ROSE REID: Dubai is known for luxury, high-end shopping, and a bumpin’ nightlife. The heat in the United Arab Emirates can be oppressive.
But in springtime, Dubai can be pleasant – you can expect sunshine with clear skies – balmy, but not too hot.1
It was a night like this on April 21st, 2018, when Hanan Elatr landed in her hometown of Dubai.23
After 22 years as a flight attendant with Emirates Airlines -45678 the routine had long turned to muscle memory. On this Saturday night, Hanan had just finished a long flight from Toronto. Her shift was over, and she was tired, and ready to go home.
Hanan would have been wearing the standard Emirati uniform: a fitted cream colored blazer with red piping with the signature red pillbox hat.910
And this is where I like to imagine Hanan in red pumps, clacking along in that manner which is distinctive to crew and pilots, no matter how often you fly, pulling a black rollaway behind her – always black – and maybe she had one of those squarish tote bags strapped on top of her rollaway.
Hanan had de-boarded a plane, exited the gate area, and walked through immigration at Dubai’s international airport thousands of times.
But this time, something was different:
HANAN ELATR: And these immigration people, they know me by name. He normally take my passport, speak to me about my flight. But in this case, he said, ‘Hanan, wait in the side. The system is down.’And I feel there is something wrong.
NANDO VILA: Hanan rushed into a nearby bathroom and locked herself in a stall.11 She called the person she always called once she landed at home- her sister –
HANAN: And I told my sister, “There is something going on.”
NANDO: Hanan had a terrible feeling that the Emirati men hanging around immigration had something to do with her fiancé.
Her fiancé was a journalist known for speaking out on human rights. And in the UAE, loudly defending human rights could get you detained, or even jailed.
Hanan’s fiancé had already told her he worried about the way his work would impact her life:
HANAN: He give me the engagement ring. And when he put the ring in my hand, he said, “Hanan, I’m scared I might be a curse in your life. I might create a problem for you.”
NANDO: Hanan wasn’t involved in politics. She hadn’t had any run-ins with the police. But sitting in that bathroom stall in the Dubai airport, her fiancé’s words echoed in her head.
HANAN: I remember his word. I was very scared.
NANDO: She gathered herself and left the stall. When Hanan walked out of the bathroom, she was quickly flanked by Emirati intelligence officers.
HANAN: One of the member told me, “Walk with us quietly and behave yourself.” I realized, you just have to comply with them.
ROSE: Hanan was then handcuffed, blindfolded, put in a car, and taken to an interrogation cell.
HANAN: I cannot express to you what is my feeling at this time. The pain in my stomach, from the panic.
ROSE: The intelligence officers demanded she hand over all her devices – a laptop and two android phones – and that she share her passwords.12
She was taken to a remote location where she was questioned overnight and into the morning13 –
Seventeen hours later, the intelligence officers returned Hanan’s devices and took her home14.
NANDO: Hanan wanted to resume the life she had built for herself – leading a cabin crew across transatlantic flights, traveling, and visiting family. She looked forward to her wedding ceremony in Washington DC, just a couple of months away…
But after she was detained, everything changed.
It turns out that while Hanan was being questioned, the Emirati intelligence officers were executing a much more effective plan to get information from her…
HANAN: I never had my normal life back.
ROSE: That’s because when Emirati intelligence officers had Hanan’s phone, they installed a highly sophisticated piece of spyware.
And as Hanan went about her life, the spyware had unknowingly turned her into an informant, providing a direct window to the person she cared about most.
ENG: Jamal Khashoggi15
FRENCH: Jamal Khahogogi16
SPANISH: Jamal Khashoggi17
FEMALE: “Fears are growing over the fate of missing saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi”18
MALE: “…who vanished after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul…”19
MALE: “Details are pouring in about the likely death of this Washington Post Columnist, Khashoggi, and they are simply horrifying”20
NANDO: Jamal Khashoggi, Hanan’s newlywed husband, the Saudi journalist who had been living in Washington DC in self-exile, writing op-eds for the Washington Post, was assassinated just months after her detention.
HANAN: We never thought, me and Jamal, they will be extremist to the level to kill him in this terrible way.
NANDO: When Khashoggi disappeared from the Saudi consulate in 2018, it would be weeks before the world learned what occurred in his final hours.
