Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's two phone numbers were allegedly among 300 verified Indian numbers listed as potential targets by an official Indian client of the Israeli surveillance technology vendor, NSO Group. This was revealed in the second set of revelations after an investigation by many prominent news websites, including the Guardian and the Washington Post. Also on the list was the current IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, according to the report.
Not just Gandhi, five of his social friends and acquaintances were also placed on the list of potential targets, reports thewire.in, a media partner in the Pegasus Project. Gandhi’s phones could not be examined as he no longer uses the handsets he used at the time. The numbers were selected from mid-2018 to mid-2019, the report added.
This comes on the day the government denied all reports of spying on public figures and journalists. IT Minister of India Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the reports suggesting the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp were baseless and not factual. He was speaking during the first day of Parliament's monsoon session.
Vaishnaw added, "a highly sensational story was published by a web portal last night. Many over-the-top allegations were made around this story. The press reports appeared a day before the monsoon session of Parliament. This can't be a coincidence," Vaishnaw said during his parliamentary speech."
2 ministers, Prashant kishor on list
Ironically, Vaishnaw's name was also listed as potential target apart from that of another union minister Prahlad Patel, poll strategist Prashant Kishor and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee, according to thewire.in. Vaishnaw, who joined PM Modi's cabinet recently, was an MP at the time when the names were targeted - 2018 and 2019.
In the part 1 of the series published on Sunday, it was revealed that several journalists, including 40 Indian news personalities were made the target of an attempted hack. The reports said that over 10 governments, including India's, were involved in surveillance of people using Pegasus spyware
Pegasus is a spyware developed by the Tel Aviv, Israel-based cyber intelligence and security firm NSO Group. The spyware is believed to have been in existence since 2016. It is identified by many other names like Q Suite and Trident.
It is considered one of the most powerful and sophisticated spyware to be around as it can infiltrate iOS, Apple's mobile phone operating system, and Android devices.