Introducing ‘The Pegasus Project’


July 18, 2021

For months, as part of a consortium of 17 news outlets from around the world led by the journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories, FRONTLINE has been hard at work on a major investigation.

With our partners and with technical support from Amnesty International’s Security Lab, we’ve been investigating the use of the spyware called Pegasus and the Israeli surveillance company, NSO Group, that sells it to foreign governments.

Today, with the launch of The Pegasus Project, we’re beginning to reveal our collaborative findings.

Among them: The powerful hacking tool has been used to spy on journalists, human rights activists and others — including Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A video we published today documents how the spyware was found on her phone — evidence that Pegasus had been used to target one of the people closest to Khashoggi around the time of his death.

“It is not enough to say, ‘Please stop after this murder?’” Cengiz asks in the video. “Please — it is. It’s horror.”

NSO has disputed the findings of the reporting, saying it will investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action. The company says its spyware is used to fight terrorism and serious crimes, and that its technology was not associated in any way with Khashoggi’s murder.

FRONTLINE reported on the story of Khashoggi’s murder in our film The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

Now, drawing on a leak of more than 50,000 records of phone numbers concentrated in countries known to be NSO clients, the Pegasus Project’s revelations raise new questions about how governments may have been able to target their critics.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to give readers a sense of just how enormous the private and unregulated spying business has become,” says Dana Priest of The Washington Post, one of more than 80 journalists working on the Pegasus Project, who is featured in FRONTLINE’s video released today. “It’s been a unique, and actually thrilling, experience to work with so many foreign journalists to pool our sources and resources to bring this difficult story out in the open, where it should be.”

Today’s initial launch of the Pegasus Project is just the beginning. In addition to Cengiz, FRONTLINE, Forbidden Stories and the partner news outlets are investigating the cases of journalists, human rights activists and others in more than 50 countries who may have been targeted for surveillance.

As this story unfolds, stay tuned for more reporting from us and our partners, including a documentary produced with Forbidden Stories.

Raney Aronson-Rath, Executive Producer, FRONTLINE



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