France’s Macron Tapped as Potential Target for NSO Spyware, Investigation Reveals

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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks on his mobile phone during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels last year
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks on his mobile phone during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels last yearCredit: John Thys,AP

The phone belonging to French President Emmanuel Macron was selected as a potential target for the spyware made by Israeli firm NSO Group, an international investigation called the Pegasus Project revealed on Tuesday. Macron joins a growing list of heads of state selected as potential targets by clients of the spyware, which also includes the Pakistani prime minister among others. 

Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International had access to a leak of more than 50,000 records of phone numbers that NSO clients selected for possible surveillance. The leak was shared with Haaretz and 16 other news organizations worldwide that have worked collaboratively to conduct further analysis and reporting over the past months. Forbidden Stories oversaw the investigation – the Pegasus Project - and Amnesty International provided forensic analyses and technical support.

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According to an analysis of these records, more than 180 journalists were selected in 21 countries by at least 12 NSO clients. The potential targets and clients hail from Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, India, Mexico, Hungary, Azerbaijan, Togo and Rwanda. 

Amnesty International Security Lab conducted forensics analyses of cell phones targeted with NSO's Pegasus spyware. Their findings are consistent with past analyses of those targeted through NSO’s spyware, including the case of dozens of journalists allegedly hacked in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and identified by Citizen Lab in December of last year.

Pegasus partner Le Monde revealed on Tuesday that one of the phone numbers selected as a potential target was that of Macron. Their team of reports said that it was one of over 10,000 phone numbers selected as a potential target by the Moroccan state security service, which is known to be a client of NSO and its Pegasus spyware. Some 10 percent of those numbers were French, they found. Also potentially targeted by the software - but by a different client - was also the Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

According to data, a number that Macron uses regularly appears on the list of potential targets since at least 2017 and until recent days.

Forbidden Stories has revealed in the past how Morocco uses NSO's tools to track and spy on journalists. Amnesty published its first report on how NSO’s products were being used in Morocco in October 2019.

Israel and Morocco have had official ties since 2020 since a joint Israeli-American delegation headed by Trump administration senior adviser Jared Kushner and Meir Ben-Shabbat, who heads Israel's National Security Council, flew to the country. At the time, a number of low-level cooperation agreements were signed between Morocco and Israel. More recently, the Moroccan Air Force held a joint drill with Israel this month. 

In response to the report, NSO told Haaretz: “Emmanuel Macron or King Mohammed VI are not and never have been Pegasus targets.

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