Dalai Lama's advisers potential targets of Pegasus

Dalai Lama's advisers, NSCN leaders listed as potential targets of Pegasus: Reports

The phone numbers of the top ring of advisers around the Dalai Lama may be people of interest for government clients of NSO Group

The Pegasus spyware was created by Israeli technology firm NSO. Credit: PTI Photo

The Dalai Lama’s close aides and the top officials of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile based at Dharamshala in India were potential targets of surveillance by one of the clients of the NSO group, a spyware firm based in Israel, The Guardian and The Wire reported on Thursday.

The analysis “strongly indicates” that the Government of India “was selecting” the “top ring of advisors around the Dalai Lama” among the potential targets for surveillance through the Pegasus spyware of the NSO Group, The Guardian reported.

The former Sikyong (President) of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (formally known as Central Tibetan Administration), Tempa Tsering, one of the closest aide of the Dalai Lama, and Samdhong Rinpoche, who heads the trust entrusted with the task of selecting the 86-year-old monk’s next incarceration after his death, were among the potential targets for surveillance. Their phones were put on the list of potential targets for surveillance between late 2017 and early 2019, according to The Wire.

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It was the same period when India was trying to mend fences with China after the bilateral relations were strained over the military stand-off between the two nations at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan in June-August, 2017. Just two months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an “informal summit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in central China on April 27 and 28, 2018, the Cabinet secretariat of the Government of India issued an advisory in New Delhi asking “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” in the states as well as at the Centre to stay away from events attended by Dalai Lama. The purpose of New Delhi’s move was obviously not to irk Beijing.

Modi and Xi had a series of meetings in 2018 and 2019. The second informal summit between the two leaders was held at a seaside resort near Chennai in October 2019. The relations between the two nations, however, again nosedived after China in April-May 2020 deployed a large number of troops along its Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India and sought to unilaterally push the de-facto boundary between the two nations westward. The India-China relations hit a new low over the military stand-off, which started 15 months ago and is still continuing in eastern Ladakh.

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The 14th Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India following his 1959 escape from Tibet, which had been occupied by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1950-51. A staunch advocate for non-violence and freedom and a Nobel Peace Prize awardee, the Buddhist monk has been leading the Tibetans’ struggle for “genuine autonomy” – not independence from the Chinese Government’s rule – for Tibet. Beijing, however, still calls him a “separatist” and accuses him of running a campaign to split China.

The phone numbers of the aides of Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who claims to be the 17th Karmapa or the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, were also on the list of potential targets for surveillance. Though the Dalai Lama, the supreme leader of all the sects of Tibetan Buddhists, endorsed Dorje as the Karmapa after he fled from China and arrived in India in 2000, New Delhi never recognised him as such and rather suspected him to be an ‘agent’ of the Chinese Government. He left India in 2017 and accepted the citizenship of Commonwealth of Dominica in 2018.

The Guardian and The Wire are among the 16 media outlets, which are participating in the Pegasus Project, a global collaboration of some journalists to bring to public domain what they termed as systematic abuse of the spyware developed by the NSO Group and sold to governments around the world. They have been reporting over the past few days on a database of 50,000 phone numbers, which were accessed by human rights organisation, Amnesty International, and the Forbidden Stories, a non-profit organisation of journalists based in Paris. The phone numbers were allegedly either shortlisted for or actually put under surveillance through the Pegasus, the flagship spyware product of the NSO Group.


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