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Can Pegasus Be Tamed?

The phone of French President Emmanuel Macron may have been hacked using private spyware software, according to a new investigation.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
The French president looks at his phone during a U.N. meeting.
French President Emmanuel Macron looks at his phone during the One Planet Summit at the Plaza Hotel on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 26, 2018. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Pegasus spyware revelations ripple around the world, deadly floods in China kill at least 12 people, and the United States plans to drop opposition to Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Pegasus spyware revelations ripple around the world, deadly floods in China kill at least 12 people, and the United States plans to drop opposition to Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Pegasus Highlights New World of Espionage

French authorities have vowed to investigate a cyberware incident after it emerged that French President Emmanuel Macrons phone was recorded on a list of possible targets of government-led phone hacking. The software used, called Pegasus, was licensed by a private Israeli spyware firm.

According to an investigation by a global media consortium that includes the Washington Post, Le Monde, and the Guardian, 10 prime ministers, three presidents, and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI were all potential targets.

Spyware for all. It’s not the first time world leaders have been targeted by spy agencies—the U.S. National Security Agencys targeting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one high-profile instance—but the Pegasus revelations highlight how sophisticated espionage programs are no longer limited to wealthy states and can be purchased on the open market. On Sunday, it emerged that governments in at least 10 countries had used the spyware tool to surveil journalists and dissidents.

The software company responsible, NSO, has denied the investigative consortium’s allegations, calling them “so outrageous and far from reality” that the company is considering suing for defamation. The company said it vets government clients for human rights concerns before it sells its Pegasus software and that it is intended to be used as a counterterrorism tool.

Netanyahus role. Criticism has also been leveled at Israel, particularly the previous government led by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz—one of the consortium’s members—charted Netanyahu’s travels to countries that would become NSO customers and how the software may have been used as “diplomatic currency” to further Israel’s strategic goals.

Modis problems. In India, the investigation has caused a political scandal. The Indian National Congress—the largest opposition party—has accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of spying on its former leader Rahul Gandhi after his number appeared on NSO’s list. Congress has called for Indian Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah’s resignation over the issue while government spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad countered there was “not a shred of evidence” linking Modi’s government to the Pegasus story. It would not be the Modi governments first alleged offense: It was accused of using NSO software to hack 1,400 phones before India’s 2019 elections.

What We’re Following Today

Deadly flooding in China. Central China is facing severe flooding, leading to the evacuation of more than 100,000 people in Henan province and at least 12 people dead in the city of Zhengzhou, which has seen more rainfall in the past three days than it usually does in one year. Subway passengers have been trapped, roads submerged, and flights and trains canceled throughout cities in the region. The record rainfall, which began on July 17 and may continue until Thursday, has also sparked fears that a dam in Henan could collapse and that the Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site, could be damaged.

Brexit troubles. U.K. Brexit minister David Frost will announce a proposal to change aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol today—part of the Brexit agreement designed to avoid constructing a border on the island of Ireland. The proposal will reportedly include a plan to allow most British-made goods into Northern Ireland free of the checks that have irked some local communities and created headaches for British businesses. Frost’s proposal is also expected to call for an end to the European Court of Justices role in overseeing disputes related to the protocol.

Pipeline politics. The United States and Germany are close to resolving a dispute over the Russian natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, paving the way for the project’s completion. Under the U.S.-German deal, expected to be announced as soon as today, the Biden administration will drop its opposition to the pipeline in return for a commitment from Germany to assist Ukraine in developing its energy projects, including a $50 million green technology investment. White House officials said that despite the change in approach, U.S. President Joe Biden still opposed the pipeline as a potential tool of Russian influence but preferred to drop the issue in the name of cohesion between allies.

Keep an Eye On

The green transition. The next two years are likely to see the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions ever recorded, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on Tuesday, as it urged governments to set aside more coronavirus recovery funds for a green energy transition. Just 2 percent of pandemic-related fiscal support globally—roughly $380 billion—has been pledged for clean energy, the IEA said, adding those funds must almost triple if the world is to reach net-zero emissions in 2050.

Could COVID-19 cancel the Olympics? Tokyo Olympics CEO Toshiro Muto did not rule out canceling the Olympic Games as new COVID-19 cases emerge among athletes. When asked at a press conference whether the games could be canceled, Muto said he would “consider the matter” based on the spread of infections and the issue would be discussed in upcoming talks between organizers and government officials ahead of Friday’s launch. Muto’s comments contrast with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who said last week there was “zero” risk of athletes spreading the coronavirus to one another or to Tokyo residents.

Odds and Ends

A London jewelry shop was the victim of a daring heist, a British court heard on Tuesday, as a woman allegedly made off with $5.7 million worth of diamonds by swapping them for “garden pebbles.” Prosecutors say the theft occurred in 2016 after Lulu Lakatos, the defendant, set up a viewing of seven high-value diamonds at a London showroom, claiming to operate on behalf of wealthy Russians.

When one of two jewelry store employees left the viewing room, Lakatos—who denies wrongdoing—is said to have swiftly pocketed a bag containing the diamonds, replacing it with an identical decoy bag filled with pebbles “by sleight of hand,” according to prosecutor Philip Stott. After leaving the showroom, Lakatos allegedly deposited the stolen bag in an accomplices purse on the street, changed clothes in a public restroom, and fled to France, where she was arrested last September before being extradited to the United Kingdom.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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