By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, July 23: The closest circle of trusted individuals around the Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and staff advisors were selected as targets of potential surveillance, revealed a recent report from investigations in The Wire. A leaked database of phone numbers by an Indian client of the Israeli spyware firm NSO Group showed names enlisted over two years from late 2017 to early 2019.
The Pegasus investigation initiated by French non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International accessed 50,000 numbers which were further investigated by journalists. The report published Thursday said that several Tibetan high officials, activists and clerics had been named in the documents. However, inclusion of their numbers may not mean that they had been affected by the spyware, but could be confirmed through forensic analysis of the devices.
The combined report published by The Wire and The Guardian stated that advisers to the Dalai Lama include Tempa Tsering, His Holiness’ long-term envoy at New Delhi, senior aides Tenzin Taklha and Chhimey Rigzin, as well as Samdhong Rinpoche, former PM (Kalon Tripa) of the exile Tibetan government. The former Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Lobsang Sangay, and staffs in the office of Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje were also listed as potential targets.
The Pegasus Project members had last week sent a detailed questionnaire to the Indian government with specific names, including that of Tibetan officials. The Indian government responded that the “allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”.
As per the report by The Guardian, listed Tibetans did not make their phones available to confirm whether any hacking was attempted or successful, but technical analysis of 10 other phones on the suspected Indian client list found traces of Pegasus or signs of targeting related to the spyware. The Tibetan community has previously been a target of surveillance mostly from spyware through Chinese servers that targeted Tibetan government in exile and various organizations.
The NSO group has since stated that the database in no way reveals “Pegasus targets or potential targets” and asserted that it was “not related to NSO group in any way”. The Israeli firm says that it only sells Pegasus technology to “vetted governments” to counter crime and terrorism. The investigation suggested that Pegasus continued to be widely used by authoritarian governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists and lawyers worldwide.