New Delhi: At least two mobile phone accounts used by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were among 300 verified Indian numbers listed as potential targets by an official Indian client of the Israeli surveillance technology vendor, NSO Group, The Wire reported.
Such was the apparent interest in Gandhi that the numbers of five of his social friends and acquaintances were also placed on the list of potential targets. None of the five plays any role in politics or public affairs, the report said.
Gandhi’s numbers, which he has since given up, are part of a large database of leaked numbers believed to be drawn up by NSO Group clients and accessed by the French media non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared with 16 news organisations, including The Wire, The Guardian, Washington Post, Le Monde, and Haaretz.
Gandhi’s phones are not among those examined as he no longer has the handsets he used at the time that his numbers appear to have been selected for targeting – from mid-2018 to mid-2019.
In the absence of forensics, it is not possible to conclusively establish whether Pegasus was deployed against Gandhi. At the same time, the presence of at least nine numbers linked to his circle – one of the larger clusters around a person of interest that the Pegasus Project has detected – suggests that his presence in the leaked database is not happenstance, The Wire said.
Gandhi told The Wire that he had received suspicious WhatsApp messages in the past – one of the known vectors for a spyware hack – and frequently changed numbers and instruments so as to make it “a little harder for them” to target him.
Apart from Gandhi’s personal phones, the numbers of two close aides, Alankar Sawai and Sachin Rao, also figure in the leaked database, for mid-2019.
Rao is a member of the Congress Working Committee whose current role involves training party cadre while Sawai is attached to Gandhi’s office and typically spends most of his working day with him. Sawai’s phone was stolen in 2019 and thus unavailable for forensic examination, while Rao said his phone from that period got “fried” and no longer switches on, the report said.