By The Rwandan Analyst
Lies do not last; the truth ends up flushing it out, dixit a Rwandan maxim. The recent discovery of espionage exercised on phones of the French president Macron and members of his cabinet sufficed to unmask the malicious spying maneuvers carried out by states worldwide and Rwanda is mentioned among them whereby there is officially know that it spied different political opponents and journalists living abroad, South African Head of State, DRC politicians and Ugandan officials. What are the political, diplomatic and (why not) economic implications of this often-covered truth in the relations of the country with the powers which it thus spied? Can Israel be worried in the game since the software belongs to it? the following lines attempt to analyze the situation which prevails in this often-slippery ground.
Pegasus is spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group that can be covertly installed on mobile phones (and other devices) running most versions of iOS and Android. The 2021 Project Pegasus revelations suggest that current Pegasus software is able to exploit all recent iOS versions up to iOS 14.6. According to the Washington Post and other prominent media sources, Pegasus not only enables the keystroke monitoring of all communications from a phone (texts, emails, web searches) but it also enables phone call and location tracking, while also permitting NSO Group to hijack both the mobile phone’s microphone and camera, thus turning it into a constant surveillance device Pegasus is spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group that can be covertly installed on mobile phones (and other devices) running most versions of iOS and Android. The 2021 Project Pegasus revelations suggest that current Pegasus software is able to exploit all recent iOS versions up to iOS 14.6. According to the Washington Post and other prominent media sources, Pegasus not only enables the keystroke monitoring of all communications from a phone (texts, emails, web searches) but it also enables phone call and location tracking, while also permitting NSO Group to hijack both the mobile phone’s microphone and camera, thus turning it into a constant surveillance device. The spyware can be installed on devices running certain versions of iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, as well as some Android devices. Rather than being a specific exploit, Pegasus is a suite of exploits that uses many vulnerabilities in the system. Infection vectors include clicking links, the Photos app, the Apple Music app, and iMessage. Some of the exploits Pegasus uses are zero-click—that is, they can run without any interaction from the victim. Once installed, Pegasus has been reported to be able to run arbitrary code, extract contacts, call logs, messages, photos, web browsing history, settings, as well as gather information from apps including but not limited to communications apps iMessage, Gmail, Viber, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Skype.
At the 2017 Security Analyst Summit held by Kaspersky Lab, researchers revealed that Pegasus was available for Android in addition to iOS; Google refers to the Android version as Chrysaor, the brother of the winged horse Pegasus. Its functionality is similar to the iOS version, but the mode of attack is different. The Android version tries to gain root access (similar to jailbreaking in iOS); if it fails, it asks the user for permissions that enable it to harvest at least some data. At the time Google said that only a few Android devices had been infected.
Pegasus hides itself as far as is possible and self-destructs in an attempt to eliminate evidence if unable to communicate with its command-and-control server for over 60 days, or if on the wrong device. Pegasus can also do this on command. Besides, the Pegasus Project is a consortium of 17 international media created by Forbidden Story. Briefly, Forbidden Story had access to a list of 50,000 telephone numbers entered into the Pegasus system by 12 NSO clients in 2016. It formed a consortium of 17 media outlets including: The Washington Post, the Guardian, the Suddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde, RFI. For several months, nearly 180 journalists identified these numbers country by country, some cell phone owners agreed to entrust their phones to Project Pegasus. Thanks to technical support from Amnesty International’s Security Lab, it was then possible to demonstrate that a majority of the devices tested showed signs of Pegasus infection. Contrarily to what NSO claims, the Pegasus software has in its sights members of civil society: journalists, doctors, athletes, activists, diplomats and politicians including 13 heads of state in around fifty countries. Pegasus users include Mexico, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Togo, Hungary, and Morocco, where almost the entire royal family is targeted.
The unveiled spying activities carried out by Pegasus users shocked the international community especially superpowers which were spied and this scandal risk to entail a series of effects on the political, diplomatic and financial deal worldwide.
French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency cybersecurity meeting Thursday to weigh possible government action after reports that his cellphone and those of government ministers may have been targeted by spyware.
Macron changes his phones regularly and is “taking the matter very seriously,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Thursday on France-Inter radio.
A global media consortium reported this week that Pegasus spyware made by Israeli company NSO Group may have been used to target politicians, activists and journalists in several countries. French newspaper Le Monde, a member of the consortium, reported that a Moroccan security agency had the cellphones of Macron and 15 then-members of the French government on a list of potential targets of the spyware in 2019.Caught red handed,Morocco’s government denied wrongdoing.Investigations are under way to determine whether the spyware was actually installed on the phones or whether data was retrieved, Attal said. He stressed the importance of broader cybersecurity efforts to protect public facilities, such as hospitals, that have been targeted by malicious software in the past.
An official with NSO, Haim Gelfand, told Israel-based i24News on Wednesday that Macron was not a target. He said the company would review some cases that were revealed by the consortium, and press clients about how they are using the system. He said the company follows a careful process before deciding who to sell systems to.
