Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will join a coalition government with Hezbollah, conceding defeat and handing the terrorist organization more political power than it ever had before.
Hariri, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica while on a visit to Rome to meet with his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni, said that he and the Shi’ite jihadist group have “put aside” their differences to serve the country.
“The prime minister only thinks of the good of Lebanon, of finding the formulas and making the agreements that allow us to handle the problems of the country,” he was quoted as saying.
Thousands of Lebanese Shia rely on Hezbollah – deeply embedded into politics and society – for social, medical and financial support. According to the Italian newspaper, Hariri said that as premier, he seeks to find a national formula that preserves Lebanese unity.
Hariri succeeded his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was murdered in a 2005 car bombing blamed on Hezbollah. When asked about being in a government with the party accused of murdering his father, he responded by saying that he trusts that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will find those responsible and “condemn the criminals.”
Formed in the 1980s with the help of Iran as a “resistance” group against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has since morphed into a semi-military organization with thousands of battle-hardened fighters and weaponry spread across the Middle East.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun in February defended Hezbollah’s massive arsenal in an interview with an Egyptian TV channel, calling it “an essential component” of the country’s efforts to defend itself.
“Hezbollah weapons are not contradictory to the state, but are an essential part in defending the country,” Aoun told the Egyptian TV network CBC Satellite Channel. “As long as a part of the territory is occupied by Israel, and as long as the army is not powerful enough to fight Israel, we feel the need to maintain the weapons of the resistance to complement the army.”
Lebanon claims that Mount Dov (Shaba Farms), part of the Golan Heights, belongs to Lebanon.
Hezbollah fighters “are originally from the south and whose land was occupied” by Israel, Aoun added.
When Hezbollah-friendly Aoun was elected in November, he vowed to “release what is left of our lands from the Israeli occupation.”
Last week Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman accused the Lebanese Army of coming under Hezbollah’s control.
“We’re talking about Hezbollah and about the Lebanese military, and unfortunately this is the reality,” Liberman said, adding that the “Lebanese Army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.”
In August, the Lebanese Army, along with Hezbollah, recaptured an Islamic State enclave in the Qalamoun mountains on the Syrian border. The Lebanese Army said that it was not coordinating Syrian or Hezbollah photos being posted on social media, which show armored personnel carriers carrying a Hezbollah flag alongside a tank with a flag of Lebanon.
Turning to Syria, Hariri said that despite Iran’s mobilization there, it was Moscow that saved the Assad regime.
“Russia is now pushing for a political solution, and as Putin says, their work is in the interest of the entire country, not just one person,” he said, adding that he met with President Vladimir Putin, who has “committed himself to the stability of the region. Putin’s words on Syria count, for Iran and the region, and at this moment the unity of the Arab world is decisive.”
But according to Hariri, allowing Bashar Assad to remain the leader of Syria would be a major mistake.
“In Syria, everything started with the people demanding reform [and] democracy. The regime began killing their own citizens and a civil war began.”
As for the increased tensions between the United States and Iran, Hariri said that Lebanon “wants good relations with all countries in the region, and we hope that in the midst of the confrontation between the United States and Iran, we will avoid any negative repercussions on our country.
“However,” he continued, “I also say that interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries is absolutely unacceptable, and Iran should play a positive role that will help in economic development and security, and not contribute to destabilization.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006, which came to an end after UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon, and the deployment of the Lebanese Army and an enlarged UN force in the south.
Poland’s traditionally conservative, nationalist government is experiencing record support, despite widespread international media coverage of a number of protests that have been launched by foreign-funded groups.
The Law and Justice Party (PiS) made history in 2015 when it became the first party since the Cold War to win an election outright — meaning that for the first time the modern Polish state could be governed without the constraints of coalition.
Yet that landslide 37.58 per cent vote at the ballot box has been dwarfed by the growing popularity of the government since the vote, with a new poll by CBOS finding 43 per cent of Poles support the ruling party.
Even more significantly, Prime Minister Beata Szydło enjoys even greater personal support at 53 per cent, reports Polish Newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
Despite the historic democratic mandate and sustained support in Poland for Law and Justice, foreign media reports on the government’s policy programme have been overwhelmingly negative, with significant airtime given to anti-government protests.
Amongst the programmes being pushed through the government is a reduction in retirement age and reform of the nation’s Communist-era holdovers in the judicial system, both of which have been vigorously opposed by the European Commission’s Jean-Claude Juncker.
Protests and moves against the reforms have been linked to billionaire social-justice funder George Soros.
The involvement of the Commission in Polish politics in these matters has also triggered anti-Juncker protests in the country.
Another area in which the Polish government has triggered the criticism of foreign governments and news media and boosted its own profile at home is a strong opposition to mass migration, and opposition to the European Union’s plan to redistribute migrants received during the migrant crisis around the continent.
