The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has urged retired Supreme Court judge R. V. Raveendran, who is overseeing the expert committee probe into the Pegasus issue , to take cognisance of a New York Times report which claimed that the Indian government had bought the spyware in 2017.
“We are writing this letter with reference to an investigative report that has been published by the New York Times on January 28, 2022, titled 'The Battle for the World’s Most Powerful Cyberweapon', in which serious allegations have been raised with respect to purchase and use of the Pegasus spyware by the government of India,” it said.
The EGI said the report was a detailed account of the history of NSO — the Isareli company that developed and owned the software — and how the Israeli government had used the spyware for diplomatic gains around the world, including with India. “We have attached the full copy of the report with this letter,” it said.
The letter quoted an excerpt from the report which said: “The combination of Israel’s search for influence and NSO’s drive for profits has also led to the powerful spying tool ending up in the hands of a new generation of nationalist leaders worldwide. Though the Israeli government’s oversight was meant to prevent the powerful spyware from being used in repressive ways, Pegasus has been sold to Poland, Hungary and India, despite those countries’ questionable records on human rights.”
The report further claimed: “In July 2017, Narendra Modi, who won office on a platform of Hindu nationalism, became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called 'commitment to the Palestinian cause' and relations with Israel were frosty. The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings.
“Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces. Months later, Netanyahu made a rare state visit to India. And in June 2019, India voted in support of Israel at the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organisation, a first for the nation,” it added.
Highlighting the contents, the EGI requested the committee to take cognisance and call the Central government, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and Secretaries of the Ministries that might have been involved in the claimed purchase of the spyware, including the Ministries of Finance, Defence, Home and Electronics & Information Technology, as witnesses to the inquiry. Their responses must be sought on affidavit, it said.
The EGI reiterated its earlier suggestion that the committee proceedings be kept open to public to ensure complete transparency with respect to the witnesses being called as well as their responses.