Traces of Israeli-made Pegasus spyware were found on the mobile phones of at least five current French cabinet ministers and a diplomatic advisor to President Emmanuel Macron, a report shows.
French security services detected the software while inspecting the phones, with the intrusions believed to have taken place in 2019 and 2020, the investigative website Mediapart reported, citing multiple anonymous sources and a confidential intelligence dossier.
According to the website, the phones of Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, Territorial Cohesion Minister Jacqueline Gourault, Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie, Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon and Overseas Territories Minister Sebastien Lecornu were infected by the spyware.
Although not all the ministers were in their current posts at the time of the alleged targeting, they all were in the cabinet.
The allegation comes two months after the Pegasus Project, a media consortium including The Washington Post, The Guardian and France’s Le Monde, revealed that the phone numbers of top French officials, including Macron and most of his cabinet members, were on the leaked list of potential targets.
French authorities declined to comment on the sensitive subject. However, it is understood that shortly after the Pegasus Project was published in July, Macron changed his phone number and device.
The French defense minister, Florence Parly, met her Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz in Paris in July and reportedly discussed the scandal, but no details of their conversation have leaked.
In the Pegasus Project, the news outlets identified numbers on a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets belonging to 10 prime ministers, three presidents and a king, in addition to more than 600 other government officials and politicians, 189 journalists and 85 human rights activists.
Pegasus, made by the Israeli firm NSO Group, can switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data, without the knowledge of its owner.
The spyware also allows its users to monitor conversations, text messages, photos and location, and even encrypted messaging apps such as Signal and WhatsApp. Pegasus can turn phones into remotely operated listening devices.
In recent years, NSO Group has been accused of allowing repressive regimes to hack people, including those close to murdered dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
In July, French newspaper Le Monde said evidence was found that Moroccan intelligence services had used Pegasus malware to spy on several French journalists in 2019.