Vietnam agents tried to plant spyware on phones of US lawmakers and journalists: probe

Vietnamese government agents apparently targeted several U.S. lawmakers and journalists with spyware using public posts on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, according to an investigation by Amnesty International and a consortium of media outlets.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) were all tagged in posts earlier this year that featured malicious links to install Predator, a spyware similar to Pegasus, the investigation found.

McCaul, who serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was allegedly targeted in a reply to a tweet from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while Hoeven was allegedly targeted in a reply to a post from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen about the senator’s visit.

Peters, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were both tagged in a reply to a tweet from an Albanian politician about their visit to the Balkan nation.

CNN, its chief national security analyst Jim Sciutto and two other reporters based in Taiwan were also targeted with malicious links to install the Predator spyware, the investigation found.

Most of the posts on X came from the account @Joseph_Gordon16, which has since disappeared from the social media platform, and often included links that mimicked news sites. 

The Washington Post reported that none of the targeted individuals it reached out to said their devices had been infected with the spyware. The Post was part of the consortium of outlets participating in the investigation.

Amnesty International said its findings “suggest that agents of the Vietnamese authorities, or persons acting on their behalf, may be behind the spyware campaign.”

The group said Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security had signed a deal with a company tied to Predator’s developers through what researchers dubbed the “Intellexa alliance” and appeared to receive technology shipments through its intermediaries.

“The combination of technical research and evidence of Intellexa alliance sales to Viet Nam, suggests that the operator of the account had close links to Viet Nam and may have been acting on behalf of Vietnamese authorities or interest groups,” Amnesty International said in its report.

The Post reported that the Vietnamese government declined to comment. The Hill has reached out to Vietnam’s Embassy in Washington for comment.