Whilst the European Union has threatened the Polish government with sanctions, including suspension of voting rights and even fines for refusing to change course on these issues, the government has remained unbending.
ZAGREB, Croatia (AFP) — With his Hitler-style toothbrush moustache, ex-fighter Marko Skejo leaves no doubt about his politics: the now-disbanded paramilitary unit he fought for displays open nostalgia for a pro-Nazi past that Croatia is struggling to tackle.
The unit, the Croatian Defense Forces (HOS), last week said it would continue to display a memorial plaque for its comrades killed in Croatia’s 1990s independence war which bears the pro-Nazi slogan “Za dom spremni” (“For the Homeland, ready”).
It was the official motto of the fighting group — which disbanded in the early stages of the war — and appears on their coat of arms.
The phrase was used by the country’s World War II Ustasha regime, which persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and anti-fascist Croats.
Ex-paramilitaries had put up the plaque last November by the site of the former Jasenovac camp, known as “Croatia’s Auschwitz,” sparking outrage from the country’s ethnic minorities, rights groups and centre-left opposition.
After days of negotiations with authorities, HOS agreed to remove the plaque from the camp’s immediate vicinity — only to display it in another location around 10 kilometres (six miles) away.
“No one can touch this… We achieved our goal,” an HOS leader, Ivan Friscic, told a press conference as his comrades chanted their controversial slogan.
Skejo said authorities had failed to remove the slogan from the plaque — “we would be the biggest good-for-nothings if we ceded that.”
Many Croatians were indignant about Conservative Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s handling of the episode.
“Plenkovic caved in to glorifiers” of the slogan, said a comment piece in the Jutarnji List newspaper, while Davor Bernardic, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, said the authorities were “inciting fascism.”
‘A different view’
Although the Ustasha’s so-called Independent State of Croatia was a Nazi puppet state, their modern sympathizers such as Friscic and Skejo see the regime’s leaders as the nation’s founding fathers.
After the country declared independence from Yugoslavia, sparking the 1991-1995 conflict, a number of political emigres who were linked to or sympathized with the Ustasha regime returned to Croatia.
“They had a view of World War II which was completely different from the one taught not only in the former Yugoslavia but in the whole world,” historian Hrvoje Klasic told AFP.
Some were given important political or economic positions or joined the country’s defense forces, enabling them to establish their narrative in society, Klasic said.
In the 1990s numerous monuments to anti-fascists were destroyed and street signs were renamed after Ustasha officials.
Although extreme Ustasha sympathizers are today a tiny minority, they face little resistance from those in power.
In January, a Croatian school refused to display an exhibition on Jewish diarist Anne Frank because it included panels detailing the former regime’s crimes.
The following month, dozens of far-right activists marched through downtown Zagreb chanting a pro-Nazi salute.
Their leader was eventually arrested, but earlier this month he and his supporters publicly burned a weekly Serb publication in front of its premises.
The leader of Croatia’s ethnic Serbs Milorad Pupovac said the Ustasha revival had not been dealt with “in an adequate way.”
Zagreb recently stripped the name of former Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito from a prominent square, an initiative led by the right-wing politician Zlatko Hasanbegovic, a former culture minister accused of revisionism.
Masses are regularly held for Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic in Croatian cities.
The “Za dom spremni” slogan, regularly chanted by football fans, was recently downplayed by Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who called it an “old Croatian salute” — a claim denied by historians.
However, over the weekend she appeared to shift her position and described the slogan as “unacceptable,” echoing the words of the prime minister.
Plenkovic, who came to power nearly a year ago, said that moving the plaque was a “first step” and he has promised a law against symbols of “all totalitarian regimes” — referring to both the Ustasha and communism.
But his detractors say he has failed to act on his promise to move away from a climate of intolerance that developed under the previous government, marked by hate speech against ethnic minorities and pressure on independent media.
Political analyst Zarko Puhovski said the premier was more focused on how to stay in power, faced with a thin majority and his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party torn between its centrist and nationalist wings.
“Instead of governing the country the government is dealing with how to maintain its majority,” he said.
Right-wing extremists have committed the vast majority of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel offenses in Germany, which have seen a slight rise over the corresponding period last year, according to a government report.
Of the 681 incidents reported from January to August, 92 percent were committed by right-wing extremists, the Ministry of the Interior report said. In 23 cases, political motivations such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were involved.
In that period last year, there were 27 fewer such crimes registered.
The report, which the Interior Ministry provided this week by request to Green Party legislator Volker Beck, also noted a slight increase in violent crimes, to 15 from 14.
Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community of Upper Bavaria and Munich, said the numbers were “oppressive for the Jewish population and shameful for our country.”
Even though they were not much higher than last year’s, the figures “are all the more upsetting if you look at them in the context of the small number of Jews in Germany,” Knobloch said. The country’s Jewish population is about 200,000, or 0.25 percent of the total population in Germany.
