By The Rwandan Analyst
Since this Monday 19/07/2021, the world has been shaken by revelations in the area that often grows goosebumps: espionage! Because the acts that constitute these revelations linked to this art of interfering in a domain reserved for others, also constitute by nature serious violations of Human Rights, and perhaps of International Law. These revelations, updated by a consortium of 17 major international media outlets in their “Project Pegasus,” reveal the malicious use of software that bears the same Pegasus to hunt down or better still hunt man. Pegasus has become a well-loved toy by some countries whose respect for human rights is contested. Among these countries there are only three Africans i.e. Morocco and Rwanda and possibly Togo. What do we do with Pegasus? What about Kagame’s Rwanda?
Some definitions are needed ad hoc
To help the reader to follow this international intrigue, which does not, moreover, have a consensus as to its legality in time of war as in time of peace, it is first necessary to get used to the key terms that will often come up. These are concise definitions that we offer here, but which give a foretaste of the defined concept.
What is espionage?
It is the act of spying, that is, covertly, discreetly monitoring someone in their actions, words, for personal benefit or report. It is clandestinely collecting intelligence for the benefit of a third party, either an organization or a foreign power. The one who does the espionage is a spy, this word is initially intrinsically linked to the time of war because it means “the individual who mixes with the enemies to spy on them” or “the one who slips into the enemy camp to surprise the plans of the heads”. But despite this general meaning that refers to conflict, peacetime espionage does exist.
What is Pegasus
Pegasus is spyware targeting smartphones that simply lets you know what’s on a phone. Messages, emails, photos! It allows intelligence services to infiltrate a smartphone without leaving a visible trace. He then becomes its administrator. He has access to everyone; contacts, photos, messages. it can read what is written on encrypted messaging such as WhatsApp or Signal. It can geo-locate the owner of the device and activate microphones and cameras, turning the cell phone into a real spy. Pegasus is designed by the Israeli company NSO Group (NSO (Niv, Shalev and Omri), and sold exclusively to the States.
NSO Group Technologies
It is an Israeli company that manufactures and markets cutting-edge equipment intended to fight terrorism and organized crime: computer equipment and drones in particular. Its motto is “We are working to save lives and to make this world a better and safer world”. It was founded in 2010 by Niv Carmi, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavi, and is based in Herzela, Israel. NSO Group Technologies provided tools used for cyber espionage to states. Among NSO’s products is the spyware Pegasus which brings it over 75% of its turnover. NSO was acquired by its founders at a price of one billion euros. It also markets a software called Landmark which tracks the GPS location of phones. Finally, it sells vans equipped with computer equipment allowing the recovery of data from a target.
This is an association created in France in 2015 by a certain Laurent Richard to pursue investigations of imprisoned or murdered journalists. Its concept is to say “they killed the messenger, they will not kill the message”. The association produces large-scale international surveys.
The Pegasus Project
It 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 80 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.
The premises of the Pegasus Project
Contrary to what NSO claims, the Pegasus software has in its sight’s 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 global scandal
Human rights organizations, the media, the European Union and governments were outraged on Monday 19/07/2021, revelations about the worldwide spying of activists and journalists using the software Pegasus, designed by the Israeli company NSO Group. Introduced into a Smartphone, this software allows you to retrieve messages, photos, contacts and even listen to calls from its owner. The investigation which reinforces the suspicions weighing long on this company, published Sunday by a consortium of 17 international media, is based on a list obtained by the network based in France Forbidden Stories (“prohibited stories”) and the NGO Amnesty International, with 50,000 phone numbers selected by NSO customers since 2016 for potential surveillance.
The list includes the numbers of at least 180 journalists, 600 politicians, 85 human rights activists and 65 business leaders, according to the consortium’s analysis – including the French dailies Le Monde, the British The Guardian and American The Washington Post – which has located many in Morocco, Saudi Arabia or Mexico.
A directory in which we find three heads of state, two European heads of government, men and women at the highest levels of power in a former Soviet republic, dozens of opposition deputies from an African country, of princes and princesses, business leaders, a few billionaires, ambassadors, generals.
“We are not talking here just of a few rogue states, but of a massive use of spyware by at least twenty countries,” Amnesty General Secretary Agnès Callamard told BBC radio on Monday.
“This is a major attack on critical journalism,” she said.
