Pegasus spyware and a missile system were the ‘centrepiece’ of a $2 billion 2017 deal between India and Israel for the purchase of of weapons and intelligence gear.
The Indian government bought Isreali spyware Pegasus as part of a larger arms deal in 2017, according to an investigative report by the New York Times.
The spyware, which is classified as military-grade software produced by the NSO Group, was part of a “package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion” between India and Israel, according to NYT.
After an international consortium of media organisations carried out an investigation last year, it was revealed that the Pegasus spyware had been used to target and hack phones of various global leaders, journalists and activists. In India, The Wire had reported that at least 40 journalists had been the potential targets of surveillance by the spyware, at the time.
Over 10 instances of Pegasus hacking were found in India through forensic analysis conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab.
“In July 2017, Narendra Modi, who won office on a platform of Hindu nationalism, became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called “commitment to the Palestinian cause,” and relations with Israel were frosty. The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings. Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces.”, the NYT report says, adding, “Months later, Netanyahu made a rare state visit to India. And in June 2019, India voted in support of Israel at the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organization, a first for the nation.”
On the misuse of Pegasus by the governments, the report states, “The combination of Israel’s search for influence and NSO’s drive for profits has also led to the powerful spying tool’s ending up in the hands of a new generation of nationalist leaders worldwide. Though the Israeli government’s oversight was meant to prevent the powerful spyware from being used in repressive ways, Pegasus has been sold to Poland, Hungary and India, despite those countries’ questionable records on human rights.”
The Indian government has been evasive when asked whether it has purchased Pegasus or used it. In August 2021, in response to questions raised in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, India’s defence ministry denied it had carried out any transactions with the NSO group. In September 2021, the Indian government failed to file a response to petitions relating to the Pegasus scandal on the grounds of “national security”.