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Read this: Inside The Pegasus Project

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Inside The Pegasus Project…



BBC sounds music Radio podcasts from BBC Radio 4 and like the plot of a Hollywood Spy movie in the future, it might be made into one but this week something called the Pegasus project is news a group of news outlets from 10 country has banded together to expose the alleged use of a phone hacking tool to spy on leading journalists politicians and human rights activists across the world among them or heads of state Emmanuel macron phone number appears on the list of alleged targets the spyware is called Pegasus when it's made by an Israeli surveillance from the revelations have been dropping all week.

So what do you pull off a series of global scoops like this with joined by some of the journalist binded also today the role of specialist fat Chequers is now in journalism is

All the time of the last 18 months has been been a story of what is and isn't true some stories of course easy to disprove the vaccine does not contain a microchip from Bill Gates the highwomen navigate the grey areas Donald Trump's claim that covid-19 could have come from a Chinese laboratory was widely branded a conspiracy theory by the media.

You couldn't share it on some media platforms pervert changed a few weeks ago after president Biden said that it was in fact possibility we going to talk about that and more of it later on with clown ml.

Who is acting full fact the UK fact-checking organisation and Ian barrel who was a contributing editor of the Mail on Sunday but let's start with the Pegasus project which has been making headlines all week laura-alicia is the director and founder of forbidden stories the Ngo which got hold of this leaked list of 50000 possible targets for surveillance.

Lewis's head investigations of the Guardian which is one of the partners of the Pegasus project before we get into how you coordinated all of this and what it might tell us about the power of collective journalism.

Just tell us how does this Pegasus spyware work? What does it actually do to a phone that is attacking your your your phone and it will turn your phone into a spy in your pocket and send the software we take the entire control of your device that means they will know everything you doing with your device that we know we talk to you talking to me.

No messages.

They can activate the camera.

They can know basically everything and then the biggest is wetransfer the secrets your secrets.

Should the person that is tracking you to the government that distracting you so this is considered as a weapon by the defence minister.

You need a licence licence to be able to explore that it's all babe company called Anna so-and-so group that Venezuela company most of those people working inside of company are coming from the military in Israel and Genesis is sending that to state actors have given us this statement.

They have said that your reports are full of assumptions and uncorroborated theories and they deny any wrongdoing they say that the software is only supplied to countries with good human rights records.

It's intended for use against criminals and terrorists, so do you know who's been using it who nso group have sold this spyware to

Does country don't have good human rights vehicles when you talk about Azerbaijan they don't have central Mexico central we know that when you're in Azerbaijan investigates corruption.

That is having a lot of journalist and political opponents in jail and was not the first one, but this time we able to get the evidence of the king of the device of clearly ernesto company is is selling that kind of cyber weapons to catch me with a very sad and mad track records in terms of Human Rights abuses Paul Lewis of the Guardian if I can bring you in here.

There.

Are there 17 news outlets partner partnering on this.

How did the Guardian come to be one of them when we were invited?

This project by Lauren at seven Stories and he contacted us we have to be careful when we were reporting mess about conversing on phones as you can imagine that phones are obviously risk and did some of the some of the Liverpool to work on this project forensic showed that they had Pegasus spyware on their phones any help contact the Guardian said he would like to get into a project I visited with a delegation from the Guardian his offices in Paris he showed us this data and western withstand.

I mean he was 50000 numbers of people who have been selected as persons of Interest by client governments of nso, we've never seen anything like this before it was obviously going to be a very big story.

I said the moment that invited that's in we were interested the moment we saw the data and most importantly the moment we realise that there was forensic evidence to support the day.

That we done friends examinations and find some found Pegasus we were committed to seeing if we could get this project out with him.

Let's talk about the data because at the heart of your reporting is list of 50000 phone numbers which you say is a wish list of targets for users of Pegasus and on the list of journalists and heads of state.

What can you tell us about how you got hold of that list basically? How many diseases that can understand better the most important things about what we seen that back, please and what's this is telling us about how this software has been using human rights defenders political opponents, but Paul was explaining the good thing in that project at work to get evidence and this is me the first time I thinking.

Modern spying that we get evidence and we can show the face of the victims we were able to find some festive the brilliant work of an international signature people able to set up a methodology and protocol to going to your device and to find out if there is some traces of infection, so that's really need when we have to put in stories and and this is this is why we doing all the best once we were able to approach people telling them.

