In light of the Pegasus exposé, Rahul Gandhi spoke to reporters about his phone number being included in the leaked database as a person of interest for surveillance.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Friday said that the use of Pegasus spyware by an Indian NSO client amounted to “treason”. “Pegasus is classified by the Israeli state as a weapon,” Gandhi said. “The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have used this weapon against the Indian state and against our institutions. They have used it politically. They have used it in Karnataka. They have used it to scuttle probes. They have used it against the Supreme Court. They have used it against all the institutions of this country. The only word for this is treason; there is no other word for this.”
Gandhi also did away with ambiguity on whether he was a target. “My phone isn’t a potential target, it is tapped. It is clearly tapped. It’s not a potential target,” he said.
It is not only this phone. Every single phone of mine is tapped. Let me tell you another thing. I get phone calls from IB [Intelligence Bureau] people who are tapping my phone. They say, “Please be aware that I am tapping your phone.” Also, by the way, my security people tell me that they [the IB people] have to debrief what I say. They have to report to their seniors everything that I say. I’m under no pretensions that I am not tapped.
Why it matters: As the Pegasus issue unfolds (read our coverage of it here), opposition members have heightened demands for an independent probe of the matter. If it is borne out that the Indian government purchased and used Pegasus on Indian citizens, it would amount to the illegal use of hacking, on top of call tapping and other forms of surveillance for which laws exist.
What happened with Pegasus
The Pegasus Project revealed over the past week that journalists, politicians, activists, and other public figures may have been subject to intrusive surveillance of their phones. Pegasus is the Israel-based NSO Group’s spyware that can suck up messages, contact lists, and other personal data from a variety of apps on iPhone and Android devices, even with recent software updates. Potential targets in India include Rahul Gandhi, former chief ministers of Karnataka Siddaramaiah and HD Kumaraswamy, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, former Election Commission member Ashok Lavasa, senior CBI officials, election strategist Prashant Kishor, among others.
The government on Friday continued providing its evasive denial of using Pegasus to target journalists, activists, political rivals, and other public figures. In a statement practically identical to one delivered earlier this week in the Lok Sabha, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw called the revelations “sensational,” but stopped short of categorically denying that the Indian government is a client of NSO:
“The allegations is that individuals linked were being spied upon. However, the report says the presence of a phone number in the data does not reveal whether a device was infected by Pegasus or subjected to an attempted hack. Without subjecting the phone to this technical analysis it is not possible to conclusively state whether it witnessed an attempted hack or was successfully compromised.” — Ashwini Vaishnaw (emphasis supplied)
This is a transcript of Rahul Gandhi’s remarks to the press, partly translated from Hindi and edited for clarity and repetition.
Good morning. Pegasus is classified by the Israeli state as a weapon. And that weapon is supposed to be used against terrorists. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have used this weapon against the Indian state and against our institutions. They have used it politically. They have used it in Karnataka. They have used it to scuttle probes. They have used it against the Supreme Court. They have used it against all the institutions of this country. The only word for this is treason; there is no other word for this.
This has to be investigated and the Home Minister has to resign.
They tapped my phone. But this isn’t about my privacy. This isn’t about Rahul Gandhi’s privacy. As an opposition leader, I raise the concerns of the people. This is an attack on that, the voice of the people. To stop the Rafale investigation, Pegasus was used. Narendra Modi-ji has used this weapon against us, against the people. And there is only one word for this: treason.
There should be a judicial enquiry into Narendra Modi. Only him and the Home Minister can do this.
Reporter: An enquiry is going on in France, but here, there’s nothing. How do you take that?
I have said very clearly that there has been gross theft in our country. None of you people support it; it’s the truth. But the truth has a way of coming out. There is an enquiry in France, and you will see the Prime Minister himself is responsible for corruption in Rafale — you’ll see it. You can’t buy everybody. You may think you can buy everybody, the prime minister may think he can suppress everybody, but he can’t. The reason all those people.
Even the question, you’re asking it to me in a very particular way: why are you not asking why the CBI director’s phone was not tapped? Why are you asking me about Anil Ambani? [crosstalk] No, no, this is a mischievous question.
The real question is: why on the last minute, when the CBI director was about to file an FIR, why was his phone tapped and why was he blackmailed? That’s the real question: who did it? The question is not whether Anil Ambani was tapped.
You have to ask the correct, precise question. The answer is: the entire Indian state is under attack. The amazing thing is you don’t seem to understand that you are being attacked. Maybe because you’re paid, maybe because you have to live with these cameras, maybe. But this is not an attack on Rahul Gandhi, not an attack on individuals. This is an attack on the Indian state.
Reporter: [Indistuingishable question in Hindi]
Okay, how about this: if they have nothing to do with this, if the Government of India didn’t do this, some other government would have done it. The government of Japan might have, the government of Israel might have, the government of Russia might have, the government of Uganda might have. Pegasus can only be sold to governments, so shouldn’t that be inquired into?
So why isn’t the Prime Minister saying that people’s numbers are being tapped and there will be an inquiry; why is he saying that they didn’t do it? They haven’t denied buying [Pegasus] either, they should say something there.
Reporter: The government is saying [unclear] classified.
The Rafale issue was classified, the farmers’ issue is classified, everything in India is classified now… Alright.
My phone isn’t a potential target, it is tapped. It is clearly tapped. It’s not a potential target.
Reporter: Are you scared?
I’m an open book. Doesn’t make a difference to me.
It’s easy: you want to understand Indian politics. If you’re corrupt or a thief, you’ll be scared. If you’re neither corrupt nor a thief, you have nothing to fear from Modi.
Reporter: With what substantiation are you alleging that–
Are you allowed to buy Pegasus? Can I buy Pegasus? Pegasus has to be authorized by the nation state, at a minimum by the Home Minister, probably by the Prime Minister. Pegasus cannot be sold to the military of the country, it’s sold government to government. Much like Modi saying that Rafale was a government to government deal, but then Mr. Anil Ambani is sitting in the meeting.
Reporter: [unclear question in Hindi]
Our stand is absolutely clear there. These laws have to be withdrawn.
Reporter: The government says it is ready to negotiate.
This is not negotiable. Those laws have to be withdrawn.
Reporter: [unclear question in English]
It is not only this phone. Every single phone of mine is tapped. Let me tell you another thing. I get phone calls from IB people who are tapping my phone. They say, “Please be aware that I am tapping your phone.” Also, by the way, my security people tell me that they have to debrief what I say. They have to report to their seniors everything that I say. I’m under no pretensions that I am not tapped.
I don’t get intimidated. These things don’t intimidate me.
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