Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has branded the first two cases of Pegasus hacking anti-government figures as false. This is not the first time a political leader has denied its country’s association with Pegasus. More than 300 phone numbers were found in a leaked database of possible Pegasus targets in India, including opposition leader Rahul Gandhi. The current election commissioner, human rights activists, and government opposition politicians. Poland has allegations that the government has also used Pegasus to target and attack various opposition figures.
Citizen Lab also found that the phones of prominent opposition lawyer Roman Gertych and prosecutor Eva XXX Wrzosek were hacked using Pegasus. This is the third revelation in a week that the phones of opposition figures and a prosecutor in Poland have been hacked through Pegasus, which the NSO says is only sold to governments.
The evidence is there
There was evidence in 2019 that the Polish government purchased Pegasus from an Israeli manufacturer, although this was never officially confirmed. Earlier this year, Israel reportedly removed Poland from the list of countries allowed to buy spyware such as Pegasus. Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s Law and Justice Party, criticized allegations that the Polish government used Pegasus spyware to spy on its political opponents.
Last week, the deputy told Polish media that if Poland were different from other countries, Government services could not use mobile espionage techniques. Responding to the revelations, EU lawmakers said they would step up investigations into allegations of misuse of Pegasus spyware in member states such as Poland.
The other two Polish victims were Ewa Wrzosek, an outspoken prosecutor fighting an increasingly hard-line government. And Roman Gertych, a lawyer representing senior leaders of the Breizas Civic Showup Platform party in sensitive cases.
Polish state security spokesman Stanisław Ciern said that the Polish government does not conduct illegal surveillance and will only do so after obtaining a court order in appropriate circumstances. However, Amnesty International has confirmed that the phone of Polish Senator Brezas was hacked and confirmed the need to tighten international surveillance rules.
Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk, the new Civic Platform leader since October 2021, has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s use of Pegasus. Polish oppositionists call the movement the «Polish Watergate» and call for a special parliamentary investigation, fearing that previous elections could be jeopardized. However, the prosecutor’s office showed little interest in this issue.
Who’s gonna be held accountable?
Law and Justice leaders denied the hack and sometimes ridiculed reports of the results by refusing to launch an investigation. However, the Associated Press reports that the NSO’s Pegasus software has been used to hack the phones of government critics. This includes a senator who campaigned for the largest opposition party in 2019, leading to accusations that intelligence agencies are undermining democratic norms.
As part of the Pegasus project, 17 international media outlets, including The Wire, reported in July that opposition leaders, dissidents, and government officials were likely to be targeted by Pegasus. Last month, the Associated Press reported that the phone of Polish opposition Senator Krzysztof Roksa Brejza, who was leading the Citizens League movement, was hacked 33 times in 2019, allegedly by Pegasus. Mostly when Brejza led an opposition campaign to overthrow the Law and Justice-led government that Citizen Lab created last month.
Text messages stolen from Brejza’s phone were forged and broadcast on state television as part of a smear campaign in the heat of a race where the ruling populist party narrowly won. Polish state-run media published text messages from Brejza’s phone during the campaign.
In addition, text messages stolen from Brejza’s phone were forged to make it look like he set up online groups spreading hateful anti-government propaganda. It is important to note that state-controlled media reports cited altered texts.
Many affected by spionage
The Associated Press and the University of Toronto watchdog Citizen Lab found that Brejza’s phone was hijacked by nearly three dozen military-grade Pegasus spyware in 2019. While launching an opposition campaign to overthrow the right-wing populist government in parliament election.
While he was representing former Prime Minister and current OP leader Donald Tusk. Roman Gertych, an opposition lawyer, was allegedly hacked at least 18 times in 2019. Gertych announced that he and his colleagues have filed an application with the International Criminal Court.
Opposition parties are calling for a parliamentary inquiry into reports of the hack. The ongoing scandal over the alleged historical use of controversial mobile spyware by the Polish ruling party against an opposition MP raises questions about the legitimacy of the country’s 2019 parliamentary elections.
Fight for justice
A prosecutor who has spoken out against the government’s judicial review and a lawyer representing senior opposition politicians have also used the same spyware in multiple attacks. One of the first witnesses in the case was John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab. The specialized IT division of the University of Toronto confirmed that Pegasus software had been used to hack phones in late December.
A Senate committee is trying to shed more light on the hack that alarmed many in Poland. The country’s most powerful politician, Kaczynski, admitted last week that Poland had bought Pegasus, calling it an essential tool in the fight against serious crime. The committee plans to subpoena Jarosław Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s right-wing ruling party and deputy prime minister in charge of security, to testify under penalty of perjury.