In July 2021, an international consortium of journalists published an in-depth investigation revealing how Israeli spyware Pegasus had been used by a series of autocratic states such as Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Rwanda and Morocco to spy on people. politicians, correspondents and human rights activists. The only EU country known to have used the software was Hungary.
Now, six months later, details emerge that suggest the current Polish government, led by the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, may be mired in its own Pegasus scandal. Krzysztof Brejza, one of the main lawmakers in the opposition Civic Platform (PO), said at the end of December 2021 that his smartphone had been hacked 33 times between April and October 2019.
It was during this time that Brejza led his party’s electoral team ahead of the parliamentary elections on October 13, 2019. During this period, the Polish public broadcaster TVP accused Brejza of waging a vitriolic campaign against his political enemies. , citing bogus emails to substantiate this claim. . Brejza believes the timing of the charge was “no coincidence.” The 38-year-old says emails were downloaded from his phone during this time and later manipulated to present it in a bad light.
Brejza says his phone has been hacked multiple times to discredit his opposition work
Brejza was not the only Polish politician to have been watched. Roman Giertych, a prominent opposition lawyer who once served as Home Secretary, claims his phone has been hacked 18 times. Traces of six hacks between June and August 2021 were also detected on the phone of Polish prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek, who had criticized the Polish government for its controversial plan to introduce postal voting for the 2020 presidential election, and who also works for the opposition Association of Polish Independent Prosecutors, “Lex Super Omnia”.
What is Pegasus?
Pegasus spyware was developed by Israeli technology company NSO. It is sold to states around the world to aid them in their fight against terrorism and organized crime. Pegasus is able to spy on iPhones and Android smartphones in real time, it can record conversations, record geographic data and secretly active cameras. Computer scientists say there is no protection against such spyware.
NSO is based in Herzliya, Isreal
Brejza learned he had been hacked from an Associated Press (AP) report; Wrzosek discovered that his device had been compromised by smartphone maker Apple. Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary lab based at the University of Toronto, has confirmed the hacks. Polish opposition figures call it a “Polish Watergate” movement and demand a special parliamentary inquiry, fearing that the previous elections have been compromised.
The government denies all knowledge
The government, meanwhile, says he is not aware of any wrongdoing. Speaking to reporters at the end of 2021, Deputy Justice Minister Michal Wos said: “I don’t know what system you are talking about, I don’t know what system it is.” Wos added that Justice Minister and Attorney General Zbigniew Ziobro was also unaware of any such illegal surveillance measures. Indeed, the prosecution clearly showed little interest in the case. The lawyer for opposition MP Brejzas lodged a complaint but no proceedings have been initiated so far. Wrzosek, who has also requested legal action, has his case dismissed, with authorities citing a lack of evidence.
In early January, Deputy Justice Minister Wos shed light on the case on Twitter, posting a photo of a PlayStation game console with the caption: “This is the Pegasus I bought in 90s. ” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, meanwhile, hinted that the phone hacking scandal could have been the work of foreign intelligence agencies, “of which there are many in the world”.
High level agreement
Recently, however, a series of documents have surfaced that shed more light on the spyware affair. On December 3, 2021, the left-liberal Polish dailyGazeta Wyborcza revealed how, in July 2017, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met then Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The newspaper reports that this was when the decision to purchase the Pegasus spyware was made.
Hungary is the only EU country known to have used spyware
Gazeta Wyborcza reports that the Polish government sought to cover up the purchase of 25million zloty ($ 6million, 5.5million) by withdrawing the money from a fund for victims of crime, overseen by the Ministry of Justice, instead of having the CentralAnti–The Corruption Bureau (CBA) foots the bill. To make this possible, the Polish parliament had to change the statute of the fund. The newspaper said Deputy Justice Minister Wos submitted the request to the finance committee. Lawmakers were never told the funds were intended for the purchase of spyware, however, says Gazeta Wyborcza.
Spoiled for choice
Israel has reportedly reduced the number of states allowed to use Pegasus from over 100 to just 37. Hungary and Poland are among the countries whose licenses have been revoked. The Polish opposition, however, doubts that this will end the surveillance program.
“In the next few days we will learn the names and phone numbers of other surveillance victims,” ââsaid Grzegorz Schetyna, founding member of PO, who was previously Minister of the Interior and Foreign Affairs. Security expert Piotr Niemczyk, meanwhile, points out that other alternatives to spyware are already on the market: North Macedonian-based Israeli cybersecurity company Cytrox has developed Predator, a counterpart to Pegasus.
On December 27, 2021, PiS leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski reassured the Polish public by declaring: âI am only half kidding when I tell you to use a phone like mine: an old used device, that records video, if you know which button to press. âIt is well known that Kaczynski is deeply skeptical of modern technology.
This article has been translated from German.