Saturday, July 24

“Project Pegasus”: unable to spy on the Dalai Lama, without a smartphone, India relies on its entourage

By Julien Bouissou

Posted today at 1:01 p.m., updated at 1:05 p.m.

Much to the despair of intelligence agencies, the Dalai Lama has still not given in to the temptation to buy a smartphone. Which makes the 86-year-old man particularly difficult to spy on. But those close to him, including his emissary in New Delhi Tempa Tsering, his private secretary Tenzin Taklha or his advisers Tenzin Taklha and Chhimey Rigzen can be watched very closely. In all, nearly twenty Tibetan activists, politicians and religious in exile appear in the list of numbers selected by an Indian security service, user of the Pegasus spyware, for potential piracy. They are part of a database of 50,000 issues, consulted by the organization Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International before being shared with seventeen media, including The world, united within the “Pegasus Project”.

According to our investigation, certain relatives of the Dalai Lama were first selected for possible surveillance from the end of November 2017, when former US President Barack Obama, who had just arrived from China, meets the Tibetan spiritual leader in New Delhi. Lobsang Sangay appeared on the list later, in mid-2018, when he was president of the Tibetan administration in exile and increased trips to India and abroad. Two other candidates for this post are also included, including Penpa Tsering, finally elected in May 2021.

Lobsang Sangay, president of the Tibetan administration in exile from 2011 to 2021, in Dharamsala (India), March 10, 2020.

Without being able to examine their phones, it is not possible to say whether they were indeed infected by this spyware, one of the most sophisticated on the planet, capable of sucking all the contents of a phone. – e-mails, secure messaging, photos, address books, diary… and to recover geolocation data without anything indicating that the device has been hacked. This selection suggests, however, that the cordial understanding between New Delhi and the Tibetan community, which has taken refuge on Indian soil for over sixty years, is imbued with mistrust.

Dharamsala, nest of spies

It reveals, as never before, the suspicion of the Indian state vis-à-vis the Tibetan community, suspected of being infiltrated by Chinese spies, as well as its strategic importance at a time when the tension between the two countries the most populous in Asia continues to climb.

New Delhi believes it has reason to be wary. As recently as August 2020, a Chinese national suspected of being a spy paying Buddhist monks for information about the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard was arrested in India. The first breach in the relationship between India and the Tibetan community opened in 2011, when the XVIIe karmapa, the third highest dignitary in the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, had been suspected by New Delhi of being a Chinese spy. A suspicion that was officially lifted a year later, the dignitary having been cleared by Indian justice, but that did not remove all doubts. The karmapa obtained a passport from Dominica in 2018 and regularly experiences difficulties in obtaining Indian visas.

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