That's where we're good reasons to believe that there was avail and convincing them to to agree to do a forensic investigation into the device and then you'll be able to find a lot of times Poole amnesty International did play this crucial role in analysing some of the actual phones that you were obtained from people on the list.

I understand that they were able to detect traces of the Pegasus software on 37 phones and you got hold of 67 to test which is quite a high hit rate.

I wonder Paul there is a campaign in charity.

It's rather unusual isn't it for a journalist to be outsourcing this forensic work to a third party? Did you feel they were impartial enough to partner with you? I think the unusual thing would be if the Germans tried to do that kind of Advanced friends at work on the mobile phone themselves something anesty international security lab.

That is run by Claudio ranieri is one of experts on cybersecurity when you do make an important point and reliant on the work.

They were doing and that's why we got both their methodology and a sample of their forensics on the pair of you by citizen lab, which is a research group very well-respected at the University of Toronto and they concluded that their methods were found.

Where are you concerned yourselves?

As you were dealing with this with this that your own phones were being hacked mean.

How do you even go about talking to people if you feel that there that they've been compromised I mean, what are the nuts and bolts that conversation? How do you actually reach out to somebody when you know that you think that their phone has been hacked well.

It's incredibly hard.

You know you have to have a face-to-face meeting and doing Mr pandemic is even more difficult logistically speaking.

I think this is probably the hardest project that I've ever been involved in you know when talking to colleagues when talking to editors here at the Guardian when speaking in house lawyers.

We had to make sure that phone's not in the vicinity.

It makes you realise how reliant on phones we all are that particularly journalists you know increasingly emails before filing stories for tweeting funnier instantly what's going on and certainly be detached from your device because you know you're constantly aware that it could easily be.

A surveillance tool requires a lot of reworking at the last time.

I think the Guardian had to make such significant adjustments was when we were working on the Edward Snowden disclosures and there are some parallels with with that was obviously 2013 the difference.

I think the Snowdon was Revealing the apparatus that organisations like the NSA and GCHQ used to surveil maths populations what we have here was was quite different this was identifying the people who we believed with a potential targets of this kind of technology and so is the wrong said at the outset that you know enabled us to identify real people people who have got stories people like the French minister Israel had signs of traces of Pegasus activity on his phone near this wasn't just journalist.

It wasn't just activist it was also political critics who we have found were targeted by NSA

Thing to remember here and really think that's most important is the nso says it has always said that this technology is only supposed to be used for monitoring criminals and terrorists.

It has said that actually requires governments to only use this technology to monitor criminals and terrorists what we have found severely undermined that pull at the numbers in this listing on coding from their statement.

I'm not related to nso group in anyway, and they say that your claim is erroneous and false Heidi respond to that.

I don't think we ever expected them to be overjoyed with these stories and or even accept them, but you know we stand by our reporting when you look at the data and the connection to the forensics is quite compelling.

I mentioned this French minister.

Just now he was selected in this list 15 seconds before.

Pegasus activity appeared on his phone there are multiple examples that we can show and as you said we did a sample forensics en67 phones that were in the data and those 37 showed evidence of some form of Pegasus activity according to the forensic analysis and trust we think that's that's quite compelling link.

We just mentioned the Panama the Edward Snowden rather and we've seen this before with the Panama papers this idea of teaming up with a range of news outlets rather than working with a single one, is it the the 55-in numbers that means that you want to Tudor spread this around? Why do you choose such a large group of Media outlets first? There is a stale there is 50000 number.

So that will be a big mistake to can see the light that you can do that alone.

So you need people.

With the specific knowledge of some specific countries to be to have reported.

There is a question about collaboration is bringing protection definitely for that because it's project we were facing one company that is when on to be non-transparent 10 States 1920s, so this is while a difficult and complex investigation with a lot of risk for many reports reporters working from difficult area is non-profit organisation with one main mission we can see the work of Jell-O assassinated reporters make sure that he'll the messenger you can never kill the message and since we talking about collaboration we.

Used to a small team of 12 people with one brain in the middle of that something to go with the coordinator of all that big and collaboration make a lot of sense, but it was unstoppable of all of this must just be a nightmare really I mean surely.

You've got one newspaper in one part of the world who is desperate to release a scoop at one particular time and for somebody else he wants to hang onto another part of the story.

How do you deal with all of that so nightmare? I have made better, but we we we love her current situation.

