Spyleaks: Uganda UN envoy phone tapped

Uganda’s UN Permanent Representative Adonia Ayebare (left) with Rwanda President Paul Kagame in Kigali in 2019. PHOTO/file

What you need to know:

Information shows that IT engineers at the UN detected the hack and informed the two ambassadors.

The mobile phone of Uganda’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, Mr Adonia Ayebare, was targeted for hacking by a licensed user of the Israeli manufactured spyware, Pegasus, Daily Monitor has learnt.

Ambassador Ayebare’s mobile phone, was hacked last year alongside that of an ambassador of another African country by a Pegasus licensed user. The spyware manufacturer, NSO Group, sells the surveillance technology capable of secretly gathering information from a target’s phone mainly to governments.

Information obtained by Daily Monitor shows that IT engineers at the UN detected the hack and informed the two ambassadors about eavesdropping of their conversations. We could not immediately verify which spy software user attempted to hack into the envoy’s mobile phone.

Ambassador Ayebare yesterday told this newspaper he was not at liberty to comment on the matter as it’s under UN probe.

“Where did you get that information? But anyway, all I can say is those are occupational hazards,” he said.

Last year, President Museveni assigned Ambassador Ayebare, who served as Uganda’s ambassador to Rwanda before taking over the post of Uganda’s envoy to the UN, to lead the shuttle diplomacy to thaw the icy Kampala-Kigali diplomatic relations.

The wiretapping of the envoy’s phone revelations comes on the backdrop of the global investigation, the Pegasus project exposé published by London-based Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) on Monday detailing how neighbouring Rwanda’s intelligence services hacked phones of high ranking officials in Uganda, Burundi, DR Congo, and South Africa.

Kigali has denied the claims.

The revelations that licensed clients of the spyware around the world used it recklessly has triggered uproar while several governments have called for independent investigations.

Uganda’s State minister for International Relations, Mr Henry Oryem Okello, told this newspaper on Wednesday that the wiretapping reports by an otherwise “brotherly state” if true are absurd and contemptible.

“We fall in the same region; we are in Africa so our friends, and enemies are the same. If it was the [American] Central Intelligence Agency, or MI6 [British Secret Intelligence Services] that wouldn’t have been surprising,” Mr Oryem said.

The government is, however, yet to speak publicly on the matter nor hint on whether it will launch independent investigations into the spy claims.

Elsewhere, the French government, whose President Emmanuel Macron is among the three world heads of state whose mobile phones were hacked, has launched an independent probe into the matter.

The Israeli company, NSO, in a statement issued on Tuesday, however, defended that President Macron and other high ranking government officials discovered on the list “are not and never have been Pegasus targets.”

About spyware

The software, if implanted on a device, effectively gives an attacker complete access to the target’s phone. It can read messages and passwords, access social media, use GPS to locate the target, listen to the target’s conversations, and even record them. End-to-end encryption, available through popular apps such as Signal, does not protect against Pegasus once the phone is compromised.