But it’s taken years for us to learn he wasn’t just killed — he was systematically hunted in a way we have never seen before –
And what we now know is that the first weapon used against Khashoggi – was digital – and it’s called Pegasus.
MALE: “Pegasus is probably the most advanced piece of spyware”21
MALE: “It is effectively the most invasive form of surveillance imaginable.22
FEMALE: “Licenses this software to intelligence and law enforcement agencies worldwide…”23
FEMALE: “..it is this same tool can be deployed by a government to crush dissent…” 23
ROSE: Pegasus is a kind of software that can be used to hijack your phone – it’s a military-grade, spying software.24
DANA PRIEST: It’s this magic thing – it can infect your phone. And once it does, it’s inside of your phone, and it’s like a little worm. And it can burrow into every piece of equipment in your phone.
ROSE: This is Dana Priest, she covers national security for the Washington Post, the same newspaper as Jamal Khashoggi.
DANA: It can turn the microphone on. It can turn the camera on. It can go into all of your photos, all of your emails, even your deleted messages, and scoop them up, and take them somewhere, 24/7. And you’ll never know it. You’ll never know it
ROSE: Pegasus implicates several countries and multiple government agencies, and unites unlikely allies.
It’s part of a massive and mostly unregulated multi-billion-dollar global industry.
Battlefields aren’t physical anymore. They aren’t far away across oceans or borders – they’re in our pocket. And the threats that journalists face as they seek out and reveal uncomfortable truths – are threats that we are ALL vulnerable to. No matter where we live, who we know, and what we do.
NANDO: Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination reveals that journalists are the canaries in the coal mine.
These days, you don’t have to be a high-profile journalist or a dissident or a famous truth-teller to get swept up.
If you’ve ever had a phone –
If you’ve ever had a secret –
You’re at risk too.
I’m Nando Vila.
ROSE: And I’m Rose Reid.
And this is SHOOT THE MESSENGER, a new investigative reporting podcast from EXILE Content Studio.
NANDO: Every season we investigate one international news story. You may have heard the headlines — this is the deep dive.
ROSE: Nando and I started this series with one question: what is the biggest threat to journalists today?
We put up a bulletin board and stuck a pin for every journalist who was threatened or assassinated – or if they had a family member who was threatened or assassinated directly because of their work in the last five years. And we found one link that kept coming up again and again, from Mexico to DC to the United Arab Emirates: Pegasus.
NANDO: How did this spyware come to be, how does it work, and how vulnerable are you?
ROSE: Over the course of ten episodes, we’re doing a special partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists on “Espionage, Murder & Pegasus Spyware.”
DANA: And I just kept saying, what in the hell could have happened in there
CARLOTTA: We pieced together what happened almost like a whodunit.
BILL: Given one instance of an attack, can we trace that further to other instances, and, uh, other countries as well?
HANAN: Regarding the spying and Pegasus, we did not know. They did track him through me, because they know I’m the closest one to him. They target me.
ROSE: Episode 1: Jamal Khashoggi. A story told in three parts: his life, death, and betrayal.
HANAN: Jamal was a great man – as a journalist and as a husband.
NANDO: Hanan Elatr first met Jamal Khashoggi at a conference in 2009.25
HANAN: Jamal is the kind of person we can say is not in the right or the left. He’s in the middle in his opinion and his vision. Because he’s very open-minded, any background can sit down with Jamal, any race, any ideology, and you have a different view from him, but you will walk away with a smile.
ROSE: Hanan and Khashoggi kept in touch, and they were friends for almost a decade before their romance began.}
HANAN: Um, I met Jamal first time in 2009 in Dubai, where I grown up, and um I remember very well, we had a conversation over two hours. We was talking about the Middle East politics, and the foreign policy of USA toward Middle East. And, we realized we are like a twin. And we continue. And I always used to give him a feedback in any article, any published opinion, I used to give him a feedback. And he was always waiting for me, calling me up, discussing with me.
ROSE: Khashoggi spent most of his career as a writer and editor for Al-Madina, one of the oldest and biggest newspapers in Saudi Arabia. Khasoggi had grown up among the social elite and considered himself a moderate, but over time he developed a reputation in the Middle East for speaking truth to power. 262728
Speaking out cost him several jobs. He was fired from Al-Madina2930 for publishing pieces that were critical of the Saudi regime — supporting women’s rights to drive, or blowing the whistle on corruption among the religious police.31
Khashoggi then worked for Saudi ambassadors and diplomats, living between Washington DC and Saudi Arabia.32 This way, he was able to maintain his elite social status in the kingdom.
