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World leaders targeted by NSO’s Pegasus, ambassadors and diplomats in India on radar too

While most world leaders appear to have been targeted by Moroccan NSO clients, an Indian client attempted to target Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan, reports said. 

A series of world leaders and diplomats were potential targets of the Pegasus spyware, The Guardian, and other news outlets associated with Paris-based Forbidden Stories reported. The spyware, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group and sold to nation-states including India, appears to have been heavily relied on to carry out surveillance of journalists, activists, politicians, and now, world leaders. Le Monde reported that targets in India included diplomats and ambassadors representing Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, China, and Nepal. Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan and French president Emmanuel Macron are also among the affected world leaders.

Who spied on who

As per Forbidden Stories, this is a list of world leaders and diplomats affected by surveillance through Pegasus, and the countries who appear to have attempted to snoop, did it between 2016 and 2019:

  • Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, appeared to have been targeted by a Rwandan client of NSO.
  • Emmanuel Macron, President of France, appeared to have been targeted by a Moroccan client of NSO.
  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, appears to have been targeted by a Moroccan client of NSO.
  • Saad Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, appears to have been targeted by a UAE client of NSO.
  • Charles Michel, President of the European Council and former President of Belgium, appears to have been targeted by a Moroccan NSO client.
  • Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, appears to have been targeted by a Moroccan NSO client.
  • Saadeddine Othmani, Prime Minister of Morocco, appears to have been targeted by an NSO client in the same country.
  • Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, appears to have been targeted by an Indian client of NSO.
  • Felipe Calderón, Former President of Mexico, appears to have been targeted by a Mexican NSO client.
  • Robert Malley, US Special Representative to Iran, appears to have been targeted by a Moroccan NSO client.

NSO statement

The Washington Post reported that NSO said: “We can confirm that at least three names in your inquiry Emmanuel Macron, King Mohammed VI, and Tedros Ghebreyesus — are not, and never have been, targets or selected as targets of NSO Group customers. […] All of the French and Belgian government officials or diplomats mentioned in the list, are not and never have been, Pegasus targets.”

The Indian government has not denied buying Pegasus from NSO. Since 2019, it has said that it doesn’t illegally snoop on people, but never outright said that it is not an NSO client. This, in spite of the fact that NSO’s Pegasus allows hacking on top of regular surveillance, the former being illegal in India.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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