By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland’s most powerful politician has admitted the country bought advanced spyware from Israeli surveillance software maker NSO Group, but denied it was being used to target political opponents.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice party said in an interview that secret services in many countries are using Pegasus software to fight crime and corruption.
Kaczynski said the use of such spyware arose in response to the growing use of encryption to hide data in transit, which overcame previous surveillance technologies. By hacking into phones, it allows authorities to monitor communications, as well as real-time conversations where they are not encrypted.
“It would be a shame if the Polish services did not have this type of tool,” Kaczynski said in an interview to appear in Monday’s edition of the weekly Sieci. The news portal wPolityce.pl published extracts from it on Friday.
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The interview follows exclusive reports from The Associated Press that Citizen Lab, a computer watchdog group at the University of Toronto, discovered that three critics of the Polish government were hacked with NSO’s Pegasus.
Amnesty International independently verified on Thursday Citizen Lab’s findings that Senator Krzysztof Brejza was repeatedly hacked in 2019 while leading the opposition parliamentary election campaign.
Text messages stolen from Brejza’s phone were forged and broadcast by state-controlled television in Poland in a smear campaign in the heat of the moment, which the ruling populist party narrowly won .
Brejza now maintains that the election was unfair since the ruling party would have had access to his campaign’s tactical thinking and plans.
The hacking revelations rocked Poland, drawing comparisons to the Watergate scandal in the United States in the 1970s and prompting calls for a commission of inquiry in parliament.
Kaczynski said he saw no reason to set up such a commission, and he denied that oversight played a role in the 2019 election outcome.
“There is nothing here, no fact, except the hysteria of the opposition. There is no Pegasus case, no surveillance, ”Kaczynski said. “No Pegasus, no service, no secretly obtained information played a role in the 2019 election campaign. They lost because they lost. They shouldn’t be looking for such excuses today.
The other two Polish targets confirmed by Citizen Lab were Roman Giertych, a lawyer who represents opposition politicians in a number of politically sensitive cases, and Ewa Wrzosek, an independent-minded prosecutor.
Kaczynski’s allies had previously denied that Poland had bought and used Pegasus.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called Citizen Lab-AP’s findings “false news” and suggested that a foreign intelligence service could have spied – an idea rejected by critics who said no other government would be of interest in the three Polish targets.
Deputy Defense Minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz declared at the end of December that “the Pegasus system is not in the possession of the Polish services. It is not used to track or monitor anyone in our country. “
Polish media say Poland bought Pegasus in 2017, using money from the Justice Fund, which is intended to help victims of crime and rehabilitate criminals. According to surveys by broadcaster TVN and the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, the software is used by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, a special service created to fight corruption in public life and which is under the political control of the ruling party. .
“Public money has been spent for an important public purpose, related to fighting crime and protecting citizens,” Kaczynski said.
Dozens of high-profile cases of Pegasus abuse have been uncovered since 2015, many by a global media consortium last year, showing that the NSO Group’s malware was used to eavesdrop on journalists, politicians, diplomats, lawyers and human rights activists from the Middle East to Mexico.
Polish hacks are considered particularly egregious because they took place not in a repressive autocracy but in a member state of the European Union.
Confirming that Amnesty International has independently confirmed that Pegasus spyware was used to hack Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza when he was leading the opposition parliamentary election campaign in 2019,
Amnesty International Poland Director Anna Błaszczak said in a statement Friday that spying on the opposition would be in line with the behavior of the Polish government under the law and the justice system. The EU has increasingly criticized Poland for judicial interference and other actions considered undemocratic.
“These findings are shocking but not surprising. They raise serious concerns not only for politicians, but for the whole of Polish civil society in general, especially given the context of the government’s record of persistent human and state rights violations. of right, ”said Blaszczak.
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