NANDO: And then in 2011, the Arab Spring333435 erupted across the Middle East:
MALE: “…This is the first Arab revolution of the 21st century, or it will be brutally suppressed…” 36
MALE: “…Not just that people were fearless..but that they were joyous…”37
MALE: “Mubarek deposed…Egypt’s eighteen day revolution defies all expectations…” 36
NANDO: Protestors across Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain3839 used social media to organize the masses40 – and take to the streets.
In turn, many leaders in the region began to heavily surveil social media in order to curtail public discourse and dissent. A new industry developed to keep up with governments’ demand to surveil. 41
ROSE: The press was a major target. The Committee to Protect Journalists has reported that at the end of 2022, more than 360 journalists (which is a 20% increase over 2021) around the world are currently imprisoned42 – either charged with crimes against the state like treason, or their paper of record charged with libel, or even a personal matter exposed if illegal in their country – like committing adultery:
MALE: “Journalism – such a critical component on the outset of the Arab Spring has become one of its long term casualties” 37
MALE: “For the very first time – a lot of the main television channels in Egypt are directly owned by the Egyptian military – this is new” 37
MALE: “You only need to target a handful of journalists before the rest of them are in line” 37
ROSE: Following the Arab Spring in 2011, authorities across North Africa and the Middle East increased online censorship43 , and took over broadcast networks and media companies. Revolution did not come to Saudi Arabia.4445
But in 2015, Saudi Arabia got a new leader. 46474849
MALE: “ Now at 31, an astonishing rise to power appears complete – .”50
MALE: “They call him MBS…He’s young, popular and promising more change than his country has ever seen” 51
NANDO: The crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, commonly referred to as MBS, initially spoke of reforms. He allowed women to drive and attend sporting events.5253
But while MBS endorsed some social reform, he crushed any type of political reform or opposition.5455 Here is a clip of Jamal Khashoggi commenting on the new leadership, taken from an interview he did with Global News:
JAMAL KHASHOGGI: “I have mixed feelings about that – I’m, I’m very much supportive for his reform, for his social reform. But in the same time, I repeatedly say, he doesn’t need to, this intimidation.”56
ROSE: Mohammed Bin Salman took the new social media playbook to a new level in Saudi Arabia. He worked closely with authorities to watch, target, and silence any opposition – either discrediting opponents in complex media campaigns or arresting them, and, sometimes, their family members as well.57 Khashoggi’s friends advised him to be careful
JAMAL:“They will say to me, but it is not the right time to say it.”58
NANDO: MBS and his media tsar singled out independent journalists. After Khashoggi openly questioned the Saudi regime’s support for the newly elected American President, Donald Trump, on Twitter, authorities told Khashoggi to stay offline.5960
HANAN: In 2016 because he said a negative opinion about electing President Donald Trump, the Saudi authority did not like he speaking frankly, and ask him to sit down in home, not to write anything, not to appear, almost under house arrest.
ROSE: In the summer of 2017, Jamal Khashoggi decided it was time to leave his home country of Saudi Arabia. 6162
JAMAL: “Whatever narrow space I had was getting narrower so I just decided to leave before it is too late: I’m 60 years old, and I want to enjoy life, and I want to be free to speak for my country.”63
ROSE: Khashoggi continued his reporting but he never considered himself a dissident.
HANAN: Jamal did not live to criticize only just for sake of criticize. Jamal was optimistic about future of his country. He love his country. But he love to be identified as a Saudi and Arab.
NANDO: Khashoggi went to DC. and began writing op-eds for the Washington Post64 . Khashoggi put more than 6,000 miles between himself and the crown prince6566 – and thought he would start a new chapter, one where he could be free to speak his mind….6768
ROSE: Hanan Elatr remembers the day Khahsoggi arrived in the United States.
HANAN: I was in London in this day operating my flight. Immediately, I called him to check on him. I was so happy. And I did tell him something, and I believe in it. I said. “Make use of your freedom. Speak up.”
