The Wire recently the political corridors abuzz with its revelation of a “leaked list” of potential targets of surveillance by an “unidentified agency” using Pegasus software from Israel. It involves a list of 300 “verified” numbers includes those used by Indian “ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others.
As per the Wire report, France-based media non-profit, Forbidden stories and Amnesty International had first accessed the list and thereafter shared the same with 16 news organisations worldwide, The Wire being one of them. As soon as the report was out, Indian media and opposition launched a scathing attack on the Narendra Modi government accusing it of infringing upon their privacy rights. Curiously, this report was released a day before the Monsoon session of the parliament started where PM Modi was set to introduce his new cabinet of ministers post a grand reshuffle.
The Indian government, on the other hand, refuted the claims and termed the reports a “fishing expedition.” The government stated that there is no concrete basis or truth associated with the claim that there was government surveillance on specific people. “The commitment to free speech as a fundamental right is the cornerstone of India’s democratic system. We have always strived to attain an informed citizenry with an emphasis on a culture of open dialogue,” it said.
Furthermore, India’s newly sworn IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw took to the parliament and said that the report being cited by the alleging individuals itself contradicts the claims made by them. Vaishnaw said “The allegation is that individuals linked to these phone numbers were being spied upon. However, the report says that: The presence of a phone number in the data does not reveal whether a device was infected with Pegasus or subject to an attempted hack. Without subjecting a phone to this technical analysis, it is not possible to conclusively state whether it witnessed an attack attempt or was successfully compromised.”
Not just that, Vaishnaw also highlighted how the NSO group, developer of the Pegasus software, itself rubbished the claims made in the report. Vishnaw said “NSO Group believes that claims that you have been provided with, are based on misleading interpretation of leaked data from basic information, such as HLR Lookup services, which have no bearing on the list of the customers’ targets of Pegasus or any other NSO products. NSO has also said that the list of countries shown using Pegasus is incorrect and many countries mentioned are not even our clients. It also said that most of its clients are western countries.”
The fact that ‘The Wire’ was chosen to break this ‘massive story’, touted by some anti-Modi careerists as PM Modi’s Watergate, itself makes the report murky and less credible. The left-leaning portal has been known for doing hit-jobs on top leaders BJP leaders and the Indian courts have been giving a tough time to the scandals-ridden organization for long. Far from a credible news source, if anyone wanted this explosive story to be taken seriously, it would not have been given to The Wire. But perhaps no other media organisation like the more credible Indian Express would risk doing such a half-baked report and be discredited for it.
The likes of MK Venu, Siddharth Varadarajan and Rohini Singh have nearly mastered the art of pulling off their scandalous and ostensibly earth-shattering scoops against the Modi government. For instance, MK Venu, one of the Wire’s three founders, was embroiled in the Niira Radia tapes Controversy which came out in 2008-09. According to the tapes, he was among the alleged power brokers of the UPA government and a part of the government-corporate-media nexus.
Rohini Singh is another member of The Wire team who happens to be a disciple of MK Venu. In the Niira Radia case, Venu was heard asking Niira Radia to introduce Rohini Singh to people in the establishment because she was to report on policies of finance ministry. “Just wanted her to be introduced to people in your system,” said Venu to Radia about Rohini Singh. She was later booted out from the Economic Times group for writing articles supportive of economic policies of Akhilesh Yadav with a blind eye and blatantly campaigning for him, in the last UP assembly elections.
The other platform that broke the news of the Indian government allegedly spying upon the opposition leaders and media personalities was none other than Newsclick. Of late, the media group has been accused of receiving illicit funding from China-related businessmen. Newsclick is under the Enforcement Directorate’s radar over Chinese funding linked to the Communist Party of China (CPC). BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra recently accused it for trying to spread unrest in the country. “There is an international conspiracy to defame India. There are pseudo activists and these portals like Newsclick, under the cloak of media along with the international leaders of certain parties try to spread unrest in the country. This is an international toolkit,” Patra said in a news conference.
According to the various media reports, 10 countries have been accused of deploying this software to spy upon their citizens. The list includes the countries such as Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The fact that India is the only fully functioning democratic country to be included in the list clearly implies a foul-play at the hands of the so-called flag-bearers of democracy. Even the software’s developer ‘the NSO group’ has clearly stated that most of its clients are based out of western countries only.
The Wire— often dubbed as India’s fake news factory- has been at the loggerheads with the Modi government since its inception. The Wire even embarked upon a vicious agenda to implicate the Yogi-led Uttar Pradesh government for allegedly pursuing an anti-Muslim ideology. Owing to its propensity of spreading fake news and misinformation, The Wire and its journalists have already been booked under the National Security Act (NSA) in the state. The Wire’s fresh attack on the Modi government is being marketed vigourously by it, but it lacks substance and the truth and proved to be a damp squib.