The largest segment of the reported crimes involved anti-Semitic incitement and also had a slight increase for the time period, to 434 from 425.
The only category that saw a drop was illegal propaganda, such as repeating Nazi slogans or denying the Holocaust: The number fell to 94 from 106.
Beck said the reported crimes are “only the tip of the iceberg.”
The dark number [of unreported crimes] is — we fear — much higher,” he said in a statement, adding that many victims of such crimes still fear going to the police.
Beck also said the problem came from the entire society “and not just from refugees, immigrants or Muslims.”
Right-wing, populist political parties have tried to put the blame for growing intolerance and other societal ills on those populations, especially in the countdown to national elections later this month.
For those who think that the U.S. government would never put Americans in harms way, we direct your attention to the following video.
Recorded in the 1960’s, it shows government scientists outfitting children with gas masks, putting them in a gas chamber, and then filling the chamber full of deadly organisms so they can test the effectiveness of masks.
A chilling video showing gas masks being tested on schoolchildren by government scientists using deadly organisms paints a disturbing picture of life in the Cold War.
The unsettling footage, which was taken in 1960, shows a classroom full of children no older than 10 being given a lecture about the biohazard safety devices by a visitor.
The youngsters, who are the children of soldiers, are then led into a chamber where the mask’s effectiveness is tested using a potentially deadly mix of microbial organisms.
The children stay in the chamber for 10 minutes before being removed, with the narrator noting that ‘a concentration much greater than could be reasonably expected during any biological attack’ is being tested on them.
The Catholic Church and government agencies in the United Kingdom have developed a new argument to avoid paying out settlements to victims of pedophilia and sex abuse: they’re claiming the children consented.
Lawyers who represent some of the victims have told the Sunday Telegraph that the defence is more frequently being used by private schools, religious groups and local authorities when trying to defend compensation claims.”
Though news of these recent attempts to avoid paying settlements emerged last month, the Telegraph recently viewed documents from two court cases in which defense attorneys used the “consent” argument.
“One claimant was told by lawyers for the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark that his abuse, which included rape and began when he was 15, ‘actually occurred in the context of a consensual relationship (albeit one the Claimant in retrospect now appears to regret),’” the Telegraph reported.
“I was below the legal age of consent anyway and there’s a grooming element to that kind of situation. It was totally disregarded and it made me feel really small,” he said.
According to Siobhán Crawford, a lawyer with London-based Bolt Burdon Kemp, the strategy is usually used when a child turns sixteen during the abuse. Sixteen is the age of consent, though the Telegraph notes that “[f]or adults in a position of authority, it is illegal to have sex with a child under their care, even if the child is 16 or 17 at the time.”
Even so, in one case, the Cambridgeshire County Council, a government entity, claimed a student whose abuse started when she was under 16 consented:
On her own account the Claimant voluntarily sought out contact with [the teacher] and considered that she was in a relationship with him. If that is correct, after she had obtained the age of 16, the Claimant consented to sexual acts with [the teacher] and those acts ceased to be assaults.”
The victims in these two cases were eventually compensated.
Despite claims from the Church and government that consent was issued, Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, disagrees. “No child ever gives their ‘consent’ to being abused, and the increased use of this line of defence, although still quite rare, is worrying,” she said.
While the defense is rare, it is being employed more often. Crawford told the Telegraph that her firm had dealt with ten cases and that “there had been an increase in the past two years as authorities became aware that it was an option.”
Barnardo’s, one of the children’s charities objecting to this new line of defense, said in July that since the CICA was established in 2012, “nearly 700 child victims of sexual abuse have been refused payments ranging between £1,000 and £44,000, according to a freedom of information request by the charity coalition,” which also includes Victim Support, Liberty, Rape Crisis and the National Working Group (NWG).
One case in which the victim was not compensated, the Telegraph noted in July, “involved a 12-year-old girl who was plied with alcohol, led into the woods and sexually assaulted by a 21-year-old man.”
“This was because she had gone into the woods ‘voluntarily,’ had not been a victim of violence, she emerged ‘happily’ from the woods and that she had recently had sexual relations with another child around her own age,” the outlet summarized.
The coalition of charities has called for a change in rules. According to a press release Barnardo’s issued in July:
The coalition is calling for the rules to be changed so no child groomed and manipulated into sexual abuse is denied compensation because they complied with their abuse through fear, lack of understanding, or being brainwashed into believing their abuser loved them and developing feelings for them.”
This is only the latest controversy surrounding the Catholic Church, which has been defending alleged pedophiles and child abusers within its ranks for years. The government agencies in question are also under fire now, too.
