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29 Jul, 2021 10:18

The United States is still far and away the single biggest hacker on the planet – Pegasus or no Pegasus

The United States is still far and away the single biggest hacker on the planet – Pegasus or no Pegasus

Yet another digital espionage scandal has conveniently diverted attention away from the activities of the world’s busiest online spies. Does that explain the US media’s propaganda against the malicious exploits of a core US ally?

It’s that time of year again. When the world loses it over a spy scandal, it gets endless wall-to-wall coverage, pundits shout at each other on TV, governments release boilerplate statements that use words without saying anything – and in a few days or weeks, it all blows over, and everyone goes home.

This time, it is spyware called Pegasus, by Israeli company NSO Group, which can apparently provide the attacker access to everything inside a phone. Even back in 2017, security firm Kaspersky called it “the most sophisticated attack ever seen on any endpoint.” 

Apple, in particular, prides itself on its security. So much so that it doesn’t even allow antivirus apps[M3] on its app store, since the built-in security of iOS is apparently supposed to be enough. Whoops:

“Pegasus can collect emails, call records, social media posts, user passwords, contact lists, pictures, videos, sound recordings and browsing histories, according to security researchers and NSO marketing materials. The spyware can activate cameras or microphones to capture fresh images and recordings. It can listen to calls and voicemails. It can collect location logs of where a user has been and also determine where that user is now, along with data indicating whether the person is stationary or, if moving, in which direction.”

It seems there is almost nothing this weapon cannot collect. Or as Kaspersky put it:We’re talking total surveillance.”

Also on rt.com India’s opposition demands inquiry into alleged govt ‘treason’ over use of Pegasus spyware

This time, even countries like India and Morocco, not exactly known for public hacking adventures, have been implicated as customers of the spyware. It has morphed into a huge public scandal in India, quickly becoming the top news story. Indian pundits are livid, lamenting the loss of India’s ‘democracy’. Some are concerned about how the revelations and India’s ‘authoritarian turn’ will affect ties with the US, a key ally. That the US itself is the most warmongering regime on the planet and provides military support for 73% of the world’s dictatorships doesn’t seem to affect the argument.

Hypocrisy Über Alles 

It is perhaps not surprising that the US – a nation that otherwise loves giving its opinion on everything under the sun – is keeping mum about the whole affair, preferring instead to work behind the scenes. Few nations conduct more cyberwarfare than the superpower itself of course – with even the most ardent US propagandists thumping their chests about its capabilities

The superpower is as much the top dog of cyberwarfare as it is of physical warfare. According to studies, the US has been at war for 226 of its 244 years of existence – and has killed millions of people just since WWII. The nation itself was of course founded on the near-complete annihilation of indigenous people – a genocide so massive that it literally altered the planet’s climate. In the last 20 years alone, the US and its allies have bombed the Middle East/North Africa region at the rate of 46 bombs per day – that’s almost two every hour, every single day, for 20 years. The brutality is mirrored at home: US police forces murder an average of 2.7 civilians every day. 

If the US regime can care so little about committing massacres and genocides against human beings – it will hardly have second thoughts about hacking computers and mobile phones. 

US savagery is matched by its hypocrisy. Two-facedness and psychological projection remain central to its foreign policy – as central as violence and coercion. Yet, it portrays itself as the world’s policeman, lecturing other nations on human rights and holding them ‘accountable’. It is aided by the world’s most sophisticated propaganda network – also known as the US media – which remains its greatest weapon. 

The US frequently accuses Russia of hacking everything under the sun – from its electrical grid to its elections. These hypocritical accusations increased in frequency after the Snowden revelations in 2013, since they exposed the extent of America’s own hacking efforts. 

The hypocrisy often gets comical. The US has been hacking Chinese networks for decades – so it accuses China of hacking US networks. The US spies on Huawei – so it accuses Huawei of spying on the US. The US exploits backdoors – so it accuses Huawei of exploiting backdoors. The US hacks Microsoft – so it accuses China of hacking Microsoft. All with little or no evidence of course. 

