“After all, no, I was not paranoid”: Mexico at the heart of the Pegasus case

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Markela Tourati was afraid for a long time that the Mexican authorities were watching her. Today, she is a freelance journalist almost certain that it was among the goals of Pegasus software. Not unnecessarily as it seems.

Ms Tourati, 47, was informed on Saturday that her name, as well as that of 24 other journalists working in Mexico, was on the list of 15,000 phone numbers monitored by software developed by the Israeli company NSO and purchased by the government. of former President Enrique Pena Neto (2012-2018).

Once installed without the knowledge of its owner on any smartphone, this software allows the interception of messages, photos, contacts, calls, but also the activation of the microphone remotely.

A large-scale investigation that strengthens the long-standing suspicions of this company was published on Sunday by a consortium of a total of 80 journalists working for 17 international media.

The investigation was based on a list owned by the Forbidden Stories collective and the non-governmental organization Amnesty International, which includes, according to them, 50,000 telephone numbers that had been targeted by NSO customers since 2016 in order to potentially be monitored.

And the former president of Mexico target surveillance

Like Marcella Tourati, relatives and associates of current Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador were among the targets.

It was monitored between 2016 and 2017, revealed yesterday Monday one of the 17 media of the consortium.

Although Pegasus’ license in Mexico expired in 2017, Markela is convinced that monitoring continued by other means.

“I think almost all journalists in Mexico know and feel that they are being subjected to some kind of surveillance, as Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries to practice our profession,” the researcher told AFP yesterday.

At the time she believed she was being spied on, she and two other colleagues were investigating the case of the giant Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted to handing out bribes to politicians across Latin America to secure state contracts. .

“People wrote to me to say ‘look, you were not crazy, you were not paranoid, what you said turned out to be true,'” Ms. Turati said, not without emotion.

“No one is being spied on anymore”

Mr Lopez Obrador, in power since 2018, simply assured himself Monday that his government was not spying on journalists.

“No one is being spied on anymore, freedoms are guaranteed,” said the center-left president.

At the same time, he promised to investigate the case of journalist Olegario Aguilera, who disappeared 17 years ago in the state of Guerrero, under still dark conditions.

Together with a group of journalists, Markela Tourati has become famous for making a map with the locations of secret mass graves and investigating the massacre of immigrants and the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotsinapa in 2014, a case that caused a worldwide outcry.

Relatives of the Ayotsinapa victims and human rights defenders were also targeted, according to international media research, including the Washington Post, Guardian and Le Monde.

“I was very active in setting up a network to protect journalists,” said Ms Tourati.

More than a hundred journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, including Cecilio Pineda in March 2017 in Guerrero. Unbeknownst to him, Pegasus was also installed on his phone.

Following the publication of the investigation, NSO asserted that its software had been developed to combat terrorism, pedophilia, and organized crime and that it did not control how its client governments used it.

Relatives of Javier Valdes, a French Agency associate who was killed in May 2017 in Culiacan (northwest), were also being monitored.

“Political espionage”

The intrusions of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s close associates took place while he was still the leader of the opposition to President Pena Nieto of the then ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), according to the website Aristegui Noticias.

Among those being monitored were Lopez Obrador’s wife, Beatrice Gutierrez, his children, siblings, and even the cardiologist of a veteran Mexican left-wing politician who had undergone surgery after suffering a heart attack.

The current mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Seinbaum, current ministers and other current officials were also under surveillance.

“The previous government carried out political espionage,” Ms. Seinbaum told Aristegui Noticias, whose director, Carmen Aristaggi, was also being monitored.

However, the list of at least 50,000 smartphones that were “infected” by Pegasus does not include the number of Mr. Lopez Obrador himself. Quite simply, according to Aristegui Noticias, the current president “apparently did not have a personal mobile phone” and sent his messages through intermediaries and associates.

Based on the Pegasus investigation, the software was also used by the Department of Defense and the Attorney General’s Office.

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