Five tough questions all of us should be asking about this Pegasus story

What is this data leak? Is it legit? Where did it come from? Who got it and why? And what else does it show that we’re not being told?

The mainstream media has run with this Pegasus story, seduced into a frenzy of self-referential reporting that fails to take an objective viewpoint and ask some hard questions.

I’ve raised this on Twitter. A reader replied, “Do tell us, what are the right questions?”

Thanks for the question. Because you asked, here are a few that the critical observer should be asking:

1. Where did this leak come from?

The media outlets that first broke the story refer to “a massive data leak.” That’s it. I haven’t seen anyone ask a critical question about that leak. Reporters pushing the story have provided no further detail on the source of this “massive” leak, nor any comprehensive detail on what it contains. I understand that journalists protect sources, but without any further detail about how they obtained it or where it may have come from, why should the thoughtful, objective reader believe it?

2. How did they come by this “massive leak” and why?

On that point, the lead on this “massive data leak” was a relatively unknown non-profit organization called Forbidden Stories, founded in 2017. How did they come by this “massive data leak”? Did they uncover it themselves or did a walk-in source just drop it in their lap? I note that this group and certain media organizations affiliated with it have a common funder – Open Society Foundations – and the media outlets tend to be of a certain stripe. Their affiliate in Hungary, Direkt36, enjoys funding from the same source – Open Society Foundation – and is a staunch critic of the government. Why did this relatively unknown group receive this “massive data leak”?

3. What are they not telling us?

If this is really legit, what other information or data does this supposed “massive data leak” include, and what are they not telling us? The first media reports say that the Forbidden Stories’ consortium analysis of the leaked data identified “at least” ten governments to be customers of the company that produced the surveillance software. Why do they say “at least?” What other governments could be identified from the analysis of this “massive data leak”? Why would these reporters omit that information?

4. Why haven’t they responded to the rebuttal?

The Israeli company, NSO, provided a detailed response, questioning many of the claims in the original reporting. None of the media outlets pushing this story have responded to the company’s claim that the reported 50,000 phone numbers on the list is grossly exaggerated and that there’s no way of showing that because a number appears on the list it’s a number that “was selected for surveillance using Pegasus.” Forbidden Stories never even asked NSO to verify or comment on the list. Why have the media covering this story not responded to that?

5. Why aren’t they telling us the whole story?

And here’s one that came from the Twittersphere:

“Any access to the raw database/leakage or the undeniable evidence to us, mere citizens? Or is it a privilege of journalists?”

Now that’s a sharp question, isn’t it? What might they be withholding and why?