Two more Poles identified as victims of hacking with spyware

Jan 25, 2022, 10:56 AM | Updated: Jan 26, 2022, 7:59 pm
Michal Kolodziejczak, a farmer and agrarian movement leader, poses for a photo in Warsaw, Poland, o...

Michal Kolodziejczak, a farmer and agrarian movement leader, poses for a photo in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday Jan. 25, 2022. Kolodziejczak is one of two more Poles identified as victims of phone hacking with the notoriously powerful spyware from Israel’s NSO Group: Kolodziejczak, the agrarian political leader at odds with Poland's right-wing government and Tomasz Szwejgiert, the co-author of a book about the head of Poland's secret services. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Two more Poles have been identified as victims of phone hacking with the notoriously powerful spyware from Israel’s NSO Group: an agrarian political leader at odds with Poland’s right-wing government and the co-author of a book about the head of Poland’s secret services.

The newest discovery by Citizen Lab cybersleuths broadens the list of those allegedly targeted by state surveillance under Poland’s nationalist government with a tool marketed for use exclusively against criminals and terrorists.

In late December, the University of Toronto-affiliated security researchers determined that a Polish senator, Polish lawyer and a Polish prosecutor — all three critics of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party — were hacked with NSO’s Pegasus. They were the first confirmations that a tool widely abused globally by repressive governments had been used in the European Union country.

The finding triggered an inquiry in the opposition-controlled Senate.

In its new findings, Citizen Lab found that Michal Kolodziejczak, a 33-year-old farmer and agrarian social movement leader was hacked several times in May 2019. That was months ahead of a fall election in which Kolodziejczak was hoping to have his group, AGROunia, become a formal political party. Support for his movement threatened to eat into a key constituency of the ruling party, farmers and other voters in the Polish countryside. Courts have so far blocked his efforts to form a political party.

The other target was Tomasz Szwejgiert, who says he collaborated for years with Polish secret services before finding himself at odds with powerful figures. He was hacked while co-authoring a book about the head of Poland’s secret services, Mariusz Kaminski. He was hacked 21 times with Pegasus from late March to June of 2019, intrusions that began after he and his collaborators sent questions to the Polish government about Kaminski.

Replying to a request for comment, a Polish state security spokesman, Stanislaw Zaryn, insisted that surveillance is only carried out in justified cases and in accordance with the law. He said due to legal limitations he could not give any details about whether specific people were surveilled.

However, he said reports about Szwejgiert’s “connections with the secret services are untrue,” and said the man has faced charges for serious economic crimes.

In one case, he spent 11 months in prison in 2018 on allegations of belonging to a criminal group that carried out a tax fraud scheme that cost the state millions of zlotys (dollars). Another allegations is that he pretended to work for the secret services in order to commit financial fraud.

Szwejgiert told The Associated Press that he was innocent and believes he was framed, insisting he had collaborated with the secret services for years.

Pegasus is ultra-invasive. The hacker gets access to a victim’s smartphone data and can surveil them in real time with the phone’s microphone and camera. The Pegasus abuse cases worldwide highlight how such technologies — used against journalists, dissidents, rights activists and politicians — pose a growing threat to democratic systems.

The revelations in Poland led ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to acknowledge publicly for the first time earlier this month that Pegasus was bought by the Polish state. Kaczynski described it as a tool to fight crime and denied that political opponents were targeted.

As the government sought to counter perceptions that the state was engaged in mass surveillance, a ruling party lawmaker knowledgeable about state security services, Marek Suski, said last Friday that the number surveilled by the state did not exceed “several hundred people a year.”

The news drew headlines, however, shocking Poles who considered the number anything but trivial.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab who found the forensic traces of hacking on the phones of all five Poles, said he believes “there is more to be found.”

“In my experience, Pegasus abuses are often the canary in the coal mine. What about other surveillance powers? Such as wiretapping and internet monitoring? These can be harder for outsiders to prove, but are ripe for abuse at a massive scale,” said Scott-Railton, who testified along with a co-researcher to Poland’s Senate commission last week.

Citizen Lab had previously confirmed the hacking of Ewa Wrzosek, an independent prosecutor fighting government attempts to politicize the judiciary, and Roman Giertych, a prominent lawyer who represents opposition leaders including Donald Tusk, a former prime minister.

Another Pegasus hack confirmed by Citizen Lab was of Sen. Krzysztof Brejza, who was running the opposition’s 2019 parliamentary election campaign at the time. Messages stolen from his phone were doctored and used in a smear campaign against him.

One aim of the Senate inquiry is to determine whether the 2019 election was fair under the circumstances. Kaczynski’s Law and Justice won by a slim margin.

Kolodziejczak believed the elections could not have been fair, given the hacking.

“They manipulate everyone’s choices in this way,” he said. “If one party knows more, it is easier for them to convince you NOT to vote for the others.”

___

Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A house lays in the mud after it was washed away by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, ...
Associated Press

Puerto Ricans await aid, fret about post-hurricane recovery

TOA BAJA, Puerto Rico (AP) — City worker Carmen Medina walked purposefully through the working-class community of Tranquility Village under a brutal sun, with clipboard, survey forms and pen in hand — part of a small army of officials trying to gauge the scope of disaster caused by Hurricane Fiona’s strike on Puerto Rico. She […]
11 hours ago
Models wear creations as part of the Benetton women's Spring Summer 2023 collection presented in Mi...
Associated Press

Benetton, Ferrari close Milan Fashion Week with bold moves

MILAN (AP) — Milan Fashion Week closed Sunday after five days of mostly womenswear previews that celebrated diversity and renewal, with more designers of color represented than ever and a host of new talent making their debuts at major fashion houses. The Italian fashion council was also putting the spotlight on sustainability with the return […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

‘Eco-warrior” and Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman dies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Dave Foreman, a self-proclaimed eco-warrior who was a prominent member of the radical environmentalism movement and a co-founder of Earth First!, has died. He was 74. The New Mexico-based Rewilding Institute, which Foreman founded as a think tank to develop long-term land conservation plans, said on its website that he died […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

Heavy crane topples onto downtown Oklahoma City building

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A 60-ton crane being used to remove a video display board from a downtown Oklahoma City building toppled onto the building that houses several news offices, officials said. The crane’s operator suffered minor injuries in the Saturday afternoon accident. Two other men working in the bucket of a small crane and […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

San Diego County to pay $1.35M over 2018 in-custody death

SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego County and other defendants have agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the mother of a Mexican citizen who died after sheriff’s deputies arrested him in 2018, officials said. The lawsuit filed by Dolores Rosales, of Tijuana, alleged deputies used excessive force when they took […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

Swiss voters OK plan to raise retirement age for women to 65

GENEVA (AP) — Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed a proposal to raise the retirement age for women from 64 to 65, public broadcaster SRF reported. A separate proposal to impose stricter animal welfare rules for livestock was heading for a big defeat, SRF also reported. The change means the Swiss pension system would require […]
11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Two more Poles identified as victims of hacking with spyware