NSO Group: Polish leader admits the country has bought powerful Israeli spyware

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Poland’s most powerful politician has admitted that the country bought advanced spyware from Israeli surveillance software maker NSO Group, but denies that it is targeting its political opponents.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chairman of the ruling Conservative Party of Poland, Law and Justice, said in an interview that intelligence agencies in many countries use Pegasus software to fight crime and corruption.

Kaczynski said the use of such spyware emerged in response to the increased use of encryption to mask data in transit, which defeated previous surveillance technologies. By hacking phones, government agencies can monitor communications as well as real-time calls if they are not encrypted.

“It would be bad if the Polish services did not have such an instrument,” said Kaczynski in an interview that is to be published in the Monday edition of the weekly Sieci. The news portal wPolityce.pl published excerpts on Friday.

The interview follows exclusive reports from The Associated Press that Citizen Lab, a cyber watchdog group at the University of Toronto, found that three Polish government critics were hacked with Pegasus by NSO.

On Thursday, Amnesty International independently verified Citizen Lab’s finding that Senator Krzysztof Brejza was hacked multiple times in 2019 while leading the opposition’s general election campaign.

Text messages stolen from Brejza’s cell phone were forged and broadcast on state-controlled television in Poland as part of a smear campaign in the heat of the race that the populist ruling party narrowly won.

Brejza now claims the election was unfair as the ruling party had access to the tactical considerations and plans of his campaign.

The hacking revelations shook Poland, made comparisons with the Watergate scandal in the USA in the 1970s and called for a commission of inquiry in parliament.

Kaczynski said he saw no reason to set up such a commission and denied that surveillance played a role in the outcome of the 2019 elections.

“There is nothing here, no fact, but the opposition hysteria. There is no Pegasus case, no surveillance, ”said Kaczynski. “No Pegasus, no services, no secretly obtained information played a role in the 2019 election campaign. They lost because they lost. You shouldn’t look for such excuses today. “

The other two Polish targets confirmed by Citizen Lab were Roman Giertych, an attorney who represents opposition politicians in a number of politically sensitive cases, and Ewa Wrzosek, an independent prosecutor.

When asked by the AP in December whether Poland had bought Pegasus, State Security Spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn neither wanted to confirm nor deny this. However, many of Kaczynski’s allies openly question the government’s proposals for the use of Pegasus.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called Citizen Lab-AP’s findings “fake news” and suggested a foreign intelligence agency could have carried out the espionage – an idea that was rejected by critics who said no other government was interested in the three Polish destinations.

Deputy Defense Minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz said at the end of December: “The Pegasus system is not owned by the Polish services. It is not used to track or monitor anyone in our country. “

According to Polish media reports, Poland bought Pegasus in 2017 with money from the so-called Justice Fund, which is supposed to help victims of crime and rehabilitate criminals.

According to investigations by the broadcaster TVN and the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, the software is used by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, a special service for combating corruption in public life, which is under the political control of the ruling party.

“The public money was spent on an important public purpose related to fighting crime and protecting citizens,” said Kaczynski.

Dozens of high-profile Pegasus abuse cases have been uncovered since 2015, many by a global media consortium last year, showing that the NSO Group’s malware was used to eavesdrop on journalists, politicians, diplomats, lawyers and human rights activists from the Middle East Mexico.

The Polish hacks are considered particularly outrageous because they did not take place in a repressive autocracy, but in a member state of the European Union.

Amnesty International’s Polish director Anna Błaszczak said in a statement Friday that spying on the opposition was compatible with the conduct of the Polish government within the framework of law and justice. The EU has increasingly criticized Poland for judicial interference and other acts considered anti-democratic.

“These results are shocking, but not surprising. They raise serious concerns not only to politicians, but to Polish civil society as a whole in general, especially given the fact that the government has persistently undermined human rights and the rule of law, “said Blaszczak.

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