Spying by Mexico’s Armed Forces Brings Fears of a ‘Military State’

What set off the spying on Mr. Ramos was a car chase in the violent town of Nuevo Laredo along the U.S. border one night in July 2020. Soldiers pursuing several pickup trucks ultimately killed a dozen passengers who the military said had been part of a local criminal group.

In the days and weeks that followed, Mr. Ramos said, he spoke to the parents of three of the victims, who said their sons had been killed even though they were innocent. They were traveling inside the pickups, but had been kidnapped by the cartel, the parents said.

Mr. Ramos began publicizing the allegations, and soon a local newspaper published damaging body camera footage of the confrontation. The video showed the officers spraying one of the trucks with bullets despite no one firing back, and then ordering the assassination of a survivor of the attack.

“He’s alive!” one officer yells in the video. “Kill him!” another responds.

That’s when Mr. Ramos’s phone was targeted by Pegasus. The spyware infected his phone five times in the days before and after the military emailed its report, according to Citizen Lab.

Mr. Ramos told The Times that all of the intercepted exchanges were from messages and one call made on Telegram, an encrypted app. The military’s intelligence report said Mr. Ramos had “links” to a Mexican cartel and would benefit financially from discrediting the armed forces.

Under Mexican law, the military does not appear to be allowed to intercept private messages, legal experts said. But even if it could, it would need a federal judge’s authorization — something the military has said in public disclosures it has not once requested in recent years.

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