Following Amnesty International report citing Morocco, questions arise

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The report of Amnesty International on the activities of NSO Group in relation to Morocco, actually complement a whole series of actions undertaken in the last 5 years by the organization of Human Rights in a standoff with the Israeli company specializing in surveillance software. Amnesty International has been careful not to mention this in its report or in the 17 media outlets that reported on Omar Radi. This Friday evening, Morocco gives a firm denial to the content of this report and demands from the NGO evidence in “a detailed official response”.

The international human rights organization revealed in a report published on June 22 that Moroccan journalist Omar Radi was allegedly subject to surveillance, using software developed by the Israeli company NSO Group.

A technology that would allow access to all the data on an individual’s mobile phone and also activate the camera and microphone.

To read the 18-page report (in its French version), Omar Radi would therefore be “the target”, and the sponsor “the Moroccan authorities”, which according to Amnesty International would be the clients of NSO Group since 2018.

Omar Radi would have been the subject of 5 attacks via this software, according to the report to which had access, in preview, 17 international media and The Desk in Morocco, to which Omar Radi had taken part in the creation alongside Ali Amar .

Forbidden Stories was in charge of coordinating this operation to disseminate the report to these 17 media. According to Le Desk, in an article published on June 22 and entitled “Omar Radi: investigation into a technological hunt”, it is not by chance that Omar Radi has been targeted: “for 10 years, it has published surveys which disturb the Moroccan authorities. He has notably worked on the links between political and economic powers in Morocco but also on human rights violations in the country ”, write the article’s co-authors, Phineas Rueckert and Cécile Schilis-Gallego.

Omar Radi a journalist like the others, until he tweets
However, in the professional career of Omar Radi, nothing exceptional until a virulent tweet with regard to the judicial authority provokes his summons to justice.

The commitments he may have had in the movement of February 20, 2011 are the same as those which other journalists may have taken at the time, his investigations into the sand quarries, are not exclusive in relation to to those who preceded it in 2011 thanks in particular to a researcher from the Ibn Tofail University of Kenitra and the publication in November 2012 of the exhaustive list of all operators of sand and stone quarries in Morocco.

The themes of corruption, spoliation or dispossession of land, presented as exclusive by Omar Radi, had been widely treated in critical reports, including by public media (2M, Wide Angle, October 2015).

As for the Rif events, the whole profession treated them and certain journalists could have been “worried”, given the sensitivity of the context, even leading some of them to answer for their position before the justice like Hamid El Mahdaoui, Mohammed El Hilali, Rabiaa Al Ablak or even Jawad Al Sabiry, when Omar Radi, he was under police custody for 48 hours.

He had to be prosecuted for a critical tweet towards the judicial authority, published on April 5, 2019, after the verdict pronounced against the members of Hirak du Rif for the journalist, aged 33 years, acquires a certain notoriety. His summons by the courts in December 2019 for this tweet published 7 months earlier had caused an uproar on social networks and in the Moroccan media. On March 17, he was finally sentenced to four months suspended prison sentence and 500 dirhams (45 euros) fine for this publication, which he considered defamatory of a magistrate.

What would then justify the Moroccan security services “targeting” Omar Radi? The question deserves to be asked and in light of Omar Radi’s response in Le Desk, it is all the more serious: “I was punished for all of my work.”
What the Amnesty International Report Says
According to the Amnesty International report, Morocco has previously been identified as one of the “potential” customers of the Israeli company NSO Group by Citizen Lab.

The Desk dealt with this same information already a year earlier in an article posted on May 22, 2019, under the title “Morocco uses the Israeli spy software that broke through WhatsApp”, claiming that a secret program called “Atlas” would be attributed to the Moroccan secret services. The program would allow him to spy on smartphones using Pegasus cyber surveillance software designed by the Israeli NSO Group, according to Le Desk.

Security Lab, the organization’s digital security team, is said to have carried out a “forensic” analysis of Omar Radi’s telephone and to have detected “traces suggesting that it was the subject of the same attacks by network injection as those observed against Maati Mounjib and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui described in a previous report by the organization. Security Lab says Omar Radi would also have been targeted from January 2019 to the end of January 2020.

The traces found “constitute solid elements making it possible to establish a link between these attacks and the tools designed by NSO Group”, we can read in the report, which heavily uses the conditional to point the responsibility of the Moroccan secret services. We can read on page 5: “It appears from the attacks which have targeted in the past human rights defenders in Morocco and which have been examined by Amnesty International that NSO Group tools could have been used to carry out attacks by network injection (…) the assumption that NSO Group’s network injection tools have been used appears increasingly solid. ”

Further: “The digital evidence that Amnesty International extracted from the device (from Omar Radi) suggests that network injection attacks occurred on January 27, February 11 and September 13, 2019”.
Finally still on page 5, the organization speaks of “hypothesis” concerning the same evidence found in the laptops of Omar Radi and Maati Mounjib to talk about the use of the “same spyware” used in both cases.

Surrounded by maximum precautions, the report speaks of the use of “NSO Group spy software in Morocco”, being careful not to be direct or assertive about the use by Morocco of this technology.

Two reports in 9 months from Amnesty International on the same subject
In October 2019, the organization published a first report under the title: “Morocco, human rights defenders targeted by spyware from NSO Group”. There she reported that the telephone of historian Maati Mounjib was the subject of “malicious software executed from early 2018” until early 2019.