Faced with this humiliating misbehavior from Morocco an ancient French colony, France did not publicize its threats but unofficially, an official in Macron’s office said authorities would investigate Le Monde’s report, and if the targeting is proven, it would be “extremely grave.”
Israel pretends having created this spyware to fight terrorism and cyber-criminality but states which bought it abuses it by spying their political opponents and foreign states they suspect to support the latter. What is the responsibility of the Israel in those maneuvers of those thug states? Considered as the top star state in the field of cyber-shield, Israel has set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess growing allegations that spyware sold by an Israeli cyber firm has been abused on a global scale.In this regard, This event is beyond the Defence Ministry purview,” the first source said, referring to potential diplomatic blowback after prominent media reports this week of suspected abuses of Pegasus in France, Mexico, India, Morocco and Iraq. On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said French President Emmanuel Macron had called for a series of investigations to be carried out into the Pegasus spyware case. Legally reasoning, states clients of Pegasus bear direct liability for prejudice caused by the personal facts but also Israel cannot escape from vicarious liability because by consenting to such agreements with those thug states, it was aware of technological potential of Pegasus spyware similarly with, a parent, a master an employer vis-à-vis the child, the pupil, the apprentice, the employee respectively. Moreover, this country does not prove its innocence by unveiling the conditions, prohibitions, rights and duties which were building up contracts it concluded with those states.
Kigali response: denial while proofs are there
Rwanda denies using Pegasus software.”These false accusations are part of an ongoing campaign to cause tensions between Rwanda and other countries, and to sow disinformation about Rwanda domestically and internationally,” Rwanda’s government said in a statement to the Pegasus Project team. This misconduct by Kigali risks entailing negative effects on the political, diplomatic and economic levels that can be predicted as follows.
-Donors and Bretton wood institutions
The Israeli firm charges an installation fee of $500,000 (around Rs 3.7 crore), $650,000 (Rs 4.8 crore) to spy on 10 iPhones or Android users; $500,000 to spy on five BlackBerry users; or $300,000 (Rs 2.23 crore) to spy on five Symbian users, according to the report. The report adds that 100 additional spyware targets cost $800,000 (around Rs 5.9 crore). The price for 50 extra targets is $500,000, for 20 extra targets is $250,000 (Rs 1.8 crore), and for 10 extra targets is $150,000 (Rs 1.1 crore).The NSO Group also charges a hefty maintenance fee of 17 percent of the total price.
Recently, millions of euros paid by Rwanda to sponsor Arsenal and PSG were not well seen by the donors and explanations provided by Rwandan officials were not convincing. From now on, things get worse with the Pegasus scandal where exorbitant sums are disbursed daily. Facing those useless expenses incurred by Rwanda just to get information from its citizens so-called enemies, what will think those donors who granted millions of dollars and euros of financial aid to help a poor country like Rwanda? How will react the IMF; World Bank; European Union; US and European states which have been helping the country to raise its population out of poverty and finance its development plans? It goes without saying that this information thus proved will push them to rethink the destination of their aids because the malicious leaders squander this money easily obtained for human rights violations in particular paying the hired killers against their political opponents. There is reported that Rwanda government spent millions of dollars to access and assassinate the late Colonel Patrick Karegeya. and the Rwandan president has confessed this crime congratulating himself for having succeeded in the mission and promising to plan similar missions for the other enemies of the country. In any case, in our opinion, this news will not please all those institutions which took pity on the country emerging from the genocide and released millions to save the population from misery and will achieve that ultimately the objectives they hoped to achieve by granting these funds were never reached; the money went elsewhere. In any case, they will surely notice that all the steps taken by Rwanda to obtain aid, in particular the sectors that they intend to finance, are only facade projects because when they succeed to get this aid, they change their destination and deviate those funds for projects which do not interest the undernourished, untreated, uneducated population living in poverty. Rwandan officials are probably aware of that the reason why they are denying their liability while they are caught red handed.
The intention to normalise relations between South Africa and Rwanda has long been on the cards. Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Paul Kagame agreed in Kigali in 2018 to do so. But there were a few false starts under South Africa’s international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu and her Rwandan counterparts back then. Finally, the two current foreign ministers, Naledi Pandor (South Africa) and Vincent Biruta (Rwanda) met last month in Pretoria. They agreed to establish a joint mechanism co-chaired by the two of them, plus a technical team of senior officials and draft roadmap to restore relations to where they were in 2013.
In other words, to where they were before Kagame’s former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, an exile in South Africa, was strangled to death with a curtain cord in a Johannesburg hotel in 2013. And before the third or fourth attempt on the life of his friend and political ally General Kayumba Nyamwasa – Kagame’s former military chief of staff– in March 2014 near Johannesburg.
