The Pegasus project part 3: cartels, corruption and cyber-weapons


In the latest part of our mini-series, Michael Safi hears from Nina Lakhani on how 15,000 Mexicans including journalists and politicians appeared on a list of possible targets for surveillance

In March 2017, a 38-year-old freelance reporter named Cecilio Pineda Birto was shot dead in Altamirano, a town in the southern Mexican region of Tierra Caliente – a battleground for organised crime factions. His phone vanished from the crime scene. A few weeks earlier, a number connected to that phone had been selected as a possible surveillance target by a client of the spyware company NSO group.

The Guardian’s Nina Lakhani tells Michael Safi that this story is illustrative of the dangers faced by journalists in Mexico. The mobile numbers of 15,000 Mexicans including politicians, judges, activists and teachers appear in the data leak of possible surveillance targets. Included in that are at least 50 people linked to Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador – his wife, children, aides and doctor. Appearing on the leaked list does not mean that a number was attacked, or that an infection was attempted and NSO insists the database has “no relevance” to the company.

The Pegasus project has been reported by Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington, Paul Lewis, David Pegg, Dan Sabbagh and Sam Cutler in London, Nina Lakhani in Mexico City, Shaun Walker in Budapest, Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Martin Hodgson in New York and Michael Safi.

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