Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Poland’s most powerful politician has admitted to buying advanced spyware from Israeli surveillance software maker NSO Group, but denied that it was used to target its political opponents.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling Conservative party, Law and Justice, said in an interview that the secret services in many countries use Pegasus software to fight crime and corruption.

Kaczynski said the use of such spyware arose in response to the increasing use of encryption to mask data during transportation, which defeated earlier monitoring technologies. By burglary phones, it allows authorities to monitor communications, as well as real-time conversations where it is not encrypted.

“It would be bad if the Polish services did not have this type of tool,” Kaczynski said in an interview that will be published in the Monday issue of the weekly magazine Sieci. The news portal published excerpts on Friday.

The interview followed exclusive reports by The Associated Press that Citizen Lab, a cyber watchdog group at the University of Toronto, had found that three Polish government critics had hacked devices with NSO’s Pegasus.

On Thursday, Amnesty International independently verified Citizen Lab’s finding that Senator Krzysztof Brejza was hacked several times in 2019 while leading the opposition’s parliamentary election campaign.

Text messages stolen from Brejza’s phone were doctored and broadcast by state-run TV in Poland as part of a smear campaign in the heat of the race, which the populist ruling party had just won.

Brejza now maintained the election was unfair as the ruling party would have had access to his campaign’s tactical thinking and plans.

The burglary revelations shook Poland and drew comparisons to the 1970s Watergate scandal in the United States and elicited calls for a commission of inquiry into parliament.

Kaczynski said he sees no reason to set up such a commission, and he denied that oversight played any role in the outcome of the 2019 election.

“There is nothing here, no fact, except the hysteria of the opposition. “There is no Pegasus case, no supervision,” Kaczynski said. “No Pegasus, no services, no information obtained in secret, played any role in the 2019 election campaign. They lost because they lost. They should not seek such excuses today. “

The other two Polish targets confirmed by Citizen Lab were Roman Giertych, a lawyer representing opposition politicians in a number of politically sensitive cases, and Ewa Wrzosek, an independent prosecutor.

When the AP was asked in December whether Poland had bought Pegasus, Stanislaw Zaryn, state security spokesman, did not want to confirm or deny it. However, many Kaczynski allies publicly doubt proposals for the government’s use of Pegasus.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the Citizen Lab-AP findings “false news” and suggested that a foreign intelligence service could have carried out the espionage – an idea rejected by critics who said no other government had any interest in the would not have three Polish targets.

Deputy Defense Minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz said at the end of December that “the Pegasus system is not owned by the Polish services. It is not used to track down or monitor anyone in our country.”

Polish media reports said that Poland bought Pegasus in 2017, with money from the so-called “Justice Fund”, which is intended to help the victims of crimes and to rehabilitate criminals.

According to investigations by the broadcaster TVN and the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, the software is used by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, a special service created to combat corruption in public life that is under the political control of the ruling party.

“The public money has been spent on an important public purpose, related to the fight against crime and the protection of 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 was malicious employed to eavesdrop about journalists, politicians, diplomats, lawyers and human rights activists from the Middle East to Mexico.

The Polish hacks are considered particularly heinous because they took place in a Member State of the European Union with seemingly greater protection for civil and political freedoms.

Amnesty International’s Poland director Anna Błaszczak said in a statement on Friday that spying on the opposition would be in line with the Polish government’s conduct under the Law and Justice Party.

The EU has increasingly criticized Poland for judicial interference and other actions considered anti-democratic.

“These findings are shocking, but not surprising. “This raises serious concerns not only for politicians, but for the whole of Poland’s civil society in general, especially given the context of the government’s record of persistent undermining of human rights and the rule of law,” Blaszczak said.

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