Yes, you have bilateral conversation.

Yes, you have to deal with the many even personal issues, but people.

Project 200% of them to forget about the Eagle to forget about competition to only think about the main mission telling the truth in all the countries are the same times once your project we need to be ok with that and that was really the case and all the time very surprised with all the stories project by the mood of the people and and what we will learn from that is really important in journalism now even to with a distressed with the media to show that we are not following specific agenda.

We can be all together for the for the interest of the public interest because that's candle holder hasn't been many British names on the list but I I I gather that's about to change.

Yeah.

We think that's about to change we do have some stories landing.

We thinking in the very short term that will be revealing some of the

UK numbers for the people who own the UK numbers that appear in the list and we're looking forward to meeting up.

I mean I just want another thing if I met and he talked about collaboration.

They are really complicated the Guardian does quite these things we did the Panama papers.

We did the paradise papers and we got the WikiLeaks cables install big international collaborations, but I think sometimes it can be a beautiful thing this this kind of working together me normally we see the publications arrivals, but when you have lots of journalists over 80 in this case at the Washington Post at the Mond that's the Duchess lighting at derzeit all working together in unison pushing in the same direction you can achieve a lot.

I mean this investigation was done relatively quickly giving how much we are now Publishing and and there's no way that could have been done by a single publication so you with these types of projects the Guardians really happy to be involved with the colonies organisation that is a depth enough to work collaboratively with.

Play the BBC do these kinds of things to at times you know it's not what we would do all the time but when the project like this comes along we not going to say no, I'll pull Lewis head of investigations at the Guardian thank you very much indeed and Lauren Pritchard director and founder of forbidden stories.

Thank you to that role in journalism every mainstream news like that these days has resident fact-checking and the growth of social media and its ability to spread wrong information a whole market night exists for professional fact checkers, but the industry has taken a bit of a knock in the US at least because Donald Trump's claim that covered originated in Wuhan laboratory has gone from conspiracy theory to know being taken seriously politifact the US fat Chequers gave the claim the category of pants on fire last year.

Archive dad assessment and Addison editor's note the Washington Post has also updated articles that were initially dismissive, but these corrections haven't come about because of new evidence instead.

They come because president Biden has admitted that is a possibility though has fact-checking itself become politicised the stakes are high of course.

Just last week Biden said that covered Mrs information on Facebook was killing people well.

There's a lot to unpack here and I've got Claire Milne that you're acting editor of fullfact with me and Ian birrell.

Who is contributing editor of the Mail on Sunday and also a very experienced freelance journalist recently find that piece of his work that mentioned the lab leak Theory was being suppressed by Facebook to you first and the basics for as what is it that fullfact does a who do you work for so at an independent organisation we check claims appear in.

The different places on on social media in traditional Media from claims from politicians and public figures as well and all of that we publish a website we provide the links that we used our readers can in check that information from for themselves and make up their own minds about what they think about the various claims, but they may be coming across in in the day today.

We do work with a number of different organisations for example.

We are part of a Facebook third party fact-checking programme here in the UK which means we we fat check misinformation that was on that platform.

We also encourage our readers to send us things that they see on on WhatsApp that's a whole different kind of worms on WhatsApp because the particular particular elements of that platform is encrypted and make it more challenging to check for we do fact-checking work on there and we also last year during the pandemic.

We worked with google.org.

By staff to help improve techtools that we also build we use them myself full facts and with a fat Chequers around the world then you your funded by by Facebook Google when you're working with them projects.

Yes, we are offended by a wide range of different organizations, but individual donations from from readers and supporters as well and all that information is available on a transparency about refunding and where country is this the thing that we are very keen to promote Sam and saw that information is available on our website fullfact.org Ian you wrote this piece for the online magazine unheard.

Will you mentioned the Wuhan lab leak Theory so tell us about it and what happens when you tried to share it on Facebook I didn't February after the why study group report from Newham I've been investigating the whole lablink Theory since last April and what's been very clear as two strands this this old one is

Play Lovely cannot to which we still have no idea the other has been this this scientific media and political cover up really where there's been disproved.

That is a conspiracy parents shouldn't discuss it partly because of badminton in flaming all the tensions so I wrote this piece in February which was just taking issue with the why is report which was very Patsy Bray compromised basically putting forward the China propaganda and funny enough.