ROSE: And Khashoggi did speak up – he used his new platform in the United States to comment on his home country and on Middle Eastern politics.69
In his first columns for the Washington Post Khashoggi wrote “Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is acting like Putin” and,“Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive, now it’s unbearable.”7071
As Jamal Khashoggi worked in exile, his fanbase grew to over a million followers on Twitter.
Saudi has an extremely active Twitter base – there is data showing that more than 70% of Saudis are Twitter users..7273
NANDO: Even an ocean away from Saudi Arabia, Jamal Kashoggi still knew he had to be cautious – he avoided going to Saudi embassies and would tell his fellow exiled friends to avoid them too – but he wasn’t “scared” as Hanan would describe:
HANAN: He was trying to be careful, but he wasn’t scared for his life. He never come back home and bolt the chain, fit the chain, in the door. I used to do before we go to sleep.
NANDO: Khashoggi got comfortable with his new life in exile, but he was homesick. He wanted to build a more permanent home – and turned to Istanbul, Turkey. A mix between east and west, closer to his home country but what Khashoggi considered a safe enough distance.
HANAN: We agree he have to buy a flat in Istanbul to get a passport and to get shelter from the Turkish authority.
ROSE: Moving to Turkey – this is where things got a little more complicated:
DANA: Well, Jamal’s personal life was more complex than we knew before he died. He had two relationships. One was a longer relationship, and he was married. And that was Hanan. And the second relationship that we knew more about was his recent fiancée, Hatice, in Turkey. So, the two women did not know each other.
ROSE: During a trip to Istanbul – a friend introduced Khashoggi to a Turkish scholar, Hatice Cengiz. Around the same time Khashoggi married Hanan in a religious Muslim ceremony in Washington DC, he began dating Hatice in Istanbul.
DANA: And Hanan didn’t know about Hatice, and Hatice didn’t know about Hanan. And most people—honestly, even his good friends did not know about Hanan.
ROSE: We’re not here to focus on Khashoggi’s romantic endeavors — he’s not here to explain himself, to us or to the women in his life. But it’s important to know. Because to understand how Khashoggi died, we need to unpack the logistical details around this engagement to Turkish scholar Hatice Cengiz. Because, to get legally married in Turkey, Khashoggi needed paperwork –
And to get that paper work – Khashoggi had to go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
On Friday, September 28th, 2018 Jamal Khashoggi didn’t make an appointment74 to visit the Saudi consulate – he just – walked in….
NANDO: And to Khashoggi’s surprise – he was greeted warmly. After years of experiencing harassment and intimidation from the government, which had ultimately forced him to live in exile, Khashoggi found himself being offered tea by the Saudi officials in Istanbul.7576 They told him to come back Tuesday, October 2nd to get the final paperwork.
In the last five days Khashoggi was alive, he lived like a free man. He traveled to London for a conference – made plans for the future.
He was emailing his editors at the Washington Post, WhatsApping with friends across the world, texting with Hanan, and arranging logistics with Hatice back in Istanbul.
ROSE: The morning of Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018, Khashoggi met Hatice at an empty apartment in Istanbul – one that would be their new home. CCTV captured the couple holding hands on their walk to the Saudi consulate.77
CARLOTTA GALL: They went together to the consulate. And it’s in a quiet, leafy, very pretty residential area.
NANDO: This is Carlotta Gall, the Bureau Chief for The New York Times in Istanbul, who reported on the Jamal Khashoggi case.
CARLOTTA: He handed her his phones and goes in. And so she waited outside.
NANDO: It was 1:14pm when Khashoggi entered the consulate.
CARLOTTA: And that was the last anyone saw of him. And then she’s hanging around, for hours after, until finally it’s clear the consulate’s closed. And she asks the guard. They say, “There’s no one here.” She asks the police, and they say everyone’s gone. And that’s when she started to make calls to people.
ROSE: Hatice made many calls that night–including some to journalists, which is how Carlotta got the tip that Khashoggi had disappeared from the Saudi consulate.
CARLOTTA: The next day, I went up to the consulate. And that’s where I ran into Hatice, and she, she was still there, pacing the sidewalk. she’d been there all that previous night and then standing outside the hall the next day. And I was the first interview she gave, actually. When she saw me, she just started to open up. There were Saudi dissidents who wouldn’t go near a Saudi consulate or embassy. I knew there were stories of previous kidnappings. I was thinking he might’ve been taken out in the trunk of a car. And I was imagining he had been taken to an airport, private airport, and already deported, or you know, renditioned, as the word goes.
