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By Benjamin Barthe

Posted yesterday at 6:24 p.m., updated yesterday at 8:30 p.m.

In the world of technology monitoring as in many other fields, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) box above their category. The Gulf petromonarchy, whose indigenous population barely exceeds 1 million, has developed, in the space of ten years, an all-out cyber-offensive activity. Just as it has equipped itself with an unusually powerful army for a country in the Arabian Peninsula, the federation of seven principalities, led from Abu Dhabi by Prince Mohammed Ben Zayed (“MBZ”), has become a heavyweight. digital espionage.

This is one of the lessons of the survey coordinated by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International on the basis of a list of 50,000 telephone numbers selected or targeted since 2016 – without all of them having been infected – by ten countries. clients of the Israeli firm NSO Group Pegasus spyware. In this immense register, which was shared with The world and sixteen other media, including the Lebanese online magazine Daraj, 10,000 numbers were entered on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.

An ultra-sophisticated program, Pegasus can not only siphon content from a smartphone, including messages exchanged on applications like WhatsApp and Signal, but also turn the device, stealthily, into a microphone. Since we have not been able to search all the smartphones corresponding to these 10,000 numbers for technical traces of an intrusion, it is not possible at this stage to say how many devices have actually been hacked.

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Of the 67 phones The world and its “Project Pegasus” partners were able to have it examined, 37 of which bore evidence of an Israeli spyware infection. Contacted on multiple occasions, the Abu Dhabi authorities did not respond to the consortium’s requests for reaction. NSO, for its part, disputes the accuracy of the information published by the editorial staff of the “Project Pegasus”, speaking of “False accusations” and of “Unsubstantiated theories”.

The number of people that the UAE intelligence services have been interested in in recent years is in itself very high. Among the twelve NSO clients that appear in the data made available to the World, only Mexico does better, with 15,000 potential targets. This activism bears the mark of “MBZ”, a military man by training, of his very elastic conception of national security and his taste for clandestine operations.

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