As Dawn Thomas, co-chair of Rape Crisis England & Wales, said last month:
It’s not only bizarre but also inappropriate and harmful that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority applies a different definition of consent from the law and, as a result, routinely tell victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation that they consented to the sexual violence perpetrated against them.”
Right-wing columnist, commentator and conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin is fully committed to the conspiracy theory that there is a massive global satanic pedophile ring run by high-ranking government officials, powerful business executives and celebrities which regularly engages in the ritual sexual abuse and murder of children. Last week, she appeared on Dave Hodges’ “The Common Sense Show” to promote this theory and claimed that President Trump’s administration has been quietly working to break up this global pedophile cult, but has kept its success under wraps until it can properly prepare the American public to accept the awful truth.
What is happening is “so abhorrent and so horrible and so unbelievable,” Crokin said, that the Trump administration is working to “slowly break the news to the public about how massive and rampant of a problem this is.”
Crokin said that the average person simply cannot comprehend the fact that “one third of the government” is part of a satanic Illuminati cult that sexually abuses, kills and eats children, but “that’s what these people do.”
“The raping of children and the drinking of blood, this is a ritual they do, this is their religion, this is how they believe they obtain power,” she said. “That is very hard for people to believe, but we did learn from the [John] Podesta emails, that is exactly what is going on.”
“That’s very hard for the public to process,” Crokin said, “so President Trump and his people understand that they can’t just come out one day and be like, ‘Oh hey, one third of the government is raping children and sacrificing them and drinking their blood and they’re satanists.’ You just can’t drop that bomb on people; people can’t process that information like that, they need it in doses, they need to be conditioned. So what we have going on behind the scenes is that … the Trump administration is slowly trying to condition the public and try to prepare them for what’s about to go down.”
(JTA) — The umbrella group of French Jewish communities escalated its criticism of authorities’ handling of the slaying of a Jewish woman by her Muslim neighbor, calling it a cover-up.
CRIF made the accusation in a short and poignant statement Wednesday containing four loaded questions concerning the April 4 killing of Sarah Halimi in Paris.
“The murder of Sarah Halimi was 85 days ago already and the investigation is not advancing. Why this silence? Why this omerta?” read the statement, which contained the Italian-language mafia term for a cover-up among accomplices. “What is being hidden? Why this denial of anti-Semitism?”
Prior to this week, CRIF had refrained from openly faulting the handling of the Halimi investigation, saying it was awaiting the conclusion of the police probe. In the past, it has criticized the proliferation of conspiracy theories by some Jewish groups and activists.
But that changed Monday, when CRIF President Francis Kalifat wrote in an op-ed published by Le Figaro that “there is evidence that this is a textbook case of an anti-Semitic murder but it is being covered up by an ‘omerta’ and this heinous crime has not been recognized for what it is.”
Halimi, he added, “was butchered for the sole and only reason that she was Jewish.”
Kalifat vowed to “never relent” and continue to pressure authorities “until the truth comes to light about this sordid murder.”
Halimi, a physician and kindergarten teacher in her 60s, was beaten savagely by Kobili Traore, 27, and then thrown to her death from a window of her third-story apartment.
Traore, whom neighbors testified shouted during the attack “Allah hu akbar,” Arabic for “Allah is the greatest,” was placed at a psychiatric institution as per his temporary insanity defense though he has no history of mental illness. Halimi’s daughter testified that he had called the daughter a “dirty Jew” two years ago.
A draft indictment drawn up against Traore by the public prosecutor’s office of Paris contained no mention of a hate crime, alleging only voluntary manslaughter with no aggravating circumstances. Sammy Ghozlan, a former police commissioner and head of the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, told JTA that the police are not answering his group’s request for information on Traore’s whereabouts.
Many French Jews, including Ghozlan, said they feared justice and police officials, as well as the mainstream media, were trying to avoid drawing attention to the incident because of France’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which began on April 23 and ended on June 18. In those elections, the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron won decidedly against Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front far-right party, which critics say is anti-Muslim.
Magali Lafourcade, president of the French government’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, said in a radio interview earlier this month that she welcomes the debate over whether authorities downplay anti-Semitism and hate crimes. However, she said “we need to let the judiciary do its job” and detectives need time to review all aspects of the case.
Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.
One of President Donald Trump’s newest appointees is a registered agent of Saudi Arabia earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby on the kingdom’s behalf, according to U.S. Department of Justice records reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.
Since January, the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry has paid longtime Republican lobbyist Richard Hohlt about $430,000 in exchange for “advice on legislative and public affairs strategies.”
Trump’s decision to appoint a registered foreign agent to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships clashes with the president’s vow to clean up Washington and limit the influence of special interests.
Trump singled out lobbyists for foreign governments for special criticism, saying they shouldn’t be permitted to contribute to political campaigns. Hohlt is himself a Trump donor, though his contributions came before he registered to represent Saudi Arabia.
