Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s closest advisers and members of his staff appeared to be potential targets of NSO’s Pegasus spyware, media outlets who are part of the global collaborative project investigating the database of numbers that may have been targeted said on Thursday. The global collaborative investigative project has identified at least 300 persons in India as targets of surveillance, as well as 50,000 worldwide.
The Wire, which is part of the collaboration, reported that phone numbers of several Tibetan officials, activists and clerics have been found in the database, from late 2017 to early 2019. Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International accessed the dataset first and shared their findings with 16 media partners. Nonetheless, the presence of a number in the database is not evidence of surveillance, which can only be confirmed after a forensic analysis of the corresponding device.
The report identifies the targets as the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorji, and Tempa Tsering, the Director of India and East Asia at the Dalai Lama’s office in New Delhi. Urgyen, the third highest-ranking monk, has earlier aroused the suspicion of intelligence agencies, which have suspected him of being a Chinese spy. There is also a mention of senior aides Tenzin Taklha and Chimmey Rigzen, and Lobsang Sangay, the head of the then Tibetan government in exile, among other activists. When the numbers were added to the list of potential targets in late 2017, India was re-establishing ties with China following the Doklam stand-off, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau.
In India’s relationship with China, Tibet has long held strategic importance. “India wants to make sure that Tibetans don’t strike a deal with the Chinese that involves the Dalai Lama going back to Tibet,” a former official with the Tibetan administration said. It has been reported that two ministers in the Narendra Modi government, three opposition leaders, a constitutional authority, several journalists, and business people were targeted by the Israeli company NSO’s Pegasus spyware.
The Indian government maintains that the media reports are part of an ‘international conspiracy’ to malign India. Opposition parties have intensified protests against the alleged snooping, accusing the government of turning India into a ‘surveillance state’. Several times, parliament has been adjourned during the monsoon session due to the protests. A Supreme Court plea has been filed seeking a court-monitored investigation by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the matter.