Questioned, Morocco categorically denied Monday in a statement the use by its security services to Pegasus software
The designer of Pagasus continues to explain that they are developing this solution in good faith, according to them, it has saved many lives; they also explained that they will close access to the tool to offending customers. This is what happened in 2018 after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. NSO has suspended access to Pegasus in Saudi Arabia, pending investigation results. But the company is said to have re-authorized its access under pressure from the Israeli government. In fact, we find the software behind several scandals that have led to the murders and disappearances of many opponents, journalists … this is the case cited above of Jamal Khashoggi. In Mexico more than 15,000 journalists are on the list. For France 1000 numbers are on the list of the Moroccan center of Pegasus. And with amazement the number of President Emmanuel Macron as well as that of Charles Michel appears in the directory that shakes the world. The name Edwiy Plenel Patron of Mediapart is also on the directory for once criticizing the police crackdown on protests in the Rif. Moreover, the boss of Madiapart would have filed a complaint against NSO. Alongside of course Emmanuel Macron as sitting Head of State, there are also Barham Salih from Iraq and Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa. There are also three prime ministers also in office, these are Imran Khan of Pakistan, Saad-Eddine El-Othmani of Morocco and Mustapha Kemal Madbouli of Egypt. What is it with Kigali?
Kigali caught red-handed!
At first glance, the data from the Pegasus Project “strongly suggest that the Rwandan government was a client of the NSO group”. Among those spied on is the daughter of the opponent Paul Rusesabagina, Carine Kanimba. Examination of his phone revealed “the first signs of infection at the end of January 2021”. But it is possible that attacks have taken place before, “some software having the capacity to erase its traces,” according to journalists who conducted the investigation.
Asked by the Belgian daily Le Soir, Carine Kanimba, who lives in the suburbs of Brussels, says she is not surprised. Rwandan officials began to act as if they knew about all of her actions, she said. Belgian MPs, for example, were contacted by the Rwandan authorities shortly after having promised to her their support, even in private. Other Rwandan opponents and even personalities abroad have also reportedly been targeted by Rwanda. Among them, we find the asylum seeker Cassien Ntamuhanga in particular. He was arrested in Mozambique last May. He is currently missing!
Politicians in the Great Lakes region are also on the list of those targeted by the spyware. Like Ruhakana Rugunda, who was still Prime Minister in Uganda a month ago, or Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, Burundian Prime Minister. Also on the list: Congolese Lambert Mende and Albert Yuma, close to ex-president Joseph Kabila or the governor of Ituri province, Jean Bamanisa Saïdi.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta asserts, for his part, that Rwanda does not use the Pegasus software. He denies the spying on the phone of Carine Kanimba or any activists, journalists, lawyers, political figures or others. “False accusations”, according to him.
Minister Vincent Biruta’s response is the same as that of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. To allegations that he spied on opponents over the phone, he said the technology needed to do so is too expensive. By simple logic, this suggests that Kagame has the idea of the prices of this software; the prices actually exorbitant! But we know that with the RPF, there is no problem of resources; and moreover, the hunt for the “enemies” of the country is the leitmotif of his speeches. Kagame always says he will spare no effort to eliminate these enemies and at any cost!
This response is at odds with what he said at a press conference on 11/8/2019. President Paul KAGAME said he spied on Uganda as it is common in all countries to spy on neighbors for security reasons. He said that besides men there is also technology. He said: “Espionage is the preserve of all countries. We’re used to using human resources, and we’re good at it. And I myself blame myself for doing it, we do more than that, “he said.
Speaking at a press conference in the capital Kigali, Paul Kagame said he wished he could afford the technology “to find out more” about his enemies
It should be remembered that Rwanda has already enacted a Everyone Listening Law, and since then the name of this Israeli IT company, NSO, has already been on the lips. We cannot forget a blatant case of David HIMBARA It is certainly through Pegasus that the interview that David HIMBARA gave to the government newspaper was intercepted by Kigali. In fact, the content of his interview with the Ugandan government newspaper, New Vision, was published by the Rwandan state newspaper New Times long before New Vision!
What about the trial of the late Kizito Mihigo? Among the evidence incriminating him are his WhatsApp messages. How did we get into his device and especially how could he have been surprised, if it is not a sham, at home ready to escape?
New evidence uncovered by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories revealed that Rwandan authorities used Pegasus to potentially target more than 3,500 activists, journalists and politicians.
As the analyzes continue, here is at least the list of people targeted by Pegasus under Rwanda’s command:
1. Carine Kanimna (Daughter of Opoosant Paul Rsesabagina)
2. Dr. David HIMBARA (Exiled in Canada and ex-Advisor to Paul Kagame)
3. Jean Paul TURAYISHIMIYE (Exiled in the USA)
4. Cassien NTAMUHANGA (Missing)
5. Bob Mugabe (Journalist in Rwanda)
6. Eric BAGIRUWUBUSA (VOA Journalist)
7. Gatera Gashabana (Jurist, lawyer in trials of politicians, in the country)
8. Frank NTWALI (Exiled in South Africa brother-in-law of Kayumba Nyamwasa)
9. Kennedy GIHANA (Exiled in South Africa)
10. Etienne MUTABAZI (Exiled in South Africa)
• The foreigners
1. Cyril Ramaphosa (President of South Africa)
2. Ruhakana Rugunda (Ex-PM Uganda)
3. Gen. Alain Guillaume Bunyoni (PM Burundi)
4. Gen. David Muhoozi (Ex-Chief of the Army and current Minister of Home Affairs of Uganda)
5. Sam Kutesa (Recently Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uganda)
6. Joseph Ochwet (Head of Uganda’s External Intelligence Service)
7. Andrew Mwenda (Ugandan, former adviser to Paul Kagame)
8. Kennedy Katombe (Congolese journalist, working with Reuters)
9. Lambert Mende (Former Minister of Information of the DRC)
10. Albert Yumi (Confident of ex-president of the DRC)
11. Jean Bamanisa Saïdi (Still Governors of Ituri in the DRC)
12. Fred Nyanzi Ssentamu (Brother of Bobi Wine, opposition figure in Uganda)
“Indignation is erupting from all sides!
