Leaked Pegasus spyware list said to include top exile Tibetan phone numbers

The Dalai Lama holds hands with Lobsang Sangay (L), the elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and outgoing prime minister Samdhong Rinpoche before today’s swearing-in ceremony in Dharamshala. (Photo courtesy: OHHDL)

(TibetanReview.net, Aug29’21) – Top exile Tibetan officials and personalities were stated to be among the 50,000 people across the globe targeted for actual or possible surveillance by the Pegasus spyware, according to a caravanmagazine.in report Aug 29.

The report said that among those listed as possible surveillance targets were Lobsang Sangay who served as the president of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) from 2011 until 2021, and Lobsang Tenzin, the religious figure commonly referred to as the fifth Samdhong Rinpoche, who preceded Sangay as the political leader of the community-in-exile.

Others listed were stated to include Tempa Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s envoy in New Delhi; Tenzin Taklha and Chimmey Rigzen, both aides to the Dalai Lama; and Urgyen Trinley Dorji, the 17th Karmapa Lama, one of the highest-ranking figures in Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama himself reportedly does not carry a personal cell phone, the report noted.

Media spokesperson Tenzin Lekshay of the CTA has said, “other than the media reports, we don’t have any information on that … so we cannot just comment on this issue. And as far as the relationship between India and Tibet, it is strong and is getting stronger.”

The report cited various possible reasons why the above persons may have been targeted for possible surveillance.

Citing a report from The Wire, the report said that it was during as sensitive time, starting in late 2017, following a standoff between Chinese and Indian troops in the border region of Doklam earlier that year, that the numbers of Tibetan leaders began to feature on the list of potential Pegasus targets.

The report said: “In Feb 2018, citing a ‘very sensitive time’ in Indo-Chinese relations, India discouraged government officials from attending an event that was to be thrown by the Tibetan government-in-exile to commemorate the start of 60 years of the Dalai Lama’s exile. According to a report in the Indian Express, PK Sinha, the union cabinet secretary, put out a directive telling ‘senior leaders’ and ‘government functionaries’ of the union and state governments that it is ‘not desirable’ to participate in the events of the Tibetan leadership in exile.”

The report noted that Indian government officials had refused to confirm use of the Pegasus software, though they have refrained from officially denying it either. India has stated that there has been “no unauthorised interception,” the report added.

It was in July that the Pegasus Project, an international investigative collaboration of 17 media outlets, revealed that the Pegasus spyware may have been used to target 50,000 phone numbers globally. In India, the list of suspected targets was stated to included journalists, rights activists, politicians, and a former election commissioner.

The NSO group, an Isreali company, has said it sells Pegasus only to governments.

The leaked database was accessed by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based non-profit media organisation, and the global rights-group Amnesty International. There were at least 1,000 Indian numbers on the database. Amnesty International’s Security Lab conducted forensic analysis on a number of the phones on this list, confirming that they showed signs of either attempted or successful Pegasus hacking.


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