“I will issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a FOREIGN GOVERNMENT! #DrainTheSwamp,” Trump tweeted in October.
Key Advisory Body
The commission is essentially a part-time advisory body responsible for making final recommendations to the president of candidates for the prestigious White House fellowships, which President Lyndon B. Johnson created in 1964.
The candidates are usually accomplished professionals with sterling resumes. Fellows are typically given jobs in the White House and federal agencies. Past White House fellows include Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.
Hohlt said he is one of 19 commissioners who met over a weekend this month to interview the fellowship candidates — the commission’s only formal duty annually.
Hohlt stresses he has never lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which has aggressively courted Trump since he became president in January.
“That is not my role,” Hohlt said.
What role, then, does he play?
According to Hohlt’s disclosures with the Department of Justice, he registered to lobby for Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry in October and “provides them with advice on legislative and public affairs strategies.” He disclosed no direct contact with government officials on the Saudis’ behalf as of April 30, the date covered by the latest Department of Justice report.
Hohlt said he was largely brought in to offer advice on overarching strategy and how the legislative process works.
He did directly contact some congressional offices in late May and June regarding an arms sale, he said, and those contacts will be disclosed in his next disclosure report, as required.
Hohlt added that he’s working for the Saudis without a formal contract. If the Saudis asked him to lobby for something the Trump administration opposed, “I’d say I’m not going to work on it,” Hohlt said.
For example, he said, the administration was in favor of the arms deal.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s most prominent human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists.
The targets include lawyers looking into the mass disappearance of 43 students, a highly respected academic who helped write anti-corruption legislation, two of Mexico’s most influential journalists and an American representing victims of sexual abuse by the police. The spying even swept up family members, including a teenage boy.
Since 2011, at least three Mexican federal agencies have purchased about $80 million worth of spyware created by an Israeli cyberarms manufacturer. The software, known as Pegasus, infiltrates smartphones to monitor every detail of a person’s cellular life — calls, texts, email, contacts and calendars. It can even use the microphone and camera on phones for surveillance, turning a target’s smartphone into a personal bug.
The company that makes the software, the NSO Group, says it sells the tool exclusively to governments, with an explicit agreement that it be used only to battle terrorists or the drug cartels and criminal groups that have long kidnapped and killed Mexicans.
But according to dozens of messages examined by The New York Times and independent forensic analysts, the software has been used against some of the government’s most outspoken critics and their families, in what many view as an unprecedented effort to thwart the fight against the corruption infecting every limb of Mexican society.
“We are the new enemies of the state,” said Juan E. Pardinas, the general director of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, who has pushed anti-corruption legislation. His iPhone, along with his wife’s, was targeted by the software, according to an independent analysis. “Ours is a society where democracy has been eroded,” he said.
The deployment of sophisticated cyberweaponry against citizens is a snapshot of the struggle for Mexico itself, raising profound legal and ethical questions for a government already facing severe criticism for its human rights record. Under Mexican law, only a federal judge can authorize the surveillance of private communications, and only when officials can demonstrate a sound basis for the request.
It is highly unlikely that the government received judicial approval to hack the phones, according to several former Mexican intelligence officials. Instead, they said, illegal surveillance is standard practice.
“Mexican security agencies wouldn’t ask for a court order, because they know they wouldn’t get one,” said Eduardo Guerrero, a former analyst at the Center for Investigation and National Security, Mexico’s intelligence agency and one of the government agencies that use the Pegasus spyware. “I mean, how could a judge authorize surveillance of someone dedicated to the protection of human rights?”
“There, of course, is no basis for that intervention, but that is besides the point,” he added. “No one in Mexico ever asks for permission to do so.”
The hacking attempts were highly personalized, striking critics with messages designed to inspire fear — and get them to click on a link that would provide unfettered access to their cellphones.
Carmen Aristegui, one of Mexico’s most famous journalists, was targeted by a spyware operator posing as the United States Embassy in Mexico, instructing her to click on a link to resolve an issue with her visa. The wife of Mr. Pardinas, the anti-corruption activist, was targeted with a message claiming to offer proof that he was having an extramarital affair.
For others, imminent danger was the entry point, like a message warning that a truck filled with armed men was parked outside Mr. Pardinas’s home.
“I think that any company that sells a product like this to a government would be horrified by the targets, of course, which don’t seem to fall into the traditional role of criminality,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, which examined the hacking attempts.
The Mexican government acknowledges gathering intelligence against legitimate suspects in accordance with the law. “As in any democratic government, to combat crime and threats against national security the Mexican government carries out intelligence operations,” it said in a statement.
But the government “categorically denies that any of its members engages in surveillance or communications operations against defenders of human rights, journalists, anti-corruption activists or any other person without prior judicial authorization.”
