France Increasingly Suspects Morocco Used NSO Spyware Against It, Le Monde Reports

Traces of the Israeli software surveillance Pegasus were found on the phones of former French ministers and lawmakers that aligned with Moroccan interests, according to Le Monde

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An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, in 2016
An Israeli woman uses her iPhone in front of the building housing the Israeli NSO group, in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, in 2016Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP

French security agencies are increasingly convinced that Morocco used Pegasus spyware to target high-ranking officials, Le Monde reported on Tuesday.

According to the French daily, a forensic analysis of phones belonging to journalists, attorneys and politicians by cybersecurity firm LookOut found traces left behind by Israeli company NSO's software, which was allegedly used by Morocco to surveil its interests in France.

Pegasus scandal: How the Mossad pushed invasive spyware to friendly dictators. LISTEN

The experts weren't able to analyze President Macron's phone, whose number was listed as a potential target for Morocco, but found vestiges of Pegasus in phones belonging to a former minister and a former lawmaker.

In addition, University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, which tracks hacking activities, found a Pegasus client "on behalf of Morocco's security service" linked to targeting Moroccan, French and Algerian numbers.

"The numbers corresponding to targeted telephones in France are among a list of potential targets coinciding with Morocco's geo-strategic priorities,” Le Monde reported.

In an editorial published on Tuesday, the newspaper also called on "victims of Pegasus" to address their complaints not only to the countries that allegedly targeted them, but "also to Israeli authorities," who must approve security exports by any Israeli firm.

This comes as the country's Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew to Paris on Wednesday to discuss the growing scandal with French officials, after

President Emmanuel Macron called for an official investigation into the spying allegations and asked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for clarifications last week.

Also potentially targeted by the software - but by a different client – was Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. In response to an inquiry last week, NSO told Haaretz: “Emmanuel Macron or King Mohammed VI are not and never have been Pegasus targets."

Morocco has denied all allegations and last week filed a defamation lawsuit against Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories.

Meanwhile, French news outlet Mediapart, whose reporters were targeted, lodged a criminal complaint with Paris prosecutors, blaming Morocco for the alleged spying. An investigation was subsequently opened.

The news comes in the wake of the publication of a massive international investigation called Project Pegasus, led by an organization called Forbidden Stories together with Amnesty International and a consortium of newspapers and journalists across the world. The investigation, based on leaked data, revealed a long list of high-profile individuals that were selected as potential targets for the firm’s Pegasus spyware by its clients. Haaretz participated in the global investigation, looking into the leak of some 50,000 phone numbers selected by NSO’s clients for possible targeting by its Pegasus spyware. Haaretz helped expose how NSO’s global success – boasting clients from Mexico to India, and even Rwanda – was premised on Israel’s “cyber diplomacy.”

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