It is the first time an independent and official authority has corroborated the findings of an international investigation by the Pegasus project – a consortium of 17 media outlets, including the Guardian. Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based nonprofit media organisation, and Amnesty International initially had access to a leaked list of 50,000 numbers that, it is believed, have been identified as those of people of interest by clients of Israeli firm NSO Group since 2016, and shared access with their media partners.
French intelligence investigators have confirmed that Pegasus spyware has been found on the phones of three journalists, including a senior member of staff at the country’s international television station France 24.
France’s national agency for information systems security (Anssi) identified digital traces of NSO Group’s hacking spyware on the television journalist’s phone and relayed its findings to the Paris public prosecutor’s office, which is overseeing the investigation into possible hacking.
A source at France 24 said the broadcaster had been “extremely shocked” to discover one of its staff had potentially been monitored.
Anssi also found Pegasus on telephones belonging to Lénaïg Bredoux, an investigative journalist at the French investigative website Mediapart, and the site’s director, Edwy Plenel
“We are stupefied and angry that journalists could be the object of spying. We will not be taking this lying down. There will be legal action,” the source said.
Le Monde reported that the France 24 journalist, based in Paris, had been selected for “eventually putting under surveillance”. Police experts discovered the spyware had been used to target the journalist’s phone three times: in May 2019, September 2020 and January 2021, the paper said.
Bredoux told the Guardian that investigators had found traces of Pegasus spyware on both her and Plenel’s mobile phones. She said the confirmation of long-held suspicions that they had been targeted contradicted the repeated denials of those who were believed to be behind the attempt to spy on them. “It puts an end to the idea that this is all lies and fake news. It’s the proof we need,” Bredoux said.
French politicians expressed shock after the mobile numbers of the president, Emmanuel Macron, former prime minister Édouard Philippe and 14 serving ministers, including those for justice and foreign affairs, appeared in the leaked data. Research by the Pegasus project suggests that Morocco was the country that may have been interested in Macron and his senior team, raising fears that their phones were selected by one of France’s close diplomatic allies.