NEWS CLIP MALE:“What happened to Jamal Khahoggi?”78
NEWS CLIP FEMALE: A security camera captures the last time journalist Jamal Khashoggi was seen alive.79
FOX NEWS CLIP MALE: “A group of senators has also written to trigger an investigation – the State Department says that is premature.”80
ROSE: Dana Priest remembers the day Jamal Khashoggi went missing.
DANA: My mind kept flashing back to the two of us. We were seated around this gigantic empty table, very, you know, beautiful white tent with white tablecloths. That face kept coming back to me, and I just kept saying, ‘what in the hell could have happened in there?’ You know, in no way could I have imagined what was happening. Yeah – no…
NANDO: As news of Khashoggi’s disappearance spread across the world, local reporters on the scene in Istanbul, including Carlotta Gall, were working together to get more information.
CARLOTTA: But none of us had any idea of what really had happened. We pieced together what happened almost like a whodunit.
ROSE: For one week, Jamal Kashoggi remained unaccounted for. 81 The Saudi government evaded questions about his disappearance. It was as if he vanished into thin air. 82
And then, Turkish intelligence started releasing secret tapes, so we’ve been able to piece together the last minutes of Khashoggi’s life – be warned, it’s quite explicit.
MALE: “Major breaking news this morning — a jaw dropping exclusive on the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi — new footage that is flat out shocking.”83
MALE: “Lying in wait inside, was a Saudi hit squad”84
MALE: “The transcript indicates noises, as people set upon Khashoggi. Khashoggi can be heard saying ‘I can’t breathe’”85
FEMALE: “Khashoggi was then injected with a sedative, and suffocated with a plastic bag”86
MALE: “They brought with them an autopsies expert and a bone saw”87
MALE:“Is it possible to put the body in the bag? No too heavy, very tall -”88
MALE: “Khashoggi was allegedly beheaded and dismembered, limb by limb”89
MALE: “The apparent leader of the team makes at least 3 phone calls during the murder to a number Turkish officials identify as being in the Saudi royal court.”90
MALE: “The thing is done, it’s done”91
MALE: “It is possible that Jamal’s body was transported back on one of the planes”92
MALE: “A lot of meat was bought for a BBQ that took place in the consul’s garden just after the murder took place, the theory being that Jamal’s body was mixed with this meat and incinerated at a very high temperature” 93
CARLOTTA: And it still kind of appalls me that we were standing there in the street, outside this building where this unbelievable murder had already occurred, you know? And I still think of that, of poor Hatice. To think that she was just standing there while he was being hacked to death inside. And I’m sure she still thinks about it every day.
ROSE: Khashoggi’s murder caused an international uproar. The grisly details came out because Turkish intelligence admitted that they had been bugging the Saudi consulate. The Turks shared the tapes with the UN so the world would know what had happened to Jamal Khashoggi.
Investigations – by both the UN and the CIA – unequivocally link Khashoggi’s murder with direct orders from inside the Saudi Kingdom.9495
MALE: We have breaking news this afternoon. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman approved the assassination of Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.96
NANDO: In one of Khashoggi’s last columns for the Washington Post, he wrote, “What the Arab World needs most is free expression.”97
It has been four years since Khashoggi’s murder – and the link to the Crown Prince is the tip of the iceberg: That’s after the break.
DANA: After his murder, there were a number of roundups of Saudis whose numbers appeared in the phones of people who were around Jamal, but I believe the Saudis picked up, and in this case, detained for months and months, people who were in contact with some of the people that Jamal was in contact with. So you’re seeing this kind of ripple effect. —Jamal’s in the middle, and then there’s people who followed people who followed Jamal…
NANDO: What new evidence has revealed – and what we are piecing together on this series – is that Jamal Khashoggi was being tracked more deliberately than anyone ever imagined.
MALE: Several of the people he was in touch with were surveyed by Pegasus – 98
FEMALE: Pegasus has been linked to human rights abuses, unethical surveillance… 23
DEMOCRACY NOW FEMALE: The Pegasus spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group has been used to target journalists, dissidents, and activists around the world.99
NANDO: Pegasus spyware. It is the most sophisticated spyware made to date. It was created by an Israeli tech company. It’s marketed to governments as a way to target, track, and capturecriminals and terrorists. But our investigation shows that many confirmed targets of Pegasus are not criminals or terrorists.