The Pegasus scandal has sparked outrage around the world.
Amnesty International General Secretary Agnès Callamard said: “NSO Group cannot insist that its products are not only used against criminals when more than 3,500 activists, journalists, political opponents, foreign politicians and diplomats were selected as NSO spyware targets ”
“NSO Group must immediately stop selling its equipment from countries with a history of illegal surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists. Faced with such compelling evidence, the company can no longer hide behind its claims when its spyware is clearly being used for global repression, “she continues.
And in conclusion, she said, “The surveillance industry is out of control. States must implement a moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance equipment until a regulatory framework consistent with human rights is in place ”
• France and the European Commission
The revelations surrounding Israeli spyware Pegasus have caused political shock. Several political, industrial, lawyers or newspaper personalities would be concerned, pushing Gabriel Attal or Ursula von der Leyen to react on July 19.
The President of the European Commission considered that verifications were necessary but that if it was true, this case “is completely unacceptable”. “Press freedom is a central value of the European Union”, she added on the sidelines of her trip to Prague where she presented a 7 billion euro plan to help the Czech Republic to face the sanitary crisis.
On the side of France, the government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, described the same day at the microphone of France Info the revelations of “extremely shocking facts”, adding that “if they are proven, are extremely serious”. Like the President of the European Commission, he also defended freedom of the press: “We are extremely attached to freedom of the press, so it is very serious to have manipulations, techniques which aim to undermine the freedom of journalists, their freedom to investigate, to inform. ”
Still according to Gabriel Attal, France intends to launch investigations: “There will obviously be investigations, clarifications that will be requested,” he continued without specifying however the modalities, contenting himself with declaring that the government French “did not look at this subject lightly”. However, he was satisfied with the recognition of France’s non-participation in this vast spy enterprise while welcoming the ethics of the French services: “Our intelligence techniques in France are obviously authorized by law, they respect individual freedoms and in particular freedom of the press ”.
Espionage has been, and has been since time immemorial, the prerogative of states. However, there remains an illegal intrusion into a domain reserved for a third party. Espionage is not only a violation of human rights in private law, but in public international law, it is first and foremost a serious attack on territorial sovereignty, an attack on the international responsibility of States and end purposes an infringement of diplomatic law. Seen like this, espionage is illegal.
Despite this illegality, espionage does exist and is above all a very important measure of state power. For Kagame, espionage has been his bosom since his military training in Uganda. And the mouth that has sucked does not forget the flavor of the milk. Kagame knows that his minority regime cannot survive without having the proper methods to establish the authoritarian regime. This is why Rwanda has a spy or intelligence superstructure where every Rwandan is a secret agent. All these practices are well suited to establishing an authoritarian power, for which the word democracy requires restrictive and often individual names.
The revelations about the Kagame-Pegasus couple, can never surprise anyone who knows Rwanda. You just have to know your rank in respect of human rights and expression to be sure: Rwanda is the 156/180 country. Reports from the UN and NGOs campaigning for respect for human rights are too numerous not to be informed.
One wonders, however, what is the image of Kagame in this situation. First of all, Kagame can never be worried by these revelations, on the contrary they constitute his war horse to better establish his dictatorship. Crimes, Kagame has committed a lot to be worried by simply listening to Cyril Ramaphosa. How does a man who brushes aside the UN Mapping Report, a man who qualifies as “nonsense” the appeals to the reason of his great friends like the United States regarding the illegal arrest of Paul Rusesabagina , can never be worried by revelations, scandalous though they are, from a consortium of journalists. On the contrary, these revelations will lend him the power, the iron in the hunt for opponents. Opponents will shut up or go into hiding to escape Kagame’s hunt. Because these opponents will find the man of Kigali not kidding. For him to crush a fly, it is good to use a big hammer! Certainly, if these revelations are true, it will be a splash but not a brake on the strongman of Kigali whose slogan is “The sky is the only limit”.