When the Pegasus scandal broke the Orbán-government gave the most Orbánian answer: nothing.
Beyond the predictable clichés like “if you have nothing to hide” they refused to give any information and reassured us that it was completely legal. Then they made the committee hearing about it confidential for 50 years. The ombudsman who is supposed to investigate is also not expected ever to get to the bottom of the story. In the not too distant future he is expected to announce that there was nothing wrong.
Curiously, even the majority of Fidesz voters disagreed with the surveillance of the opposition – but a big number of them finds it normal and probably soothing that the state should be able to hear and say anything – especially the internal dissenters. It has to do with the pre-1989 dictatorship when not only state surveillance was uncontrolled, but people were made to report on one another. It weakened the social fabric and rendered many people completely subservient to power, regardless of what they believe they are.
It wasn’t until one of his ministers (not the sharpest tool in Orbán’s toolbox) accidentally admitted to the media that they have indeed bought and used the software that we would get confirmation. But we still don’t know which state organ bought the software – if it matters at all.
It is difficult to keep any issue afloat in the media where there is a complete news moratorium from the government, but they keep publishing names who have been tapped nonetheless. Ever since the scandal broke new names have been popping up – still no terrorist in sight. We have instead:
A journalist-turned-pilot gave the tip to the journalists at Direkt36 that they could follow Orbán’s private jet shenanigans through open sources, like flight radars. It led to scores of revelations about the jet/yacht trips and luxury holidays of Orbán and his courtiers. Shortly after he gave the tip he was intimidated by TEK that he can be accused of terrorism for this and never do this again.
The owner of Hungary’s now biggest independent media group has also been tapped with Pegasus. His media outlets have always been a takeover target by Orbán’s men but the pressure intensified after they took over the biggest independent site, index.hu in the summer of 2020.
A former opposition politician who owns some minor media outlets became a target the day the contract he signed with DK, an opposition party has been uploaded to the party’s website.
An investigative journalist specializing in crime and corruption.
Four investigative journalists (two from the site that broke the Pegasus scandal in Hungary, Direkt36) were among the originally published targets. One of them had his entire family tapped because their phones were registered on his name (in Hungary you have to register phone numbers with your real name and get IDd every year to prove it is still yours after a secret service embarrassment when hundreds of numbers bought in the name of a homeless guy have featured in a German terrorist operation).
A photographer who worked for an American journalist reporting about the Russians’ super-secret, quasi-sovereign headquarters in Budapest, called the International Bank of Investment. While they are not allowed to tap foreign phones, they could use the tapped phones of Hungarians to do the same by proxy. Which begs the question: Why is this the only NSO rule they adhered to while they ignored others? Like no journalists, opposition or civilians.)
Curiously (or typically) the Orbán-government is also spying on itself. One of the Orbán-government’s state secretaries has been tapped while he was disagreeable about the Russian nuclear power station project, Paks II. When the Russians put pressure on the minister to rush the construction of the power plant despite the absence of approved plans, the minister was malleable, but this guy resisted. They tapped his official, work phone and he was removed thereafter from the project. He is one of the most influential nuclear power experts in the country and he defended Orbán’s project a lot – but even he wasn’t malleable enough to let everything happen. (We don’t know what, everything is made confidential until the end of times plus 50 years.)
The opposition mayor of Gödöllő, who has been intimidated by the government at the time because he was trying to create a non-Fidesz right wing party. Shortly after the Pegasus-surveillance of his phone his house was broken into – then his son’s and his daughters’ – although nothing valuable has been stolen.
Not politicians, but the lawyer and the son of Orbán’s previous top oligarch. He was one of Hungary’s wealthiest men and the rumored front of Orbán before their falling out. He grew too powerful and Orbán destroyed him after the 2014 elections. He was replaced and he kept only a goat farm. He could not be tapped directly because he is averse of technology, hence his son and lawyer.
A former student of the demonized university, CEU, who protested against his alma mater’s banning in Hungary and was arrested.
Seven participants of a dinner after the 2018 elections when they discussed the possibility of establishing a think tank have all been tapped after the dinner. The host of the dinner has later been approached that this is very dangerous, he must not do such a thing again. Apparently even the existence of a non-dependent think tank is too much for the Orbán-government if it is not their own, loyalist lie factory.
The president of the Hungarian Bar Association was targeted while another lawyer became a target when he ran against a Fidesz candidate for mayor. Neither attorney-client privilege nor being a journalist can stop the Hungarian government from tapping someone. They wrote the law, so it is legal. They also don’t need permission from judges, the minister does it herself.
Secret service people
The number of one of the secret service digital surveillance operatives was also among those tapped with Pegasus. It might just be for testing purposes but it definitely meant that the organization is using the software.
Two national security bosses of the previous government have also been on Orbán’s surveillance list.
These are the confirmed cases so far, published in the media.
Pegasus has been used against Hungarian targets since an odd meeting between Orbán’s security chief and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018. Which makes sense since Netanyahu admitted in 2017 that his government is using cyber security as a diplomatic tool. Since it takes the permission of a member of the government (not OK) to tap someone, a newspaper asked how many such permissions have been granted. Turns out, the pace of surveillance is picking up for some reason. More surveillance requests have been granted in the first half of 2021 than in the entire year of 2015 – close to the total of 2020.