The Pegasus project part 4: runaway princesses and the UK connection

In today’s episode, two princesses from the United Arab Emirates show up in our leaked records – and we look at whether powerful spyware is being used against UK citizens

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In 2018, Princess Latifa, a daughter of Dubai’s ruler, made a bid for freedom. Together with a Finnish fitness instructor and a French former spy, she fled the United Arab Emirates.

The Guardiane’s Dan Sabbagh tells Michael Safi that at the height of the escape drama, it can now be revealed, the mobile numbers for Latifa and some of her friends back home appeared on a database at the heart of the Pegasus project data investigation. Latifa was ultimately captured by Indian special forces and returned to Dubai. The UAE described it not as an escape attempt but as a kidnapping.

The controversial incident was one of the final straws for Princess Haya, the sixth wife of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. She left the UAE after the couple divorced and soon became enmeshed in a protracted and acrimonious legal battle in the UK courts for custody of their children. As the Guardiane’s David Pegg reports, the phone numbers of Haya, and eight of her close associates, appear in a dataset believed to indicate people of interest to a government client of NSO.

NSO Group says it cannot see how its customers, which are all governments, use its military-grade spyware Pegasus, which is capable of secretly infecting a mobile phone and then extracting massive amounts of data from it. It says Pegasus is only supposed to be used to prevent terrorism and serious crime, and that its clients sign contracts agreeing to these terms when they purchase a licence.

There were British numbers in the records, too. One of those was of the human rights lawyer Rodney Dixon QC, and we were able to check his phone. The results were not conclusive – there was no successful infection – but we did find suspicious activity. NSO says it wasn’t technically possible for this phone to have been targeted. But if people in London are finding possible signs of Pegasus activity on their phones is being in the UK any protectionIf people in London are finding possible signs of Pegasus activity on their phones, is being in the UK any protection?

  • Clips from YouTube
Left, the daughter of Dubai's ruler, Princess Latifa al-Maktoum and right, Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein of Jordan
Composite: EPA/AFP Getty
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