French President Emmanuel Macron called Prime Minister Naftali Bennett personally this week to make sure the Israeli government was properly looking into allegations involving spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group, Channel 12 news reported on Saturday.
Macron asked Bennett to ensure the issue was being taken seriously, according to the report, and expressed concern that Morocco was allegedly among the governments said to have used the powerful spyware developed by the Israeli company.
In the unsourced report, Channel 12 said Bennett made clear that the events occurred before he took office in May and that the required conclusions on the matter will be reached.
The Prime Minister’s Office had not disclosed the call with Macron and there was no formal confirmation of the call as of Saturday evening.
According to an in-depth investigation by 17 news organizations this week, Pegasus has been implicated in possible mass surveillance of journalists, human rights defenders and 14 heads of state, whose phone numbers were among some 50,000 potential surveillance targets on a list leaked to rights group Amnesty International and Paris-based Forbidden Stories.
The investigation, titled the Pegasus Project, identified at least 180 journalists in 20 countries who were selected for potential targeting between 2016 and June 2021.
Macron called an urgent national security meeting on Thursday to discuss the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware, after reports about its use in France emerged.
The head of Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said on Thursday that Israel has established a committee to review allegations that NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus phone surveillance software was misused.
In an interview with Army Radio, lawmaker Ram Ben-Barak gave scant details about the panel’s makeup or its scope — NSO has said it exports to 45 countries, with approval from the Israeli government.
A consortium of media companies, including the Washington Post, the Guardian and France’s Le Monde, reported on Tuesday that one of Macron’s phone numbers and those of many cabinet ministers were on the leaked list of potential Pegasus targets.
The newspapers said they had been unable to confirm whether an attempted or successful hacking had taken place without forensically analyzing the president’s phone.
Evidence of an attempted hacking was found on the device of former environment minister and close Macron ally Francois de Rugy, with the attempt allegedly originating in Morocco.
De Rugy demanded on Tuesday that Morocco provide “explanations to France, to the French government and individuals like me, who was a member of the French government, when there was an attempt to hack and access the data on my mobile phone.”
The NSO Group has denied that Macron was among the targets of its clients.
“We can specifically come out and say for sure that the president of France, Macron, was not a target,” Chaim Gelfand, chief compliance officer at NSO Group, told Israeli television network i24news on Wednesday.
A source close to Macron played down the risk to him, saying on Wednesday that the 43-year-old leader had several phones which were “regularly changed, updated and secured.”
Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, the source said that his security settings were “the tightest possible.”
Other revelations this week have alleged that close French ally Morocco also targeted several high-profile journalists in France.
Prosecutors in Paris have opened a probe, following complaints from investigative website Mediapart and the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine.
Morocco has denied the claims, saying it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices.”
Pegasus can hack into mobile phones without a user knowing, enabling clients to read every message, track a user’s location and tap into the phone’s camera and microphone.
Source: TOI and AFP