Saudi Arabia, UAE 'tried to spy on Lebanese leaders with Pegasus software': report

Saudi Arabia, UAE 'tried to spy on Lebanese leaders with Pegasus software': report
As well as President Michel Aoun and former PM Saad Hariri, Hezbollah figures and even Saudi-aligned Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea were selected for Pegasus spyware efforts.
3 min read
20 July, 2021
Lebanese President Michel Aoun is among those possibly hit [Anadolu/Getty]

Senior Lebanese politicians, including the president and former prime minister, might have been spied on by the UAE and Saudi Arabia using Israeli spyware, according to reports this week.

The Pegasus malware, produced by Israel's NSO Group tech firm, has over the past few days been implicated in monitoring efforts by repressive regimes in the Middle East and beyond.

Among the data Pegasus can obtain from mobiles are images and messages. The software is also able to record users through a device's camera.

As well as President Michel Aoun and former PM Saad Hariri, figures within Lebanese movement Hezbollah and the nation's security apparatus were among those possibly hacked, Le Monde reported on Monday.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea was added to a list of possible targets for the software by Riyadh in 2019, as was another senior party figure, Ghassan Hasbani, the report claims.

Le Monde also said former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, General Directorate of General Security leader Abbas Ibrahim, and reporters and envoys were on the list.

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A total of around 300 phone numbers on a list of potential targets of the malware had the Lebanese area code +961.

However, the French newspaper cautioned that it is currently unknown whether Pegasus ultimately made it onto these phones since not all the devices were examined.

Le Monde stated that from 2018 to 2019, at least one phone number for each of the Lebanese figures named in the report was chosen by either Riyadh or Abu Dhabi, or both, as a potential target.

The media and rights groups collective known as the Pegasus Project, which has reviewed the leaked data concerning the spyware, has had access to 67 devices, the French-language outlet said.

It explained that 37, over half of these, showed indications of the Pegasus spyware been used against them.

The Washington Post, another member of the Pegasus Project, said Amnesty International's Security Lab looked at 67 devices, apparently the same ones referenced by Le Monde.

Multiple figures close to former PM Hariri made it onto the list too.

These include his cousin and ex-cabinet leader Nader Hariri, who was added in 2019, Le Monde added.

While President Michel Aoun was chosen for possible monitoring by Riyadh, former FM Gebran Bassil, his son-in-law, was added by both Gulf states in the 2018-2019 period.

Senior Hezbollah figures, including head of security Wafik Safa, were added to the list by the UAE in 2017.

Since news broke about the use of NSO's Pegasus malware, condemnation from NGOs and international officials has been strong.

The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on Monday expressed that what has happened is "completely unacceptable", assuming the allegations are accurate.