The big question remains: did Jamal Khashoggi have Pegasus on his phone?
We may never be able to answer that question – Khashoggi’s phones are still with Turkish authorities, more than four years after his death.
ROSE: But what we can do is examine the lives – and the phones – of those closest to him.
DANA: We all obviously had an interest in knowing whether Pegasus was used in any way to surveil, track, and then aid the killers in murdering Jamal Khashoggi.
ROSE: Dana Priest from the Washington Post is one of the dozens of journalists working on the Pegasus Project. A coalition of journalists and activists that uncovers who has been infected with and surveilled by Pegasus. And together, they found a list of confirmed cases – a list of phone numbers.
Dana Priest was focused on finding out if any of them were connected to Jamal Khashoggi.
DANA: I drew a big circle of his friends and tried to get as many phone numbers that we could. And we found about ten people. And then a colleague of mine, uh, here at the Post, had—was able to match a number that was in the database and was known to be associated with him, which was Hanan Elatr. At that time, Hanan was really still in the background.
NANDO: Dana Priest learned about Hanan Elatr three years after the death of Khashoggi.
How could Hanan’s experiences reveal new information about the plot to murder Jamal Khashoggi?
Let’s rewind to five months before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. April 2018:
HANAN: Then they took me to a horrible place in the border of Dubai called Ala Awir. I didn’t know where I am, because they blinded me and they handcuffed me. It was very high security place. I never seen this in my life. And they took sample from my DNA from my mouth. They take a photo for me from different angle. They take a fingerprint. And then they took me to this room for investigation.
ROSE: When Hanan was taken by the UAE government officials, they were looking for something on Hanan’s phone during her interrogation.
HANAN: Till this moment, I don’t know why they taken me. I came to know why they took me, because they have my phone with them in another room. They have my password. And he send me a message. And they came back to me and show me, and they said, “Jamal Khashoggi.”
ROSE: In the middle of Hanan’s interrogation, she received a text from Jamal Khashoggi. The officials saw the text, and their questions took a different turn – they asked about Khashoggis’ colleagues, his friends, his plans. They wanted to know what he was working on, and who he was working with.
NANDO: This interrogation continued into the morning. After seventeen hours, she was given back her devices and taken home.
HANAN: They put me under house arrest. They have my passport. They blacklisted me and my family. My entire family couldn’t fly. And after that I couldn’t know how to communicate with him.
NANDO: Emirati officials detaining a flight attendant in what appears to be a favor to the Saudi government is a critical moment. Hanan understood that this was a bold act – but didn’t know what it all meant. For her, or for Khashoggi.
DANA: After she was detained, she did not tell Jamal right away. She didn’t want to tell him on the phone. Well, she didn’t know who was listening to her. You know, how they knew where to come and get her, and you know. So she was so afraid to talk to him and tell him what had happened.
NANDO: Hanan was under house arrest for several weeks after she was detained and interrogated by the Emirati intelligence, and could not meet Jamal Khashoggi as they had planned in Washington DC, but she didn’t know how to tell him what had happened.
HANAN: Jamal went to airport, Washington, DC airport, was waiting for me in the airport. And then he called me in Dubai. He told me, “Hanan, I’m waiting for you in airport. Where are you?” I said, “Jamal, I’m not coming.” He said, “Why?” I said, “Suad Hosny.” Just I told him a code to understand what is my situation.
ROSE: Hanan’s code is the name of an Egyptian actress – both Hanan and Khashoggi shared a love for Egyptian cinema – and are very familiar with the star Suad Hosny.
VIDEO CLIP: Suad begins to speak in Arabic100
ROSE: Suad Hosny is often called the “The Cinderella of Egyptian cinema.”
In 2001, Suad Hosny fell from an apartment balcony in London and died. Many believed she had ties to Egyptian intelligence officials – and that she was pushed from the balcony. Suad Hosny was Hanan’s code word to indicate she didn’t trust their line of communication.
HANAN: I said, “Suad Hosny.” He understood. He said, “Do not worry, Hanan. I’m with you. I will protect you.”
