Pegasus project: In late 2017, when the numbers were added to the list of potential targets, India was re-establishing ties with China after the Doklam stand-off, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau.
Closest advisers to the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama and members of his staff were potential targets of NSO’s Pegasus, media houses who are part of the global collaborative project investigating the database of numbers that may have been targeted by the spyware said on Thursday.
At least 300 persons in India and as many as 50,000 worldwide have been identified by the global collaborative investigative project as targets of the surveillance.
A report by The Wire, a digital news platform, which is part of the collaboration, stated that phone numbers of several Tibetan officials, activists and clerics were found in the database, starting from the late 2017 to early 2019. The dataset was first accessed by French non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, who shared their findings with 16 media partners. However, the presence of a phone number in the database is not evidence of surveillance, which can be only confirmed after a forensic analysis of the corresponding device.
The report identified the targets as staff of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorji, and Tempa Tsering, the Director of India and East Asia at Dalai Lama’s office in New Delhi.
Urgyen, the third highest-ranking monk, has earlier roused the suspicion of intelligence agencies, which have long suspected him to be a Chinese spy. The report also included names of senior aides Tenzin Taklha, Chimmey Rigzen, and Lobsang Sangay, the head of the then Tibetan government in exile, among other activists.
In late 2017, when the numbers were added to the list of potential targets, India was re-establishing ties with China after the Doklam stand-off, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau.
Tibet has long held a strategic importance for India’s relation with China. “India wants to make sure that Tibetans don’t strike a deal with the Chinese that involves the Dalai Lama going back to Tibet,” the report quoted a former official with the Tibetan administration as saying.
Earlier, reports have stated that two serving ministers in the Narendra Modi government, three Opposition leaders, one constitutional authority, several journalists, and business persons, were potentially targeted by the Israeli company NSO’s Pegasus sypware.
However, the Indian government has maintained that the media reports are part of an “international conspiracy” to malign the country. On the other hand, Opposition parties have ramped up protests against the alleged snooping, accusing the government of turning India into a “surveillance state.” The protests have led to the adjournment of Parliament amid the monsoon session multiple times.
Meanwhile, a plea has been filed in the Supreme Court demanding a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the matter.
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