The Indian government bought Israeli spyware Pegasus in 2017 as part of a $2-billion package for weapons including a missile system, The New York Times reported Friday.
The year-long investigation, the newspaper reported, revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, too, had bought and tested the spyware “for years with plans to use it for domestic surveillance until the agency finally decided last year not to deploy the tools.”
India had reportedly signed the deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark visit to Israel – the first by an Indian Prime Minister to that country.
The report claimed that the spyware, which is classified as military-grade software and produced by the NSO Group, was part of a “package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly USD two billion” between India and Israel.
The NYT report said that PM Modi’s visit came even as “India had maintained a policy” of what it called “commitment to the Palestinian cause,” and “relations with Israel were frosty.”
“The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings. Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly USD two billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces.”
The report further mentioned that months later, Netanyahu made a rare state visit to India and in June 2019, “India voted in support of Israel at the UN’s Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organization, a first for the nation.”
Indian government sources said all technology requires proper testing which takes a long amount of time, and that third party software cannot be purchased without consultation from local experts.
The sources said Pegasus is a private company, while categorically denying any such direct or indirect deals with the Israel government, adding that these were not needed in first place.