PARIS (AP) – The phones of French President Emmanuel Macron and 15 French government officials in 2019 could have been among possible targets for surveillance using spyware developed by Israel-based NSO Group, according to a report. journalistic published on Tuesday.
Le Monde is part of a global journalistic consortium that identified the targets from a leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers obtained by the Paris-based journalistic NGO Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International. The list was shared with 16 news organizations that began publishing their findings on Sunday.
Another US company that Amnesty International claimed hosted NSO servers was DigitalOcean. When contacted by The Associated Press, DigitalOcean neither confirmed nor denied whether it had identified or blocked those servers.
“All the infrastructure identified in the Amnesty report is no longer at DigitalOcean,” the company said in an emailed statement on Tuesday without providing further details.
For its part, the Paris prosecutor’s office reported that it is investigating the alleged widespread use of the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to attack journalists, human rights defenders and politicians in various countries.
Le Monde said the phone numbers for Macron and then-members of the government were among thousands of numbers that were allegedly selected by NSO clients for possible surveillance. In that case, the client was an unidentified Moroccan security service, according to Le Monde.
Consortium members said they were able to link more than 1,000 numbers on the list with individuals, including more than 600 politicians and government officials and 189 journalists. Among the numbers are those of journalists and politicians from France. Most are from Mexico and the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia is reportedly among NSO’s clients.
The list also included numbers from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Morocco and Rwanda, as well as members of various Arab royal families, heads of state and prime ministers, the consortium reported.
An official from Macron’s office said authorities would investigate Le Monde’s report, and that if the attack is proven, it would be “extremely serious.”
According to the Le Monde report, NSO said the French president was never the target of his clients.
NSO Group rejected that it had “a list of possible targets, past or present.” He claimed that the Forbidden Stories report was “full of erroneous assumptions and unsubstantiated theories.”
Angela Charlton in Paris, Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, and Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.