Security chief denies audit office was subject to covert surveillance

Leszek Szymański/PAP

The head of Poland's National Security Department has said there is no evidence employees of the Supreme Audit Office (NIK) were subject to mass surveillance after NIK told a Monday press conference use of the Pegasus spyware was a "working hypothesis."

NIK's head of security, Grzegorz Marczak, presented events that had taken place within the infrastructure of the NIK's mobile devices. "These are selected events that led to external servers with potentially harmful content," he said. "There were 7,300 events in the period from March 23, 2020, to January 23, 2022, on 545 mobile devices of NIK employees."

He said use of the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware could not be ruled out and that analysis had been conducted in cooperation with Citizen Lab.

The Citizen Lab Research Laboratory, a specialist IT department at the University of Toronto, confirmed in late December that Israeli-made Pegasus software had been used to hack the mobile phones of a number of people linked to Poland's government's opponents.

The head of the NIK, Marian Banaś, has been at odds with Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party since late 2019 and his office has performed a number of audits and issued several reports unfavourable for the government and its agencies.

Marczak said NIK suspected that three devices had been infected belonging to people close to Banas. "One of these devices is the telephone of social advisor Jakub Banaś (Marian Banaś's son - PAP). That telephone will be sent to Citizen Lab for further analysis."

Janusz Pawelczyk, advisor to the NIK president, said a decision on whether to inform the prosecutor would be taken when the analysis work was complete. He added that the cyber-attacks were on a massive scale. "We're dealing with an attack on a scale unknown in NIK's 103-year history," he said.

Stanisław Żaryn, the head of Poland's National Security Department, told PAP that NIK’s press conference, "was replete with various types of claims that evidently have no substantive basis in fact.

"It can clearly be seen that NIK's entire message was aimed at arousing certain insinuations, further attacks on Polish state institutions, in particular the special services. It is clear that there is no data supporting the alleged mass surveillance of workers of the Supreme Audit Office," he said.

Żaryn added that he had already denied such reports on Friday and that NIK had shown no evidence that their accusations against some media and politicians were justified.

Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wąsik, who is also the secretary of a government council on special services, said NIK's management had invented the cyber-attacks.

"It looks like the NIK management dreamed up the issue of an alleged Pegasus attack," Wąsik wrote on Twitter.