DANA: They kept changing ways of communicating in an effort not to get surveilled. They used all sorts of things at different times, so, Signal, Emu, WhatsApp. A couple other things, they came and went.
ROSE: After two months on house arrest, Hanan was released and got her passport back. She was back to work, and went on a trip to the United States, to meet Khashoggi. They had plans to get married.
HANAN: We got married in June 2018.
DANA: They had gotten married, here in Washington where Jamal had a house, an apartment, in McLean, Virginia. And they were married in an Islamic ceremony only, in part to protect her. They didn’t want to have any record in the civil courts that she even existed here in the United States.
ROSE: Hanan and Khashoggi were married at a mosque, but they decided not to get a civil license as Hanan did not have residence in the US at the time. The summer of 2018 Hanan tried to put her detention behind her. She was cautious, but not paranoid.
HANAN: He think they are watching us in the hotel lobby or in our room, but he didn’t know. When we was in our room, Jamal unplug the TV. This is what is the, the highest, uh, conscience for him about spying or, uh, watching or something. Once, I remember, he was trying to install Uber in my mobile in case I’m in our house in Virginia and he’s not there and I need to go around for my shopping or something. He try to install Uber, and he was going to put his credit card number. Then he delete it. And I said, “Why you delete it, Jamal?” He said, “No, if they get the phone from you in Dubai, Hanan, they can get, get into my account.”
ROSE: Hanan did not know what to do after Khashoggi was murdered – and occasionally Emirati intelligence officials would come by and ask her questions –
DANA: And then Jamal’s killed, and she has nowhere to go. She’s frightened for her life. She can’t live in the UAE anymore. So she comes to the United States to talk to her lawyer, and her lawyer suggests, “Just stay here, and we’ll apply for political asylum.” And so, she is literally a forgotten woman. Here’s this woman that has potentially so much evidence to share in her devices about Jamal’s travels, and who might have been tracking him, and who might’ve been complicit with the Saudis in trying to figure out, you know, what his travel plans were, what his other plans were, what he was thinking of doing. And nobody had ever contacted her. So, I took her devices to a second group that does a lot of forensics, Citizen Lab. So we worked with Bill.
BILL MARCZAK: I’m Bill Marczak, a senior research fellow at the University of Toronto Citizen Lab. I study government surveillance, basically trying to determine which governments are hacking activists, dissidents, civil society, and trying to defend civil society against this, this hacking.
NANDO: Bill Marczak is one of the first people to discover Pegasus. He would need to look at Hanan’s phone.
HANAN: Uh, when I been approached, first call from Washington Post, they asking me to cooperate. They explain to me they need my devices. I did hand it over.
ROSE: Bill has experience reverse engineering Pegasus, and knew exactly what to look for examining Hanan’s phone:
BILL: That’s pretty much the only thing you can do when you get a sample of something that might be interesting spyware, is you have to, you know, run it yourself and see what happens. And I was monitoring the phone’s internet traffic, so I was seeing everything that, that came into the phone and that left the phone. When I was monitoring the internet traffic, a bunch of weird traffic going to the spyware website. Like, it was downloading stuff, it was uploading stuff. Uh, and that was sort of the first key that, oh wow, Safari’s closed, but this connectivity is still happening, and it’s sending information back.
NANDO: Pegasus can bypass any encryption because it uses a loophole in a phone’s software to be an incognito, but active, parasite. When Pegasus is on a phone, Bill can see the evidence of it right away:
BILL: You can turn on the microphone to snoop in on conversations happening around the device. You can take pictures through the webcam. You can get passwords. You can get WhatsApp messages. You can get Signal messages. You can record calls. You cantrack GPS. You can do other things with, with the phone sensors. It was full access to the phone.
ROSE: And there was something else.
DANA: They knew from the types of text messages she’d been sent, which had already been identified as Pegasus, uh, bait, that they had tried to target her, uh, several times.
ROSE: So, why did the Emirati intelligence officers detain Hanan Elatr and question her overnight? It turns out – they had been trying to trick Hanan into downloading Pegasus herself. She had received random texts in the months prior to her detention – but – she never clicked on the links.
