Kamla to PM: Clarify new claims of Predator spyware

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Kamla Persad-Bissessar –

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has challenged the Prime Minister to get his story right, saying every time he speaks about Israeli-created spyware Pegasus, designed to hack computers and mobile devices to retrieve citizens’ data, he contradicts himself,

She said Rowley must also say if Predator spyware, built and sold by a mercenary developer, Cytrox, is also being use to spy illegally on law-abiding citizens.

She said research published in 2021 by the University of Toronto showed Predator is equally dangerous “and it has been used right here in Trinidad and Tobago.”

She said Cytrox has taken out domain names based in Trinidad and Tobago, sharing two examples – Forwardeshoptt.com and guardian-tt.me

“I am asking the government tonight: how long has Cytrox Predator software been used in our country to spy on citizens?” she said on the United National Congress (UNC) platform on Monday night.

“If the government denies using Cytrox Predator spyware, the question then arises as to who is using this in our country.”

She also questioned the landing of an Israeli plane during the lockdown of TT borders and the purpose of its passengers, who, she said, never left these shores. She linked their presence with a two-day cyber software, malware and interception training event, “for members of the security forces handpicked by the PNM.”

She said the cyber workshop was held by the defence force at the National Operations Fusion Centre (NOFC), Port of Spain, in collaboration with the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), subsidiary group ELTA systems Ltd.

She asked why National Secruity Minister Fitzgerald Hinds did not inform the country about this spyware training, which she suspected was to terrorise law-abiding citizens; who were the persons being trained; and why.

Both Hinds and Rowley have denied using Pegasus spyware, but she played two video clips of Rowley, one addressing Parliament and another speaking to party supporters at Diego Martin, to illustrate her claims of his inconsistency.

“First, we heard that they have the software and you have nothing to worry about if you are not a criminal. Then we heard that they don’t have the software. Then we heard that they have it, but it is with the Strategic Services Agency (SSA). Then we heard the former CoP (Gary Griffith) procured it illegally.”

Asking what was the truth, she accused Rowley of misleading Parliament and threated to file a privilege motion against him.

“Prime Minister, if you cannot be truthful on small matters, what can you be truthful on? You must go.”

She also threatened to take Hinds to court for failing to lay in Parliament the annual reports of the SSA for the last four years.

She said the last report, laid in 2017, contrary to the SSA Act, revealed there were 755, 276 interceptions of speech and data for the years 2016 and 2017.

She recalled in 2010, when her PP Government discovered massive spying was taking place on the judiciary, journalists, politicians, trade unions and business people, powers were given to the CoP, Chief of Defence Staff or the SSA director through the Interception of Communications Act, with or without a warrant.

She said if no authorisation was given to a constable, corporals, sergeant, ACP or DCP, without the express authority of the CoP in writing, this was illegal and carried a fine of $1 million and 15 years’ imprisonment.

She again called on Hinds to explain the role of a PC Clement in the interception of communications, under the amended act of 2020, which was passed with a simple majority in spite of objections.

“The PNM changed the law to give themselves access to stored data prior to December 17, 2020, when the Interceptions of Communications Act became law. “

Based on the definitions in this new law, she said they could access text messages, WhatsApp messages, phone calls, banking information and e-mails, both current and stored.

She dismissed Hinds’s talk about judicial protection, saying there is no red tape to prevent interception without a warrant.

Referring to “maccoing” through spyware, on the UNC, which protested on the day schools reopened, she said evidence gathered in this way cannot be used in court as evidence, but for other nefarious purposes against anyone who opposes the Government.

“The red tape only comes in when you intercept with a warrant. You have to go before a judge. That evidence can be used in court.”