally result in termination of the agent, yet we know of none of them having been fired. That might indicate the “failure” was deliberate.
Extrapolation of known events through their logical outcome might indicate a deliberate omission for nefarious purposes — namely, allowing the groups to run amok, giving the Fascist Democrats the ammunition necessary to crack down on “militia organizations” and the “white supremacists” the FBI claims were responsible. That crackdown was, in fact, formalized by Joe Biden last week.
The outcome implies an immensely complex “black op” that required a great deal of coordination, command and control, and exquisite execution. The use of Pegasus or any malware program with the kind of power necessary to deliver information that virtually duplicates the thoughts and actions of the target of surveillance for those spying on him or her would make such an operation much easier.
It would avail the undercover agents’ superiors with the capability of knowing what was happening and what was being planned without having the need for direct communication from those agents — communication that could jeopardize the operation and the agents. Senior FBI agents-in-charge could not only get direct reports from their field agents by spying on their phones, but could confirm the loyalty and willingness among the group membership they had infiltrated to follow those agents’ lead.
To our knowledge, beyond Pegasus, there is no other software in existence that would allow such total access to the inner sanctum of an enemy, even an enemy that has been compromised by human intelligence.
We can’t say for certain that the U.S. government uses Pegasus. It would be nothing short of baffling and amazing if they do not. There may be no better circumstantial evidence than what the FBI did to formulate and execute the fake insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The reasoning behind such an operation would not only be frightening for its implications but diabolical for its existence.
NSO Group’s malware could bring about the death of democracy, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Mike Nichols is a conservative, a patriot, U.S. Army veteran, behavioral therapist, political enthusiast, sports fan and writer living with his beautiful wife Liz in the Heartland. He has a regular blog at America’s Conservative Voice on Substack and a Facebook presence at Americas Conservative Voice-Facebook