DANA: The bait to get Hanan to infect her phone in 2018 were things like, “You have a package downtown at this address. Click here and tell us that you want us to send it to you.” There was a message from her sister, [laughs] saying, “Oh, here’s a photo. Click this to see the photo.” And then there was one saying, “You have a bouquet of flowers waiting for you. Click this, and we will get ‘em to you.”
NANDO: Then Dana Priest had to tell Hanan the truth – that she had spyware on her phone – and that she’d had it since April 2018, since the day she had been detained.101
HANAN: Uh, when I, I recall the moment this happened, I choke, and I feel like my life was in, in a screen in front of them. I’m talking about the people misuse this technology, uh, the people who harmed my husband and harmed me.
ROSE: The Emirati intelligence officials had full access to Hanan’s phone, every part of her life, for five months before Khashoggi was killed. No matter the steps Hanan had taken, the codes she had used, or the lengths she had gone to protect Khashoggi – they could still watch her – and they did.
HANAN: I was feeling very bad, and I’m still feeling very bad.
NANDO: Hanan is still trying to get Khashoggi’s devices from the Turkish authorities. In addition to Hanan Elatr, others close to Jamal Khashoggi have also discovered Pegasus on their phones. Every detail of their digital footprint was surveilled. Including Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancé, Hatice Cengiz.102103104
HATICE CENGIZ: I blamed myself, a lot.
NANDO: Jamal Khashoggi’s close friend, Omar Abdulaziz105 – a fellow outspoken Saudi journalist living in exile in Canada. All of their correspondences were monitored.
OMAR ABDULAZIZ: The hacking of my phone played a major role in what happened to Jamal.
ROSE: That’s on the next episode of Shoot the Messenger. We find out how Omar Abdulaziz found out how he was being hacked, and discovered that more than 400 of his text messages with Jamal Khashoggi were compromised.
We’ll go into how this technology works – and how Pegasus was first discovered.
ROSE: On this series – we investigate how Pegasus spyware came to be, what its capabilities are, and ask, how does it implicate ordinary people? Over the next nine episodes, we’ll follow the thread of Pegasus, to understand how it was intended to be used, how it’s abused, and the impact of its surveillance. 106
Pegasus spyware has been a boom for the cyber surveillance industry – and it’s impacted the global economy. If you live in the US and have mutual funds or a pension, your money could be supporting the organization that makes Pegasus spyware.
NANDO: You’ve heard about Jamal Khashoggi – but there are so many others. Others who have been targeted and hacked, blackmailed or humiliated, who have been hunted and killed.
Some of the names you may recognize – like Emmanuel Macron, The President of France, or Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
And then there are stories you don’t hear about.107
[MONTAGE FORESHADOW OF THE SERIES]
SAMIA: I no longer felt safe.
ROSE: Do you know if they got the information that they were looking for?
SAMIA: I don’t think they were looking for any information. I think it was a form of psychological warfare.
CARLOTTA: I would get a phone call from someone – there’d be never anyone on the end of the phone – they were trying to track my GPS.
ROSE: It does seem like it’s always your favorite people who are being hacked and followed.
RON: We have to be way more careful. Even about things like this. How do I know who you are? DANA: It’s kind of like the nuclear era before there were nuclear arms treaties…
ROSE: Are you saying that you think these texts I’m getting are Pegasus? Do you think I’m being targeted?
PACO: Oh, for sure. Now it all makes sense.
ROSE: That’s on Season 1 of Shoot the Messenger.
Shoot the Messenger is a production of Exile Content Studio.
We are distributed by PRX.
Hosted and produced by me, Rose Reid with Nando Vila, Sabine Jansen, Nora Kipnis, Zach Hirsch, and Ana Isabel Octavio.
Written by me, Rose Reid. With story editing by Nando Vila, Dany Saadia, Jen Altschul, Zach Hirsch, and Rachel Ward.
Production assistance by Alvaro Cespedes, Andrea Zevallos, Jen Shipon, Stella Emmett, and Aaron Reiss. Special thanks to Sonic Union and Gail and Matthew Reid.
Sound design and mixing by Pachi Quinones.
Daniel Batista oversees audio at Exile Content Studio.
Executive producers are myself, Rose Reid, with Nando Vila, Carmen Graterol, and Isaac Lee.
For more information on the status of journalists and freedom of the press – visit the Committee to Protect Journalists at cpj.org.
To learn more about EXILE, and our other podcasts and films, visit exilecontent.com.