India bought Israeli spyware Pegasus in 2017 as part of a $2-billion defence package, The New York Times reported on Friday.
The military-grade spyware and a “missile system” were the “centrepieces” of the package, according to NYT report.
Until now, neither the Indian Government nor the Israeli Government has admitted that India bought Pegasus.
The year-long investigation, the NYT reported, revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, too, had bought and tested the spyware “for years with plans to use it for domestic surveillance until the agency finally decided last year not to deploy the tools.”
The report says that under a set of new deals licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Defence, Pegasus was provided to Poland, Hungary and India, and other countries.
“The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister [Benjamin] 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 report stated, flagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark visit to Israel in July 2017 – the first by an Indian Prime Minister to that country.
In July last year, a global consortium of media groups had reported on the use of Pegasus, which has been developed by the NSO Group. In India, The Wire had reported that 161 Indians were spied on using Pegasus. The list included lawyers, activists, politicians, journalists, and many more.
Responding to the controversy in Parliament on 18 July, Union government said the report was a “sensational” attempt “to malign Indian democracy and its well established institutions.”
Dozens of pleas were filed in the Supreme Court against the government and the top court, in turn, had set up a panel to look into the allegations. The inquiry is ongoing.
The three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana had said that the state cannot get “a free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised”, as it ordered a “thorough inquiry” into allegations of unauthorised surveillance using Pegasus.