Traces of Pegasus spyware found on smartphones of five French cabinet ministers

24 Sep, 2021
PHOTO. © Reuters / Kacper Pempel

Pegasus spyware has been found on the phones of at least five French ministers, multiple sources told news outlets. The company behind the tech, the Israel-based NSO Group, denies it was used to target French officials, however.

The revelation was first made by French investigative website Mediapart, with the report further corroborated by the AFP news agency on Friday.

Traces of Pegasus spyware have been found on the mobile phones of at least five current cabinet ministers, Mediapart said, citing a confidential intelligence report and numerous anonymous sources. The alleged activity of the spyware was traced back to 2019 and, to a lesser extent, 2020.

The five affected officials include Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie, Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon, Overseas Territories Minister Sébastien Lecornu, and Territorial Cohesion Minister Jacqueline Gourault, according to Mediapart.

So far, only Wargon has reacted publicly to the revelations, confirming her phone had been examined by France’s special services.“My phone is one of those checked out by the national IT systems security agency, but I haven’t yet heard anything about the investigation so I cannot comment at this stage,” she told L’Opinion website on Friday.

The reason the housing minister was targeted by the sophisticated spyware remains a mystery, with one of her aides telling AFP that Wargon “doesn’t have access to any state secrets, so we can’t really see the point of spying on her.”

Shortly after the report was published, the developer of Pegasus spyware, the Israel-based NSO Group, rejected the allegations, reiterating its stance that the program had never been used to target French officials.

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“We stand by our previous statements regarding French government officials. They are not and have never been Pegasus targets. We won’t comment on anonymous source allegations,” the company said in a statement.

First discovered back in 2016, the spyware hit the headlines earlier this year, after a consortium of 17 media organizations reported that it had been used to target more than 50,000 high-profile people all over the globe. The software, sold by NSO only to government entities in order to purportedly investigate serious crime, was allegedly used to monitor the online activities of politicians, government officials, and journalists from a number of countries.

The revelation has sparked multiple international scandals, with several revolving around French public figures. The spyware was reportedly used by Moroccan intelligence to spy on France’s top officials, including President Emmanuel Macron, for instance.It was also allegedly used to target French journalists, including Mediapart’s co-founder and president Edwy Plenel and its investigative journalist Lénaïg Bredoux, France’s media reported last month, citing findings by the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems.

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