Ep. 39: A tale of two hacks: Pegasus and China’s Microsoft Exchange penetration
One is the very picture of gaslighting; the other shows Western helplessness
A version of this essay was published by swarajaya.com at https://swarajyamag.com/ideas/a-tale-of-two-hacks-pegasus-and-chinas-microsoft-exchange-penetration
In the recent past, we have seen a lot of news stories. Massive riots in South Africa and Cuba. The uncertainty in Afghanistan. Floods in Germany and China. Surging Wuhan virus cases in hitherto relatively unscathed Southeast Asia. A ‘border clash’ between Assam and Mizoram. Bezos one-ups Branson in the space race. China was accused of large-scale hacking of Microsoft Exchange a few months ago.
So there are plenty of real, meaty stories to report on.
Yet the Indian media was full of stories about something dubious: the alleged Pegasus hacking expose. There are two problems with it. One: as a narrative, it makes no sense; in fact, the meta-narrative is far more interesting. Two: It is an outstanding example of how gaslighting works on Indians (but not on Chinese).
The meta-narrative about Pegasus
There is a plethora of manufactured news stories about India. Everything from the Rafale accusations, rounds 1, 2 and 3, including fake news created by an Indian newspaper by judiciously cropping content; to the exaggerations about the Citizenship Amendment Act. Along with the constant low-level insurrections and mild rioting, this suggests that someone is pursuing an agenda.
The most obvious conclusion is that a time-honored tactic is in play: throw a whole lot of dirt, and hope some of it sticks. So far, almost nothing they have tried has worked, but that is not going to stop them. They will keep coming. The recent Rafale allegations were warmed-over allegations that an NGO named Sherpa and some dicey website had already made. The money trail as to who funds Sherpa and friends is quite instructive. (Hint: some white billionaires).
The Pegasus allegation is also not new: it is recycled from before, as seen in these screenshots from 2019 and 2020.
If you follow the trail on the ‘AdivasiLivesMatters’ post, you end up with one of their prime motivations: the whitewashing of the Bhima Koregaon Urban Naxals who have been hauled up for sedition and fomenting separatism. The breast-beating over one of them, Stanislaus Lourdusamy, Society of Jesus, happened just a week or so ago.
Here is more from 2020. Aha, 121 Indians then, only 33 now. Odd, isn’t it?
Incidentally, the very same Congress supporters and MPs who are on the warpath now were silent a few years ago when Manmohan Singh declared that “phone tapping is the right of the government”. Which, to be candid, is true. All governments need to spy on their people: even the sainted Ashoka had a huge surveillance operation. Did we hear anybody shriek “treason” when Manmohan said this? Apparently not.
In the US, there is widespread surveillance by the government. Under the sainted Obama in 2010, they even tapped the phone of their most important ally, Germany’s Angela Merkel: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/10407282/Barack-Obama-approved-tapping-Angela-Merkels-phone-3-years-ago.html
The US left are good at narratives. There is the salutary example of what happened to the Trump administration in 2020. It appears there was a concerted effort by various vested interests to gaslight the US electorate, leading to the (somewhat violent) overthrow of the incumbent. I am not making this up: TIME magazine billed it as the “inside story of the conspiracy to save democracy” https://time.com/5936036/secret-2020-election-campaign/ .
For a dissenting opinion, please read the startling substack below that tells the story that has been suppressed.
If you know anything about computer security, it is evident that the purported story about Pegasus is not supported by the technical facts. Much has been written about it, so I shall not belabor the point. But the fact is that the narrative has changed from “50,000 phones hacked” to “50,000 phones may have been hacked” to “the 50,000 phone list is an indicative list of phones that someone might potentially want to hack” suggests that this is like “Aryan Invasion” becoming “Aryan Migration” and then “Aryan Tourist™” Theory.
Or how “Kerala has slayed Corona” became “Kerala has 50% of Corona cases in India”. In Trump’s case it was “The Steele Dossier documents how Russian prostitutes peed on Trump” to “There is no evidence that the Russia narrative has any basis according to the special prosecutor”. But the narratives succeeded in misleading most everybody for a while.
