New Delhi: Phone numbers of former director general of Border Security Force (BSF) KK Sharma, senior Enforcement Directorate (ED) officer Rajeshwar Singh, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s former aide VK Jain, a retired Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer, a junior official from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and two former army officers were included as possible targets for surveillance through the Pegasus surveillanceware, The Wire reported on Monday.
They were included on a database of 50,000 phone numbers, possibly selected for surveillance by agencies that were also clients of the Israel-headquartered NSO Group, which makes the Pegasus surveillanceware. The database was first obtained by France-based nonprofit Forbidden Stories, which shared the information with a consortium of media organisations in 10 countries. The devices connected to at least 67 of the numbers were analysed by Amnesty International and, of these, 37 showed signs of being hacked by Pegasus. Of these 37, 10 belonged to Indian residents.
The Wire, which is part of the consortium of media organisations, said KK Sharma’s number was placed on the list of probable targets for surveillance a month after he attended a conference organised by an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in uniform. The conference took place in Kolkata in February 2018. The event created a controversy in West Bengal, with the Trinamool Congress demanding a probe on Sharma attending an RSS event in official capacity.
The numbers of ED’s controversial joint director, Rajeshwar Singh, currently posted in Lucknow, and his family members, were also selected for possible surveillance between 2017 and 2019, The Wire reported.
Singh, who has investigated some important cases including the 2G spectrum allocation scam and the role of former finance minister P Chidambaram, was in the news in 2018 when the Centre removed then Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Kumar Verma and then special director Rakesh Asthana from the agency following their public spat. It has been reported that Singh played a key role in the Verma-Asthana dispute.
When contacted by HT, Sharma didn’t respond to calls and texts, while Singh refused to comment.
The database also includes the number of former IAS officer VK Jain, who was one of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s chief consultants. The number was added to the database in 2018 when the Delhi government was working on his education and infrastructure welfare programmes, The Wire reported.
Aam Aadmi Party’s chief spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj is scheduled to address a press conference on Monday afternoon regarding the inclusion of Jain’s number.
The number of former army officer Colonel Mukul Dev (retd), who has been at loggerheads with the Centre on multiple issues, including the scrapping of free ration for officers deployed in peace areas, the degradation of the armed forces and NFU (non-functional financial upgradation), was also in the database as a possible target in 2019, The Wire added.
Dev said, “I have been victimised by this government in every possible manner for fighting for the welfare of the armed forces. This is the state of the present government. I knew back in 2018 that I was under surveillance when I filed a complaint with the Punjab Police following a direct threat to me.”
The number of another former army officer, Colonel Amit Kumar (retd), who filed a petition in the Supreme Court on behalf of 356 Army personnel against what they apprehended was an impending dilution of the Armed Forces (Special Forces) Act or AFSPA, was also in the database.
The Wire report also said that the numbers of BSF commandant Jagdish Mathani, retired RAW officer Jitendra Kumr Ojha, a senior official at Niti Aayog and a junior official at PMO were part of the database.
Mathani did not wish to comment on the issue.
The copy will be updated when Colonel Kumar, Ojha and Jain respond to HT’s queries.
The government has neither confirmed nor denied the purchase of the surveillanceware. NSO Group, on multiple occasions, said that it offers its services only to vetted government clients. The company has disputed the leaked list of numbers as those targeted by its clients.
Last week, reports revealed that aside from 38 journalists, former Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi, two of his aides, political strategist Prashant Kishor, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa and union minister Prahlad Patel were also allegedly hacked. The list also included 11 of their friends and family members, along with the number of the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Rajan Gogoi of sexual harassment.
Union information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who defended the government in Parliament hours, was also named as a potential hacking target on July 19.
To be sure, as the methodology of the investigation explains, the presence of a number does not indicate the individual’s phone was hacked — just that it was of interest. The opposition, however, has called for a probe into the allegations. (HT)