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Saturday, July 24, 2021

French President Holds National Security Meeting to Discuss Pegasus

French President Emmanuel Macron held an urgent national security meeting Thursday to discuss the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware after reports of its use in France emerged this week.

“The president is monitoring this issue closely and taking it very seriously,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France Inter radio. He added that the unscheduled national security meeting was dedicated to the issue of Pegasus and the question of cybersecurity.

A consortium of media companies, including the Washington Post, Guardian and French daily Le Monde, reported Tuesday that one of Macron’s cell phones and that of many cabinet ministers was on a leaked list of potential Pegasus targets.

The papers said they could not confirm whether the hack had taken place without forensically analyzing the president’s cell phone.

Illustration of a hack on a smartphone in Paris, showing Israel’s NSO Group website featuring the ‘Pegasus’ spyware, July 21, 2021. (AFP)

Evidence of an attempted hack was found on the mobile device of former environment minister and close ally of Macron, Francois de Rugy. The hacking attempt is thought to have originated in Morocco.

De Rugy on Tuesday (20/7), demanded that Morocco provide “explanations to France, to the French government and to individuals like myself, who are members of the French government when there was an attempt to hack and access the data on my phone.”

NSO Group, the company that makes Pegasus, has denied that Macron was among its target clients.

“We can confirm that the French president, Macron, is not a target,” Chaim Gelfand, head of legal compliance at the NSO Group, told Israeli television network i24 on Wednesday.

A source close to Macron has downplayed the possibility that Macron’s phone could be hacked. He said Wednesday that the 43-year-old leader had several cell phones that were “regularly changed, updated and secured”.

Speaking to AFP on the condition of anonymity, the source said the security arrangements for the president’s communications equipment were unusually tight.

French President Emmanuel Macron (center) chairs a national security meeting to discuss the Pegasus spyware in the Jupiter chamber at The Elysee Presidential Palace, Paris, July 22, 2021. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron (center) chairs a national security meeting to discuss the Pegasus spyware in the Jupiter chamber at The Elysee Presidential Palace, Paris, July 22, 2021. (AFP)

Many news outlets revealed this week that Morocco, a close ally of France, had also targeted several high-profile journalists in France.

The prosecutor’s office in Paris has opened an investigation following complaints filed by investigative website Mediapart and satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine.

Morocco has denied the claims, saying it never obtained the computer software to hack communications devices.

A joint media investigation into Pegasus identified at least 180 journalists in 20 countries who had become potential targets between 2016 and June 2021.

Pegasus can hack a cell phone without the user’s knowledge, allowing the device’s client to read every message, track the user’s location, and take advantage of the phone’s camera and microphone. [ab/uh]

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