Polish chief auditor seeks to question leader over spying

Poland’s chief auditor says he plans to audit the state’s supervision of the secret services following revelations of illegal surveillance of government critics with powerful spyware

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland's chief auditor said Tuesday that he plans to initiate an audit of the state's supervision of the secret services following revelations of illegal surveillance of government critics with powerful spyware.

Marian Banas, president of the Supreme Audit Office, an independent institution charged with ensuring public funds are spent properly, spoke before a Senate committee investigating the use of Pegasus, spyware produced by Israel's NSO Group.

“Taking into account the recent events related to the security of the state and citizens, I made a decision to initiate immediate urgent monitoring of state supervision over secret services,” Banas said.

He said he plans to call Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland's ruling right-wing party and the deputy prime minister for security, as a witness to testify under penalty of perjury.

“He should answer questions about the illegal and mass surveillance of Polish women and men,” Banas said. He said if Kaczynski is summoned, the law would require him to appear.

Banas told the senators that he believed that he personally was also the target of surveillance, alleging that an attempted hacking of his phone in 2018 “completely destroyed” it.

Kaczynski, the country's most powerful politician, acknowledged last week that Poland had purchased Pegasus, describing it as an important tool to fight serious crime.

His admission came after The Associated Press in late December reported that the Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, found forensic traces of hacking with Pegasus on the phones of a Polish senator, a lawyer and a prosecutor — all three critics of the government.

The revelations have shocked many Poles because Pegasus is meant to be used by governments to fight terrorism and serious crime. It gives its operators complete access to a mobile device, allowing them to extract passwords, photos, messages, contacts and browsing history and activate the microphone and camera for real-time eavesdropping.

The Gazeta Wyborcza daily and the TVN broadcaster have reported that the government secretly purchased Pegasus for the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, a secret service controlled by the ruling party, using a Justice Ministry fund meant for crime victims and the rehabilitation of criminals.

Banas said his office has determined that the CBA's operations were illegally financed with 25 million zlotys ($6.3 million) from the Justice Fund, confirming evidence uncovered by Polish journalists.

Under Polish law, the CBA can only be financed from the state budget. Banas added that “today we can boldly say” that the 25 million zlotys were used for Pegasus.

Banas spoke on the second day of the Senate's hearings. On Monday, Polish senators heard testimony from two Citizen Lab experts who last month confirmed the hacking in Poland.

Banas was appointed to a six-year term by the ruling party in 2019 but has since become one of its key opponents, initiating inspections against government officials.