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The ‘democratic’ regime frequently lies to its own people about the extent of its surveillance. The internet itself started decades ago as a US military project. Google was born from the US regime’s surveillance requirements. Even today, the regime exercises control over much of the global internet, including the .com domain – a power it is all too happy to abuse. It recently seized three dozen websites it didn’t like, including well-known Iranian broadcaster Press TV, forcing it to switch to the .ir domain instead. No wonder China and Russia keep talking about cyber sovereignty; you never know when the US-controlled internet will be weaponized against you. 

With nations like these, who needs hackers?

The Snowden revelations of 2013 revealed the heavy price the US regime is willing to pay for control – both over its people and over the narrative. Apparently, America not only spies on Americans, it has backdoor access to the most commonly used internet platforms and telecommunications networks. It doesn’t hack them because it doesn’t need to. 

Sometimes it is a backdoor in the code itself, and sometimes it is a metaphorical backdoor where tech companies secretly cooperate with the US regime (while peddling woke PR about ‘freedoms’ and ‘privacy’). Of course, none of these companies’ public statements can be trusted or verified. 

For example, the infamous Gmail hack of 2009-10, which was blamed on Chinese hackers and led to Google’s exit from China, was due to a backdoor that Google had created for the NSA to spy on its users. Amusingly, it was this same backdoor that the hackers exploited to gain the same access. 

This is not uncommon. US tech giants are constantly in bed with US intelligence – but they are forbidden from talking about the extent of their relationship due to gag orders. Even more amusing is that the surveillance tools and opportunities created by US intelligence often end up being used by its enemies – just like its physical weapons

Also on rt.com Taiwanese police launch investigation into reports that over 100 ‘high ranking officials’ had messaging app accounts hacked

One backdoor closes, another opens

The recent Pegasus revelations must be seen in this context. Israel and the US are often partners in crime – both digitally and physically. The US regime has few problems or qualms spying on not just its own people, but other nations and their leaders as well (including its own allies). But what explains the recent Western propaganda push against Pegasus and the Israeli NSO Group? 

It is unlikely that the US media would openly criticize NSO Group and demonize it without the US regime’s consent or direction. It is even less likely that Amazon, of all companies, would immediately shut down its infrastructure without a nod from the regime. Equally unlikely is that Israel itself would order a highly unusual probe into the company without US pressure. 

One reason could be that the US is no longer willing to allow downstream access to sophisticated hacking tools. In essence, Pegasus ‘democratizes’ spying for any nation willing to pay for it. Israel has no reservations in allowing NSO to sell Pegasus to just about anyone (it must approve all sales since Pegasus is classified as a ‘weapon’; companies such as NSO Group are technically weapons manufacturers). 

It is possible that the US asked Israel to stop the weapon’s sales and it refused; after all, it earns millions of dollars from selling it. This would not be the first time Israel has defied its benefactor’s wishes – only for the US to often double down and show the Zionist regime its place in the pecking order. The relationship between the US and Israel is far more complicated than the simplistic clichés espoused by Western propaganda. 

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At least US leaders will be happy that, for once, other nations are in the crosshairs for hacking, and not the US itself (another reason it could have subtly encouraged the propaganda). As usual, the regime has seized on the scandal to portray itself as the savior. It has already started weaponizing the revelations; an anonymous regime official leaked to the gullible Indian media that there was “growing concern” in Washington about India’s authoritarian turn. This is increasingly becoming a common talking point among Indian pundits. Apparently, the nation that kills millions in wars and spies on the whole planet is concerned that another nation is becoming too authoritarian. 

The scandal has global ramifications – 24 countries have been caught up so far. Morocco is even suing the NGOs that spearheaded the original story. More revelations will likely be forthcoming. Pegasus is clearly not done neighing – which should give Western pundits much more to bray about.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.