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How Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Tracked Ex-Wife Jordanian Princess Haya Bint Al-Hussein

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The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, is behind the hacking.

London:

In August last year, one of Britain’s foremost divorce lawyers, Fiona Shackleton, received an urgent late night call from Cheri Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair, a top human rights lawyer, told Shackleton that his phone may have been hacked with that of his client, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein of Jordan. In subsequent conversations, both women believed there was only one explanation: Shackleton was Haya’s bitter lawyer in London with her ex-husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, and she was involved in hacking. Was behind, show the court’s decision.

On Wednesday, a senior British judge’s ruling that Sheikh had hacked the phones of his ex-wife as well as their lawyers and security team were published after reporting restrictions were lifted. A reconstruction of how the hacking was uncovered – initially private and based on expert testimony provided in hundreds of pages of court documents – presents a rare account of an operation usually shrouded in secrecy.

According to the documents, late on August 5 last year, Blair, who was appointed as an external adviser by the Israeli security group NSO, sent an email to Shackleton saying “there is an urgent need to talk to you tonight” and It’s “no matter how late”. Shackleton’s witness statement in court said Blair appeared “incredibly concerned.”

Blair said in his witness statement that he was told by a senior manager of NSO that he was concerned that its sophisticated and powerful spyware tool Pegasus, which is only available to nation states to combat criminals and terrorists, was being used as a lawyer and princess. was misused against. The firm wanted him to contact Shackleton.

“The senior manager of NSO told me that they have taken steps to ensure that the phone cannot be accessed again,” Blair said in a statement to the High Court in London. The Israeli firm said it could not immediately comment on the matter, but said it would act if it found evidence of Pegasus abuse.

The next day, the two women spoke again, when Blair said she was working for NSO and that their Pegasus software was involved. Over the course of the next week, Blair tried to learn more about the NSO investigation.

The NSO manager said in a WhatsApp message to Blair, explicitly referring to Princess Haya and Fiona Shackleton, “Cherry has no evidence that the other parties involved in this operation focused only on (on) the PH and FS.” Were.”

On August 11, Blair spoke to Shackleton again, and while he was not told who the NSO client was, he assumed it was Dubai.

“This is because I assumed that no one else would be interested in targeting Princess Haya and Baroness Shackleton,” Blair said in her statement to the court. “During conversation with the senior manager of NSO, I remembered whether his client was a ‘big state’ or a ‘small state’. The senior manager of NSO clarified that it was the ‘small state’ that I took as the state . Dubai.”

Neither Blair nor Shackleton immediately commented.

On Wednesday, Mohamed rejected the court’s findings, saying the decisions were unfair and based on an incomplete picture. “I have always denied the allegations leveled against me and I continue to do so. These matters pertain to alleged handling of state security,” he said in a statement.

Mr X

Separately, on the other side of the Atlantic, Bill Markzak, a researcher at Toronto internet security monitoring group Citizen Lab, was tracking the use of Pegasus against a United Arab Emirates worker, known simply as Mr. X, in court. Heard.

Their work revealed that as of July 2020, there was a moderate amount of activity associated with Pegasus, a sophisticated “wiretap” system used to collect data from mobile devices of specific suspected key criminals or terrorists.

Markzak found that on July 12 and August 3, Mr. X’s phone was downloading data on four domain names, which he concluded were linked to Pegasus. On August 4 – the same day NSO realized Pegasus was being abused – it found that the software had been used to target lawyers at Shackleton’s firm Payne Hicks Beach (PHB). He informed Martin Day, a London lawyer whom he knew.

The next day, hours before Cheri Blair’s urgent call, Day sent an email to the PHB saying it appeared they had possibly been hacked. PHB’s head of dispute resolution, Dominic Crossley, spoke to Markzak again.

According to court documents, Crossley’s handwritten note of the conversation said, “Looks like the UAE government. Tricky to pin down”.

In the early hours of August 7, Marzac emailed Crossley. “We have managed to track down some of the people associated with the Princess Haya case, whose phones were recently spied on with Pegasus,” he wrote.

They concluded that by September six devices had been hacked: the phones of Haya, Shackleton and fellow attorney Nick Manners and the princess’s security team, the court heard. Markzak’s investigation found that 265 megabytes of data had been uploaded from Haya’s phone, the equivalent of 24 hours of voice recordings or 500 photos, but he was unable to conclude what was taken from the phone.

“Malicious Vengeance”

The NSO conducted its investigation during August. Its employees interviewed the customer they suspected to be behind the abuse of Pegasus.

Haya’s lawyer, Charles Gecki, said: “Baroness Shackleton said Her Royal Highness would probably be considered an enemy of the state in the UAE. Cherie Blair said she felt it was a malicious vendetta against the Princess, a violation of her software license. Was doing.” Court.

“Cherry Blair said (to Shackleton) if they weren’t using software to find actual terrorists, they had a problem. Her client didn’t want to be associated with this type of behavior and wanted to help,” he said.

In a letter to the court from December 2020, NSO, which has faced allegations that its software allows governments to commit human rights violations, said its inquiries ended on or around 15 September.

It was unable to conclude whether any hacking took place before July 7 or when it began. “While the investigation could not draw any definite conclusions as to what had actually happened, the recommendation after the investigation was that the contract with the customer should be terminated, and that the system for which the customer had a contract should be closed.” be done,” the letter said. The contract expired on 7 December.

Geeky told the court that there was only one link between Haya and her employees and Shackleton. “He is Sheikh Mohammed,” he said.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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