Still, there is no ironclad proof that the Mexican government is responsible. The Pegasus software does not leave behind the hacker’s individual fingerprints. Even the software maker, the NSO Group, says it cannot determine who, exactly, is behind specific hacking attempts.
But cyberexperts can verify when the software has been used on a target’s phone, leaving them with few doubts that the Mexican government, or some rogue actor within it, was involved.
“This is pretty much as good as it gets,” said Bill Marczak, another senior researcher at Citizen Lab, who confirmed the presence of NSO code on several phones belonging to Mexican journalists and activists.
Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that cybercriminals somehow got their hands on the software, the NSO Group says, because the technology can be used only by the government agency where it is installed.
The company is part of a growing number of digital spying businesses that operate in a loosely regulated space. The market has picked up in recent years, particularly as companies like Apple and Facebook start encrypting their customers’ communications, making it harder for government agencies to conduct surveillance.
Increasingly, governments have found that the only way to monitor mobile phones is by using private businesses like the NSO Group that exploit little-known vulnerabilities in smartphone software. The company has, at times, operated its businesses under different names. One of them, OSY Technologies, paid Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, more than $40,000 to be an advisory board member from May 2016 until January, according to his public financial disclosures.
Before selling to governments, the NSO Group says, it vets their human rights records. But once the company licenses the software and installs its hardware inside intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the company says, it has no way of knowing how its spy tools are used — or whom they are used against.
The company simply bills governments based on the total number of surveillance targets. To spy on 10 iPhone users, for example, the company charges $650,000 on top of a flat $500,000 installation fee, according to NSO marketing proposals reviewed by The New York Times.
Even when the NSO Group learns that its software has been abused, there is only so much it can do, the company says, arguing that it cannot simply march into intelligence agencies, remove its hardware and take back its spyware.
“When you’re selling AK-47s, you can’t control how they’ll be used once they leave the loading docks,” said Kevin Mahaffey, chief technology officer at Lookout, a mobile security company.
Rather, the NSO Group relies on its customers to cooperate in a review, then turns over the findings to the appropriate governmental authority — in effect, leaving governments to police themselves.
Typically, the company’s only recourse is to slowly cut off a government’s access to the spy tools over the course of months, or even years, by ceasing to provide new software patches, features and updates. But in the case of Mexico, the NSO Group has not condemned or even acknowledged any abuse, despite repeated evidence that its spy tools have been deployed against ordinary citizens and their families.
From Hope to Intimidation
Journalists, human rights defenders and anti-corruption campaigners have long faced enormous risks in Mexico. For decades, they have been followed, harassed, threatened and even killed for their work, occupational hazards more common in authoritarian states than in countries in good standing with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as Mexico is.
But when President Enrique Peña Nieto came into office in 2012, promising to lift Mexico to its rightful place on the world stage, there was an inkling of hope that the nation’s democracy was coming into its own.
His party passed a list of badly needed changes, taking aim at the failing education system and moving to enhance the transparency of Mexico’s bureaucracy. Competition in some core industries, like telecommunications, has increased.
But by 2014, much of the early promise of the Peña Nieto administration was dashed by the crises subsuming it, including the mysterious disappearance of 43 teaching students after a clash with the police, and accusations that the president and his wife got a special deal on a multimillion-dollar home from a government contractor.
The scandals have left an enduring mark on the president’s reputation. After a stunning rise built on a perfectly crafted image — a young, energetic president working across party lines, the embodiment of a new Mexico — Mr. Peña Nieto was suddenly recast as an out-of-touch, corrupt politician with abysmal approval ratings.
In no small part, that fall was thanks to the Mexican journalists who broke news of the scandals, as well as the lawyers and activists who refused to let the country forget about them.
“You have to remember this was a government that went from setting the agenda to being entirely reactive,” said Carlos Loret de Mola, a news anchor for Televisa who has some of the best sources inside the Mexican government.
Mr. Loret de Mola, who received at least eight messages laced with NSO software, added, “They looked at journalists and thought, ‘They are bringing these things out and embarrassing us, so it’s better if we spy on them.’”
Mexico is still a far cry from Turkey, which jails more journalists than any other nation in the world. It is hardly China, an authoritarian state where critics are silenced and a Western-style free press has been cast as a political peril by the government. But Mexico is in crisis on these fronts all the same.
Mourners at the funeral of Javier Valdez, an award-winning journalist based in the drug-infested state of Sinaloa. He was shot and killed in May. Mexico is among the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.CreditRashide Frias/Associated Press
More journalists were killed in Mexico last year than during any other year this century, and 2017 is off to an even worse start. Government critics are routinely harassed and threatened, and now they are being targeted with incredibly sophisticated software.
“The fact that the government is using high-tech surveillance against human rights defenders and journalists exposing corruption, instead of those responsible for those abuses, says a lot about who the government works for,” said Luis Fernando García, the executive director of R3D, a digital rights group in Mexico that has helped identify multiple abuses of Pegasus in Mexico. “It’s definitely not for the people.”