Later on, the technical team established by Pandor and Biruta met for two days in Kigali for the first time. South Africa’s new High Commissioner to Rwanda, Mandisi Mpahlwa, told ISS Today they had a ‘frank debate’ in a successful meeting about the issues bedevilling relations. He said a report would be presented to the two foreign ministers, which they would consider at the first meeting of their joint mechanism soon. Mpahlwa said he couldn’t reveal the content of the discussions beyond saying ‘there are things South Africa wants from Rwanda and things Rwanda wants from South Africa.’ Of course. But what are these things? Clearly, South Africa wants assurances that Rwanda will stop sending assassins to kill Rwandan dissidents on its soil. As recently as February this year, Seif Bamporiki, a local RNC leader, was shot dead in Cape Town’s Nyanga township. Although police rather too quickly said they suspected robbery was the motive, RNC members said the murder resembled other Kigali-ordered political assassinations.South Africa is not the only country affected. In April this year, Rwandan journalist Ntamuhanga Cassien, who fled his home country some years ago, was picked up in Mozambique by men claiming to be local police, but which included one Rwandan, according to fellow journalists. Cassien has not been heard from since. If Pretoria wants Kigali to stop the assassinations, what Rwanda wants is not quite as clear. Furthermore, this is not uniquely South Africa’s problem. As Michela Wrong reveals in shocking detail in her new book Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad, Kagame’s government has been assassinating or trying to assassinate its political enemies in several other countries for years. Is it even possible to normalise relations with such a regime?
From now on, within the current pegasus scandal, alea jacta est! indeed, one name on the leaked list pinned to Rwanda stands out: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. On Wednesday, the South African government was quick to react to the news, announcing that it had tasked its intelligence agencies with investigating whether Ramaphosa’s personal mobile phone was hacked.
“Of course, we will not be happy that we have been targeted because we believe that not only infringes on the privacy of the president but also infringes on the sovereignty of this country to make its own decisions without other countries trying to preempt those decisions and influence them and also try to undermine those decisions,” acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told reporters.
The government disapproved of “unacceptable means” rather than diplomatic channels to acquire information on South Africa, she said.
But cybersecurity expert Andy Mashaile was scathing in his criticism of South Africa’s security precautions.
“Those who look after the president were supposed to have known,” he told South Africa’s national broadcaster, SABC, on Thursday. Why did Ramaphosa’s number come up?The Guardian newspaper, a partner in Pegasus Project investigation, reported that Ramaphosa’s personal mobile phone seemed to have been selected by Rwanda in 2019. Relations between South Africa and Rwanda had been strained for years before that.The diplomatic spat between the two countries was triggered when Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s former spy boss and a critic of President Paul Kagame, was found strangled in Johannesburg hotel room in 2014.The countries traded diplomatic expulsions in the years that followed amid accusations that Rwanda continued to target dissidents in South Africa. But in June this year, their foreign ministers met in Pretoria to restore their relations. At this stage, it’s still unclear what Rwanda hoped to achieve by digitally spying on Ramaphosa.”It’s difficult for us to say what [Rwanda] wanted or why they were doing it. But the bottom line is that Rwanda is one of the clients of the NSO Group,” Shenilla Mohamed, the executive director of Amnesty International South Africa, told SABC news.” Heads of states and governments have all sorts of issues that they don’t want to be made public,” Mohamed said.
Rwandan-Ugandan relations are still conflictual, with the two countries accusing each other of supporting the respective political opponents and rebellions. The evidence on both sides has so far been unconvincing but this time Uganda is gaining points at this level because Rwanda is caught in the act of espionage via Pegasus with a good number of Ugandan officials under its espionage. this implies that during the next talks Rwanda will be in a weak position and this will perhaps reduce its usual arrogance and its ultimately unmasked lies.
Four officials of this neighboring vast country were also targeted by Rwanda abusing Pegasus: Kennedy Katombe, Congolese Journalist, collaborating with Reuters, ;Lambert Mende former minister of information and spokesperson of the DRC cabinet ; Albert Yumi confident of the former President of DRC; Jean Bamanisa Saïdi, Governor of Ituri province.Even if even if the relations between the two countries improved under the current president, the suspicions remain in particular with the denial by Rwanda of its role in the killings which plagued the country during the two wars which it all caused; this pegasus shock does not help matters on the other hand it aggravates the relations which remain fragile apparently taking on facade discussions where each one lies to the other each keeping in his heart his criticisms for fear of stoking the already smoldering fire. The recent statements bordering on tension on both sides when they were at Paris may witness this sufficiently.
Euleka! this is where all the Rwandan taxpayer’s money goes, funds from aid and debts contracted by Rwanda, a country where the majority of citizens live below the poverty line.The Pegasus software costs the Rwandan government millions and the decision to wiretap and monitor political opponents, when we know that there are many people in Rwanda who are starving, who need medicine, who need attention, who need this money to survive. Unfortunately, the Rwandan government not concerned by the Rwandan poor and starving population prefers to expend billions to spy its citizens considered as enemies while a sincere reconciliation and review of their governance may easily integrate them and those huge amounts then be used for other business building up the country. In addition, the Pegasus scandal distorts all its political, financial and diplomatic orientations because it has been appearing before the world as a victim of the bad governances of the old regimes and a good student for the international financial institutions, regional and the rich powers which stuffed it with aid and credits.