Unless Amnesty has the same clients or is in the same business, it was not possible for it to get so much information about the Pegasus tools
The ‘Pegasus Project' now seems to be full of scandalous narratives promoted by a ring of media and non-State entities. The “revelations” have now been found to be part of that larger agenda which aims to turn the now-dominant nationalistic narrative upside down. Newer facts point to a worldwide conspiracy behind the Pegasus “revelations”. Facts are now emerging that certain billionaires, like the Open Society Foundations (OSF), provide an active stimulus in shaping such narratives across spheres. A deeper examination of the Pegasus Project raises questions on the legitimacy of the claimed plot; rather it unearths the connections of unremitting organisations like the OSF.
The OSF connection: The OSF is an organisation that does not accept the legitimacy of Israel. Further, it funds outfits in Palestine that have been designated as terror organisations by Canada, the US, the EU and Israel. In India also, the OSF footprint is remarkable with abysmal objectives. Media reports show that the OSF has already floated its billion-dollar plan with profound anti-nationalistic programmes. In its outline last year, the OSF declared to carry forward its institutionalised project which would directly stimulate students' resistance movement against growing nationalism in India. Soros, who is in control of the OSF, by his own statement, is against a “Hindu nationalist State”.
The OSF-Amnesty link: The revelation that two global entities viz Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories, which are very much at the forefront of the Pegasus Project, are beneficiaries of grants from the OSF. The Media Research Centre of the US reveals that media organisations with links to Soros were part of the Pegasus Project. It is also revealing that Sherpa, a French NGO which continues its petition on the Indo-France Rafale deal, is also a recipient of indirect funds from the OSF. “Why Pegasus was on the radar of Amnesty International” is a billion-dollar question that people in the national security set-up must ask themselves.
Now researchers are of the legit view that, when Pegasus-type spywares are developed with the finest forensic tools and used wildly, it was hardly possible by the outsiders to even smell its presence in a potential device. One-way detection of potential device infection, therefore, does not stand to logic. Unless Amnesty has the same clients or it is in the same business, it was hardly possible for Amnesty to get so much information about the play of Pegasus tools.
Invasive tools: In the larger public domain, there are a lot of digital snooping tools at play. Snooping tools, by random use, are generally employed in three stages with certain purposes. First, it is sneaked randomly into public devices as a mere exercise of data collection to understand the trends in a target country. In the second stage, to hasten the intended snooping, better tools are sneaked into select targets, which play their tricks of influencing the hearts and minds with a designed method of cyber manipulation and imposed narrative deliverance.
At the third level, there are shroud snooping tools which are then installed into the potential opponents to keep eyes and ears on their activities with the objective of either controlling or destroying their choice. This is the great game of snooping, which goes around in circles incessantly, and most security establishments as well as private interest groups are now subscribing to the same practice.
The legitimate concerns: Globally, spyware is a multi-million market with a number of entities in the race. And, in an ICT-driven cyber world disorder, they must not be working within national boundaries. There are all sorts of cyber tools available in the global open market for both the Governments and the non-State parties to subscribe for their individual purposes. Therefore, in a world of anarchical cyber world disorder, all are subject to random malicious cyber snooping and attacks.
When the cyber world is increasingly getting dominated by non-State interest groups, there must be certain legal constraints put in place to pursue accountability and to regulate the vastly challenging surveillance culture. There is a need for normative as well as legal framework to deal with the emerging challenges to be imposed upon the non-State entities that use snooping as a weapon. There is the least doubt that India requires a solid domestic legal framework that must transform beyond sovereign limits, making all parties subject to legal process and counter-snooping sanctions.
The Opposition's responsibility: India's Parliament was expected to debate on regulating the cyber intelligence industry at length. However, the onus was on the Opposition parties to push for such a serious debate rather than playing opportunism and hurting Parliament proceedings. It was expected that each aspect of the surveillance controversy, including the development, use, sale, transfer and accusation of snooping tools, would be debated at length in Parliament.
As far as the Pegasus Project is concerned, the alarm raised by the Opposition and the Government's deniability, both can neither be validated nor rejected. While the possibility of snooping through malware remains ever probable, the opposition to the Pegasus Project should not be downplayed. Though the Opposition's concern remains genuine, the problem is that their narrative was dominated by interested groups like Amnesty, bringing its real intent under a cloud.
(The author is an ICSSR-Post Doctoral Fellow, School of National Security Studies, Central University of Gujarat. The views expressed are personal.)