‘About Getting Revenge’
Perhaps no journalist in Mexico has done as much to damage the reputation of the president than Carmen Aristegui. And few have paid as dearly for it.
In 2014, she and her team broke the scandal of the so-called Casa Blanca, or White House, a story of real estate intrigue that involved a special deal handed to Mexico’s first lady, Angélica Rivera, by a major government contractor close to the president.
The story reached a worldwide audience and forced the president’s wife to surrender the house, presenting the Mexican government with the sort of ethical quandary that in a different country might result in a congressional inquiry or the appointment of an independent prosecutor.
Instead, the president was cleared of wrongdoing by a prosecutor who had worked closely with his campaign team, while Ms. Aristegui lost her job. That moment marked the beginning of a sustained campaign of harassment and defamation against her: lawsuits, break-ins at her offices, threats to her safety and the monitoring of her movements.
“It’s been about getting revenge for the piece,” she said. “There’s really no other way to see it.”
So when she began receiving text messages in 2015 from unknown numbers, instructing her to click on a link, she was suspicious. One message asked for her help in locating a missing child. Another alerted her to sudden charge on her credit card. And she received a text message purportedly from the American Embassy about a problem with her visa. Impersonating an American government official is a possible violation of United States law.
When the messages failed to entice her to click on the links and inadvertently download the software, they grew increasingly strident, including one warning that she could be imprisoned. Several came from the same phone number, leaving a record of the spyware operator’s sloppiness.
Still, the spyware operators pressed on. Starting as early as March, they began targeting Ms. Aristegui’s then-16-year-old son, Emilio, who was living in the United States at the time. Some of the texts were similar to the ones she had received. Others were made-up headlines about Ms. Aristegui, sent from what appeared to be a news agency.
“The only reason they could be going after my son is in the hopes of finding something against me, to damage me,” she said.
Ms. Aristegui is the embodiment of the hope — and the crushing limitations — for a free media in Mexico. Though she was fired over what her employer called internal disagreements, she continued publishing on her own, eventually drawing enough of an audience to sustain a team of reporters.
But the work has taken its toll. In one lawsuit, filed by the president of her former employer, a judge cited Ms. Aristegui last November for her “excessive use of freedom of speech.”
Her website, Aristegui Noticias, has been hacked numerous times, including on the eve of publishing a major investigation into the massacre of more than a dozen civilians by the federal police.
And her offices were broken into last November. So brazen were the assailants that they didn’t bother wearing masks. Nor did they steal much — one computer, a watch and a bag hanging from the back of a chair. Their faces and fingerprints were captured on cameras in the office. Still, no one has been caught.
The threats, harassment, even the spying, all of it she channels into work.
“For me, I have opted to believe that my public work is what will best protect me,” she said. “The great challenge for journalists and citizens is that the fear serve us, and not conquer us.”
Texts Laced With Menace
It was Dec. 21, 2015, and Mr. Pardinas was at the beach with his family, trying to enjoy the start of his Christmas vacation. But his phone kept buzzing, at first with calls from lawyers, and then with an odd text message.
It had been a long few months in an even longer campaign: to pass an unprecedented law forcing Mexico’s public servants to disclose their financial conflicts of interest.
In November, he had presented a study on the costs of corruption in Mexico, confirming with facts and figures something that nearly all Mexicans knew in their hearts — that corruption was crippling the country.
He followed it up with media interviews, poking fun at the Mexican government’s embarrassing response to corruption. He joked that it probably spent more money on coffee and cookies than on the office in charge of prosecuting graft.
The study, the interviews, a seemingly endless gantlet of meetings with politicians — it all laid the groundwork for the new law, which Mr. Pardinas, a private citizen directing a public policy group, was helping to write.
So even as Christmas approached and his family relaxed in the coastal town of Puerto Vallarta, Mr. Pardinas was busily consulting lawyers on the final draft, which he had just over a month to submit.
And then a message: “My father died at dawn, we are devastated, I’m sending you the details of the wake, I hope you can come.” Attached was a link.
Mr. Pardinas thought it odd that whoever had sent such a personal text was not even among the contacts in his phone. He showed his wife the message, and decided to ignore it.
Things only picked up from there, both on his proposed law and the odd messages. The government roundly ignored his bill, until he and others gathered more than 630,000 signatures supporting it.
Mr. Pardinas’s tone grew bolder. He told one radio host that “for the government of Mexico, anti-corruption measures are like garlic to a vampire.”
Then came another text message. This one appeared to be from the news outlet Uno TV, which sends daily news headlines to cellphone users across the country. The headline struck him: “The History of Corruption Within the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.” It was particularly alarming because that was his organization.