What is troubling is that Amnesty International notes that “between 2017 and 2018, he received SMS messages containing malicious links associated with the NSO Group”.

Troubling because if Morocco had only used this technology in 2018, as the organization maintains, which therefore spied on Maati Mounjib in 2017? In this October 2019 report, Amnesty International again uses the conditional to say that “Maati Mounjib’s phone appears to have been maliciously redirected while browsing the Internet with the Safari browser”.

No evidence to prove the involvement of the Moroccan security services
If the report of the organization of human rights says to bring “solid elements“, showing that Omar Radi would have been targeted using the tools of NSO Group, it does not bring any proof of the implication of the Moroccan authorities in the use of this technology.

A basic semantic analysis on the turn of the sentence, the sometimes excessive use of the conditional and the editorial style indicate the concern of the writers of this report to take all the necessary precautions to target the Moroccan services, by contenting themselves with clauses of convenience and dedicated formulas with no significant impact, at least on a legal level.

Thus, and only on its own assumptions and deductions, Amnesty International says it “holds the Moroccan authorities accountable.” The organization writes that it asked Israeli society to respond “to the revelations” of its report on Omar Radi. NSO Group has “neither refuted nor refuted the claim that the Moroccan authorities used the technology developed,” report the report’s Amnesty International. They add that the Israeli company replied to them that it would examine the information presented in the report.
Throughout the 18 pages of the report, the human rights organization never mentions its “history” with NGO Group. However, it is of great importance since Amnesty International even launched a legal action against Israeli society in May 2019.

Amnesty International and NSO Group: a tussle that has lasted for 5 years
In October 2019, after its report on the use of NSO Group’s technology to “monitor” Maati Mounjib, Amnesty International said it had arrested the Israeli company, which then replied “our products are designed to help intelligence services and law enforcement agencies whose mission is to save lives. They are not intended to monitor opponents or human rights activists. This is the reason why all our contracts, regardless of the client, authorize the use of our products only for the legitimate legitimate purposes of preventing crime and terrorism and investigating in this type of case. ”.

In this report, the organization strives to demonstrate the non-respect of the commitments of NSO Group in the field of human rights recalling for example, (page 10) the significant acquisition in February 2019 of a fund of private investment installed in the United Kingdom in NGO Group. The group then announced its intention to implement a human rights policy but to no avail, writes Amnesty International, adding that this is “another element which corroborates the clear gap which exists between the line of conduct displayed by the company and its behavior in practice ”.

It is a whole part of this report that the organization devotes to NSO Group which would count 45 customers around the world, trying to demonstrate its “lack of initiative (…) to fight against the use of its tools wrongly ”, that“ it has not shown due diligence in the area of ​​human rights ”and that it“ has failed to fulfill its obligation ”.

Amnesty International’s legal action before an Israeli court
Difficult to read from these elements to ignore Amnesty International’s strange persistence in demonstrating the failings of Israeli business. You just have to go to the NGO site to find the elements of understanding of the war that it seems to have declared against the technology company and its spyware.

In an article dated May 21, 2019 and published on its site under the title “end the surveillance system of NSO Group”, the organization announces the filing of an appeal for the next day May 22, before a court of the district of Tel Aviv to control the activities of Israeli society.

On January 16, around 30 Amnesty International activists were before Israeli jurisdiction in connection with the continuation of this action intended to force the Israeli defense ministry to restrict the activities of NSO. They accuse him with his Pegasus software to have targeted at least 24 journalists worldwide, particularly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Amnesty International member targeted by NSO Group
In August 2018, an Amnesty International member was himself targeted by this Pegasus spyware, according to the Amnesty International website. He was allegedly sent a suspicious text message to hack into his phone, and the attempt was attributed by Amnesty International to the NSO Group. “It was sent at a time when Amnesty was campaigning for the release of Saudi human rights activists,” said the official. organization on its site.

Finally, Amnesty International’s first research on the activities of NSO Group dates back to August 24, 2016 through Citizen Lab, which reveals in a 13-page report, the activities of Israeli society to which the United Arab Emirates, Arabia Arabia, Mexico and Panama would then have called to “spy” on their dissidents.

Omar Radi manipulated by Amnesty International?
Amnesty International has been tracking down the NSO Group for five years. The facts put end to end question the “use” of journalist Omar Radi to feed the list of accusations brought by the organization against the Israeli company that AtlasInfo.fr tried to join in the context of this article, without success.
The Moroccan journalist may also find advantages in the status of “victim of the system” which he seems to cultivate. In short, Amnesty International and Omar Radi would each find their account. Still, the Moroccan security services should have been in possession of the Pegasus software since 2018, as Amnesty International maintains.
In a statement released this Friday, June 26, the Moroccan authorities oppose a firm and categorical denial of this report by the NGO. Rabat reports that he received the executive director of Amnesty International in Morocco, Mohamed Sektaoui, to express “his” amazement at the allegations “contained in the report.

A press release which maintains that the Moroccan authorities have never been contacted by Amnesty International, contrary to what the organization claims in its report for which the Moroccan authorities require it to provide, as soon as possible, evidence of these assertions as part of a “detailed official response”.

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