Our Analytics 20 july — 15:42

Who tapped Eynulla Fatullayev and Tucker Carlson? (First conclusions after loud scandal)

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BY AYDIN KARIMOV, AZERI DAILY AUTHOR

Hacking the phones of well-known politicians, journalists and human rights activists in various countries of the world remains one of the main topics of discussion in the world media.

We remind, the international journalistic organisation OCCRP made a sensational statement about mass tapping of the phones of politicians, journalists and civil activists using the Pegasus software, created by the Israeli company NSO Group. As revealed by the investigation of the organisation, carried out in conjunction with the world's leading publications: The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, access to Pegasus has been provided to intelligence services, law enforcement agencies and military departments since 2016. Human rights organisations gained access to a list of numbers that were being followed - these are 50 thousand people from 50 countries. Among them, representatives of the Arab countries of the Middle East, top managers, human rights defenders, journalists and ministers were found. Most of the numbers are concentrated in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Hungary, India and the United Arab Emirates.

After the program breaks into a smartphone, the attacker receives truly impressive amounts of information: geolocation, tapping, remote microphone activation, photos, phone numbers and a billing call. Similar technologies are used by the military and security services of different countries to fight crime, but journalists have found reason to believe that surveillance is being conducted on both ordinary people and journalists and politicians.

NSO Group was founded by two former employees of Special Forces Unit 8200

NSO Group threatens with court action

Azeri Daily has already reported on the published lists of potential victims in Azerbaijan, including the employees of haqqin.az (azeridaily.com) - the head of the publication Eynulla Fatullayev and the court reporter Inara Rafiggizi.

As it became known from the Israeli media, the NSO Group was founded by two former employees of Special Forces Unit 8200 - a detachment of the military intelligence department of the Israeli Army, known as AMAN. In the 10 years since the launch of the Pegasus prototype, the company has become a key player in the world of cyber tracking - and was valued at $1 billion. NSO Group can sell its spy technology thanks to an export licence from the Israeli Ministry of Defence.

The Israeli military did not comment on the new investigation, but has previously stated that any Israeli company will lose licenses if its programs contradict the terms of the grant of this licence and are especially related to human rights violations.

Meanwhile, NSO Group protested and accused OCCRP of spreading false and intentionally defamatory information. The Israeli company said in a statement that Pegasus is being used exclusively to fight criminals and terrorists. Moreover, the NSO Group is preparing to file a libel lawsuit against world publications and the journalistic consortium itself.

NSO Group takes on the fight

'The NSO Group strongly denies the false claims made in the OCCRP report, many of which are unconfirmed theories,' the company said through its attorney. The NSO believes that the statements of the participants in the investigation are unfounded, based on a data breach that has nothing to do with Pegasus customers (while the company refused to disclose government customers).

The NSO stressed that 'it will continue to investigate all credible allegations of misuse of the program and take appropriate action.' The head of the NSO Group, Shalev Hulio, said that the list of 50 thousand phone numbers was not related to the company, but promised to investigate potential cases of human rights violations. Most of the entries - over 15 thousand - were made by representatives of Mexico, where Pegasus was bought by several government departments. They are followed by Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, which have included 10,000 numbers each in the system.

The company emphasises that the spyware has played a key role in the implementation of operational activities and in the neutralisation of well-known representatives of systemic criminals. Commenting on the wide information and political resonance in Mexico (as a result of the OCCRP investigation, it became known that about 50 people close to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopes Obrador, including his wife, children, assistants and a doctor, were intercepted by the government of the ex-president of the country, Enrique Peña Nieto), the company recalls that it was with the help of Pegasus that Mexican drug lord El Chapo was arrested in 2016.

There are names, but there is no surveillance

The well-known British newspaper Daily Mail reports that surveillance in the above countries, including Azerbaijan, was not carried out on everyone whose phones were on the OCCRP list.

Who leaked the phone book to OCCRP?

On the other hand, observers point to the politicised and selective approach of the journalistic consortium, which in its released report focused on a number of countries, leaving in the shadows less significant for OCCRP. The international expert community, including the Azerbaijani public, has a noteworthy question: why the names of journalists and public figures in Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates have not yet been made public?

The OCCRP investigation has also caused the mistrust of leading world and European politicians. The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, commenting on the published data, noted that this information has yet to be verified.

