The News
The News
Monday 04 of December 2023

Spyware Scandal

The Facebook app icon on an iPhone in New York,photo: AP/Karly Domb Sadof, File
The Facebook app icon on an iPhone in New York,photo: AP/Karly Domb Sadof, File
Deny, deny, deny

News that makes President Peña Nieto tremble doesn’t come often. Yet the article published June 19 by The New York Times under the headline “Using Texts as Lures, Government Spyware Targets Mexican Journalists and Their Families” written by Azam Ahmed and Nicole Perloth momentarily shook up the president.

As it must in a case like this, all fingers pointed at President Enrique Peña Nieto. And as usual the president proved to be his own worst self-defender and confirmed himself as a denier and this was his only statement over the very noisy scandal that brought together well-known journalists and human rights defenders to denounce government espionage.

”It’s very easy to make a convocation to point out to the government as an entity that spies” but “there’s nothing more false than that.” Deny, deny, deny.

If you read the original article in English — which obviously the president didn’t — you can easily add it to Donald Trump’s long list of articles he puts under the category of “fake news.” But then, President Peña Nieto is no Donald Trump — The Great Denier — and he went on to deny the espionage on a list of influential Mexican citizens which is as good in Mexico as admitting guilt.

The gist of the article is that the Mexican government through three ministries — Defense, Attorney General and the Investigation and National Security Center (CISEN) — had acquired a spyware program called “Pegasus” from the Israeli company NSO Group. Pegasus is an undetectable program that infects iPhones making them vulnerable to the program. NSO Group sells the program only to government agencies and in its contract, limits its use only to terrorists and organized crime organizations.

But if we go by what the president knows, a rogue spy agent began using Pegasus on journalists like Carmen Aristegui — Peña Nieto’s worst foe in the press — and strangely enough, on Carlos Loret, who runs a morning newscast on Televisa of whom Peña Nieto is no doubt the greatest advertising customer. That I know, Televisa does not bite the hand that feeds them and have Carlos Loret’s news contents pretty much under surveillance, if not control.

But the two who made the most-bitter public complaints were Juan Pardiñas, director of the Mexican Competitiveness Institute (IMCO) and the man — a real public enemy — who forced Congress to approve the so-called “3 Out of 3” law which was later busted by Peña Nieto himself.

Another plaintiff is Mario Patrón, president of the Agustín Pro Human Rights Center who has been representing the parents of the 43 missing education students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in the state of Guerrero. This has been an issue that has even made the president go into helplessness and desperation because he too — he says — doesn’t know the students’ whereabouts.

Though there’s no denial that the spyware “Pegasus” is being used by the above mentioned secretariats, the problem plaintiffs now have is proving that it was trained on them. Thus far, they have not filed a legal suit and most likely as the issue of espionage wanes it will turn into another tempest in a tea pot that fizzles out.

But wait, that’s not all.

Were there motives at The New York Times for running this fake news article? Evil tongues in Mexico are claiming there are and the main one is that the Peña Nieto Administration through the Telecommunications Reform changes has badly mangled Carlos Slim’s telephone emporium making it lose a whole bunch of dough.

Carlos Slim, Mexico’s wealthiest man, is an important shareholder at The New York Times and the gossip flying around is that he ordered the article to take some revenge and make Peña Nieto look bad.

“It was not Carlos Slim, a high government official told me when I asked him about the rumor that one of the world’s wealthiest men was responsible for the explosive publication of espionage on journalists and human right defenders,” wrote Wednesday Francisco Garfias in daily Excelsior. “Relations between the president and Carlos Slim have never been better.”

Well, that discards the Slim conspiracy theory, who by the way, has no editorial leeway at The New York Times. The point being is that the “Pegasus” scandal crap really hit the fan, putting the president’s press department once again on the defensive, as usual.

President Peña Nieto, furthermore, has issued orders to the Attorney General’s Bureau to investigate the use of Pegasus spyware and find out if there are rogue individuals there using it for private citizen intimidation.

Expectations are, however, that the investigation will lead nowhere, therefore, we have one more case of The New York Times knack for fake news.