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By THE PULSE NEWS MEXICO STAFF

While President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) continues to deny that the Mexican government is spying on journalists and opposition leaders, a report published on Sunday, July 18, in the Washington Post would seem to contract his claims.

The article — written by Dana Priest, Craig Timberg and Souad Mekhennet in cooperation with 16 media partners — stated that “military-grade spyware licensed by a Israeli firm to governments for tracking terrorists and criminals has been used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones” belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and others around the world, including in Mexico.

“The phones appeared on a list of more than 50,000 numbers that are concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens and also known to have been clients of the Israeli firm, NSO Group, a worldwide leader in the growing and largely unregulated private spyware industry,” the Washington Post reported based on an expansive international investigation.

“The list does not identify who put the numbers on it, or why, and it is unknown how many of the phones were targeted or surveilled. But forensic analysis of the 37 smartphones shows that many display a tight correlation between time stamps associated with a number on the list and the initiation of surveillance, in some cases as brief as a few seconds.”

The article explained that Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International, a human rights group, had access to the list and shared it with the news organizations, which did further research and analysis.

“More than 50,000 smartphone numbers appear on a list of phones concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance on their citizens and also known to have been clients of NSO Group, an Israeli firm that is a worldwide leader in cybersurveillance (and distributor of the Pegasus spyware). The numbers span more than 50 countries around the globe,” the article said.

The greatest number of unauthorized cyber-surveillance cases were in Mexico, where more than 15,000 numbers, including those belonging to politicians, union representatives, journalists and other government critics, were on the list.

“The greatest number were in Mexico, where more than 15,000 numbers, including those belonging to politicians, union representatives, journalists and other government critics, were on the list.”

And while the Washington Post said that the phone numbers on the list are unattributed, in the case of Mexico, the study found not only did new clusters of tappings and other surveillance occur, but that there were previous entries on the list clustered by Mexican country code, area code and geography.

Like in the case of most of the countries named in the Washington Post report, the Mexican government had adamantly denied using Pegasus for unauthorized surveillance purposes.

“Pegasus is very useful for fighting organized crime,” Guillermo Valdes Castellanos, head of Mexico’s domestic intelligence agency CISEN from 2006 to 2011, told the Washington Post.

“But the total lack of checks and balances (in Mexican agencies) means it easily ends up in private hands and is used for political and personal gain.”

The article pointed out that Mexico was NSO’s first overseas client in 2011, less than a year after the firm was founded in Tel Aviv.

“In 2016 and 2017, more than 15,000 Mexicans appeared on the list examined by the media consortium, among them at least 25 reporters working for the country’s major media outlets, according to the records and interviews,” the article said.

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