And who are the alleged hack-ees in India? To be honest, they don’t appear particularly interesting, nor likely to be the bearers of state secrets. It’s quite a weak list. In general, these are not people any self-respecting government would want to snoop on. There are many other People of Interest in the country that a spy agency would want to phone-tap.
The meta-narrative, in fact, is far more interesting than the narrative. Just look at this headline story in The Guardian. Even though several other countries were alleged to have used Pegasus, that was sleight-of-hand and intended to obfuscate: the clear target is Modi.
The ecosystem was already primed, and this dates back to 2019 as above. Here is a lurid story from a known Modi-baiter. It is not clear how he’s an ‘expert’ on hacking or security.
Similarly, Arundhati Susan Roy, a woman for all causes, launched into typical hyperbole.
And inevitably, the prolix Pratap Bhanu Mehta chimed in, too. Clearly, there was a toolkit, and the memos had gone out to rally the troops to all sing from the same hymn-book.
The American wing of the ecosystem also swung into action. Within 24 hours, 30 groups organized a protest against India, Hindus, and Modi. Notably, this included rabid Christian fundamentalists like this person below, various Muslim groups like CAIR, and radical leftists. Obviously, there was a plan, and surely a toolkit for the Americans as well.
The sum and substance of all this is that there is a concerted effort to paint India as a violator of freedom of speech, fascist, dictatorial, etc etc etc. All the usual suspects are involved. Diligent people who dug into the antecedents of various groups involved and followed the money trail arrived at the conclusion that there are a few sinister individuals and organizations behind this. The presumed goal: regime-change and preferably balkanization of India. No surprise, this.
Even though this particular effort was an abject failure -- nobody in India gave a damn, and within a day it had disappeared even from the NYTimes (so it is possible to embarrass Deep State bastions!) -- this is not the end of it. The ecosystem will, like Robert Bruce, try, try and try again. Two reasons: one is to give the Nehru dynasty scion some excuse to strut about; two is to prevent Parliament from conducting business, thus negating the BJP’s majority.
The reaction to Chinese hacking: softly, softly
Simultaneously, there was the case of the Microsoft Exchange hack from earlier in the year, which affected some 30,000 businesses.
As this magazine, a known cheerleader for the Deep State, points out, the US, its Five Eyes Anglo allies (the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), Japan, and the EU got together, and gave China a delicate slap on the wrist. The fact that all of them “admonished” China together means that they would not be able to agree on anything to “punish” China other than the most anodyne and soothing actions.
There is ample evidence of Chinese mischief. Apart from large-scale hacking (Obama negotiated what was billed as a ceasefire, but apparently it wasn’t), it has been stealthily acquiring genetic data about millions of pregnant women from all over the world: all the better to create targeted biological weapons.
That’s not the end of it: China is even stealing data from its client states like Cambodia.
Despite all this, there is extreme reluctance to call out China’s bad behavior. We are familiar with the year-long saga of how the origins of the Wuhan virus have been obscured by the Chinese, with the apparent active collaboration of US officials such as Anthony Fauci and intermediaries such as Peter Daszak. Yet, just this week comes the news that the WHO is, once again, well, helpless.
One might ask why. Why is the all-powerful West unwilling or unable to tackle cyber-mischief from China, when the evidence is all over the place? And why are they so quick to pounce on India when there is vanishingly small evidence of wrong-doing here?
There are several answers, and none of them is particularly appealing.
The first is that the West, and especially the US, is so entangled with China that despite all the huffing and puffing by Biden, no decoupling is going to happen.
The second is that China has frightened the US with its wolf-warrior diplomacy that we saw in Alaska and more recently just this week, where they intimidate the US side by listing all the unsavory things they do, including the dubious elections, racism, and so on; and the US really has no defense against this onslaught.
The third is that India is far easier to bully because we are easily gaslighted and shamed by Anglosphere narratives, we do not retaliate, and we are infiltrated by fifth columnists. India could easily have sent a message by putting the screws on Amazon, as Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which was active in the Pegasus fairy tale. It could have, as I have been saying ad nauseam, sued or defenestrated the pompous white migrant workers from The Economist, NYTimes, FT, BBC, WaPo, NPR and all the other hostile media, as Lee Kwan Yew used to do with such notable effect.
Until India applies some pain to the perpetrators of fraud and their paymasters, this sort of thing will continue.