Watchdog: Polish opposition senator hacked with NSO spyware during 2019 election

Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza on the night of parliamentary elections, on October 13, 2019. (AP Photo)
Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza on the night of parliamentary elections, on October 13, 2019. (AP Photo)

WARSAW, Poland — Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza’s mobile phone was hacked with military-grade spyware nearly three dozen times in 2019 when he was running the opposition’s campaign against the right-wing populist government in parliamentary elections, an internet watchdog finds.

Text messages stolen from Brejza’s phone — then doctored in a smear campaign — were aired by state-controlled TV in the heat of that race, which the ruling party narrowly won. With the hacking revelation, Brejza now questions whether the election was fair.

It’s the third finding by the University of Toronto’s nonprofit Citizen Lab that a Polish opposition figure was hacked with Pegasus spyware from the Israeli hacking tools firm NSO Group. Brejza’s phone was digitally broken in to 33 times from April 26, 2019 to October 23, 2019, say Citizen Lab researchers, who have been tracking government abuses of NSO malware for years.

The other two hacks were identified earlier this week after a joint Citizen Lab-Associated Press investigation. All three victims blame Poland’s government, which has refused to confirm or deny whether it ordered the hacks or is a client of NSO Group. State security services spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn insists that the government does not wiretap illegally and obtains court orders in “justified cases.” He says any suggestions the Polish government surveils for political ends were false.

NSO, which was blacklisted by the US government last month, says it only sells its spyware to legitimate government law enforcement and intelligence agencies vetted by Israel’s Defense Ministry for use against terrorists and criminals. It does not name its clients and would not say if Poland is among them.

Citizen Lab says it believes NSO keeps logs of intrusions so an investigation could determine who was behind the Polish hacks.

In response to the revelations, European Union lawmakers say they will hasten efforts to investigate any abuse of Pegasus spyware by member nations.

The other two Polish victims are Ewa Wrzosek, an outspoken prosecutor fighting the increasingly hardline government’s undermining of judicial independence, and Roman Giertych, a lawyer who has represented senior leaders of Brejza’s party, Civic Platform, in sensitive cases.

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