He declined once more to click on the link, suspecting foul play. More text messages came, including the next day. Only this time, having failed with Mr. Pardinas, they tried his wife.
The message, sent from the same news headline service, said that leaked videos showed Mr. Pardinas having sexual relations with a member of his staff. It was also sent to a colleague.
Mr. Pardinas called his wife, telling her that she appeared to be part of a broader harassment effort. “Oh, it’s these people again,” she responded.
The campaign to pass the law continued, and the bill made it through Congress relatively unscathed. But the Senate decided to add an extra provision: Everyone who worked for a company that received government money would also have to disclose their interests and assets. That meant the bill would cover more than 30 million people.
The president vetoed the bill, saying it needed more discussion, essentially kicking the can down the road.
Mr. Pardinas continued his broadsides in interviews, naming obstructive lawmakers and well-connected companies that benefited from government money. Few activists go so far as to name names in interviews, but Mr. Pardinas, who holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, plowed ahead anyway.
The initiative seemed doomed. Yet another message arrived, on Aug. 1, this one laced with menace: “Listen, outside of your house is a truck with two armed guys, I took their photo look at them and be careful.”
Mr. Pardinas, who was at work when this message came, once again declined to take the bait. But he did call his wife, again, asking her to look out their window to see if there was a truck parked outside. There was not.
“By the end, my wife had Olympic-style training in this hacking stuff,” Mr. Pardinas said.
‘It Comes With the Territory’
Mario E. Patrón was on edge. The conference table was packed with fellow human rights defenders, including the United Nations commissioner for human rights in Mexico. Everyone was there to discuss the bombshell expected to drop.
The government would be accused of negligence, incompetence, even malfeasance in its handling of the case. Like others in the room, Mr. Patrón, whose organization represents the parents of the missing students, was wondering how the government would respond.
His phone buzzed and he glanced at the screen. “THE GOVERNMENT OF MEXICO GETS OUT IN FRONT OF THE GIEI,” the text message read, using the acronym for the international panel. It seemed like the news he had been waiting for.
He showed the message to his colleague, then clicked on the link. But instead of an article or a news release, it simply redirected him to a blank page. Confused, he left the meeting and raced to his office to begin making calls to see what the government had in store.
And like that, he fell into their trap.
Mr. Patrón is the executive director of the Miguel Augustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, perhaps the most highly respected human rights group in Mexico. The group focuses on the nation’s most serious cases of human rights abuses, making it a nettlesome critic of the government.
In addition to Mr. Patrón, two other lawyers for the group were targeted with the software: Santiago Aguirre, the primary lawyer representing the families of the missing students, and Stephanie E. Brewer, a Harvard-educated American lawyer who has worked for the group since 2007.
“We have always suspected they spied on us and listened to us,” Mr. Patrón said. “But to have evidence that we are victims of actual surveillance — it confirms that we are under threat. And that the government is willing to use illegal measures to try and stop us.”
Beyond the missing students, Centro Prodh, as the group is called, is representing one of the few survivors of a military raid in 2014 in the town of Tlatlaya, where the army stormed a suspected cartel hide-out and killed 22 people.
While pursuing the case, the group unearthed a memorandum ordering the soldiers to kill suspected cartel members, strengthening the argument that the events did not unfold as a firefight, as the military claimed, but were instead extrajudicial executions carried out by the soldiers.
The organization’s clients also include the women of Atenco, a group of 11 university students, activists and market vendors who were arrested by the police more than 10 years ago during protests in the town of San Salvador Atenco and brutally sexually assaulted on the way to prison.
Aside from the grave abuse of power, the case was especially sensitive: The governor who ordered the crackdown on the protesters was Enrique Peña Nieto, now the president of Mexico.
From the very beginning, the case was an uphill battle. Arrested on trumped-up charges, some of the women spent more time in prison than the officers who raped them.
Finding no recourse in Mexico, Ms. Brewer and others appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a regional body outside the Mexican judicial system, to review the case. And they waited — for nearly seven years.
Finally, in 2015, the commission found in favor of the women, ordering the government to investigate the case all the way up the chain of command, a directive that would include Mr. Peña Nieto. Ultimately, the case was sent to the Inter-American Court, an independent judiciary with jurisdiction over Mexico, a major blow to the nation’s presidency.
One evening Ms. Brewer was at home, getting ready for bed when a text message arrived. The date practically coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the assaults on the women, an eerie bookend to their decade-long struggle for justice.
On her phone was a provocative question, a taunt even, asking whether anyone defended the soldiers and members of Mexico’s navy who also suffered abuse.
“And you guys that do human rights against this, what about the dignity of them …” The message contained a link, presumably to a news story or a tip.
Intrigued, Ms. Brewer clicked on it. She was directed to a broken link, a telltale sign of the malware.
“It’s just part of defending human rights in Mexico,” she said. “It comes with the territory.”