It's the sort of stuff which which British and American governments actually later said themselves and Ted Ross the head of the whole30 admitted that the report was Andy to downgrade of the idea than a virtually below less credible period such as the idea that it was the virus was imported to hand on frozen food as soon as this was posted it appeared on I am heard and I was amazed to discover, but it would have been taken down and blocked for access on the grounds that it was conspiracy theory now for me.

This is obviously quite serious.

Hope I'm seeing as a serious take pride in my work being serious and rooted and evidence and I took issue.

I got hold of the head of Facebook in Europe and complained.

They took it down relatively quickly however.

It does show first of all the there is this issue about valid discussion being blocked on the grounds and also obviously I was able to get hold of the head of Facebook but had I been perhaps a less established journalist had been a new voice had been a younger journalist.

I might not have been able to get it taken down and that could have really play reputation Indies and did did Facebook actually tell you why they labelled as containing false information, but I do understand and was the day use the lot of the basis for what they were saying on a notice credited article that appeared in the Lancet and they use that as a basis.

For rolling out be salts discussions, and it is a very serious concern.

I think it's very different the sort of work done by people like full-fat however.

I just wonder about being kind of rating system mentioned it slightly turning chicken in the introduction, then the politifact uses this this pants on fire category and that's what they called that lab leak school facts more nuanced less committal so we don't across the rest of my work user rating system as you say there is a lot of plants in the claims that we come across and it's not often easy to to label them pants on fire for example.

There are ratings that are used on on Facebook which four separate to that which basically give 110 indication of how inaccurate we think the claim that were fact-checking is so there is that but Across the Border cover.

They're often a lot of Shades of Grey and it can be it can be hard to remember wonder if you think that the fact that Donald Trump have been promoting the code Theory when he was still in office that certain sections of the media where too quick to dismiss it.

I mean if the media is in the mindset that if trump said it and he says a lot of nonsense this must be untrue.

Do you think that plays into the way that this particular story was dismissed by myself when I Began looking at it was very nervous, but that precise recent conspiracy theory and the more I look the more I became convinced that there was a theory that deserve to be examined and that it was wrong, but it was being stifled than silenced and I think that check your organisation as you as you say didn't look at the evidence and simply went with the idea that it's conspiracy theory that just shows it's not a valid fact-checking organisation because there are no

Say that their laboratory leak is wrong.

Just as there are no facts to say that we know it's not a transmission.

We don't know there are no facts and it remains a very open Debate and I think the important any organisation like meteor that checking the have to be open to challenge and they have to be transparent and if facts to emerge the change it they have to be honest about that.

I was reading the peace in the American sign entitled the psychology of fact-checking the other was proposing what they call adversarial fact-checking Wychwood pair up journalist from different publications with opposing views to fact chat together.

You know the idea would be that it would try to get rid of the inherent bias.

What do you make that certainly an interesting proposition at 4 that we have a lot of processes in place to try and ensure impartiality and and exactly make sure that kind of devices that you're referring to so that you know starts right from our recruitment process we have strict.

Pause and impartiality that our staff had to hear two cross-party board of trustees overseas your organisation and as I mentioned before we make sure that we are being transparent about who funds us to the people that make sure that is from a wide range of sources to maintain or impartiality and independence and as well as that we are very open to to being challenge.

We are human fat Chequers we get things wrong application and so we make sure that we have a transparent corrections process people can get in touch with us if we if they disagree with something that we've written or if you've got something wrong will look at that and publisher of corrections on our website as well.

Do we even need fat Chequers Inn isn't this and Away the job of journalist? I wonder what it says about this growing distrust for journalist the growing concerns about about you know everybody having their own reality their own truth and what channel is supposed to check their own fact.

Then facts but has been done this operate at very high pressure very fast often and make mistakes everyone makes mistakes and I think anything that adds to the armoury that allows people to Czech republic's make up their own Minds at health chandlers find facts as well as a good thing we do live in a distrust in an age of lots of information coming out you from all sides and I think any reputable source of information only good thing whether it's old Media new media whatever I think anything that helps provide stability and facts and evidence within a debate should be welcome Claire it's got a huge responsibility.

We we give people the the information that they need to make up their own Minds so that's there for them.

Thank you very much indeed the acting editor of full facts and Ian birrell contributing editor.

Mail on Sunday thank you both very much indeed and indeed.

Thank you to all our guests and thank you to you for listening.

I'll be back with the media show at the same time next.


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