It looks like humanity is entering a new era of cyber warfare and electronic attacks by intelligence agencies. Shortly before the publication of the OCCRP report, the host of the popular US television station, which during the Trump administration was called 'the president's favourite TV channel,' Tucker Carlson accused the US National Security Agency of conducting unauthorised electronic surveillance. The journalist felt the penetration of hackers into his smartphone and received irrefutable information about the actions of the American special services unauthorised by the court after he tried to arrange an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, Carlson held several meetings and consultations with representatives of the Kremlin. And after that, a spy program similar to Pegasus was launched into his phone. After the publication of the OCCRP report, the journalist expressed fears that the American special services could use Israeli technological developments. Along with this, according to the British The Telegraph, the largest IT-firm Kaseya, with which the American intelligence services cooperate, was subjected to a powerful attack. At least 200 companies were affected. American special services have suggested the involvement of Russian special services in the conducted electronic sabotage.

Tucker Carlson accuses American intelligence services

First conclusions

So, the situation around the OCCRP report is gradually heating up, but also clearing up. And the first conclusions after the high-profile international scandal are already evident. The world has entered an era of ruthless electronic warfare, and the innovative revolution, like any technological breakthroughs, along with scientific and technological progress and improvement, makes vulnerable not only people connected to modern technologies, but entire countries and even continents. Electronic sabotage is accompanied by information innuendo-stuffing. Information sabotage is the most important component of modern hybrid wars of special services. And, of course, it is quite difficult for small countries to resist in confrontation with superpowers and transnational corporations possessing gigantic material and technical resources.

What goals did OCCRP pursue by publishing data on a selected range of countries, including Azerbaijan? It would be naïve to believe that the secret services of the rest of the world do not use spyware for electronic surveillance.

First, OCCRP, Amnesty International and the French NGO Forbidden Stories must release their sources of information. Otherwise, as the president of the European Commission objectively noted, the results of the investigation may be called into question. Not a single NGO, even the most powerful and ramified, and even one working with the support of Soros, could manage this investigation without the help of the special services. Then the question arises as old as ancient Rome - Cui Bono? Who benefits from this? The intelligence services of the leading countries do not just leak such an information base. Apparently, the political strategists have developed a far-reaching combination.

In addition, the traditional critic of the Azerbaijani government OCCRP, about which we wrote many times during the climax of the anti-Azerbaijani campaigns carried out in the Western media by order of Soros, immediately focused on Azerbaijan, Hungary, Mexico, India...

Eynulla Fatullaev did not receive answers to his questions

The government of a member state of the European Union - Hungary responded harshly to the consortium's request: 'What special services have leaked this information to you? Name these special services and we will comment on your request.'

Here it is necessary to carefully analyse the logic of the built chain of countries. All the governments of these countries once crossed Soros. Of course, this can be a simple coincidence and a fatal accident. But for some reason, immediately after the information on the telephone numbers was made public, the Centre for Investigative Journalism and Western media began publishing traditional critical materials on the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan and Mexico. At the same time, for some reason, the international consortium bypasses the affected phones of dangerous criminals and drug dealers who were liquidated or arrested using this spyware. As if this program was invented for dissidents and journalists.

But there is also a second version. Not political. The Israeli company NSO Group could also be ordered by powerful competitors. After all, we are talking about tens of billions in the technology market. In any case, without having strong evidence on hand, such a respectable company, moreover, affiliated with the Israeli military department, NSO Group, would not threaten the world's leading media and international human rights defenders with legal proceedings. This is a rather dangerous and risky game in a liberal democratic country like Israel. The heads of prime ministers and presidents are flying in the Jewish state, and even the most advanced company, convicted of violating the rule of law or the principles of democracy, will face severe punishment!

In addition, OCCRP has not provided any solid evidence of the consequences of the spyware embedded in smartphones.

On the eve, Deutsche Welle disseminated information on the results of laboratory examinations of the phones of journalists Khadija Ismaiylova and Sevinj Vagifgizi. Allegedly, they found traces of an embedded bug. Where is the proof? Where are the facts? How did this happen? What points to the trail of the spy on the phone? But again, unsubstantiated allegations.

How was the malware introduced into the software for these phones? What data, reference books and photographs from the phones indicated in the list did the special services get hold of? What are the implications of implementation? And how has this implementation affected the activities of politicians, journalists and human rights defenders? The OCCRP report fails to answer these critical questions that should have been at the heart of the study in the first place. There is a reference database of telephone numbers, which is leaked in an incomprehensible way. There are names, phone numbers and replicated information about the spyware. Is it possible to believe this unsubstantiated base?

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