Between Denial, Conviction, and Recourse to the Judiciary… International Responses to Refute Involvement in Using the Pegasus Espionage Program

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Morocco announced on Wednesday that it will go to court to investigate allegations of its involvement in the use of the Pegasus spyware program targeting prominent public figures. Saudi Arabia, for its part, denied the allegations the same day, describing them as “baseless, stressing that the kingdom’s policy does not condone such practices”. As for Israel, the government has assembled a team from several ministries to review allegations of spyware use from one of its companies.

Regarding Pegasus case What caused a political earthquake among world leaders and prominent public figures, Morocco, one of the countries likely to be involved in this case, according to media reports from 17 different media outlets, decided to resort to a “legal effort”.

‘False accusations’

The government said in a brief statement on Wednesday that “Morocco, strong in its rights and convinced of the relevance of its position, has chosen to undertake the legal and judicial effort in Morocco and at the international level to stand up against any party wishing to take advantage of these false accusations.”

The Moroccan Public Prosecutor’s Office announced later on Wednesday that it had “opened a judicial inquiry into these allegations and false allegations, and would identify the parties behind their publication”.

The government statement, published by the Moroccan News Agency, reiterated the Kingdom’s strong condemnation of what it described as “the ongoing, intensive and suspiciously misleading media campaign, promoting allegations of hacking into the phones of a number of national and foreign public figures with using an information program.”

Radio France reported on Tuesday that King of Morocco Mohammed VI His loved ones are “on the list of potential targets” of the Pegasus program, which has been used to spy on journalists, human rights defenders and politicians.

The French newspaper Le Monde also said on Tuesday that telephone numbers French President Emmanuel Macron And members of his government were “on the list of numbers chosen by a Moroccan state security service using the Pegasus spy program for the purpose of a possible hack”.

The newspaper added that the phones of several Moroccan politicians, including Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani, “were selected for potential targets by the Pegasus spyware.”

Since 2016, Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International have obtained a list of 50,000 phone numbers chosen by customers of the Israeli company NSO Group for the purpose of carrying out possible espionage operations. The two organizations sent her to a group of 17 media outlets denouncing the case on Sunday, including Radio France and the newspaper Le Monde. On Monday, the Moroccan government strongly denied these reports.

In her statement on Wednesday, she reiterated that she is challenging “the promoters” of these allegations, “including Amnesty International and the Forbidden Stories coalition, as well as those who support them and those under their protection, to provide the least tangible evidence to their surreal story.”

And she believed that Morocco “has once again become vulnerable to this type of attack, which exposes the will of some media circles and non-governmental organizations, to place it under their command and tutelage (…), which angers them that this is not possible.”

Saudi Arabia denies… and the Jamal Khashoggi case comes back to the fore

Saudi Arabia, for its part, denied allegations on Wednesday that it had used this program, according to Saudi TV, according to an official source in the Kingdom.

The official added that these allegations are unfounded and stressed that the Kingdom’s policy does not condone such practices.

One of the media organizations that unveiled the program, the Washington Post, said Pegasus was used to target the phones of two women close to Journalist Jamal Khashoggi who wrote for the newspaper, and who was murdered in 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, before and after his murder.

And (NSO) issued a statement on Sunday, denouncing what the media organizations report said: “It is full of false assumptions and unconfirmed theories.” It added that the program is intended for use by official intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime.

Israel… the government is on the move

Two Israeli sources said on Wednesday that the government has formed a team of senior officials from various ministries to evaluate these growing allegations that one of its companies was involved in spying on world leaders.

One of the sources said the team is led by the National Security Council, which reports to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and includes more expertise than the Department of Defense, which oversees the export of NSO’s Pegasus program.

The other source said the National Security Council was not involved and the assessment was conducted by senior defense and intelligence officials and diplomats.

How does the Pegasus spy program work to penetrate its victims’ phones?

The two sources requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. “This matter is beyond the purview of the Defense Ministry,” the first source said, citing possible diplomatic repercussions after media reports this week of suspected misuse of the Pegasus program in France, Mexico, India, Morocco and Iraq.

One of the Israeli sources concluded that imposing new restrictions on Pegasus exports was “questionable” and said the aim was “to find out what happened, study this issue and learn lessons from it”.

Commenting on the developments, an NSO spokesperson said: “We welcome any decision by the government of Israel and we are confident that the company’s operations are impeccable.”

Bennett’s office declined to comment. The prime minister did not address the issue of “NSO” in a speech he gave at an internet conference on Wednesday.

FRANCE 24/AFP/Reuters

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